Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Couple Fish on the Fox

EDIT: Originally I thought the fish I caught were smallies, but upon discussion with WCF members, maybe they are spotted bass! That counts as a new species for me!

If even a year ago you told me that I would be regularly getting up at 4am, gleefully I might add, I would have said you were insane. The idea that I will- completely on purpose- set my alarm to such a small number still confounds me. Even knowing full well that I could easily face the skunk, no pictures of me holding fish to post. But I do know with some certainty that I will have some kind of misadventure while I'm trying to catch fish, and maybe that is part of the appeal.

Nah, I just want to catch me some fish!

Saturday morning, as I heated up some oatmeal in the microwave, this song suddenly got stuck in my head:

I backed out of the driveway at 4:28am, the racing green mini containing my fishing supplies. I was bringing my gear in a backpack, and this time only a single rod. Carrying two rods through the thick foliage last weekend was a challenge.

I turned on the radio and the country song stuck in my head was immediately drowned out by the thick grooves of Fela Kuti, who some call the African James brown. Turns out they were doing some kind of Fela show, so my entire journey to the fox was underscored by raw Nigerian funk. As I drove I thought about how much I love the music of Fela Kuti- and country music too. I should make some music soon.

Got to the spot, stumbled out of the car, and wandered off into the darkness.

I made a beeline to the unpaved path that appeared to become swallowed by the trees; but I knew better. I'd seen it in daylight, and knew it lead to the water. I wouldn't be aimlessly hiking in the dark THIS time.

I wasn't super familiar with the river, or even rivers in general, but the water level definitely seemed low. I was able to walk out 40' into the river, my sturdy LL Bean boots gripping the rocks. There wasn't even water flowing over the rocks- it looked like a temporary peninsula, which I was sure would disappear after an adequate rain.

I turned off my headlamp, and took in the complete darkness, accompanied by the incredibly soothing sound of gurgling water. The moon- which was being what I think is called a waxing gibbous - provided just enough light for me to get my rod ready.

I wasn't sure what smallies liked in the dark, but I knew largemouths went for black spinnerbaits in low light conditions. I tied one on and began casting.

One of the best things about being out and about before the sun is up is that you get to watch it rise. Although I couldn't see the sun itself, I could see it's light slowly bursting onto the scene, illuminating the colorful trees one leaf at a time. I saw some movement upstream, and I saw the most deer I'd ever seen. At least 20 deer were crossing the river, stopping every few steps and glancing in my direction. Apparently I was far enough away not to bother them, and they didn't seem to mind me taking some pictures.

Deer crossing the river
Now that it was light, I switched to 4" white twister tails on what I think were 1/16oz jigheads. Last week i had great success with the white grubs, and based on some advice from the friendly folks at i downsized my jig weight hoping to avoid as many hangups.

I worked my way upstream, casting in what I thought were likely locations. I didn't see any baitfish, so I kept moving. After field testing my new boots the previous weekend, I felt more confident in my steps. To avoid downed trees, I simply walked through the water. I had my eye on a pair of waders, but being so late in the season, i figured they might make a nice Christmas gift. Hint hint, wife!

I still couldn't locate any little fish smallies might want to eat, so I focused on trying to read the river. I looked at visible rocks and what effect they had on the surface, trying to extrapolate which ripples farther out were caused by rocks, which in turn might hold smallies.

But really, I just blindly casted. I did the best I could, casting where I thought they might be... but it's entirely possible I was a foot or two off, missing a 20" bass every cast. That's ok- after enough trips like this, maybe I'll have amassed some experience, which probably trumps reading about reading rivers on the Internet.

Standing in the middle of the river
Farther up the river I found myself staring at a mini-rapids, filled with a huge variety of different speed water, pools, water rushing over rocks, next to water somehow flowing backwards... This seems promising, I thought, stepping out in the running water. One of these things might be one of the places I'm supposed to look for fish. The water rushed around my feet, immediately flowing over the top of my boots, soaking my socks. Disregarding my discomfort, I kept on fishing.

There were no fish there, I concluded, after exploring every foot of the area with my jig. Upstream, I saw a guy fly fishing. Looked like he had some nice waders. I wonder what he was fishing for.. Can you catch smallies on a fly? Are there trout here!? From what I understand, you can catch most fish on the fly, but I hadn't heard of many smallie chasers who preferred a fly rig. There's so much I don't know about fishing, even after spending all of my free time trying to learn about it!

I decided to move downstream, toward where I parked. Maybe I could find some nice fish in the spots that produced fish last weekend. It really seems the most difficult thing with fishing, at least with bass fishing, is finding the damn fish. Once I know where they are, at least I don't have the constant urge to move to a different spot.

Salmon fishing might be different- just cast and cast and cast until one gets mad enough to attack your lure. Since I still haven't hooked into one, this is obviously still a mystery to me.

It walked along the path in my bulky, now dripping wet boots. Still no baitfish. I saw a shallow rock bridge leading to a promising looking island- maybe they are over there, said the desperate voice in my head.

I splashed through the water, unsuccessfully trying not to splash the water, and found myself on the island (which I thought was a peninsula, more on that later...) It looked like normally this is cut off from land, but due to the water level I was able to walk to it. Like Alaska and Russia, or something.

I worked my way along the coast, casting, my lovely wife texting for a fish count. I could have texted back a high number, but then I would have needed proof in the form of pictures. And you probably shouldn't lie to your wife.

