Monday, March 26, 2012

Smallies on the Fox

The prize of the day- 16-17" smallmouth bass
(The biggest I've caught, I think)
I've been having a skunk fest the past week or so. For as often as I've been fishing (pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day) the number of fish I've been catching is dismal. I want to chalk it up to the season and the weird weather, but reading reports of others having great luck has been a little disheartening.

I decided to head to the Fox River, which I think I can say now is my absolute favorite place to fish. Ever. I really like the Rogue River in Michigan, with it's crystal clear water and all the baby trout I caught there, but it's not the Fox. Last fall I caught my first smallie there (well, my first smallie when I knew what it was I caught) and caught a few more before winter. I had my first experience wading on the Fox. Last October I caught the biggest smallie I'd caught...It's a great river!

Woke up at 5am, brewed coffee, heated up some oatmeal, jumped in the car, cranked "Common" Pandora radio, and headed west. My plan was to get to the river a little before sunrise, and that I did. Thankfully the gate was open, and I rolled in greeted by an empty parking lot. Just the way I like it! Hopped out of the car, jumped into my waders, and a few short minutes later I was on the water.

For whatever reason, I decided to work my way south from my starting point. I know many people say you should always fish upstream so your lures are retrived with the current (and you don't spook the fish) but I've had much more luck doing the opposite. Before entering the river, I fan cast the area just in case there happened to be a hog chilling out close to shore. (And it happens too- this spot was where I landed the big smallie in the fall, about 3 feet from shore in 2 FOW!)

Duck, goose, goose, goose
No fish, so I walked into the river. The water level was higher than I was used to, and it was flowing relatively fast. It took me a few minutes to remember how to wade, especially since I haven't been using my wading staff (broom handle) this year. The sun slowly made it's way up, although you wouldn't know it due to all the clouds. There were geese (but not too many), woodpeckers, those black birds with red on their wings, and lots of other animals I heard but didn't see. As the water rushed around my legs, I remembered why I came here- even if I didn't land any fish, this alone was worth the car ride!

I spent half my time admiring nature and half my time bouncing my little jig up and down in the river. Every now and then I would switch out the jig and twister for a tube jig, since both have landed me fish on the river before. I worked my way downstream, trying to read the river and figure out what was under the surface. If I were a fish, where would I want to be? Areas with less current? Seams between fast and slow water? Around fallen timber? I've caught fish in all these places before...

About half an hour in, I found myself standing under some very low hanging tree branches. I'd caught some smallies here before; they had been hanging out under the branches, perhaps eating bugs that fell off the tree, or getting some shade, or eating smaller fish that were eating bugs and getting shade. Dazed by nature, I accidentally hooked a tree branch 6" from my head, and in unhooking it with a cast it splashed into the water right next to me. And there was another big splash, about a foot from my knees, that definitely was not caused by my jig.

Whenever this happens, I always cast right into the splash, just in case. I did this time too, and suddenly my jig was hooked to a fish!

This one gave me the stink eye
In my limited experience with smallmouth bass, I have tremendous respect for the fish as an adversary. They seem a lot more savy than other fish, they are strong from living in current, and if I can manage finding them and hooking them, they are extremely good at throwing the hook in a show of aerial acrobatics. This is why they are so fun! They aren't like the average fish- they are fighters.

This one was no different- as soon as it realized it was hooked, it sped through the water like a missile. I tried to keep tension on the fish, trying to keep it hooked to my line- I just wanted a few pictures of the two of us. The fish swam around me three times, and as it did I spun around, following it, keeping the line tense. After a short battle, I got it close enough I could lip it, and it stared at me angrily.

Hooray, I caught a fish! At this moment I forgot of all the times I'd caught nothing and only thought of how great this was, what an awesome fish this was, and what a great day to be out on the water fighting little feisty fish. After a few snapshots, I returned the little guy to the water, and he happily swam away.

Mission accomplished. I beat the skunk. Well worth getting up at 5am! But of course I wasn't done yet, I was just getting started...

I worked that area for a bit, but there were no other takers. Maybe I scared them all away with my jig explosion. No worries, I just continued downstream, half-absentmindedly casting and retrieving, taking in the sounds and sights around me.

