Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chris and Walter go fishing

After work Walter came up and said we should go fishing at the pond real quick. I said "sure why not!"

We headed down to the pond and I tossed in a lure I carved today. I immediately snagged it on a stick. Oh well, that's how it goes. Walter sniffed things as I tied on another.

I tied on my newly painted flatfish lure- the one that almost caught some bass yesterday. I reeled it in nice and slow. I saw the green flash of a bass coming out of the shadows and attacking my lure.

Walter didn't know what to make of it. He licked the bass lips and then walked away, doing a small roll in the grass to scratch his back.

Then I caught another one, a much much bigger one, on the same lure. I showed Walter, but he just sniffed it and walked away. It must have been 16" or so- and fat!! but instead of congratulating me he went to smell something new.

That's ok, I know he likes frisbee a lot more than fishing.

Drinkbourbon and CBFishes go fishing

Anthony (@drinkbourbon) and I have been trying to do some fishing together for some time now. We've been corresponding via all the various internet ways like Twitter, Facebook; Anthony's got a blog, and it seems like we've got a lot in common. Obsessed with fishing, not sure how everything works exactly with the whole fishing thing, oh and did I mention obsessed with fishing?

I got to the pond a little while before Anthony, and had a great time almost catching a bunch of fish. I tested out some new lures I made, this time before painting them. I just wanted to see how they ran. A little crankbait I made with a plastic lip flipped over itself at any speed, suggesting I might need to change the lip position. I snapped on a weird looking lure I carved and finished with my new Dremel (that thing is freaking awesome). A while back I found a couple "flatfish" lures at Busse- I don't know if they're "Lil' Ikes" or "Flatfish" but the idea is the same. They were so unusual I wanted to see if I could make them myself.

The Beckfish (flatfish imitation)
I was immediately in love with the action of this lure. With a very slow retrieve, it wobbled a ton back and forth, so much so I almost took a swipe at it. On the second cast, I saw three bass come up and try and take it. One of them made it, got hooked right in the lip, but threw the hook in an impressive aerial display of power.

Well that was awesome. It confirms something I've been thinking and hearing from other anglers I respect a lot- it's all about the action. There was no paint, no eyes, no 3D holographic foil coating, no patented impregnated scent... Just some wood and some metal with some nice action. Maybe the bass apreciated the extra-smooth finish I was able to achieve with my new power tool.

I'm now the proud owner of a power tool
 I ended up catching a nice bass a few minutes later by dragging a t-rigged tube over some weeds and letting it drop down right at the edge. A big bass gobbled it up. Great idea Sam! Just like a frog but cheaper.

A few minutes later Anthony walked down to the water. Although we'd never met, we had corresponded a great deal via the internets, so we already went way back, so to speak. He started fishing, I did my best impression of a fishing guide and told him what had and hadn't been working lately. I kept my tube tied on, missing a bunch of hits and catching a few fish.

Anthony and I talked about our fishing background; how he grew up fishing, didn't fish for a long time, then recently picked it up in a serious way. We seem to have similar ideas about fishing- catching a little fish is still a fish; there's a big difference between catching one fish and zero fish but less between two and ten; we don't know why the fish choose to hit certain lures at certain times.

I managed to catch a few bass while we were talking, but felt bad Anthony wasn't getting any fish. I was the guide after all. It was cool to have somebody else around to take pictures- most of my fish pictures are from an arm's distance away.

After a few misses (the fish were biting really weirdly) he connected with his first CB's Secret Pond bass!

Anthony and a nice bass
It was a great time. The fish were certainly biting, although strangely. Most of my hits came from ignoring my lure for a minute while Anthony and I talked; then I'd have a bass on my line. No giant bulldozer hits, just a "gulp" and my line swam away. I suppose it is a cold front after all. I did, however, catch my second bass on my firetiger crankbait. I cast it out to the middle of the pond, let it sit for a few seconds; the bass inhaled it after two revolutions of cranking my reel.

Another fish caught by a hand-carved lure
We caught some more fish (I think I managed 6 bass total that outing on t-rigged plastics and my crankbait), talked about fishing, made a lot of casts; we each had some equipment issues, but it was a great time. Thanks for coming out Anthony! Next time I'll have to experience your secret pond.

Anthony and another sweet bass

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fishing in Kalamazoo

This weekend Claire and I were in Kalamazoo, Michigan helping my little sister move. Obviously I wanted to take the opportunity to do some fishing. I woke up at 5am EST (4am my time) on Sunday morning, headed to the nearest supplier of coffee (Starbucks wasn't open yet, McDonalds still did the trick) and made my way north to a small trout stream I'd read about on the Internet. I figured I could try for some stream trout for a while, then hit the Kalamazoo river since I'd be fishing very close to it.

There was supposed to be a street going to the stream, a street where I could park and not have to traverse any private property. Turns out this street was a dirt road, and it was closed. I spent about twenty minutes trying to find a way to get to the stream. Finally I found another part of it, farther upstream from the Kalamazoo, but it was clearly private property. The stream was about ten feet wide, and it most certainly ran through a series of backyards.

Well, I thought, I wouldn't be catching any trout this morning. I made yet another u-turn in the deserted country backroads and headed toward downtown Kalamazoo. Every now and then I'd stop and take a look at the map, trying to figure out some river access that wasn't private property. At one point I pulled into a seemingly abandoned industrial complex of some kind. There was river access, but it was behind very tall barbed wire fences.

I drove to a city park on the river, and when I got there I realized I'd actually fished there before. Last year, I happened to be in town and tried fishing from the bridge. Back then I didn't have a clue about river fishing (I still only have a clue, not much else) and was, as expected, skunked. This time I had waders, quickly made my way into the water.

A few years ago there was a major oil spill on the Kalamazoo, but cleaning efforts have been mostly concluded, except for a few stretches. There was no sign of the oil spill where I was; the river looked like a normal river. A lot more urban than I expected; reminded me of the Desplaines River in Chicago with its high banks that made me think of erosion. I was surprised by the depth and sandy bottom of the river. I was also surprised by the lack of current breaks in the form of rocks; there were some downed trees, and there was a bridge, and that was it. No boulders, at least as far as I could see.

I got some hits, then pulled out a monstrous 9" rock bass on a tube that immediately self-released from my hands. It was good to catch a fish- there's always a lot of (self-inflicted) pressure to catch at least one fish. After that I can relax a little.

Casting everywhere, I decided that if I were a smallmouth bass, I'd probably prefer an area with a rocky bottom and more current. The only place that existed was around the bridge, so I headed in that direction. I worked the downstream sides of the columns but no takers. Under the bridge there was a little riffle, and when I cast to it I was rewarded with my first Kalamazoo River smallie.

