Thursday, May 24, 2012

Paperclips, yarn, and shoelaces

I'm heading to Michigan this weekend, and plan on fishing either the Rogue River for trout or the Flat River for smallies and trout. I've had some good times on the Rogue- caught my first brown trout there last fall - and can't wait to get back in the water.

For some reason I'm not fishing right now, so I spent a little time and made some new spinners. Luke, one of my trio of fishing teachers, hipped me to a particular spinner that supposedly works great for smallies on the flat.

This one is great, he tells me
Instead of going out and buying a few, which would certainly make more sense and almost definitely get the results he's personally had on the river, I decided to make some of my own to throw in another variable. Maybe they'll work, maybe not. In my limited experience making lures, I'm consistently surprised the stuff fish will hit. They don't care if it's pretty, it just has to get their attention in whatever way they are focused that particular day. This one, which looks like a child made it, caught a 20" catfish.

Looks silly, catches fish. Fine with me
A few weeks ago I took some thick paper clips (you know, the big kind) and bent them into rough spinner shapes. Today it was a simple matter of adding the components and adding the dressed feathers. Here is what I came up with trying to emulate that rooster tail:

I made each one slightly different (more weight on the right one, willow blade instead of colorado on the left) so I can see how little changes affect how the lure runs. You might be saying "Well hey Chris, that's a willow blade on the rooster tail one, why did you use colorado blades instead?" The answer is I only had one silver willow blade. I've been really liking the action of blades attached directly to the shaft, i.e. with no clevis (the thing that holds the blade on Mepps-style spinners). They spin more and more easily, providing a lot of motion.

I made some others too:

and one with the specific intention of catching a pike with it:

A special thanks to Dan Sims of Sims Spinners for sending me some spinner components. The stuff I've been getting from Jann's Netcraft is ok, but the pieces Dan sent me are clearly high quality stuff. The finishes are very nice and glossy, and assembled the spinners have a great weight to them. Thanks Dan! Can't wait to catch some monsters on your spinners.

My last order from Jann's included some jigheads; although I love jigging (tube jigs, twister tails, grubs) I rarely throw the other kind... I think they're called swim jigs. The kind that has a skirt or hair or something on it. I got some skirts from Jann's, but so far those haven't landed me any fish. Maybe this one will. Yarn and shoelace skirt:

Yarn and shoelace
Hopefully I'll catch some monsters with these. Someday I'll finish that dub album, but for now I'm going fishing.

A very short post

The other night I went to Mallard Lake, the scene of the crime so to speak for my first walleye. Worked some areas, nothing, nobody else caught anything. Then I threw out my white jig and twister, this guy jumped a foot out of the water.

30 minutes, 1 fish.. not bad
Yesterday afternoon I investigated the west branch of the Dupage river which flows through Mallard. Took about half an hour to find a place to park anywhere close to the river. When I got there it was about 4 inches deep, a carp was hanging out in some weeds.

Last night I didn't fish after work... But by 7pm I was bored and decided to go fish the pond for an hour before River Monsters came on. I got to the pond, there must have been 6 dudes standing on the shore fising. What!!??

I headed to Songbird Slough, about 5 minutes from there, and fished for about 45 minutes. Tried everything, no fish. I got a very strange hit on my jig and twister; in my head I thought it was a walleye, definitely didn't feel like a bass. Couldn't get it to happen again.

I'm extremely obsessed with fishing.

Here's what the sunset looked like as I was leaving to go home and watch Jeremy Wade battle giant catfish and eels and stuff:

Sunset at Songbird Slough

Early Wednesday Fishing

As some of you may know, I am leaving my current job at Columbia College Chicago. Next week I will begin working at ChartCapture, doing tech support among other things. You may know about ChartCapture through fellow fishermen like Sam Bennett.

I won't be spending 3 hours a day commuting like I do now, I'll be working from home... That means I won't have the daily opportunity to fish downtown Chicago. Since this is my last week at Columbia, I decided I'd try and make the most of my last chance to fish while I'm there already. I woke up at 4am, downed a few cups of coffee, and hopped in the car, joining the already growing traffic on 290.

I parked at exactly 5am sharp, and reached Burnham Harbor Marina by 5:15. I was shocked and dismayed to find the gate leading to the choice spot at the pipe padlocked. Before I got too bent out of shape, I reminded myself fish can be everywhere, even away from "the good spot." I set up shop: one rod with crawlers under a bobber, the other with various jigs, cranks, spinners, and of course tubes.

Lake side at Burnham
I fish almost exclusively with lures, rarely fishing with nightcrawlers, and almost never with minnows. It's not that I'm against it, it's just convenient to carry all necessary fishing gear in my backpack as I go to work. Trying to transport minnows would make things tricky.

Because of that, I have this idea that if I use live bait- like worms- I'll have to fight the fish off with a stick. Turns out, this is not necessarily the case. I threw my bobber out, and was astonished it didn't get a single hit for at least five minutes. After a while, I finally managed to pull up a tiny bluegill, which of course is better than no fish.

Better than nothing!
I worked a small homemade inline spinner along the wall, perhaps hoping for any stray trout or salmon that might be in the harbor, and noticed many follows as I retrieved the lure. But they only followed when I burned the lure through the water super quickly. It reminded me of the baby trout on the Rogue River in Michigan; I only caught some when I increased the speed of my retrieve.

I had trouble keeping the spinner deep while I cranked it in, especially fishing from the pier six feet above the water. No matter what I did, I couldn't connect with any fish. I remembered some WCF members suggesting if I'm getting follows I'm close to the right presentation, so I tried a few other spinners and cranks. Some didn't get any follows, some did, but ony when I sped the lure through the water like a bat out of hell.

Frustrated, I decided to fish the other side, the lake side. I hauled my gear over a fence, jumped it myself, and found myself next to very calm water looking north to downtown Chicago. I set up at the pipe, and when I looked down I was amazed at what I saw in the water: a HUGE swarm of fish. The kind you see on the discovery channel on shows about the ocean. There were so many of them! I have no real way of estimating how many but I'd have to guess hundreds.

It was amazing! The water was very clear, and as the school swam around, the sun reflected on hundreds of tiny fish bodies like a chandelier in some underwater mansion. Occasionally I saw a much bigger fish chase some of the smaller fish. That was pretty cool; I don't often have the opportunity to see that.

And then I remembered to fish, so I did. I was sure one of those small fish would be interested in my night crawler, so I plopped it down in the water in the middle of the swarm. I couldn't figure out what they were... We're they shad? Baby bass? Alewives?

None of them were the slightest bit interested in my bait. When I tossed a jig and twister into their midst, they followed it around as long as I kept it moving, but lost interest when it was still. Just like trout.

Were these trout!!?

And then I saw a trio of giant carp, or at least what I thought were carp, cruising around the rocks near the swarm of little unknown fish. I saw another fish that wasn't a carp, but couldn't tell if it was a smallie, trout, salmon, or something else. Nothing I tossed into the water got any attention. Night crawlers on a makeshift crappie rig off the bottom, under a bobber, jigged; it seemed no presentation could entice these fish.

Finally I caught a goby. I may or may not have put it back on the hook. And it may or may not have elicited a strike from something, that may or may not have reminded me of a smallmouth bass... But alas, I missed the hook set and it didn't happen again.

