Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The One That Got Away (0 for 8 on the Fox)

The River
My wife and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary this weekend. The weather was as nice as it was a year ago when we got married- unseasonably warm, with beautiful leaves changing everywhere. We had a nice dinner Friday night, I surprised Claire with an iPad (!!!) and origami tulips (the first anniversary is supposed to be the "paper" anniversary... so I googled origami and I was off). On Saturday after breakfast and some errands, being the incredibly awesome wife she is, Claire suggested I go fishing.... and make use of my "anniversary waders" (which is what they are, and I'm required to call them). She didn't have to tell me twice!

A short 45 minutes later, I was making my way to the water in Lippold Park on the Fox River. I felt extremely outdoorsy- waders, camo hat, fishing gear, broom handle wading staff, big bushy beard (I've been letting it grow out) and heavy-duty L.L. Bean boots. I headed to the spot where Leo and I fished the previous week, where I landed the big smallie. Sounds like a hip-hop name. The big smallie.

Anyway, I made some casts into the water where I was going to enter, and after a minute I slowly crept into the water. The last (and first) time I waded, I wore jeans and froze my a** off... But this time the air was much warmer, although I didn't know about the water. I was wearing long underwear under my waders, which turned out to be the perfect match for the cold water. I was completely comfortable standing in the water. We'll see how this goes when it's 40°F out; but with a 75°F air temperature, it was awesome.

The river level was lower than it was last weekend- it seemed to be a really nice level to wade. I really appreciated visiting this spot a few times when the water level was extremely low; I now had some idea of what lay under the water. Rivers are crazy- always changing, filled with all kinds of currents and pools and riffles and flats and drops... Makes ponds and lakes seem super boring! Even if I end up being a "river angler," I'll never forget my lake-fishing roots.

The view from the water
On the end of my line I tied a 4" white twister tail on a 1/16oz jig. That landed me some smallies 3 weeks ago, and the 1 big one last weekend. It apparently was the go-to lure for smallies, at least that's what the internet seemed to tell me. I worked my way downstream, in many places the river more like a pond than a moving body of water. I tried to find some moving water, which turned out to be farther downstream. Instead of bushwacking my way through the forest, I slowly and carefully waddled down the river. It was a little slower, but much less frustrating; far fewer hangups on trees, or spiderwebs in the face.

I got to what seemed like a promising spot- a place I'd caught some smallies a few weeks back, where I had "wet-waded" in my boots about 20' into the river. This time the river was higher, and the water obscured the little underwater peninsula... but I knew it was there, and I knew there were deeper pools around it. I began casting, getting plenty of hangups but for the most part I was able to get them free. Then I noticed a lure in a tree, about 10' from shore. Hey, it was mine from 3 weeks ago! I waded over to the jig'n'twister, hung in the tree like a Christmas ornament, and liberated it back into my tacklebox. It was nice to get a lure back, and even nicer to pick up my litter.

I continued downstream, having no luck at this spot. Another guy was wading near me, and he didn't seem to be having much luck either. Although I wasn't catching any fish, I sure enjoyed being in the water! It's a different perspective, standing in the water, surrounded by the current (and probably some fish). I can't believe I didn't get waders sooner. This was awesome.

A few minutes later, I found myself near a branch in the water that had given up smallies on more than one occasion. I threw my jig'n'twister, but got nothing. On a whim, I pulled out my old favorite- the green tube jig. The lure that had given me so many great facebook pictures; the lure that had landed me many nice bass throughout the spring and early summer; the lure that I used almost exclusively until the past month or so. I tied it on, cast it, and let it fall to the bottom. And then...

Fish on!!

It took me by surprise, and immediately threw the hook. A greenish-brownish flash flew out of the water, and returned with a splash. It was on! My first hookup while wading!

I continued casting, and hooked up again. I found it difficult and disconcerting trying to maintain tension on the line while my rod was so close to the water. As much as I enjoyed being splashed in the face by a smallie throwing my hook a few feet in front of me, I would have much preferred a few snapshots of the two of us together.

Can you spot the jig'n'twister?
Again I made contact, my line swimming through the water, the smallie on the other end almost swimming in a circle around me. This was fantastic! If shore fishing was like archery, wading was like hand-to-hand combat. It seemed like my quarry and I were on more equal footing, so to speak. I was in their house, in their territory. Something about it seemed more sporting, and definitely more exciting. There was always the chance of the current knocking me over, or tripping on a rock, or a brazen fish swimming around me like a rebel fighter tying up an imperial walker. I liked it!

After I stopped getting hits from the branch - and working all angles of it - I moved on downstream. I experimented casting upstream, and downstream, and perpendicular from the shore, and everything in between. Every so often I would hookup, but could never keep the hook attached to the speeding rocket of a fish that was at the end of my line. It was incredibly exciting, but also incredibly frustrating. I was beginning to understand the appeal of wading for smallies. With largemouth bass, if I hooked into one there was usually very little chance of it throwing the hook. The fight was over before it started. With these fiesty river bass, hooking into them only meant the battle had begun- there was no certainty of any new facebook profile pictures! I had to work for them.

It reminded me of difficult video games I played growing up- I was often frustrated, trying to beat the same level over and over again, but when I finally did it was that much more satisfying.

I kept moving downstream, and kept hooking up. I did everything I could to maintain tension on the line, to no avail. I tried a few different lures- a white spinnerbait, back to the jig and twister, a homemade inline spinner, a white Sims spinner, but I didn't get a single hit on anything but my good old green tube jig. Ok then, I thought- if that's what you want today, that's what I'll throw out!

As soon as I switched back to the tube, I got more hits. I remembered the whole reason I started using tube jigs was I wanted to catch smallies, "pound for pound the gamest fish that swims," but only caught LMB. Turns out the places I was fishing didn't have smallies! Now I was standing in a veritable smallie apartment complex, and was slaying them, at least in terms of finding them and hooking up with them.

Close to sunset, close to the strange machine building where I caught my first smallie of 2011 a few weeks back, I got yet another hookup... but this one was BIGGER. I could feel it. It was definitely a smallie- but it seemed to move more slowly with more force. I kept the tension, and managed to bring it closer to me. It had taken the tube about 40' downstream from where I was standing, and somehow I was able to bring it up to me. Yes! Yes! This is it! I reeled it in, my rod more like the letter "U" than the letter "I," a big beast of a fish on the end. As it came closer, it seemed to suddenly notice me standing in the water, and it intensified its flight. It swam around me, and I swiveled in the water to keep the tension.

Suddenly it burst threw the surface of the water, showering me with splashes, and our eyes met for a split second as it hovered three feet above the river. Its magnificent red eyes stared into my blue eyes, taunting me. As if in slow motion, as it slowly fell back toward the water, I saw the tube jig slide out of its mouth. The monster- I guesstimated at least 14"- hit the water like a cannonball. With a powerful flick of its tail, it once again splashed me with water, and was gone.

Amazing! My heart was racing, the adrenaline was pumping- this was it. This is why these fish are so awesome. I would take a small fish that fights like this over a lunker LMB any day.

I quickly recast and hit the entire area, but nobody was interested. I wondered if all the commotion had scared the other fish away. It was getting dark, the sun was setting behind the trees, and I knew it was time to go. It was time to head back home. In the few short hours in the river, I hooked up 8 times. I kept thinking 0 for 8, I think you write it 0-8. Next time I would improve my score. This really was like a game.

Although I would be returning empty-handed (more like empty-photo-libraried) it was an incredibly fun outing. These fish were something else.

I was skunked, but it sure was pretty

1 comment:

  1. Nice pictures buddy, days like that build character.


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