Pretty fish
Not a trophy, but a good solid fish with nice colors. I worked that area for another half hour, and when I decided to leave and find another spot, at least 10 tube jigs stayed behind, attached to various underwater obstructions. I couldn't retrieve them when I went to check out the spot, but I did notice a bunch of boulders; it appeared the smallies were hiding behind them. I also found a submerged stereo. I wondered if there were times fish gathered behind it, using it to hide from the current.

the "wet" knob on the reverb must have been turned up all the way (music nerd joke)  
I got into my car and brought up Maps on my phone. I wanted to find a place with more current breaks, more variation in water depth. The river was mostly straight near me, but there was one big curve in the river. I know from the internet and some experience that in river bends the inside bend will be shallow, the outside deeper. I also have seen that bends like that tend to deposit trees and other current breaks as the current changes, providing more places for fish to hide. I headed to the curve.

It took me a while to figure out where to legally park and how to get down to the water. On one attempt I stumbled upon some homeless people living in a tent under a bridge. I suppose they could have been camping, but it looked like they'd been there for weeks. I wondered what I would do if I suddenly didn't have a place to live; permanently camping by a river seemed like a perfectly reasonable solution. I wondered if they would ask for some fish if I caught any, and if I should give them any. I decided I probably would give them some, even though the water quality wasn't the best. A contaminated fish might be better than no food at all.

After some major bushwacking through a solid wall of foliage, I stumbled down into the river and saw exactly what I was looking for. Lots of rocks, boulders, downed trees, bridge columns, deep water, shallow water; Maybe it was luck or maybe it was me, but either way I found a great spot. My good choice was confirmed as a good choice when I caught another smallie hanging out in a bunch of riffles.

Kzoo river smallie #2
 I lost some more tubes, got a few hits, and really enjoyed the experience. I was fishing in downtown Kalamazoo, a half mile from the Union where I'd played more than a hundred gigs... But I'd never seen this spot, nor had I fished it. I wonder what other hidden jewels I miss as I drive over bridges.

I was almost out of tubes, so I thought I'd try another approach. I definitely use tubes and jigs too much for smallies; I've never caught one on anything else. I pulled out a gold and red spinner I made (with a paperclip for the wire shaft) and clipped it to my line. When I was testing its action in the water not two feet away from me, I saw and felt fish come up and nip at it! Awesome! I'd been standing still for a few minutes, and it appeared fish were using me as a current break. I had heard of that happening, but never experienced it myself.

So I cast out my spinner, downstream into the current break I was creating, and sure enough connected with a fish. Another rock bass. My first river fish on a homemade spinner! I made it extra heavy to dive deeper in heavy current. This seemed to be the perfect place to use it.

I made that spinner! First fish caught in my own wake
It took about 5 minutes to remove the treble hooks, but after a few minutes holding the fish in the slack water behind me, he came to and swam away just fine. As I was doing so some guys came upstream in a boat, giving me dirty looks. I wondered if I was in "their" spot. I asked them how they were doing, but they didn't seem interested in talking to me.

I caught another rock bass behind me, but couldn't coax anymore smallies. Nobody asked me for fish, nor did I see anybody in the tent. Maybe they were still asleep; it was early after all.

When the time came I made the reverse bushwhacking trip through the thick trees; it seemed clear to me not too many people fished this spot. At least not wading. I wondered if wading in the Kzoo was a bad idea after the oil spill; but I didn't see even the slightest indication of any topwater oil slicks or contaminated rocks or plants. I know that doesn't always mean it's clean, but I felt fairly protected by my waders. Except for the small leak they seem to have developed. I guess I'll find out...

Although I didn't do any trout fishing like I'd hoped, it was a good outing with some nice fish. 2 smallies, 3 rock bass. One of those guys was a GIANT! Not the best trip, but certainly not the worst. It's very encouraging to know that, at least in some circumstances, I can explore a new body of water and successfully find fish.

Friday, June 22, 2012

CB Goes Flatheading

We got to the river's edge, armed with two rods, two chairs, bait, and some beers. It was around sunset. Sam and I walked into the river, looking more like we were going to a barbeque than going fishing. Opening our camp chairs up and setting them down in the gravel, we were glad the river was so low. About an inch clearance between our butts and the water.

Put a green sunfish on each hook and Sam showed me the casting technique for getting the bait where you want it without it flying off the hook. Once our bait was swimming around in the water, we sat down, cracked open some beers, and got down to business. Waiting for the fish.

I can only imagine what we looked like from shore, or from the bridge above us; two dudes relaxing in some foldout chairs who must have mistaken the river for the tailgate party parking lot. The water flowed around our ankles as we held the long white catfish rods in one hand and a beer in the other.

It didn't seem long at all before I felt something at the end of my line. This wasn't the greenie swimming around, this was a definite hit from something... A few seconds later my rod tip started to bend toward the horizontal, toward the fish that had taken my bait. I stood up, Sam stood up, and I prepared to set the hook... Just like I'd seen Jeremy Wade do so many times before when a giant catfish had taken his bait, just like Sam told me to do. When my rod was parallel to the water, I quickly cranked the reel and pulled up on the rod, setting the hook into the beast.

It knew immediately, and with the full force of every pound of its muscular body, it fought. Suddenly, it changed direction, coming directly toward us. Standing in water up to my ankles, I wondered if the fish was coming to ram me. Teach me a lesson. Get me off its property. Out of its territory.

Once it saw us, with a burst of energy its tail shot out of the water, slapping down, propelling its streamlined body away. Sam tried to grab the lip, but the fish had other ideas. After another short run, and a few tries, Sam grabbed the line and lipped the fish. He pulled out a beautiful creature, built like a tank and painted in camouflage: my first flathead catfish.

I tried to stiffle my giggling; after all, Sam is a serious river fisherman and this was a serious fish. No place for giggles, this was hardcore. Flatheads aren't messing around, they know what's up.

Sam grabbed some pliers and worked on removing the hook from the flathead's bony lip- I stood there like a little kid catching his first panfish, holding the rod, not sure what to do next, but excited.

Suddenly the catfish made its characteristic roll, getting free from Sam's grip and splashing back into the water. For a moment it just sat there, but when Sam reached down to grab it, it swam away like a torpedo. I watched the whole thing, standing motionless, in awe of the animal I had just seen.

He guessed it had been 23/24", an average specimen for the river. Average!? That was a BIG fish, wider, heavier, and longer than 99% of all the fish I catch. It could literally eat any of the 17 green sunfish I caught earlier in the day. It did, in fact, eat a green sunfish I caught earlier in the day.

I congratulated Sam on putting me on fish, he congratulated me on my first flathead, and we quickly re-hooked, re-baited, and re-cast the line. It was on.

I tried to focus, but was too excited by what had just transpired. The one that got away, but we certainly got a good look at it. We drank some more beers, utterred some more words of congratulations, and then 14 minutes later another THUMP on my line. A few seconds of nothing. Then another THUMP and my line took off.