After at least an hour and three gobies later, I decided to go back to the first spot. Some marina guys came and unlocked the gates, finally, so I made my way to the spot at the pipe. When I looked in the clear water, sure enough there was a swarm of fish there too. Still couldn't tell what they were, but I was excited to watch the fish. At one point I saw something I was positive was a big smallmouth bass, swimming casually a few feet under the swarm, but it was not interested in anything I dangled in front of its face.

And then I started to get follows again, burning a deep diving black and white crankbait through the water. It was very curious; there was a small window of speed, not slow but not like a bullet, where the little unknown fish would follow my lure. They lined up behind it, chasing it all the way back to me. It was exciting.

After about fifty casts parallel to the wall in front of the pipe, I figured out the right speed to attract the most fish. Suddenly, I felt a tiny amount of resistance on my crankbait that told me I had a fish on! And then I found out what those fish were.

Baby steelhead and the lure it took
That swarm of hundreds of little fish were baby steelhead trout! As soon as I realized what I had caught, I took a picture extremely quickly and got it back in the water in as little time as possible. I knew that these little guys would grow much bigger, and in three or four years would become the giant and delicious adult steelheads that I've had so little luck catching. I didn't want to mess up their childhood, I wanted them to grow big and strong. I marveled at the audacity of this little trout, to attack a lure about the same size as itself.

Now that I knew what they were, I stopped fishing for them. I wondered if these were stocked trout recently released by the DNR. Either way,  I didn't want to bother them and negatively affect the steelhead fishing in the future. Looking in the water, I noticed another school of fish that looked similar to the baby steelhead, but were brown. Could those be baby brown trout?

I threw a night crawler on the bottom on the off chance one of the giant carp might go for it, although there was no real way I'd be able to land one from the pier. I threw bass lures, trying to bring the smallies- supposedly "in the harbors now"- out of hiding. An hour later, it was time to go to work. I was really happy to add another species to my "species scoreboard 2012" and I hoped I didn't harm the beautiful little fish.

As I walked back to toward the city, dreams of adult steelhead and brown trout and giant lake Michigan smallies filled my head.
Although my haul of fish wasn't huge yesterday morning, I'm very happy with the variety of fish I've been catching! In the past 7 days, I've caught green sunfish, smallmouth bass, bullhead catfish, freshwater drum, bluegill, perch, walleye, gobies, largemouth bass, and this beautiful little steelhead trout. For a while I fished just for largemouth bass, but I see no reason to discount all the other great fish you can catch. They're all different, they all require different approaches, and I like the challenge of learning how they all operate. Someday when the zombie apocalypse happens, I might be glad I can catch more than just bass. 

Fish are awesome!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My first walleye!

I've been wanting to catch and eat some fish for quite some time, but it never works out. If I catch some eating-quality bluegill, I have to go to work and don't have a cooler. If I have a cooler, nobody bites. In an effort to try and catch some food, I made my first trip to Mallard Lake Monday evening.

I was sure that nightcrawlers under a bobber would do the trick, but all I caught were 3" gills. Perhaps all the eating sized ones have been harvested already, perhaps many others have had the same idea I did. Perhaps I shouldn't even eat fish from Mallard, or any other forest preserve lake...

While I had crawlers under the bobber, I threw out one of my favorite go-to lures, the white jig and twister. It really seems like under the right circumstances, that lure can catch anything that swims. All of the sudden I got a hit, another hit, bumpbumpbump, and I had a fish on! When I reeled it in I wasn't sure it was still on, but turns out it was just very small. My first Mallard fish, and my first perch of 2012! Not quite eating size though.... but I was excited to catch it!

I've read perch travel in schools, so if there's one there may be more. I continued casting, hoping to find some bigger perch. A few casts later, I got a completely different kind of hit. It felt like branches, and then nothing. I wondered if I'd lost it... When I reeled in I knew almost immediately what it was, and to say I was overjoyed would be a huge understatement.

My first walleye!
I'm pretty sure I shouted "WALLEYE!!!" at the top of my lungs, and everybody on the path stopped and looked at me. That's ok, they should know how excited I was to finally catch a walleye.

Was it the tiniest walleye I could possibly imagine? Yes.
If I dropped it in the grass would it disappear due to it's diminutive size? Absolutely.
Did I care? Not in the least.

One of my main fishing goals for the year was to catch a walleye, and I did it. I admired its ferocious teeth and amazing coloring, forgetting about it's spiked gill plates. It didn't draw blood, but almost.

I took a few pictures, thanked it for letting me catch it, and carefully released it back into the water.

I'm still excited about catching this little guy

Big Busse Bass

Thanks to NATO, I ended up enjoying a four day weekend. Friday and Monday work was closed due to the big hullabaloo, which gave me plenty of time for fishing. Friday I hit a variety of waters, Saturday and Sunday we camped (and I caught that giant 28"+ drum) and Monday I had a hankering for some kayak fishing. Exhausted from camping and hiking, Claire and I both were asleep before our heads hit the pillows Sunday night... but my alarm was set for 4:30 am.
When I wake up at 4, usually it takes about 30 seconds for me to remember why the hell I'm awake at 4 in the freaking morning... Then I remember, run downstairs to make coffee, then head back upstairs to get dressed. Yes, that's right, I make coffee before I put clothes on. Priorities.

I loaded the kayak, waders, wading boots, paddles, rods, and all other gear in record time. (Keep in mind it takes me at least one full cup of coffee to be coherent at all, so I always have to allow time for that to happen.) I arrived at Busse at exactly 5:23am, sipping my coffee and pleasantly surprised to see the gate open. I rolled in, unpacked, loaded the yak, and was in the water in a few short minutes.

The kayak
Why did I choose Busse, the water that keeps skunking? I suppose I could have kayaked the Fox, or some other body of water, but I really like kayaking at Busse. In some ways I know that water the best, I've fished it more than any other (except maybe the retention pond), and I have a special love/hate relationship with it.

In the past, I usually fished my usual spots when I was in the kayak. This time, I decided to fish primarily spots that are inaccessible to shore fishing, capitalizing on the fact I was in a kayak. As I began paddling, the sun began to rise and I noticed the water was extremely clear. Usually there is only a few inches of visibility in this water, but today I could see almost to the bottom. I don't know what caused the drastic change, but I sure enjoyed it.

I paddled, fished, paddled, fished some more, every now and then drinking my coffee and eating trail mix. The other reason I chose Busse is because I really wanted to go kayaking, the fishing was only something to do while kayaking. It didn't really matter if I caught any fish, and I didn't really expect to.

I worked my way along shorelines, throwing many different lures. Being able to see the bottom, the weeds, the structure; it was amazing. Usually Busse's water is like chocolate milk, but today it was more like lemonade. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some movement, got out of the kayak to fish (I was wearing waders) and was soon surrounded by tons of little bluegill. None of them would bite, and neither would any bass hiding nearby hoping for a bluegill snack.

I kept moving, following the shoreline. All of the sudden I noticed there was a steep dropoff, many weeds, and suddenly a giant bass calmly swam under my kayak headed for deeper water. Whoa! I cast out my 3" tan tube jig in it's general direction, and immediately the bass swallowed it up. Fish on!

