Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wind, sludge, bass, and ticks

The elusive fuzzy bass
(Damn you iphone camera...)
This "spring" has been insane- record high temperatures hovering in the 80's this week!? Transitioning right from a mostly snowless "winter" to a glaring-sun "spring" that feels more like summer? But what does it all mean?

For the fish I mean, what does it all mean for the fish.

I've been reading Windy City Fishing like a madman, every day learning about more and more people catching their personal bests, or having success in places that don't usually turn on until later in the year, and of course pictures of monster fish caught in this beautiful weather. As the temperature rose, my focus turned turned to the outdoors. I can't wait to get the kayak out on the water, hopefully this weekend. Sometime soon I hope to get a fish finder and make my yak into a fish-finding and temporarily-inconveniencing machine (as opposed to a fish-killing machine). But until then, I'm doing what I can... and that means many short trips to local spots.

The other day I fished the retention pond, and it was absolutely covered in green sludge and dead plants, and was actually bubbling. Turns out, this isn't the result of illegal toxic waste dumping, it's something called spring turnover. Apparently when the top of the water warms, for some scientific reason it causes all the stuff on the bottom to come up to the top. I don't quite understand how this works, but I know it makes casting fishing a little more complicated. At least on my local pond, all that "stuff" basically covered the top of the water, making it difficult to fish. I also tried some night fishing at the pond, as some WCF'ers have been having luck with that- but it was very difficult to avoid all the sludge and clean my lures after every cast in the dark. Not to mention I can't figure out where my LED headlamp is, so I have to hold my flashlight in my mouth.

I got home from work earlier than expected yesterday, so I naturally headed for some water. I conveniently already had my fishing gear in my car, as if I planned this little impromptu trip. Besides the pond, and Salt Creek, the next closest body of water to my house is Songbird Slough. It's in a preserve that was until recently closed for construction. Now that it's open, my thinking was I could catch some nice bass there who aren't used to fishing pressure. I have great feelings about Songbird; I caught my first topwater fish there last year, 2 feet from shore, in the dark! It's a beautiful preserve filled with all kinds of unusual birds. But I digress...

Turns out there are ticks in there...
When I reached the edge of the water, I felt like I was looking out onto some wild ocean instead of a small preserve lake. The wind was ferociously ripping the waves every which way, pulling up dirt and mud from the bottom, causing the water to be extremely choppy and completely opaque. My first fishing spot happened to be facing directly into the wind, making casting difficult. I tied on a lipless rattling crankbait (many local fisherman have been doing well with these lately) and attempted some fishing.

It was difficult to say the least. I quickly lost hope of catching anything, not really knowing how bass would relate to such windy conditions. If I were a bass, I would go hide somewhere and wait out the wind storm. I've heard walleye become more active when the water is choppy, as it diffuses the light entering the water, making things darker for them... I fished for about 20 minutes, working the shoreline without any luck. A few times I did hook something big that seemed to move, but every time it turned out to be a big branch churned around by the wind.

Although I enjoyed the surroundings - it is a pretty preserve - I didn't come to look. I came for fish. In an effort to actually catch something, I hopped into my car and headed to the good old retention pond. Would I have learned more as a fisherman trying to fish Songbird in the wind? Perhaps. But I only had a few minutes, and wanted to make the best use of that time.

I got to the pond, looked down the hill at the water, and saw massive amounts of green stuff floating by my usual spot on the pipe. When I fish the pond, I almost always fish in one spot, right on that pipe. Every other body of water I fish, I move around trying to find the fish, which seems to be the best way to fish... However, most of the year there is a solid wall of cattails and tall tough grasses that make shore fishing most of the pond a pain in the ass to say the least. That's part of why I want to take the kayak out there...

Turns out, this March the foliage isn't so much of a wall, it's more like a 3 foot wide grassy sidewalk that lines the banks. Many spots provide easy access to the water. Having to choose between sludge-covered water and an open but unfamiliar spot, I headed to the open water.