My drag squeeled as the second monster of the night took off downstream; even in the dark we could see epic splashes coming out of the water. I gripped the rod as hard as I could, the powerful fish- definitely bigger than the first- using every ounce of its muscle to take my line and get away.

Then my line went slack, and I realized the fish was coming toward me. Ramming speed! Man your battle stations!

I adjusted my stance in the water to something I imagine baseball players doing before they get a pitch. A giant rock-colored fish-shaped pitch. I don't know much about baseball.

I quickly reeled in my line, trying to keep the tension on the aquatic rocket that was barreling toward me, against the current, perhaps aiming right for my knees where it could knock me down in the water. I realized my iphone was in my pocket and wondered why I hadn't brought a waterproof container for it.

And then the flathead saw us, and took off downstream once again. Every second I thought it was going to rip the rod right out of my hands, but somehow I managed to hold on for dear life. Every chance I got, I reeled in the slack line, keeping the pressure on my adversary.

Not so much adversary, more like sparring partner. To me "adversary" implies a lack of respect or contempt for the opponent; I have a huge amount of respect for this amazing fish, and certainly didn't want to hurt it. I simply wanted to spar a little, get our picture together, and put it on its merry way.

I got it close enough (read: the flathead decided to come closer to us) and Sam grabbed it. After a quick grab of the pliers, he held the most badass fish I've ever caught. We checked for tags and clipped adipose fins- the DNR in conjunction with the Fox Valley Flatheaders is doing a study of flathead catfish in the river- we got out the tape measure and it came in at 27". Not my longest or biggest fish, but without question the heaviest and beefiest, and certainly the most badass. This time Sam got a picture for me. (Sam also did a write up about the adventure on FoxRiverFishing.net)

What a fish. 27" Fox River flathead catfish
I held the muscular fish, admiring it's beautiful patterns. Up close it looked to me a lot like brown trout skin, although not quite as colorful. Just as striking though. A dark brown background with little black spots of varying sizes. I can only imagine how terrified a little sunfish would be if the rocks underneath him suddenly floated up, revealing a veritable river monster.

We released the fish, and what a fish it was. Once in the water, it didn't swim away. It calmly parked itself between Sam's feet in the water, as if to challenge us to a rematch. After a few moments, it swam away, probably giving us the finger.

Thanks to Sam for landing
and documenting this awesome fish
with some pictures
We didn't catch anymore flatheads, although Sam had a few hits and misses throughout the night. Waiting for the fish to bite we spent some time tag-team-hunting the bullfrogs that seemed to be everywhere. We both caught some, but we figured they were to scrawny to keep. For a moment we considered using one as flathead bait, as our supply was running low, but then reconsidered. Maybe next time.

We watched a wake circle the area in front of us that was almost certainly a flathead patrolling its spawning grounds. It was a big, calmly swimming fish near the surface, slowly cruising the waters in front of us. There were carp and some bass jumping, but this was a different kind of wake. A big badass of a fish looking for a meal, looking for a mate, or both. Maybe looking to pick a fight with us, sitting in camp chairs on the edge of its territory.

After we ran out of bait, we packed it up and waded to shore in the dark. Our butts soaking wet, beers empty, and big grins across both our faces, we headed down the dark path that lead to my car. An awesome experience to be sure; and an experience it was. A different, slower-paced style of fishing than I'm used to, but with a big payoff in the form of a giant apex predator. I can't help but respect this tank of a fish, the flathead catfish. If we ever met face to face I'm sure it would kick my ass.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lunchtime greenies

Spoiler alert: I caught a big green sunfish
There are so many bodies of water. Seriously, go to google maps and check out where you live. All those little blue areas- there are almost certainly fish in all of them! At least that's how I feel lately, having discovered some exciting fishing in Salt Creek. I've been wondering what other bodies of water right under my nose are teeming with fish...

Today during lunch I strolled down the street to a tiny pond not even a quarter mile away. Last night on a walk with Walter I noticed a distinct lack of "NO FISHING" signs. There were only "DO NOT MOW! NATIVE GRASSES!" signs. Not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds like something I approve of. I am not a fan of the ridiculously manicured suburban lawns that surround me (including my own, which is maintained by the neighborhood association). Why not keep the native plants around? They are nice looking and perfectly at home in this climate. I bet they also give local wildlife a lot better homes than bushes trimmed into cubes and spheres. But I digress.

I wasn't expecting much from this pond- it's about the size of a basketball court, probably smaller. I don't really know anything about basketball or the size of courts it's played on. I casually walked up to the pond, tossed out a texas-rigged white twister tail, and let it sink.

Immediately I had a fish on. No setting of the hook needed. It hit the lure like a missile.

The next four or five casts were the same way. Every cast a fish. Small but incredibly aggressive fish. Awesome! A few casts went without a fish retrieved, and then I felt a giant tug on the line. Could it be a bass? It felt a lot bigger than the others.

I reeled in the biggest green sunfish I'd ever seen. It was a monster! Probably 9" long, maybe longer, and a mouth like a largemouth bass. This dude was considerably larger than every other fish I'd caught so far. A veritable giant. I've caught plenty of smallies around that size; in my book, quite a catch. Especially from a tiny shallow pond down the street.

9"+ green sunfish, my personal best for that species
In the next 35 minutes I caught a total of 17 green sunfish. I switched to a green t-rigged worm and continued to catch them, although not as many. I caught all sizes from the 9" monster to a little guy who inhaled the whole worm.

Over-achiever (the worm is longer than he is)
After the 17th fish, which is more fish than I've ever caught in a single outing as far as I can remember, I made the 2 minute walk back to my house to eat some lunch and go back to work.

Evening wade on a lovely little river

Near Salt Creek, 9pm
I'm a little obsessed with Salt Creek.

After my awesome wade Monday night, catching 11 green sunfish and catching a glimpse of a BIG fish, all I can think about is what lurks beneath the surface of that little unassuming creek. Until Monday, I assumed it was too polluted to support anything besides green sunfish and carp, at least in the section closest to me. Turns out, I was wrong!

I waded twice yesterday- a very short trip at lunch, and a longer trip right around sunset. At lunch I didn't catch anything, but got some hits from something and follows from a little largemouth bass. I saw tons of baitfish swimming around, little brown minnows all over the place.

Somewhere I read Salt Creek should actually be called a river, but for some reason the creek name stuck... I also read the original inhabitants of the area called it the Lovely Little River.

Although it's moving water, and in many ways just a smaller Fox or Rogue river, there are a few strange things that make it different. It's clearly not the healthiest river; for long stretches it's bordered on both sides by industry and overly-fertilized residential land. I don't know much about ecology or hydrology, but the Salt certainly has a different character than other rivers I've fished. There is a distinct lack of boulders and current breaks, although I could be missing seeing them due to the low water levels.