This was my second largemouth bass in the kayak, and it was a big one. It fought me with pure force. Headshakes, topwater splashes; it tried to swim under my kayak. Somehow I managed to keep it hooked and bring it close to the kayak where I could lip it. Filled with adrenaline and excitement, I quickly took a few pictures and placed it back in the water. With a powerful tail thrust it covered me in water. Serves me right!

Busse bass!
That was awesome. It was the first largemouth I'd successfully landed in the kayak- the other one (at Busse a few months ago) threw the hook when I couldn't keep the tension.

Then I saw a school, more like a swarm of little tiny fish slowly swimming in a circle. I'd google image searched this before, I was pretty sure it was a bunch of fry (baby fish). Suddenly I felt horrible; did I catch the mom bass while she was supposed to be watching the kids?

But wait, I thought the males guarded the nests... And the little fish didn't really look like bass at all. Either way, I was happy the big female got away perfectly fine. Only out of the water for about a minute, she swam away immediately.

I let the wind push me along the shore, my polarized sunglasses revealing all kinds of cool stuff in the water. The normally hidden branches, weeds, holes, dropoffs. rocks, moss, and even tons of little bluegill were easily visible to me. Then I noticed what I was positive were spawning beds. I'm not entirely sure what they look like, but they were clearly areas where something had cleared away debris and made little round indentations in the gravel and sand.

Reading reports lately, there seems to be some disagreement on whether one should fish bass beds or not. Obviously, messing with the females- the ones in charge of making the eggs- could be detrimental to the bass population. On the other hand, I've had a very hard time getting them to bite the few times I've seen them literally on their beds. I decided to keep fishing, although perhaps I'll be scorned by other fishermen...

Soon after the first, I hooked into another beast! This one was even bigger, even stronger, and went straight for deep water. That helped my hookset tremendously, and I carefully brought her aboard and admired the fine specimen of a bass.

Number 2! I guessed around 20 inches, at least
I thought of all those times I'd been to Busse and left without even a bite... when all along, these fish are in there. Big bass; big, fickle bass. Maybe it's the kayak, maybe most largemouth anglers don't throw tubes, maybe it's because I was way off the beaten path. Either way, I was having a thoroughly fun Monday morning.

Almost immediately I hooked into another one, about the same size. I got it to the boat, and noticed the hook was barely in the lip. As I reached over to lip her, the bass exerted her considerable strength and threw the hook. Fair enough, I'm still going to count it as "caught." I'll just call it a "self-release" a la Ken G.

I kept fishing, kept watching the water, kept learning about what's under the surface at Busse. It was amazing. I didn't know how long the clear water would last, but I wanted to get everything I could out of it before it went back to chocolate milk. I found an area close to shore where there must have been fifty bluegill darting around. None of them looked particularly big, but it certainly looked like they were on spawning beds. I didn't know whose beds though... were the bluegill raiding bass beds? Were the bluegill themselves spawning? I didn't know. Still don't know. Need to learn more.

Spawning beds?
Nothing very interesting happened after that... I found some lures. Cleaned up some fishing line and trash. I saw a dead crappie, which was sad to see but enlightening, as I'd never caught a crappie at Busse before. Apparently they're in there. Farther down the shore I saw a dead carp. Neither fish had any obvious wounds, I wondered how they kicked the bucket.

After a really great time on the water with some fish I can definitely be proud of, I headed back to shore. In a few short minutes the boat was back on my car, my gear in the trunk, and I was on the way to lunch with the wife. A great Monday morning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CB goes camping and catches a Mississippi River Monster

Just a slight bit of clarification: Although I did in fact go camping with my lovely wife, I did not technically fish on the Mississippi, and the fish I caught would probably not be considered a river monster by anyone.
My first time camping, ever, was last summer with some family. The Smerglias are expert campers, even Charlie (at the time I think he was five) was a pro and totally knew what was up. He showed me the ropes. Ever since that awesome time, I've wanted to do it again! Recently Claire and I got an awesome tent (thanks Smerglias!) and stocked up on camping supplies. After internet research for camp sites proved inconclusive, Ken G was nice enough to provide a wealth of information on good places to camp.

It was settled: we'd load the car, hit the road, and camp at Mississippi Palisades state park, just feet from the mighty river. It was a good two and a half hours away, but we knew as we drove west the cars would thin out. Thin out they did, especially once we hit the country roads.

I remember as a kid being so completely bored while riding through the country, having no interest in anything until we got back to civilization. I've done a full 180; it was awesome driving through the country, over the rolling hills, seeing the farms and animals. So awesome, in fact, I drove the entire two and a half hours myself even though Claire offered her driving services. I enjoyed the pastoral landscape, the curvy roads, and the lack of traffic.

We arrived at the park, admiring the giant river to our left and the rock bluffs to our right. Had a great conversation with a DNR guy at the entrance; told me about some largemouth bass at the lake (the campground is across the street from Buffalo Lake, which is kind of part of the Mississippi) and instructed us to find an open campsite and set up our stuff. Homestead-style; American western-expansion style. Find some land, make it yours, then pay the $10 fee.

After finding a suitable spot, it only took us an hour to set up our tent, and we were camping! Claire was a good sport, being a veteran camper herself. This being only my second camping trip ever, my camping skill set was severely lacking, to say the least. Walter rolled around in the grass, enjoying the experience much more than being stuck in a car for hours.

Our awesome new tent
We got some ice for the cooler, wood for the fire, and settled in to our temporary home. I thought the lack of wooded areas was strange; it's as if they cut down all the trees to make room for campsites. Personally I think it would be sweeter to camp among the trees instead of across the street from them, but it was still awesome.

I headed to the water with every intention of catching some dinner. Although I was originally intrigued by fishing by the lure of little meals swimming around, I've caught and eaten very few fish. Partly because many of the waters I fish don't have the best water quality, partly because I'm not usually equipped to deal with keeping fish fresh. Like when I'm fishing before work. I figured this would be an ideal time to catch some bluegill or crappie and cook them up over a campfire.

I think it was about a mile to the water from our campsite; I crossed the highway, train tracks, and found myself in the Lazy River Marina. There were a few people fishing already. I found a spot, rigged my gulp minnow under a slip bobber, and cast it out. That's when I realized I had forgotten my stringer back at the car. Doing my best impression of a camper, I fashioned one out of some thin rope I had and some sticks I found. I had visions of walking back to camp with a full stringer on my back. That would be cool.

Walter likes camping
I fished for about an hour, and got a few small hits, but wasn't able to bring any fish in. I hiked along the shore looking for other spots, and soon found myself in what seemed like a boat graveyard. Lots of big houseboats, cranes, trucks, debris; I think the marina also doubled as a boat repair shop. I concluded I was definitely on private property, and decided to make an exit. On my way back I saw a giant turtle hanging out in the grass, far from the water. I would have taken a picture but was eager to get off private property! I didn't have the dark to hide my ninja-fishing activities.

Got back to our campsite, somehow managed to build a fire- that didn't fizzle out- on the first try! Last summer with the Smerglias, we had a hard time keeping the fire going. After doing some "research" (internet) I wondered if we had prevented air from circulating and feeding the fire. This time I propped up the wood on another piece of wood, kindling underneath, and it worked! Since I couldn't find any fish, some delicious polish sausage grilled over a wood fire was on the menu.