Continuing along the coast, I suddenly realized that this was NOT a peninsula, but an island! Following the shore back upstream, I struggled to find a suitable path. Scanning the forest, I stepped and instantly found myself up the thighs* in the mud. Slowly sinking the rest of the way.

* Slight exaggeration, as you can tell by the picture below

For about 10 seconds I pictured my body being discovered by Bones or CSI, encased in the mud for generations. Snapping out if it, I reached for a nearby tree, and hoisted myself out of the mud with a loud squelching sound. I looked down at my boots, completely incased in a thick layer of dark brown camouflage. There was so much profanity happening in my head I'm surprised it didn't leak out and scare all the birds away. But it didn't, and they continued to chirp mockingly.

My boots, with mud camo
I eventually made my way back to the land bridge, and found myself back on the shore. No more aimless wandering, no more empty iphone photo library. On a mission, I quickly headed down the path, scanning the shore as I walked.

And then, I saw them. Wakes in the water, just a few feet from shore that I knew were fish. I've learned a lot from fishing the pond by my house- from my spot I can see the fish and how they swim, and what effect their streamlined bodies have on the top of the water. It's nice to be able to apply knowledge! Looking at the water here on the Fox, I wasn't sure whether the wakes were tiny baitfish or larger predators. There was almost no current at this spot, and the water seemed to be about a foot deep. Seemed like an unlikely spot, but nonetheless I saw the wakes of fish and knew they were there.

I cast my twister and jig just past a small pile of branches- the same pile of branches that gave me two smallies for my fishing photo album the previous weekend.

And then, on the second cast, the water erupted and a very nice smallmouth bass burst out of the water, doing somersaults in the air, my lure lightly attached to its lip. Its acrobatics were enough to throw the hook, but the adrenaline rush coursed through my veins telling me to recast quickly! So i found them! That was a good start.

A few casts later, a little fella latches onto the end of my line. I quickly bring him to shore, wanting some proof that I actually caught a fish today.

first fish of the day
He looked a lot like a largemouth to me, but his mouth didn't seem to extend past his eye... So I guess it was a smallie? Even simple fish identification still escapes me.. But at least I hadn't gotten skunked.

A few minutes later I pull out an even smaller fish, who immediately resigned himself to capture, not even putting up a fight. Looking at this fish, it looks even more like a largemouth to me. The pronounced lateral line, the light green coloring, the mouth that seems to extend past the eye. I know largies like slackwater and weeds, but I thought they were uncommon in the fox. If the fish I was holding was in fact a largemouth, maybe that counts for something!

I continued casting, my line getting tangled in the low hanging branches of some kind of berry tree. Each time I got it free, I found my fingers covered in blue berry juice.

Apparently there were only two fish there, because another half hour of casting wasn't enough to produce any more bass. I headed downstream, toward the spot where I caught my very first smallmouth. (well, of 2011.)

I emerged from the forest and immediately banged my knee- hard- on a pipe sticking out of the ground. It was hidden by tall grasses. I'm pretty sure some of the colorful language leaked out at that point.

I looked toward the shore and saw some people hanging out with rods propped up, lines in the water. I greeted them and asked what they were fishing for, but I don't think they understood what I was asking. Unfortunately they weren't speaking Spanish, which I could have used to communicate, they seemed to be speaking Russian or polish or something like that.

They said they were using worms, and pulled a stringer out of the water that had 2 medium sized carp and one catfish on it. Nice! Although many people wouldn't consider those prize fish, I was happy that they were catching fish. I was also happy they didn't have any smallies on the stringer. Some people seem to look down on people who fish to eat, but if the fish are legal size it is completely within their rights. And when you think about it, it is actually a little strafe to fish just for the sport, and throw back good-tasting fresh-caught fish. Seems like pretty much everywhere else in the world, you fish to eat.. Not everyone has the luxury of grocery stores and fish counters everywhere.

Although I'm not interested in eating carp or catfish- at least today- I respect those who do; we are all enjoying the outdoors and getting different things out of it.

Wishing them good luck, I went back into the forest, tripping on a branch and landing in the mud. Ok, this was the theme of the day.

I couldn't find any more baitfish, or even workable shoreline- I didn't want to walk out into deeper water, refilling my boots with water, so I found a path and continued south. I came to a bench at an overlook, about 20' above the water. I tried casting from my perch, but it wasn't really feasable. Walking through the forest again, I found what looked like a dry creekbed, which I figured would lead down to the river.

I was right- I made it to a nice rocky shoreline, and cast there for a while. A kayaker paddled by, wishing me luck. The river was beautiful- full of birds, the morning sun painting everything with a warm yellow hue, the sound of bubbling water, the splash of my lure, the sound of my reel as I turned the handle.

I didn't catch any more fish, but it was a great morning to be out. I hiked back to my car, and saw some turtles sunning themselves in a small pond.

Turtles in a half shell
I made a few casts with my black scum frog, only to lose it to some tree branches. With that, I returned to the path and headed to my car. I stripped down to my t-shirt and underwear - everything else was soaked and/or covered in mud - and loaded the trunk. I sat down in the driver's seat, started the car, and headed out. As I pushed the accelerator with my bare foot, I vowed to return to some water this weekend and catch some more fish. I also turned on the heat, cause my feet were cold.

1 comment:

  1. You need to start getting out at the end of the day. It's that time of year. Let everything warm up and come alive. Also, skip casting into the riffles. Good chance nothing there. Think of moving water as wind. Where would you be hanging out as it gets colder out. Not in the wind.

    And that wader thing.........


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