Probably the strangest thing is the weird step-like dropoffs from the shore to the main channel. Instead of tapering down nicely, there are steps that lead down to the deepest sections. That means if I'm not paying attention, I might walk off one of those ledges and drop a foot into a deeper section. That almost happened last night and it scared the $%#& out of me! I wonder if it's related to erosion or some human-influenced characteristic.

I explored a new section last night, and was rewarded with some very fishy spots. A short wade upstream brought me to an awesome looking area with a downed tree blocking off the majority of the stream. The main current cut through a five foot hole close to shore, then created one of the few current seams I've seen on the Salt. On the shore side, there were little eddies in about a foot of water- I bet that will be a sweet spot in higher water. The downstream side of the tree is much deeper water, and absolutely a spot that holds fish. There were some branches in the water, near some very tall undercut banks, all of which was underneath a bunch of low hanging trees. As I waded toward it I saw at least three fish porpoise, one jumped clear out of the water. It was big, although it could have been anything. In the dim dusk light I couldn't make it out.

I waded quickly, hoping to explore as much as possible before all the daylight went away. I'd like to say I threw my little white spinnerbait into all the best fish-holding spots, but in reality I just threw it everywhere. Some places I expected to find fish I didn't, and where I didn't I got hits.

When I finally connected with a fish- on my new light rod- I was ecstatic. I wondered if there was a little pike on the end of my line, my first pike ever. Turns out it was a little largemouth- a moving water largemouth, a fish I don't know well. This one fought like a little monster, like a smallie. All muscle, all spunk. I didn't mind that it was small, it was a great fish to me, caught so close to home in this seemingly hidden spot.

Another Salt Creek bass
A little farther upstream I got another one. This was awesome! If I pretended I didn't hear the the car traffic noise from a quarter mile away, and I blocked out the sounds of low-flying aircraft going to O'Hare, I might as well have been a hundred miles away in the wilderness. Wading, catching fish as the sun went down.

My spinner got hung up, and somehow I didn't have any more safety-pin style spinners with me. I tied on one of my homemade inline spinners, then a beetle spin, then just a straight up jig'n'twister. Although I didn't connect with any more fish, the wade was great.

The local wildlife was everywhere. I saw a big raccoon waddle away from me; I tried to pass quickly so it could go about its business. When I came around a bend in the river, two deer were standing in the river a stone's throw from me. They noticed me and casually trotted away. When it was almost dark, I noticed a tall figure in the middle of the river upstream from me. I squinted and realized it was a heron, or some kind of bird just like a heron. I was standing chest-deep in water, and this bird was towering over me (albiet far away). It must have been five feet tall.

I watched it, both of us standing motionless, until all of the sudden it flew away.

In one stretch with a muddy bottom, I spooked what I think was a carp in 6" of water. I thought about how great it would be to hook into a carp in this stream.

Eventually it was time to head in, as the use of my headlamp was necessary to see. I thought about the coyotes I'd heard coming from this particular area a few nights back, and decided to call it a night. After a slightly tense walk through very tall grass, I made it to a path and headed back to my car. But I'd be back to find out what else this little river holds.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Windy Fishing

The yak- fully loaded
with 3 rod-holders, depth finder, PFD, and tons of gear
After an intense day at work, I decided to get the kayak out and hit some water. Who am I joking; my day at work had nothing to do with it, I just wanted to go kayaking! I was originally going to go on Monday, but 30 mph had me thinking otherwise. Glad I hit the Salt instead; that fish I saw for a split second has been fueling fish fantasies about that little body of water...

It was still windy last night, but for whatever reason I went anyway.

Got to Mallard, parked the car, unloaded the kayak; Mallard is a bit strange in that they allow boating, but it's a "carry-in" only lake. Meaning if you want to boat there, you've got to get the Dupage county boat license and you've got to carry your boat to the water.

That's part of why I love kayaking- it's a boat, it will get you around any lake just fine, but it's light and human-powered. I can launch from anywhere, paddle in 6" of water, and leave no gas fumes or anything else in my wake. I must say, however, carrying the kayak on one shoulder and carrying my depth finder*, rod holders, water bottle, ropes, and other stuff in my other hand is something of a workout. But take that with a grain of salt, since I'm a guy who doesn't exactly "work out."

* My buddy Sam reminded me that it's not a "fish finder" but a depth finder. It doesn't find fish for you. Agreed!

Where I launched I saw tons of little bluegill in the water. I thought that might be a good sign. Once I pushed off into the lake, I realized it was going to be one of those outings. The wind, ferociously wipping past my ears in a deafening roar, quickly pushed me to the opposite shore. To say there was a chop on the water would be a huge understatement. It was more like 1' waves crashing into my boat. I kept thinking "I want to kayak on Lake Michigan, I better get used to it." I've never gotten so wet from waves alone! It was incredibly intense.

I paddled around, struggling against the wind; when I paddled directly into the wind I felt like I was dragging the lake bottom behind me, my arms burned and my midsection worked to give me torque. I had no idea how to fish a situation like this. Where would the fish go when it was this crazy at the surface?

I tried jigging some jigs and spinners, throwing some deep-diving crankbaits; I even busted out my 3/4oz casting spoon I assembled the other day, complete with a treble hook hand-dressed with bucktail. It cast like a bullet, sank quickly, but did not entice any fish.

Exploring the lake, fighting the wind, I was doing a lot of corrective paddling and not a lot of fishing. Eventually I found a spot near a quick dropoff- 4' to 25' over the course of about 20'- where I could "park" my kayak in the bullrushes and cast into the dropoff. All I caught were weeds, although I was convinced there would be fish there.

I saw some interesting structure on the bottom of the lake, in the middle of a 30' deep hole- it looked like a big tree trunk laying at a 45° angle. My depth finder told me there were tons of fish around it. My lures dropped down as close to the spot as I could manage told me otherwise.

The wind was relentless. Just when I found a good spot, I'd cast, and in a matter of moments I found myself fifty feet downwind. What calm areas I found seemed to be devoid of life, although they gave me a respite from the intense paddling.

Mallard is quite a pretty lake
Finally I decided to head to shore, maybe do some shore fishing, give my arms a break. I saw a bunch of guys fishing, throwing giant crankbaits and topwaters, doing figure-8's in the water. Fishing for pike? Musky? Maybe they should fish Salt Creek...

I beached the kayak and threw out a bobber while I cast with some cranks and spoons. I'm liking this spoon thing. It casts super far, even into the wind, and wobbles like nobody's business. I could have sworn I got a few follows retrieving it quickly just a few inches under the surface, but didn't connect with anything.

Once it got dark, a big bullfrog hopped on the shore just a few feet from me. Eager to learn more about these animals- in case I do actually go hunting for frogs- I struggled to find my headlamp in my bag. Spinner hooks and stray jigs dug into my hand; I stifled my sighs of pain so I wouldn't startle the frog.