I totally made that fire

When we visited the store to get foodstuffs and whatnot, we came to the beer aisle with an important decision to make. Which beer? How many? And then we saw the Newcastle keg, and our decision was made for us. And let me tell you, best. Idea. Ever.

We were camping, but had draft beer. Awesome.
I had not experienced anything quite like sitting by the campfire eating sausage and drinking draft beer out of those tin camping mugs. Simply awesome.

After many mugs of beer, a bunch of sausages, night had fallen. That meant two things: the wife and the dog were going to sleep, and I was sneaking back into the marina to go fishing. I made some campfire coffee, drank it quickly, and I was off.

My camping coffee maker. No power necessary.
The mile walk in complete darkness was another new experience for me. Although I've night fished many times, most has been in a suburban area where there is plenty of lighting even at night. Here, the only source of light was my flashlight, and that only lit a small area in front of me. As I walked a few frogs or toads caught my eye on the pavement. We made eye contact, and I'm sure they were thinking "what are YOU doing up? You're supposed to be asleep by now."

I left the campground and crossed the highway, headed to the water. It was eerily dark, the surprisingly loud sound of frogs got louder the closer to the water I got. I almost stepped on a snake that scared the $%#@ out of me, which is my excuse for the blurry picture.

I got to the marina, which although it "closed" at sunset, the gates were open and there were some people listening to metal in a parked SUV. Each to their own. I think I'd rather listen to death metal while fishing instead of just listen, but hey. Turns out I did end up listening, until they left after about fifteen minutes.

I started fishing right about 11pm, and threw everything in my tacklebox, and worked the entire weedy shoreline. Although the night was extremely dark, there was a single orange light right at the boat launch, making the fishing easier. I heard fish jump everywhere, at least once or twice every few minutes, but couldn't connect with any of them. I didn't mind though; the weather was incredibly nice, the bugs were attracted to the light instead of me, and I was having a great time. All that beer had been nice too.

A few hours and hundreds of casts later, I was still fishless. Not even a hit. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, plastic worms, chigger craws, they were all ignored. It was about 2am, and I was ready to bust out my secret weapon: the tube jig. Last year, or a while I fished exclusively with tube jigs, and caught many fish. Since then I've learned to fish other lures... but when times get tough, the tube jig comes out.

I tied on a brown one with gold specks, cast it out as far as I could, and let it sink to the bottom. I hopped it off the bottom, let it fall, and then BAM! Fish on!

And so began the most amazing fight I've ever experienced fishing.

Although it realistically only lasted about two minutes, it felt like an hour. At first I thought it was a catfish, but instead of swimming down, this fish just swam away. It felt big. Very big. Not like any catfish I'd caught, not like any other fish either. This fish was making runs; I would reel in some line, then it would speed away in the opposite direction, my drag screaming in protest. Thankfully I had set it loose enough the big fish could take line without breaking my 10 pound line!

It made four or five runs, each time I was able to gain a little bit of line before the next one. Finally, after an eternity filled with profanity and giggling, I caught a glimpse of the giant right when it saw me. In a few feet of water, it splashed like the prop of a boat motor running aground. Even standing a few feet away I got some water on me.

As I approached the fish, I could barely make it out in the orange light. It was indeed big. Definitely the biggest fish I'd ever caught. First cast of the tube jig no less! I thought it was a giant smallmouth bass, but quickly ruled it out. With it's tall body and clown-like lips, it wasn't any fish I recognized. As I grabbed it with my boga-grip-knockoff I ran through all the fish I knew might be in these waters, and the only one I didn't really know was the drum. I'd seen someone catch a sheepshead aka the freshwater drum on Lake Erie last year, but that was small and looked quite different.

The tube jig easily fell out of it's mouth, as if it had barely been hooked. I was amazed my line hadn't broken, that I had managed to bring it in. Shouting, giggling, ecstatic, exclaiming with frantic happy profanity, I managed to weight the giant fish. My scale said 8 pounds, but I believe that figure is highly suspect. The scale hasn't been too accurate in the past; I would estimate more than 8. Using my rod as a guide, I estimated the length of the fish was at least 28 inches. 28 inches! My longest fish was the pond catfish in October.

New personal best! Weight AND length! And a new species to boot!

My shaking arms, lame iphone camera, and poor lighting all contributed to my out of focus, grainy pictures. Please forgive me.

After a flurry of pictures, none of which do this amazing fish justice, I returned it to the water. After a few minutes, it slowly swam away, not too phased from our fight.

I know many consider the drum a "trash fish," or "bycatch." Both those terms suggest the angler isn't happy catching the fish. Obviously the opposite was true: this fish had given me an amazing fight, an awesome night fishing experience, and my new personal best (i.e. biggest) fish. I would have been happy with a small catfish, but I got this guy instead!

I fished the tube for a while after catching the drum, but nobody was around. I wondered if all the commotion had spooked any nearby fish. A few minutes later a water snake at least four feet long spooked me, it's outline made into many shadows by the orange light.

Incredibly satisfied with my amazing catch, I packed up my stuff and hiked back to the camp. I couldn't sleep much, still so excited, but when I did I dreamed of drum.

My first freshwater drum

Rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes

Deer crossing the Fox
I've been keeping a little log of my fishing adventures this year. Each time I head out fishing, I add a line to the little text file with the date, location, number of fish caught, and what I used. It's been pretty interested to see my catch rate improve drastically since January 5, which was my first outing of the year. This is how I know that, at the time of this "writing," I've been out fishing 80 times this year. 80 times! I'm clearly obsessed. But that is generally how I roll; it's rare I just like something and that's the end of it. When I like something, I like it a lot and tend to do whatever it is a bunch. As the weather gets nicer and nicer I can only imagine I'll be out fishing more and more! (If you're reading this on, you can see my "species scoreboard" to the right: all the fish I've caught this year to date.)

Since my last post, I've fished 7 more times! At this rate, I certainly can't write a novella about each little fishing adventure. As much as I tend to ramble and write long accounts of every detail of each trip, I simply can't allow myself that luxury every time. I don't want to bore anybody reading this either! To that end, I'm going to try to keep this post nice and succinct.

First fish of the morning
(looks like it has some battle scars)
Thanks to the NATO summit in downtown Chicago, I had both Friday and Monday off. Friday morning I got up well before sunrise, loaded the car, and was in the Fox River as the sun rose. I really enjoy being outside anytime, but especially like that period of time right around sunrise. Everything is getting started, animals are doing their thing, things are quiet. I tend to beat most fishermen to the water when I fish that early, and I like having the river to myself. Birds and fish and deer and bugs excluded; the river is always theirs.

Second smallie of the day
After a very informative series of posts on Windy City Fishing about the smallmouth bass spawn, I wanted to avoid specifically fishing spawning females. I want to ensure future generations of giant smallies. Also, I wanted to try fishing areas with more current. The past few outings on the Fox my inexperienced legs have been no match for the relentless flow, but the river has calmed down as of late.

A few feet from shore, about a foot from fast current and hanging out in the slightly slower water, I pulled out two (male?) smallies and a surprising green sunfish. I hadn't caught anything but smallmouth bass in the Fox until then, and I like catching lots of species! All three fish were caught
on a good old jig and twister. A question comes to mind as I write this: are pumpkinseeds and green sunfish the same thing? I'll have to figure that out since I seem to be pretty good at catching them, whatever they're called.