I threw a variety of lures, but nothing got any attention. I saw what I was pretty sure were fish close to the surface swimming around. In my imagination, what I was seeing was bass chasing baitfish around the pond, causing boils at the surface. I could see slow moving wakes on the water surface that would intersect smaller bunches of wakes, causing small underwater explosions. Could the wind be doing this? Maybe... I'm still new to this. Either way, whenever I saw a boil I would cast my lure just beyond it and retrieve it into the bedlam. Dragonflies cruised the surface, and it looked to me like they were teasing the bass. I really hoped one would get close enough and a monster bass would surface and devour the dragonfly. Nothing against dragonflies, that would just be cool.

This ended up saving the day
(check out that muck in the background)
As a last ditch effort, I tied on a green tube jig. I know I mention this lure a lot, but it has caught me more fish - and more variety of species - than anything else I've ever used... except maybe nightcrawlers. First cast, and something took a swipe at the jig. Fish! So maybe those wakes ARE bass.

I worked the same area for a while, but didn't get another hit. Ok, I thought, I really should vary things up. I need to find the fish. I took the tube jig off my line, replaced it with a peanut-style crankbait, and started fan casting the pond. I worked my way back to the pipe, looking at my watch every 30 seconds, knowing I had very little time to fish. Then I found myself back on the good old pipe, working my crankbait around the "weed" edges. I figured if bass like to hide around weeds and submerged timber, maybe they would take advantage of this sludge and use it as cover. I tried different retrieves- starting and stopping; letting the lure sit on the water and twitching it every 15 seconds; but these weren't catching any fish.

A father and kid walked by, fishing rods in hand. I think the man lives in the house next to the pond, I wonder how he feels about me fishing there so often. I wondered if I was taking his spot. The little kid said "Hi! I'm my dad's fishing buddy!" in a giddy voice. "That's great!" I said. They walked to the other side of the pond and set up shop. I hoped they would catch something!

Back to fishing, I knew I had to leave in a few short minutes... I tried retrieving the crank about 2 feet under the surface, slow and steady. I heard a splash, and thought I saw a frog about 30 feet to my left, half in the water and half on the bank. I wasn't sure it was a frog, and I'd never seen any at the pond, but who knows. I cast the crank again, and slowly reeled in my line. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw/heard another splash; it happened very fast but I think I saw the frog's tongue fly out, grab a dragonfly, and suck it back in. Amazing! That was awesome! Hey my crank is stuck...

I turned to look back at my crankbait, which I'd forgotten about, and noticed I'd hooked into something heavy, and it was moving. Fish on!

Dirty bass! Had to pull him through the muck
After the shortest battle in fishing history, I pulled out another nice pond bass, my first crankbait catch there. A nice looking bass! It wasn't huge, but for 20 minutes of fishing after work, I've done worse. I stifled my normal giddy cackles due to the audience farther down the shore, and quietly snapped some shots of me and my new buddy. Of course, the bass probably didn't appreciate the hooks in his mouth, and didn't think of me as his buddy. I carefully put the fish back in the green water, and with a splash it was gone. 1 for 2 on the pond on a Tuesday, not bad.

I fished for a few more minutes, but I had a wife that needed some dinner, and really I'd accomplished my goal. I really like catching fish, and being outside in this weather.

As I drove back from the grocery store, sitting at a stoplight, I was absent-mindedly scratching my head. Suddenly I felt something, and pulled it out. The light turned green, and I looked at what was in my hand, and I immediately recognized it as a tick. AHH! I shouted loudly, and flung it out the open window.


  1. I had a tick buried in my back yesterday, I wonder how long it will take to heal?

  2. I think people that fish in retention ponds need to find their recreation elsewhere. Retention ponds are filled with chemicals that are run off from all those nice lawns that surround them. I find it hard to understand why someone would want to catch the same fish 100 times over that other people have caught again and again. Night fisherman are the worst. There isn't even any challenge is there?


Tell me what you think!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.