Saturday, December 28, 2013

Silent Night, Holy Night

December 24th I only had to work a half-day.  I hurried home from work and headed to a lake that is new to those of us in DuPage Angler's ice fishing circles.  I was told to expect decent bluegill there.  I love catching bluegill.  Some fight with way more moxie than they have size.

I had a tip where to fish from my friend Pondboy.  I parked, dragged my gear down to the surface of the ice.  Drilled three test holes and dropped my flasher's transducer in the first. WOW!  The bottom activity was impressive.  I checked the other two holes and they were almost as good as the first.  I quickly set up my shelter and prepared to warm up from the eight degree temperature outside.  

First drop, jig, jig, jig the orange Custom Jigs and Spins Ratfinkee.  One mark followed the jig up the water column.  

A decent gill.  That's a nice start to an nice fishing outing.  I rethought my jig at this point.  It was dark, the water was murky with maybe three feet of visibility.  The fish had to see or more importantly feel what I was offering.  I clipped on a small Salmo Chubby Darter and dropped it down the hole.  I ripped it up in the water column then let it drop to almost the bottom, wobbling seductively as it fell.

The minnow shaped Chubby Darter is good but not magic. It isn't always a "drop the darter down the hole and bring up a bass" lure.  The darter wobbles down then gets followed back up. Sometimes nipped at, sometimes just followed.  Eventually the darter started being ignored.  I took that as a clue to change up jigs to work the bluegills that were obviously the marks that weren't bass.

I tied on a new jig I had purchased this season; a Clam epoxy/tungsten jig in glow-white color with red eyes.  I hooked on three waxies to act as a enticing, twitching tail.  A quick drop down the hole and I had a mark follow me up, up, and I felt a thump signaling a bite.  Hook-set!....into nothing. Reel up to check the jig and I find out one waxie was gone. That makes sense, well two waxies will still entice fish to bite. Well, two would if another didn't just get grabbed.  Another drop and another waxie became food.

Fortunately I had spikes! Spikes are smaller larvae than wax worms. They'd be harder to grab onto and pull off my hook. I put on four spikes that had been died red and dropped the big glowing jig down the hole.  A big mark moved in from the side. It rose up with my jig and just nailed it when I paused it in place...

...BULL!!!   WOW what a GILL!!!  Definitely my biggest to date.  Now where's my tape measure? Drat!!!  No tape.  Ok, I'll hold him up to my medium power darter/spoon rod's butt section and see how long he is then measure at home.  (at home measure 8.75")  Nice, thick bluegill. Any bluegill you can lip is a good bluegill!  Time to release the fish and drop the glowing jig and spikes down to the bottom and jig, jig, jig....Bluegill.

Not as large a gill as the last but it ate the glowing white jig and got hooked.  Eventually the big jig started to repel fish so I made the switch to a smaller Fiskas Marmooska in glow white color.  A smaller jig might get the fish biting again.  Another nice gill.  Maybe the smaller jig was the ticket.

A big mark bit and pulled drag.  The Fiskas dug in the tough upper lip of a largemouth.  Hooray for the small jig.

Looking at my flasher as I released the bass I saw a nice mark moving in on the center of my flasher cone.  Drop the small tungsten jig down and twitch, twitch, WHAP!  This fish pulled drag and I thought it was another bass. 

This gill was even bigger than the first!!!  I lipped it easily and in my excitement I forgot to measure it against the same rod.  I took photos from all angles and the scale pattern on its back was beautiful.  

I'm bummed I forgot to measure it.  I'm pretty sure it passed nine inches but I can't prove it.  Still it was really fun to see it come up and out of the hole.  Oh, see the flasher dial in the picture above?  The thick red mark at 7-o'clock is the bottom. The thick green line counter clockwise around the dial is a fish swimming toward my transducer position.  If I wasn't busy taking pictures of this fish I could have tried to catch the one on the screen that was six inches off the bottom.  It's nice to have that kind of problem.  :-)

One more bluegill would make around 40 total for the day, or the rather for the night.  I looked at my phone after I snapped this picture.  It was 1:30 AM.  Wow!  I just stayed parked in one productive spot on a lake I had never fished and had a fantastic night.  

I did everything I could do inside the shelter with the heater on high before I had to lift open the tent exposing me to the cold winds on this silent night.  It was silent on the ice.  The only sounds were made by my micro-spikes or the gear I was quickly loading into the sled.  All was dragged off the ice and up to my waiting car. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

First Time at Harrier This Season

Those of us who ice fish have been blessed with an early start to our favorite season.  The ice started, almost got thick enough, we had a few warm days with rain, then the deep freeze kicked in.  

I walked out onto six solid inches of ice pulling my Frabill Trekker Max ice shelter behind me.  I was interested in the great mixed bag of species Harrier holds.  I've been itching to catch a decent size perch and I knew I could do it at Harrier.