My first non-smallie catch on the Fox
As much as I enjoy fishing for bigger fish, I'd be lying if I said I didn't love catching any fish regardless of size. Although those bigger females put up quite a fight, the smaller males don't just sit there. And river fish seem to always have more fight in them than still water fish, at least in my limited experience. I fished for a while, then decided to hit the road and look for a new spot.

I've been wanting to explore Poplar Creek for a while, reading great posts about it, and having caught my first Illinois smallie at its entrance to Bode Lakes two summers ago. I drove north along the Fox River, passing through many surprisingly rural areas. Looking at google maps certainly doesn't give you the feel of these places; I enjoyed driving on the highway, windows open, through the country. My tube jig hanging from my rear-view mirror swayed as I drove.

After stopping for a coffee refill and second breakfast, I made it to Poplar Creek. What I found was an extremely slow-moving creek, no fish that wanted my offerings, and a sunken shopping cart with a white twister tail attached.

By this time it was around 10am, and I had plenty more time to explore. I hopped back in my Neon and headed east. When we used to live in Hoffman Estates, I fished Bode Lakes quite a few times. Once I accidently found myself driving through Shoe Factory Woods, admiring the dense foliage and remoteness of it all. Upon a later google maps exploration, I saw there was a good sized pond in the middle, far from the published paths. Perfect! Ever since that detour, I'd wanted to explore it and find out what treasures swam through its water.

After a beautiful hike through the woods, the sounds of car traffic fading behind me, I made it to what seemed like an amazingly remote pond in the middle of a seemingly deserted prairie. As I walked the shore, about a hundred big frogs yelped and jumped in the water. I started casting, not seeing any movement, nor did I notice any bass on beds. There was obviously a lot of wildlife here though; the entire muddy shore was covered, every single inch, with raccoon and deer tracks.

Whenever I find myself in such remote-like areas, I think about Minecraft. For those who aren't in the know, it's an open-ended survival computer game which I can't recommend enough. It's pretty cheap too, and extremely addictive. It combines a bunch of my favorite things: video games, zombies, the outdoors (virtually) and fishing (you can build a fishing rod and catch fish).

Wilderness? Reminds me of Minecraft.
A few minutes later I heard some movement on the path behind me, and I saw a man walking with a bucket and a spray apparatus. I guessed he worked for the park district or something. I wondered if he'd tell me there's no fishing allowed.

"There's no fish-" expecting him to scold me for fishing, instead he fished his sentence with "... in there." He explained they miscalculated the aquaculture or something or other, and the pond completely drains every year. No fish in there. I said I saw lots of frogs, "Well sure there are, there aren't any fish to eat their eggs!" Makes sense. I packed up and hiked back to the car, admiring the forest around me.

I stopped at home to play with Walter the dog, refuel my stomach with a quick lunch, then I headed back out to the pond/lake with carp. I spent the next many hours sitting next to the water, two rods in the water with corn on the end, catching little catfish. While I waited for the fish to find my bait, I cleaned up two plastic bags worth of trash- including an entire six pack just left sitting there! People, seriously, is it so damn hard to clean up what you bring with you? I like beer as much, nay, more than the next guy, but if I bring stuff with me I clean it up. It's not that difficult.

I tried a new spot as well, where I found a half-eaten little carp sitting on the shore. The flies were having a field day. I saw wakes in the water that suggested fish, so I threw out my lines and waited. Not having any rod holders, I did my best impression of an outdoorsy person and dug a couple holes in the grass, sticking my rods in the ground. Worked great!

Didn't catch any carp, but thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors for a huge majority of the day. Caught some fish, saw some animals, and put in my time fishing. Practice makes perfect.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fishing for carp and catching bullheads

* Editor's Note: not sure if they are bullheads, channel cats, or what... But they are certainly catfish.

A few weeks ago I "discovered" a new fishing spot. In fact, doing aerial research on it via google maps, I found my car parked next to one of the ponds the very day I first fished the spot. You can even make out a small blob that I'm pretty sure is me.

That's my car, and that little black blob is me
fishing this spot for the first time
That day I saw lots of frogs, but didn't catch anything out of the little pond. Looking at the spot via google maps, I realized there was a much larger body of water just on the other side of the pond. On my way home from work on monday I headed there to investigate. What I found was what seemed to be a very shallow, muddy body of water filled with carp. How do I know it's filled with carp? Every couple of seconds, carp parts would break the surface of the water; a dorsal fin here, a caudal fin there, sometimes I even caught glimpses of a little carp mouth. And this was happening everywhere- just a few feet from shore, in the middle of the pond, and everywhere else. Armed only with bass fishing gear, which proved very unsuccessful, I quickly headed home to grab some more carp-oriented gear.

Carp is one of the many species I've yet to catch. I've seen many of them in my fishing experiences. The first time I encountered them, I was in my kayak at Busse and had no idea what these giant fish were, bumping my kayak and splashing me with water. I thought they were jumping walleye. Of course now I know the difference between carp and walleye, but not much else! I've been doing a lot of "research" on carp and how to fish them. Although they seem to be looked down upon by many anglers, apparently they put up a great fight. Most of the carp I've seen swimming around are twice as big as the biggest bass I've ever caught. That is reason enough to pursue them in my book. (Don't know what carp look like? Check this out)

I returned to the pond, with two rods, tiny circle hooks, frozen corn, and half a loaf of cheap white bread. I proceeded to spend the next few hours soaking little bits of food. The spot I found is clearly frequented by other anglers- empty cans, bottles, paper, plastic bags, and even a used six pack of beer litter the area. I simply don't understand leaving trash like that, especially if you're going to come back! Do some people really want to sit in their own trash while they fish? Not to mention the fact that this is a public space, clearly shared by others. It is incomprehensible to me. Until I started fishing and saw all the trash, I thought littering was something we vanquished with after school specials and plain old common sense. Clearly it is still a problem.

That first trip out, I caught a tiny little yellow bullhead. On corn! Because my drag was set so loosely - based on the advice of internet carp anglers - the fish felt huge. When I reeled it in and saw the tiny little guy, all I could do was laugh. The circle hook did it's job perfectly- the fish was hooked nicely in the corner of the mouth, leaving it completely unscathed from the experience of being caught.

Baby bullhead.. isn't he cute?
I threw out corn into the area, the internet tells me that's a good way to get carp in the area, more likely to find my hooked corn. When I returned the next day, the carp had clearly found my corn and were cruising right around the area I had chummed. I chummed some more, threw my two lines out, and waited.

For many, fishing is an exercise in patience. Casting out a line and hoping a fish will find it, that is the way many fish. There's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, but I've never had the patience for it. My approach to fishing has always been cast, cast, hike, cast, cast, and cast some more. Always moving, always looking for new spots, always second-guessing my lures, always trying to find the fish. The opposite of passive fishing, active fishing I suppose. That's part of the appeal of fishing to me- it's part fishing, part hiking; although I move slowly, usually cover a lot of ground. Except for wading, due to my inexperience I tend to wade quite slowly.