I put the headlamp on my head, turned it on, and shined it directly on the bullfrog.

It froze; as I approached, it made no sign of moving. I slowly reached down and grabbed it- it was in my hand! It made no struggle, it was simply frozen.

As soon as I shined the light somewhere else, it jumped away with it's powerful legs into the water. To test this whole "frogs freeze when you shine light on them" thing, I shined it again. Again it froze, again I picked it up. Then I set him (her?) down on the shore, still shining the light, and it didn't move at all. As soon as the light went elsewhere, the giant bullfrog scampered away. Interesting!

The sun set, and I continued fishing.. for fish. Some bass took a few swipes at a Heddon torpedo, and while it was nice to get some action, it would have been nicer to get a fish or two. But it didn't matter too much- it was a pretty but windy evening, had a little adventure, and caught a bullfrog with my bare hands. Not bad for a Tuesday!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Green sunfish and the creek monster

The view from the water
Early this morning I headed out to the local pond, which is the answer to my fishing fix when I don't plan ahead. The pond is there, it's full of fish, I usually do pretty well there. For a while the bass seemed turned off, and now they are back biting at everything. Could that be the "post-spawn funk" I've been hearing about?

Last week my lovely wife suggested we get another fishing rod. Well ok, sounds like a plan to me. We went to the big store and looked through all the rods until I found what I was looking for. I should clarify that, because I have no idea what I was looking for. I was hoping for a very light rod that I could use for a variety of fishing situations- pond bass, panfish, maybe even smallies. I normally fish with medium rods, but I wanted to try catching big pond bass on a light rod.

Turns out, it's a hell a good time. (Did I say that right? Should I say "hella" instead?) This morning I missed 2 and landed 3 on my new 5'6" light action (action? weight? not sure) rod. Each fish felt like a river monster. It was awesome. 1 came on a texas-rigged tube (thanks for the idea Sam) and the others on a plain old t-rigged worm. Brown. They attacked the $%^# out of that brown worm.

Later in the day I headed out to good old Salt Creek. It's a fairly polluted body of water, as I understand it; but I've caught a fair number of small fish there before. Even kayaked there once. I stopped by for literally 10 minutes and caught 4 green sunfish and two bass. They were small, but I really enjoyed catching them. I tried throwing some new little spoons I assembled, but they only followed and wouldn't strike. The white jig and twister, which is quickly becoming my go-to lure, took them all.

For 10 minutes in the middle of the day, I'll take it. The bass hit like tanks; they didn't know how small they were.

This evening I had been planning on kayaking Mallard Lake, now that I've got the Dupage county license to do so... But with 15 mph with gusts up to 30, I knew it would mean a frustrating outing. At the last minute I changed my mind and decided to wade Salt Creek.

I've never heard of anybody targeting green sunfish- not for bait- but that was exactly my plan. I wanted to go wading on a Monday night, 5 minutes from my house, and catch a bunch of fish. Beside the gale-force wind, it was a perfectly fantastic outing.

Perhaps you might think it's silly to wade in a tiny creek only home to tiny fish; or a waste of time... But just like the local pond is a smaller version of a lake, the creek is a scaled-down version of a river. All the same rules apply. There are still riffles, pools; seams, undercut banks... It's just all in miniature. The water was surprisingly clear, so as I fished I could not only view all the structure in the river, but I could see where my fish came from. Learning to fish a little creek will help me understand bigger moving water, just like learning to pond fish pays off in larger lakes.

It was incredibly informative. I learned that, in Salt Creek this evening, green sunfish prefer to be in the shade, under trees if possible, and in whatever deeper water is available. In any given stretch, I took a long hard look, and made a guess cast to where the fish would choose to be. Most of the time I was right, which was a prize in itself! And then there was this feisty, underrated, and very pretty little fish that I kept catching.

I was having a great time. I explored the creek, slowly wading downstream; I saw a raccoon crawl down almost into the water and disappear into a hole in the bank. I saw a muskrat waddling along, oblivious to my presence. I noticed tons of little baitfish hanging out in the miniature eddies that appeared occasionally. It seemed like the creek didn't have too many places for fish to be; no big boulders, not too much downed timber, no obvious fish-holding spots. I wonder if the channelization of the original stream caused those things to disappear.

Call me silly, but I was perfectly happy to catch these little fish. I was catching more fish in this outing than any of the 113 previous outings this year. It was great.

And then, after hooking into a little greenie in the shadow of an undercut bank, I saw a long green shape suddenly lunge out from the darkness and take a swipe at my hooked fish.

And then it was gone.

I froze, forgetting I had a fish on my line, and questioned the reality of what I just saw. It looked a little like a bass, but was much longer. I saw a flash of scales that appeared green through the water. But so did most things when viewed through this water... I estimated it's length at three feet, but it could have been less. I quickly ran down the list of possible species... I concluded it was either a bass- a BIG bass, a pike, or a musky.

It was a BIG fish. It dwarfed my 5" green sunfish. I know musky or even pike may sound ridiculous to you reading this, an account of fishing in a little polluted creek... But Busse Lake flows into Salt Creek, and they stocked musky at Busse. There's even a picture on the internet somewhere of a guy holding a Salt Creek musky. So it's not completely out of the question.

But even if it were a bass, it was certainly a very big fish. And for the water it was in, practically a trophy-sized fish.

Obviously I fished that spot for about an hour after the sighting.

I threw everything- I got some follows on my new little spoon, but I think it was just little greenies. I used a green sunfish as bait, which seemed like a great idea considering that's what triggered the attack in the first place.... But I never saw that large flash of scales again. Eventually, as the sun began to set, I decided to call it a day. As I waded upstream, it occurred to me how much more difficult it was than wading downstream. My thighs and calves burned. The wind tore through my ears and threatened to blow my hat off. I caught some more fish, and it was ok. I ended up catching 11 green sunfish, which is 1 more than my record this year of number of fish in one outing.

The idea of that giant fish swimming so close to my house will keep me up at night; I'll have dreams of catching whatever it was the next time I go down there. It's amazing, you just don't know what's in the water... until you catch it.

EDIT: Writing this now, after the fact, I suddenly remember I noticed that fish in the picture looked like it's pelvic fins were bitten off. Maybe there is some other reason it's missing fins, but for now I'm just going to assume they were taken by the giant aquatic creature I caught a glimpse of.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chris & Claire go fishing

I think I have time to get out a quick post...

Lately my time has been spent making lures, fishing, and working on my upcoming dub album. If you want to hear a few of the tracks, head on over to my tumblr. Once I'm done with all the tracks, I'll post the whole thing on music.chrisbeckstrom.com where you can stream it and download it for free. I'm pretty excited about it- I've been working on it for quite some time, and got some of my buddies to play on it, and they are awesome.

