Monday, May 14, 2012

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.


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