Recently, learning more about the plentiful carp and catfish that inhabit almost every body of water and can grow much larger than bass, I've started to fish for these fish. Why spend all my time pursuing only one species? I love chasing bass, both the green and the brown kind, but there are many kinds of fish. By ignoring carp and catfish, I've probably been missing out on most of the fishing all around me, pound for pound. The static, passive method of fishing for these species always dissuaded me from trying it. In an effort to improve my patience (and species list) I've been pursuing these bottom-feeding species almost exclusively this week. My honey-hole retention pond is clogged with weeds and filled with spawning bass who are completely uninterested in my lures, so it was a good excuse to try a new kind of fishing.

My baby bullhead spot
Tuesday I caught three more little bullheads, each smaller than the last. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy catching them. For such small fish, they put up a nice fight- especially with my drag set so loose. I am wary of their fins, which the internet tells me are tipped with a toxin more painful than a bee sting if it breaks the skin. These little fish are particularly feisty and difficult to handle, so I've been lipping them as I would with a bass. Each one bites down on my fingers repeatedly, just as I deserve for cheating them out of their meal of corn and poking them with little hooks.

Last night I spent a little time before sunset soaking some corn, and once again caught some bullheads. One on corn, very tiny, like little toy versions of their bigger catfish cousins. The spot I'd been fishing had a big wooden plank to sit on, and something possessed me to move it. Underneath it were tons of little worms enjoying the damp darkness under the wood. Perfect! I grabbed a few, put them on a hook, and cast them out. Pretty soon another bullhead found them and ended up in another instagram picture with me.

After a bunch of hours this week fishing for carp in this one spot, I decided I should try another spot. Maybe for some reason they just wouldn't take the corn here. I tried a few different techniques to entice them: very loose drag, then I just opened my bail so they would feel no resistance, then I put a slip sinker behind a swivel and put the hook two feet farther down, but no carp. A few times I pulled up corn that looked like it had been sampled, but no carp came with it. I picked up my gear and headed to a smaller pond where a fisherman told me he'd caught carp before.

There were definitely fish there- I saw plenty of movement on the surface, which I guessed wasn't very far from the bottom. I waited, and waited, and waited. I heard some rustling in the grasses near me, and I carefully tiptoed to investigate. I saw a little otter (or muscrat) swimming away carrying a bunch of grass in his mouth. Reminded me of that image of a dove with an olive branch in it's beak. When the little guy saw me, he quickly submerged into the chocolate milk-like water.

As this picture was taken, the little
guy never stopped biting my fingers
And then I caught yet another bullhead, unless I was losing track it was my sixth one at this set of ponds. Although I could see the carp everywhere, they apparently wanted nothing to do with my corn or worms. Seeing them swimming all around, kicking up mud on the bottom, clearly feeding- that is the most frustrating part. I know they're there, I know they're feeding, but I can't get them to eat my corn. Out of frustration, I tied a little white twister tail to one of my lines and fished it slow along the bottom. I'd heard of carp and catfish occasionally being caught on such lures, and I couldn't take the waiting anymore. I got one set of bites which felt like little panfish, but when I recast to the area they were gone.

As the sun set, I packed up my stuff and headed back to my car. I caught three fish, which isn't bad compared to my average this year, but I still hadn't hooked into the elusive carp. One of these days, I'll get one on the end of my line. And I'll probably really like it. Until then, I'll keep trying. Working on that whole patience thing.

The bullhead pond right around sunset

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kids throwing rocks, me catching fish

Suburban fishing

Originally Claire and I were thinking about going camping this weekend. We had a tent (thanks Kim and Leo!) and sleeping bags, but not much else. Instead of scrambling to purchase everything we needed at the last minute, we decided to get stuff now and camp next weekend. That meant two things: we ended up at L.L. Bean, I got some early birthday wading boots (!!) and we wanted to be outside. The temperature and sun were just right. Claire suggested we go fishing at a local reservoir, so we did.

We brought our new camping chairs, a little cooler, three rods, beverages, and Walter the Boston terrier. I'd like to call him our fishing dog, but he doesn't seem to care about fish whatsoever. He'll sniff for a second, then wander away, unimpressed. I visited this water before, noticing a couple doing exactly what we were doing: relaxing with a bunch of rods in the water. I remember looking down on their style of fishing. Why would you want to just sit there when you could be actively fishing? Only now do I think I know the answer. Well, there are two: carp and catfish. In fact, the same trip (in the kayak) I found what I later realized was a whole mess of catfish fry. I'll need to do some catfishing here later...

So we hung out, enjoyed the sun, and I watched what I could only assume we're carp wakes all over the water. I tried corn on a hook, then white bread squeezed around a hook; I even threw out little smushed pieces of bread to try and bring the carp in. I wonder if that technique is more of a cumulative thing, meaning I should do that every few days to create some awesome carp fishing...

Retention pond crappie
Claire hopped on her bike to do some laps around the trail, and no sooner had she left than I got my first and only fish of the day: a white crappie, around 8". My first of the year! It attacked a gulp minnow under a slip bobber, and didn't mind I used a piece of grass to keep the bobber in place. It works remarkably well, and grass is readily available and biodegradable. Walter was unimpressed. He was much more interested in watching the bike path to see who would be riding by next.

After a couple hours enjoying the sun, Walter rolling around in the mud like a little pig, and one single fish, we headed home.

Not too soon after getting back home and unloading the car, I got back in and made my way back to the Fox River. I have a great wife who lets me go fishing frequently and for long periods of time. The one stipulation is usually that I prepare some kind of food to eat; this time I fed her tomato soup and cast iron grilled cheese. I'm not a grilled cheese fan, but I'm fairly positive grilled cheese in cast iron is superior to every other kind out there.

Muddy dog
Anyway, soon I found myself back on the fox, the weather even nicer than the day before. I didn't even bring my jacket. In fact, I wore shorts and a t-shirt under my waders, and must say I enjoyed wading barefoot, so to speak. There was some kind of bug hatch going on, which started docile enough but would eventually crescendo into an all-out Chris attack-fest. At least it felt that way.

It must have been my third or fourth cast when I hooked into the first beast of the evening- and it felt very big. Based on my luck the previous day- 3 smallies and 10+ almosts- I was excited to jump back into the fray and fight some scrappy river smallies. This first one seemed big; it headed down, fighting with raw power. It took a minute or two to horse it in, and that's when I realized why it felt so big.

Somehow I had gut hooked it, the hook stuck in its chest instead of its mouth. I brought it close, and quickly lipped it so I could get the hook out in as little time as possible. This is where I face the eventual certainty of fishing: although I never want to hurt an animal for the sake of hurting it, and will only kill if I intend to eat it, the very act of fishing can hurt the fish. Although I certainly didn't mean to harm the fish, I was after all dragging a very sharp hook through the water, hoping a fish would out it's lip through the sharp point. There's some debate on whether fish feel pain or not, and like most people I can't know whether they do or not. I could rationalize and explain how it is I sleep at night, but the short answer is I try to avoid hurting fish as much as possible when fishing.

I felt horrible having harmed this beautiful creature in this way; I looked at its wound and it reminded me of some bird-inflicted wounds I'd seen on other fish. It occurred to me that although I don't intentionally hurt fish, there are plenty of animals who would love to make a quick meal out of any smallie, and we certainly can't find fault in that. They are animals, and all animals need to eat. Including us.