Most of last week I worked outside- my new job is remote, meaning I can pretty much work anywhere there's an internet connection. I work from home, so I've been taking advantage of the patio. Walter loves it, because he gets to hang out with me outside all day. Here's my "office" as of late:

"Please, step into my office. Watch out for the grill"
It's an amazing thing to head out of the "office" over to the grill for my lunch hour to enjoy some delicious grilled meat.

I've been turning out an average of a lure a day, some days three. My carving, sanding, painting, and hardware-adding is getting better and more predictable. I start with 2x4s, cut out the shapes I want, carve them with a little hobby knife, sand them down (sometimes not so well), paint with spray paint, acrylic, and nail polish, and add hardware. Recently I've made a few emulating some vintage lures I've seen- the whole white body red head thing is pretty awesome.

Topwater torpedo-style lure
This one started as a jitterbug clone, but I added a tail
and two propellors for good measure
I'm calling it mousie
..and this one looks pretty nice, but
is a complete failure in the water...
back to the drawing board
This weekend Claire and I did a lot of fishing together. We went to Blackwell Forest Preserve (Silver Lake) for the first time, and really liked it. Very pretty, big hills, awesome. We fished along the shore, then somehow we decided we should keep on walking and continue around the whole shore. Halfway through we realized what a huge distance it was and how we would have to scale an almost vertical path into the woods if we wanted to continue... We turned around and retraced our steps back to the boat launch.

There was a goose standing in the road like a moron, and when a car came up to it the driver honked profusely and yelled "Get off the road a$$&*#!" without a hint of sarcasm.

We went to check out a dog park, and noticed it was very close to the Dupage river. We decided to go and check it out, as neither one of us had ever been to that particular body of water. My first time wet-wading (wading without waders) and I loved it. The cool water was a welcome respite from the 95°F air.

The water was only about a foot deep, and looking at the stretch I guessed if there were fish, they would be hanging out under the bridge where it might be a little deeper and shaded. Turns out I was right! Claire and I fished some brush piles, rocks, and the bridge itself for about an hour. My wife, as I found out, is quite an angler. She caught her first smallie right there under the bridge- and then proceeded to catch 6 more! (Maybe it was 5, don't remember.. I was trying so hard to catch my own smallies, unsuccessfully, I was distracted.)

A nice smallie for a kick-ass wife
I managed to catch 4-5 green sunfish. Claire had the magical touch; she kept pulling out smallie after smallie while I struggled to entice a handful of 3" green sunfish. It was awesome- the water was incredibly clear; even in the dark under the bridge, we could make out every pebble of gravel on the bottom. I saw some crawfish scurry away, which was perhaps another reason the fish were there. Although I didn't do so well in terms of fish caught, it was some of the best fishing ever. Great weather, great company, just super great all around.

The next day, in an effort to avenge my dismal numbers (and explore the lake more fully) we headed back to Silver Lake with our kayaks. After about half an hour of waiting in line, waiting for somebody to come break our $50 bills, and $70 later we had Dupage county boat licenses and were ready to launch.

Almost immediately I got a little largemouth bass on a twister tail; he was hanging out with some bluegill under the shade of some trees in very shallow water. I wondered if he was eating bluegill eggs/fry.

Baby bass
The water was ridiculously clear; we could see very far down into the water. I wondered if that has to do with the lake's beginning as a quarry, or the types of weeds in it, or lack of mud, or what. Earlier in the day I installed a third rod-holder in my kayak, as well as a strap to hold my new fish finder. It was great- paddling around, armed to the teeth with fishing gear, seeing fish hanging out on all the dropoffs- just where I thought they would be.

Couldn't catch any more though; Claire on the other hand was slay'in'em, catching her first two crappies (and first fish in the kayak too!)

Claire's serious angler pose
We're both super impressed with Silver Lake and the whole preserve. It's a bit of a hike for us, but it's worth it. There seem to be a fair amount of fish in it, even if we couldn't catch too many of them. The shockingly clear water is a revelation to me, I can't wait to go back. I know clear water doesn't necessarily equate to clean water, but I think I might come back and do some bluegill fishing. I've got a filet knife that's never seen a fish, and would like to change that sooner than later. Great times with the wife, awesome times exploring new waters.

Monday, June 11, 2012

CB Makes Coleslaw

Vinegar-y, peppery slaw
I have this thing about unnecessarily cooking things from scratch. Why make my own BBQ sauce when there are millions of great store-bought varieties? Why cook beans from scratch when opening a can takes a fraction of the time? Why in the world would I want to make my own coleslaw when I can just get it already prepared from any grocery store?

There are two reasons, at least for me. The first is the ability to prepare said food item exactly the way I want it- assuming I can make it at all. The second is the satisfaction of not only preparing it myself, but gaining a better idea how it's made. For a long time there were many dishes and sauces shrouded in mystery; there was no way I could ever figure out how to make them. Things like pasta sauce, bread, chilli, salad dressing... Once I tried to make these things, I realized it's not too hard to find out how.

Turns out, there's the internet. And the internet knows a lot of stuff. All you have to do is weed out the bad stuff and take the good stuff!

I'm obsessed with barbeque (barbecue, barbacoa, whatever you want to call it... I prefer BBQ) for a bunch of reasons I'll probably mention later when I post the results of my Oven-Smoker Experiment. In my mind, the perfect accompaniment to a rich, savory and perhaps fatty piece of slow roasted meat is a sharp kick in the head in the form of something tangy, sour, and maybe even bitter. I love pickled cucumbers or jalapeños with my BBQ; I've made pickled red onions to go with carnitas... To top my hopefully delicious oven-smoked chopped bbq pork, I decided to try my hand at coleslaw.

Growing up I remember having all different kinds of coleslaw often; at home, at potlucks, at foot ball games... My favorite kind was always the extra-tangy, extra-peppery, and not-so creamy kind. Turns out, I was able to create a pretty tangy and peppery coleslaw that wasn't too creamy for me. (I loosely based it on this recipe.) If you make it yourself, feel free to vary the amounts to suit your own particular preferences. Pretty sure the Otts have a good recipe- might be a family secret though.

For the slaw:
1 head of cabbage
2 carrots
1/4 white onion (or red, yellow, whatever)

For the dressing:
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste (I used a LOT of black pepper)


1) Shred the cabbage (I was amazed how much shredded cabbage comes from a single head.. and also how cheap cabbage was.. I think $.88 a head!)

2) Shred the carrots (I used a veggie peeler to get carrot strips)

3) Slice the onion fine

4) Combine all the veggies in a big bowl

5) In a separate bowl, whisk/stir/whatever the mayo, vinegar, and any seasonings you'd like

6) Pour over veggies, stir well, taste for seasoning if desired

7) You can eat it immediately, but everything is a little too crispy at this point.. It's best if it sits in the fridge overnight. If there isn't a huge amount of dressing, it seems like a good idea to stir the slaw periodically.