And then all of the sudden I saw a bald eagle in a tree. I immediately knew what it was, and knew they hung out around the river sometimes, but I'd never seen one myself. Maybe it's not that big a deal, but I've certainly never seen a bird like that in nature. It was giant, perched on a branch near the top of a tree. I was stopped in my tracks in awe of this impressive bird, and slowly reached into my pocket to get my phone, hoping I wouldn't scare it away.

Bald eagle!
I stood there, transfixed, for a few minutes, until it suddenly flew away. I've seen a bald eagle flying away on countless times- movies, commercials, shows, etc. but it's even better in person.

Eventually I made my way to a small stretch of the river where I'd had the most luck in past outings. I don't know what it was about this stretch, but there always seemed to be a smallie there waiting for me. What's even weirder is there's almost no current, no change in bottom composition, no holes (that I know of) and it's not particularly close to any seams or riffles. Does that mean it's a pool? I'm still foggy on the nomenclature for these things.

I worked my little white twister tail all around, trying to cover the whole area. And then, BAM there was a fish on my line! I could tell as soon as I felt it that it was a much bigger fish than the previous one... Maybe even bigger than any other smallie I'd caught. I caught a glimpse of it in the water, and it was confirmed- big.

Where the other fish fought by swimming in circles, this bigger fish used it's brute strength. It zigged and zagged, and not very quickly either, almost casually trying to get away. I kept the tension, my rod tip bent over, and all I could think was "keep it on, keep it on, holy crap, keep it on!" As I brought it closer to the surface I saw it's whole body, and wanted even more to land it! This was almost certainly the biggest fish I'd hooked on the Fox.

I was standing about 10 feet from shore- I carefully moved toward the shore, easing the big fish to the shore as well. I didn't want to loose it. Then in one fell swoop, I reached down and lipped it. I won the battle! Two for two. And this was a beauty!

I kneeled on the shore, admiring my catch. It had ferocious red eyes, and it glared at me (in anger? or confusion?) It had a big belly, and was a lot heavier than it looked. It reminded me of good produce- it should be heavier than it looks. This was an awesome fish, and although I was happy with my first fish of the way, I was ecstatic with this hog.

Ok, I need to weigh it... And then I realized my brand new boga grip was in my garage, for some reason I didn't bring it. Damn! Well I wouldn't be able to get a weight... I held the monster up to my rod so I could measure later. I had no idea how long it was, but it was most certainly the biggest smallmouth bass I'd ever caught. (Later I measured on my rod, and I estimate the fish at 16-17" long)

The fish in one hand, my iphone in the other, I scanned through my apps looking for that one photo app that has the picture timer on it. I wanted to get a shot of me holding the fish properly! No can-do, apparently I'd deleted it. Damn again! It occurred to me I could take a video, then grab a screen shot for a picture. I started recording, set my phone on some rocks, and very geekily filmed my catch.

Turns out this is my first fishing video! Maybe I should do more of these, maybe score them with some CB music as well... More on that later. Watching the video now the fish looks much smaller than it did on the river, but maybe that's how it goes. It looks much beefier in this picture:

Big fish (for me) on the Fox
After making the video, I brought the fish back to the water, held it there for bit to make sure it was ok. After a few seconds, it knew what was happening and casually swam out of my hands, away from this jerk who stuck it with a hook. Watching it swim away, I thought how crazy it was a big fish would want to eat such a small lure. I guess trout are like that too. Very strange. When I'm hungry, I want a big ol' pile of food!

I continued fishing, but I was already completely satisfied. I'd had so many recent outings without so much as a bite, I was overjoyed to have two nice fish in one morning. I didn't end up catching anything else, but did revisit the spot where I caught my first 2011 smallie. Every time I come here, I wonder how part of a car ended up on the riverbank.

How? Why?
Later that day I made my first visit to Beck Lake in my kayak. It was incredibly windy, incredibly cold, and nobody was catching anything.

Not much to say about it- the highlight of the evening was when the wind pushed me close to shore. I turned and found myself face to face with a beaver, sitting on the shore motionless, about a foot from my head.

In case you didn't get enough of her before


  1. I happy that after all the effort you've put in this early season, your finally getting the payoff. Well done Cb and kudos on a great smallie.

  2. Great fish, Chris!! Great outing, too. The bald eagle is incredible and I am beyond thrilled to know that they are making their way back here along with many other fascinating predatory birds.


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