For a moment I considered keeping the fish for the table, as it was at least 14" (the legal minimum) and would rather eat it than let it suffer and die wantonly. But as I carefully removed the hook, I noticed the wound wasn't deep at all, and the fish seemed fine. I got the hook out, and held the bass in the water to see if it could swim away on its own. After a second, the bass chomped down on my thumb - hard- as if to scold me for injuring it. It burst away like the annoyed little rocket it was.

I'm new to the outdoors, to nature, to animals, but there's something that seems to be a recurring theme: nature doesn't care. A blade of grass growing in the sidewalk doesn't care it's not in the forest; a heron doesn't care if it eats an endangered fish; nature doesn't care if you're there or not, it will continue to do its thing. To the smallmouth bass, I was just another predator, and a dumb one at that. What predator would voluntarily set his prey free?

I was happy the bass was fine, hoped it would prosper, and wondered if the run-in with me would make it smarter and more wary in the future. Perhaps it would live longer because of this brush with death. It had a new lease on life. But perhaps it would die in a day due to an infection or something else. Either way I was pretty sure nature wouldn't loose sleep over it, even though I might.

Pretty nice fish right there, I think
But back to fishing. I managed to pull out two more bass with that same tube jig, standing in the same spot from the night before. One jumped from the water a few inches, shaking its head when it saw me. The other swam so fast and seemed so strong I was convinced it was some species new to me. Then I saw its bronze back, stripes and fiery red eyes and knew it was another smallie.

There were some teenagers hanging out near the shore, having an animated leaf race as they put leaves into the current. Then they started throwing rocks into the water. Although they were quite far from me, I found myself getting angry at them for disturbing my peaceful (well almost) fishing. Then I thought back to the few times I'd been on the water as a kid, and my first instinct had always been to pick up rocks and throw them into the water. It makes a fun splash!

Instead of yelling at the kids, I wondered what the fish thought of it. Stuff falling into the water happens all the time naturally, so really this wasn't anything fish hadn't seen before. I guessed they would swim away from the rock explosions, which just so happened to be in my direction. Turns out I might have been right, as that third smallie was caught seemingly escaping the rock explosions. It didn't care what or who was causing them, it just wanted to get away.

I kept fishing, but just like the day before the fishing suddenly dried up. As usual, I was faced with a few choices, not sure which would be the right one. Should I try a new spot? Should I switch lures and/or vary up my presentation? Did I catch all the fish in this part of the river?

What an awesome looking fish
The current was very strong, and a few cursory attempts to wade to other spots convinced me not to continue. Since I was pretty sure there were more fish there, I tried to entice the fish with a variety of other lures. Crankbaits, twisters, spinners, more tubes, but nobody would bite.

Recovered gear! And trash cleanup
Reluctantly I tried heading downstream, staying close to the shore and wading very slowly. The water was rushing fast even though I was far from the main current; a few times I felt close to loosing my footing in the river. I made my way to some fishy looking spots, managed a few hits on a twister, but no other luck. Besides the big eddy I'd been fishing in, almost the entire remainder of the river around me was a gushing torrent of water, constantly threatening to push anything and everything downstream. Nature didn't care.

When I looked over to pick up a Gatorade bottle trapped in some branches by the current, to my surprise I saw my lure from yesterday! You know, the one that snapped off my line and went flying downriver in the dark.

The sun was setting; I had hoped to fish a trench I knew of just a few yards out in the river. As I slowly attempted to wade out there, the sound of water bombarding my waders became deafening. The river was bullying me to go back to shore. This wasn't a fight I would win, so I let the river push me around and made my way to the shore. I found a trail and hiked back upstream to the eddy.

On the way back I saw a little snake, which turned out to be dead. Although nature didn't care, I enjoyed seeing a snake up close. Too bad he died, I thought, but he'll be a nice meal for some racoon or fish or bird sometime real soon.

I've been paying close attention to the ground lately, curious about what other animals hang out around the rivers' edge. I saw some shockingly big footprints in the mud, next to a few bike tracks. At first I though it was just a big dog, but I'm fairly positive they were coyote tracks based on some Internet "research." Don't know why I didn't take a picture. Maybe because it was dark and there was a coyote running around.

I fished the eddy until it was definitely dark, throwing most of the arsenal in my fishing vest. Even the stuff in my little backpack. No walleye obliged, nor did any more smallies.

Once again, my last cast was chosen for me, with a snap I saw my lure slowly arc into the air, flying away into the darkness. Maybe I'd find it next time.

Sparring with smallmouth bass

After a delicious meal of various BBQ'ed meats, beans, and cornbread with my lovely wife, there was only one thing I could do. Night fishing!

I started the "2012 Fishing Season" (i.e. January 1-December 31) with a few goals- catch a walleye and a pike. Since then I've been adding things like "catch a carp" and "catch a monster catfish on a live bluegill." I decided to try for the latter this outing. But first, of course, I'd have to catch a bluegill.

The pond was almost completely covered with thick, mucous-like weeds. In the dark, I could see only a few spots where the water surface reflected the cloudy sky. The rest was weeds. Using my new glow-in-the-dark bobber and my not-so-new glow-in-the-dark charger thing (looks like a glasses case; you put a lure inside and it flashes to make it glow) I was able to fish with a bobber in the dark. Pretty soon I had a nice bluegill that went after a 1" Gulp minnow.

Night fishing for bluegill
It seemed too big to use as bait, so I carefully tossed it back into the muck. That was a mistake, because I wasn't able to catch another one. That one must have told it's little brothers and sisters to avoid my offerings. I suppose I could have used it as "cut bait" (which is a nice way of saying "disassembled bluegill pieces") but I'm not ready for that yet. Seems cruel unless I'm the one eating it. Then again I don't feel that way about cutting up nightcrawlers, so where is the line?

I enjoy night fishing tremendously, especially when the weather is nice. Things are quieter than usual, except for the constant roar of the many expressways that surround our suburb. Sometimes I dream of living somewhere where there isn't an expressway ever few miles, but then I think of how inconvenient that must be. I wonder if I would prefer the convenience or the silence. Not to mention the planes flying overhead every three minutes or so; the pond is due west of one of O'Hare's landing paths, so there are always low-flying planes passing by. Sometimes loudly.

But yes, I still like it- and I also enjoy the new sound of frogs at the pond. I heard at least two different types of frogs croaking. Every time I hear frogs I'm amazed at how freaking loud they are. The whole pond was filled with the sounds of frogs, which helped drown out the expressways and the planes.

The next day, Saturday, I hit the road and headed west. I was standing on the bank the Fox River with my new wading boots 45 minutes after leaving my house. It was a beautiful day- warm enough I immediately took off my jacket and enjoyed wearing short sleeves while wading. Haven't had too many of those occasions since my first time wading back in October.

I walked up to the edge and saw a boil on the surface- I've been seeing a lot of that lately. I think it means big fish chasing smaller fish. I happened to have a black spinnerbait tied on (from the previous night at the pond) so I casually tossed it into the water. One hit, then another; seemed like I was getting stuck on branches.