Because this recipe is so simple, you really could do pretty much anything else. Next time I might add some sliced radishes to the slaw; or use red onions instead of white; or add some thin poblano strips for a little bit of heat; I'm sure a little sour cream would make this very creamy, but I generally avoid creamy things. Except ice cream.

I will probably eat this alone (like I just did a second ago) or as a BBQ pork topping, or as a side dish to some other grilled piece of meat. As I type the vinegar and pepper still tingle in my mouth; I can't wait to see how this works with some slow cooked dry rubbed pork.

Friday, June 8, 2012

99 Fishing Trips

I go fishing a lot. Every trip used to be a huge adventure; setting foot into the outdoors was a major production because of my unfamiliarity of it. Going to Busse and exploring the Amazon had a lot more in common to me than improvising over the chord changes to Cherokee at 300 beats per minute. That I could do. Since then, I've spent a great deal of my time outside. Many weeks I'll go fishing every day, sometimes more than once per day. A lot of these trips are quick and to the point, without much adventure or story to relate... But I do want to record some of the highlights of the past week or two- the parts I haven't yet posted. Here goes...

Claire and I went fishing on Lake Pleasant in Michigan (near Hillsdale); I caught a bunch of little bass, and hooked into one on her "last cast" real close to shore, but it threw the hook.

Walter and me on the way to Lake Pleasant
My father in law let me tag along with him to his golf club- while he golfed, I caught 10 awesome largemouth bass out of some golf course ponds. My first time fishing a golf course (with permission or otherwise)! 9 of the bass came on a Heddon Torpedo I found floating at Busse a while back. It was amazing; a landscaper driving by on a riding lawnmower gave me a tip to use something that floats and makes a lot of noise to land fish there, he'd been fishing there for many years. I tied on the Torpedo, cast it out, and the bass took swipes at it. I didn't even have to move it much, once it landed on the water usually three or four bass would come investigate, eventually smashing into the lure like a ton of bricks.

This one apparently swallowed a little animal...
Mouse? Muscrat? I'd never seen that before!
Probably the biggest of the day.. I don't usually put fish
on the ground, but this one fell. It was probably
a safer way to remove the treble hooks too
I've been looking for new ponds to fish; my go-to retention pond is almost entirely filled with weeds and a thick floating scum. The fish are still there, and they're still biting, but sometimes I want to use a crankbait! I "discovered" a new, tiny pond next to an office building. Surprisingly, it doesn't say "No Fishing." I pulled some fairly big green sunfish out of there on my trusty jig and twister.

Big ol' green sunfish- hit like a bass!
I went night fishing the other day, hoping to catch another one of the retention pond catfish. Something possessed me to use hotdogs as bait. The internet says you can do that, so I did. After tremendous difficulty casting without tossed the hotdogs off the hook and into the water, I finally managed to get a line in the water with a hotdog on it. While that stewed I tossed out some topwaters for bass, which got hits every so often. Nobody connected though; it wasn't all bad, as I got to watch the almost-full moon rise and try out my new headlamp with a red LED. Pretty sweet. When I was packing up, around 12:15am, when I went to reel in my hotdog line there was something connected- something big! After a pretty awesome but short fight, I saw exactly what I hoped to see. A big old (channel?) cat.

23" (channel) cat caught on hotdog!
I recently started a new job; it's fast-paced and exciting, I'm really enjoying it, and because I'm working from home my commute is substantially shorter. For the most part, when I close up shop in the "office" I head out for some fishing. Much of it has been local, especially in the morning and at lunch. When I'm not fishing, I've been making lures. I think I'm getting the hang of it now; I've probably made 15-20 wooden lures now. Some of them work great, some are complete failures.. but I learn from each one and use that experience on the next.

My copycat of a Heddon Torpedo, made out of cedar
This one got a lot of hits at night at the pond
Glow-in-the-dark firetiger crank made of balsa
That firetiger crankbait, which glows in the dark because I mixed green, yellow, and glow paint together, might be my most successful crank yet. I made a little video (and the music) of the lure in action.

And then yesterday morning, I caught a fish on it!

I carved it, painted it, fished it, and caught this fish with it
This one dives medium deep and has a nice wobble. So far
one fish has taken a swipe at it
Oh yeah, and I got a fish finder! It's a Hummingbird Piranhamax 160. So far I've taken it out twice, and I love it. It's great to find out what's beneath me. I took it on the yak to Busse, found some fish in some deep holes, but couldn't get them to connect. I also took it to a big local retention pond (not the retention pond) and discovered the whole pond is about 2-3 feet deep with a thick mud bottom.

Yesterday I hit the local pond with my new fly rod for about 10 minutes and saw tons of little bluegill hanging out in very shallow water. I caught about 5 or 6 of them in rapid succession; one I didn't even know I hooked and ended up back-casting it 20 feet away from the pond! It seemed fine when it swam away.

Last night I kayaked the big retention pond; didn't catch any fish but I did catch two bullfrogs mostly by accident. It seems they'll take anything! I considered keeping it after reading Dan the Impractical Fisherman's post about bullfrog legs, but read the season for them doesn't open until June 15. When the season opens, might I keep a frog or two and try some wild-caught frog legs? When the zombie apocalypse happens I might need to...

Whew, that was a lot of fishing trips. Last night marked my 99th fishing trip of the year. I've caught 111 fish of 13 different species in two different states while kayaking, wading, shore fishing, still fishing, and fly fishing, at pretty much all times of day, on live bait, grocery store items, and lures both store-bought and homemade.

I caught my first walleye a couple weeks ago. I even almost caught a fish with my bare hands! I think I've had a great fishing year so far; I've learned a whole lot, spent a bunch of time outside, and generally had a great time doing it.

Although I've learned a huge amount about fishing, the primary thing I've discovered out of all these trips is how much I like the outdoors. I like catching fish, but if I had to be inside to do it, I doubt I would have gone fishing 99 times this year.

CB Goes Fly Fishing

In an effort to get these posts written up and out there (I've got about 9 completely undocumented trips I want to tell you about!) I'll keep this short and to the point. Edit: I'll try and keep this short and to the point. Already I'm rambling.

Rogue River guide Rob Vink
Rob took me back to the good old Rogue River; after demonstrating proper fly casting technique for me, I butchered it entirely, but yet he put a fly rod in my hand and told me where to cast. It's a small miracle I even made it to where we were standing in the river, after tripping over every rock and slipping on every weed along the way. Rob moved through the woods like some kind of cougar, he navigated the rocks in the river like some kind of river creature. Although I followed the same path he took through the water, every step or so I almost ended up face down in the river. He claimed it was his experience, but I think maybe he had magic wading boots.