And then in an erupting of water, a big smallmouth bass came to the surface, shaking it's head at me. From the shore, this looked like the biggest smallie I'd ever hooked into! My drag was set too loose, and it was able to pull out a ton of line. I couldn't keep the tension, especially not standing from the shore. As I admired it's size and tenacity, I noticed the spinner fly out of it's mouth and land on the shore next to me.

Well, that's ok, I thought. Maybe there were more.

After fan-casting the area, I carefully entered the water. Pretty soon I sacrificed my black spinner to the river gods, and tied on a lure that has been successful for me so many times before: The tube jig. Lately it seems the smallies want a very particular color- olive- and will pass up anything darker or lighter. I usually carry a variety of colors, and I've been testing them to see which ones get more hits. Perhaps it's more than just the color, but the smell or the material (I buy various brands indiscriminately) but I feel like it's the color.

And so began one of the most fun times fishing I've had yet this year! Hit after hit, smallies attacking the lure and quickly throwing it out of their mouths. Some came to the surface and I was able to see them. Most stayed down in the water, but I could feel them. I hadn't had this kind of action, well, maybe ever! Even though I wasn't catching any, it sure was fun to spar with strong river bronzebacks.

All of the sudden something changed, and I caught three in a span of ten minutes. Three! Most of my fishing trips this year ended in the skunk, only a few had a a single fish to post; this was excellent. I found them everywhere along the shore. I was standing in a big, extremely slow eddy that was far from the main current or any seams. These fish were just hanging out by the shore, ignoring the seams and current where I have found them in the past. My new buddy Sam Bennett and the internet tell me higher waters will push fish toward the shore, and this certainly was happening. With all the rain we've gotten recently, the Fox was high and strong, and these fish were chilling out feet from the shore.

I was glad they were, because when I tried to get close to any current, the strong flow gave me reason to turn back around and go back to the shore.

One of three nice fish caught on Saturday
All three were about the same size- around 12" and somewhat beefy. I find myself returning them to the water very quickly most of the time, not even thinking about weighing them or measuring them. I was just happy to catch them and return them safely to fight another day. Then again, if I caught a really big one, you can bet your ass I'd bust out the scale so I could brag to the nearest ounce and closest inch.

Another one (this one was fatter)
Just as soon as the smallie-fest began, it stopped, and they weren't hitting my tube anymore. I tried spinners, cranks, some new home-assembled swim jigs (football head jigs.. are those swim jigs?) and good old reliable twister tails, but no more takers. I tried a few other spots; I saw a carp swimming in very shallow water, it's dorsal fin sticking out of the water like a vegetarian shark, but no other fish volunteered to be pulled around the river.

The sun set, and I kept fishing. I really, really, really want to catch a walleye. The main reason is because I haven't done it before. Once I catch one, maybe I'll be satisfied. But until then, every chance I get, I'll be bombarding the river with skinny crankbaits at sunset, looking for Mr. Walter.

I tried casting my cranks along deep holes I had inadvertently discovered earlier. I hear they like holes and trenches. I also tried casting parallel to the banks, because I also hear they like to swim along the shore around sunset. If you've read ahead, you'll notice I don't have a picture of a beautiful walleye and me together. I did not hook into anything else after those smallies, as hard as I tried as night fell.

My last cast was decided for me: I made a hard, long cast downstream. Immediately I heard a small "ping" and watched my little crankbait fly through the air, untethered by any kind of fishing line. It was dark, and the water was rushing all around; I didn't even hear it splash in the water. Another lure sacrificed to the gods of the river, that they may someday permit me to find one of their elusive walleyes.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

CB makes a bow and arrows

I fished the Fox on Sunday morning,  and although I didn't catch a single fish, it was a pleasure to be outside. My first wading trip was last Fall, and the majority of my wading trips have been in fairly cold weather (usually cold and rainy). This was one of the first times the water was pleasant, the breeze wasn't chilly, and I even rolled up my sleeves.

I saw a lot of wildlife- a couple of deer came to the river to drink, and seemed perplexed by me. Once they returned to the woods, I saw them watching me through the trees. Maybe if I'd caught a fish while they were watching it would have made more sense to them. I suppose just standing in the middle of a river does look strange.

Can you see the deer?
Later, in a different spot, I saw a bunch of adult geese with a many baby geese. I had no idea they were yellow when they were young- I would have guessed they were baby chickens if I didn't see them next to their parents. I wonder if they taste like chickens.

Geese and goslings (?)
A couple days later I fished the retention pond. The weather has been colder this week than last week, and the fishing has shut down for me. I managed to get one hit from a bass about a foot from shore- I reeled him in, and as soon as he saw me he simply opened his mouth and spit out the chigger craw. I didn't even hook him! That was one of the more crazy fishing experiences I've ever had. That fish was determined.

A few days ago I finished the amazing book "The Mindful Carnivore" by Tovar Cerulli. I think I might write a formal review of it, but not today. My summation of his thesis is that no matter what we do as humans, we hurt other living things, and there is no way around it. Even growing vegetables requires at the very least the killing of insect pests; apparently many farmers regularly kill deer to protect their crops.

The author went from being vegan to hunting because he wanted to face the death necessary for his sustenance head-on, without disguising it behind layers of plastic and styrofoam or words like "free range" or "organic." I'm no hunter, although I do occasionally keep fish I catch and cook them. I could relate to much of what Tovar wrote. This book was a great account of his journey from veganism to meat-eating, and his great respect for nature and all the life around him.

After finishing the book, and not wanting to go fishing due to the lack of action and colder weather, something possessed me to try and make a bow and arrow. I promise it has nothing to do with "The Hunger Games." If anything, it's more related to my current obsession with outdoorsy-ness. I also just wanted to see if I could.

I found some downed branches, took them home, cut off the bark with a knife, made notches for the bow string, for which I first tried using monofilament fishing line. I have a lot of it laying around, and now that I pretty much use braided line exclusively, I didn't mind using a bunch of mono for my bow. As you could probably guess, the line snapped fairly easily. I found some twine we had laying around, and using a "slip knot" (which I just learned) I was able to tie the line to the bow. I wrapped duct tape around the handle to prevent splinters and whatnot, and put some around the twine to assist in holding the notches in the arrows.

Then I took some sticks (which I thought were straight but are obviously quick crooked) added some cardboard for the "feathers" (don't know the archery term) and whittled the points down so they weren't completely blunt.

What I had was this:

Believe it or not, it works... kind of
And it works! By the time I finished everything, it was dark. This morning before I headed out to work I tried shooting my new arrows. I propped up a cardboard box, and was very surprised by the power of my new bow and the arrows I made. I was able to put arrows through two layers of cardboard from about twenty feet!

Aiming is difficult, and where the arrows end up is anybody's guess... I'd never shot an arrow before yesterday, except of course in Wii Sports. I really liked it there, which suggested to me I might like the real thing. I figured instead of investing money on something I might not enjoy whatsoever, why not make my own and satisfy my urge to make stuff from scratch in the process.

What have I gotten out of this exercise? If the zombie apocalypse comes, and I find myself in a forest with a knife and some twine, and maybe some cardboard, I might be able to construct my own bow and arrows. If I'm lucky I might confuse the zombies enough to allow for my escape.

Also, this might be an activity worth pursuing with some store-bought gear. Then I can be just like Katniss.