After a few tries, I somehow managed to get the tiny little dry fly to land kind of where Rob told me to put it. It was so strange, all that line flying around all over the place; the little tiny fly indistinguishable to me among all the other stuff floating on the surface of the water. Eventually I got the hang of it, kind of. I created huge tangles of the strangely thick and colored line every other cast, got the fly caught on trees, and generally felt like a total newbie. I was a total newbie; just like when I first started fishing a couple years back. It was frustrating and exciting.

I did my best to keep up with Rob's cat-like navigation of the river. I didn't fall in, but I came extremely close every few steps. We made it to a spot, Rob told me where to cast, I did my best to get the fly there... and then... there was a fish on the end of my line.

And I didn't know how to reel it in!

I asked Rob how to reel it in, holding the line with my left hand, the fish just splashing around. I wondered if it wondered what I was waiting for. Following his instructions, I pulled the weird colorful line with my left hand while he got out his fancy trout net. In a few seconds the fish was netted, and I had landed - with Rob's help - my first fish on the fly!

First fish on the fly!
It was awesome- when I hooked the little rainbow trout it felt like I was grabbing it with my arm. When it did it's thing and tried to swim away, I had the sensation I was holding it by a string. Which I kind of was.

I couldn't believe that smart little fish could, out of all the stuff floating on the surface of the water in that scum line, pick out my fly and identify it as possible food.

I also couldn't believe I caught three more in the next hour or so- on the fly! As we waded, I practiced my back cast. That contributed to my constant tripping, but I think it also made my casting better. Pretty soon it was dark, Rob caught some trout too, and we headed back to the truck after a successful trip.

The coda to my little fly fishing prelude, if you'll let me get away with writing something like that, is the fly rod and reel combo I bought when I got back to Illinois. After spending an hour trying to make sense of all the new terms- backing, fly line, tapered leader, tippet - and learning some new knots, Claire and I headed to the pond. Since she encouraged (read: tolerated) my purchase of a fly rod, she made the first few casts on it. It was tough, due to the weeds everywhere and the scum all over the pond. Pretty soon she switched to a spinning rod and I manned the fly setup.

First cast, my dry fly hit the water nice and light, I saw a bluegill come up and take it, swim away, and it was on! I reeled in the line with my hand, and there it was: my first fish on my first fly rod.

There! Can you see it?
I caught a bunch more 'gills, and even got a bass! As the sun set, we kept on casting. Once it started to get dark I realized why I'd never heard of night-fly-fishing. But we kept catching fish.

First bass on the fly
While I struggled to control my fly line as the sun set, Claire caught two nice bass on a texas-rigged chigger craw I set up for her. Although I caught more fish by number, she caught more fish by weight. I'm fine with that arrangement.

Claire and her nice bass

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It's Smallie Time

One of the five smallies I pulled out of one spot
After a great adventure on the Rogue, I decided to get up early again the next morning and head back. I woke up at 4am eastern time (which of course, once again, was 3am my time), made a pot of coffee, and drank it as quickly as possible.

I went out to my car to get going, and I took note of how dark it was. It didn't seem like sunrise was close at all. A quick search on my phone told me sunrise wasn't for more than an hour, and here I was all caffeinated and ready to go. It would only take 30-40 minutes to get to the river, and I wasn't prepared to wade in the dark... So I headed to Meijer.

I may have mentioned Meijer before; it's a Michigan grocery store that sells lots of other stuff. Stuff like clothes, dishes, and fishing gear. It also happens to be open 24 hours a day.

I walked into the Meijer at about 4:15am, the same Meijer where I bought shaving cream and some cologne right before my wedding a couple years ago. Made my way to the back, found the fishing section, grabbed 2 tiny Rooster Tails just like the one Rob let me borrow the previous day. I threw in a bag of beef jerky for good measure.

A short drive later I was at the river, the same place Rob caught the 14" brown. I got into the water and immediately noticed a fish hanging out in very shallow water. I fished it, but it paid no attention. I slowly crept up behind it, coming from downstream; it made no indication it knew I was there.

Amazed, I got closer and closer. It was a trout, but I couldn't tell what kind. There was clearly something wrong with it, because I was a foot behind it and it was just hanging out. Could it have been asleep?

I slowly reached down, stretching out my hands around it... Was this really happening? In a quick movement I closed my hands around the fish, pulled it out of the water; suddenly it woke up and jumped out of my hands back into the water.

Does that count as catching a fish? I kept thinking "did I just catch a fish with my bare hands!?"

I slowly worked my way downstream, throwing spinners, spinners, and other spinners, hoping to entice some trout. I saw them jumping now and then; they were certainly there. After an hour I reached a stretch with deeper and slower water. I couldn't wade through it due to its depth, so I decided to head back to the car and try another spot.

Using my phone's GPS, I located a nice bend in the river a couple miles downstream. I navigated through farmland and some really nice residential areas while sipping my coffee. I mean chugging my coffee. I found a nice gravel area to park, noticed the refreshing lack of "no fishing" and "no parking" signs and headed into the water.

I fished all the spots that seemed fishy, but couldn't find any fish. I did see what I thought was a carp swim upstream, but that was all the action there.

I found another spot and another gravel pull off, and headed down to the water under a bridge. This stretch was closer to the Grand River, and seemed to me to be more smallmouth bass water. Slower current, slightly deeper water; gravel and boulders on the bottom. Standing in the flowing water, very refreshing in the warming morning air, I tried to analyze what I was seeing. Downstream got shallow quick, and the current picked up considerably. Upstream of the bridge seemed to be shallow mud flats, devoid of any structure or current breaks. I concluded if I were a smallmouth bass, I would choose to hang out near the bridge supports in the little eddies.

First cast with my jig and twister, and there was a hit. Not a pan fish tap tap, but a much stronger BAMBAM. Could I have finally found some fish?

Second or third cast I connected with something BIG! After all the trout fishing, it's as if I had forgotten what a big old beefy smallmouth bass felt like (even though I caught one the day before). After a tremendously entertaining fight, I lipped the fish and marveled at its amazing coloration.

In the next two hours, I proceeded to pull out four more smallies and two big rock bass, all on the twister. I tried tossing some tubes, crankbaits, spinners; but they were clearly telling me what they wanted. 1/16oz jig with a 3" white twister tail, smacked right into the bridge supports and falling into the water. Each bass was an amazing fight- they didn't leap out of the water too much, but they were very strong and determined. Most of them swam around me in circles; one even rammed me in the thigh. Since I was so close to shore, I was able to get some nice pictures by propping up my phone and setting a picture timer.

Look at those colors!
I worked every support, and they all pretty much had fish. After a while it seemed I had "tagged" all the fish in the area, and doubted there would be fish anywhere else nearby judging by the lack of structure and type of current. But what do I know, I could have missed even more! The fish I caught were bigger and stronger than most of the fish I'd caught on the Fox, and I had a great time catching them. I packed it up, headed back to my car, amazingly and completely satisfied.

He doesn't look big, but he was FAT