I drilled holes, dropped in my flasher, and took a "look" around for fish.  I was over 12-15 feet of water and marked fish in several holes.  I dropped a quick line down and tried to jig some fish up from the bottom.  The fish would come up and follow the jig but I could adjust my cadence, twitch, hold still, stand on my head, nothing seemed to make the fish want to bite.  I picked a hole with the most interesting marks on the bottom and set up my shelter.

I was having as much luck in the shelter as I was outside.  I decided to switch gears and rods to jig with a bait I'm really starting to appreciate; the Salmo Chubby Darter.  I dropped a small perch colored darter down to just above the fish I marked on my Vexilar.  As the Chubby Darter shimmied down a red mark moved up on my flasher.  I set the hook and enjoyed the wiggle of some of the first fish I've had the pleasure of pulling through the ice this year.  

A bluegill whacked my Chubby Darter.  It wasn't much of a fight but it was nice to use a different lure and jigging method than I'm used to.  Speaking of the usual lure and jigging method I'm used to I had to go back to it.  The darter stopped attracting fish, it actually seemed to be scaring away marks on the sonar.  I switched to my ultra-light custom with a Fiskas Marmooska teardrop shaped jig tipped with a waxworm.

I jigged and jigged and jigged some more.  The marks just didn't seem interested.  I decided to drop my camera down and watch the bottom activity for awhile.  I saw half a dozen bluegill, several perch, some small largemouth bass, and then everything scattered.  What was going on?   OH...a big walleye slow-rolled past my camera.  That explains it.  In short order there were all the gills and perch and bass back.  All ignoring my jig.  All except intrepid bluegill.  

At least he ate it well.  This fish felt like it fought better than the other but the rod was much lighter so that made sense.  This would be the final fish of the day.  I changed spots, drilled holes, checked for fish, wiggled my jig at them and ultimately loaded up the car slightly frustrated by the lack of catching but completely invigorated by the whole ice experience.  

Walking on water is a pretty cool experience. (get it!) Seriously though I don't dislike walking ponds, wading rivers and creeks, kayak fishing, or taking my jon boat out.  I'm just glad I tried and enjoy ice fishing.  It opens up the fourth season to me.  I get to do something I enjoy alone or with others.  

I can't wait to see what else this ice season has to offer.  We have at least seven inches on some lakes and generally four to five inches on some smaller bodies of water.  I hope to find out soon about a possible new ice adventure for me; perch fishing the Chicago harbors.  If they're frozen and safe I'll go!  Lake Michigan Perch could be the first fish I keep to eat. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Golfing with Woz

I played a round of golf once at a charity tournament I got suckered into donating to.  I recall the entire time as we drove around the water hazards my mind drifted from where my shoulders should be in relation to my feet during a golf swing to where I'd like my feet to be; standing next to the hazard fishing it.  Based on the size of some of the blowups I remember seeing I recall thinking golf courses must be good places to fish.

I took a personal day off work today.  I had to use one personal day or I'd lose it at the end of the year so I picked today because I was going golfing.  I made plans to meet Woz from DuPage Angler at the golf course early in the morning on a cold day in mid-November.  The morning air temperature was 38 degrees; it was cold.  Woz and I grabbed our bags and our sticks and walked around the clubhouse to our first hole.

Our first hole was a water hazard.  We both were throwing 4" swimbaits.  Woz scored a fish in the first few casts.  He caught a second one before I felt and saw a three pounder swipe at my swimbait then roll away.  The angling equivalent of a slice I suppose.  Woz finally caught a bass he felt was worthy of a picture.

I noticed a difference in the offerings we were giving the fish today.  I had a Strike King KVD Heavy Cover Swimjig in Bluegill color with a Big Hammer 4" swimbait in a similar color.  Woz was throwing a swimbait on a keel-weighted swimbait hook but his swimbait had some chartreuse that made the bait POP in the water.  I switched to a white-chartreuse swimjig with a Big Hammer trailer and BAM, I caught a bass.

We walked the perimeter of the hazard chatting and casting.  Stopping every so often to hold a bass up for a picture.

I was using my 7' custom MH spiral-wrapped casting rod today.  All fish were caught with it and I have to say I put it through it's paces.  It caught some nice sized bass.  Not once did it feel like the reel was being twisted from my hand.  I'm sold on spiral-wrapping casting rods.  All the casting rods I build for myself in futre will be wrapped this way.  I had no way of knowing but it was about to be tested again.

There's a measured five pounder.  She was thick and girthy and fun to catch.  Then again so were the other four pound plus bass we both kept pulling out of the hazard.

Yes, I have to say I may have been a bit hasty in my opinion of golf.  It is not a "good walk spoiled" as the saying goes.  Rather a game requiring permission to play, time available to play, and a partner to walk the links with.  I mean I like a Jason holding largemouth bass selfie as much as the next person but let's face it.  More pictures make a blog more better, especially when it's fish pictures.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pondboy's Angling Experience -DA ProStaff: Fall Des Plaines River Pike

How I spent my Sunday; kayak fishing the Des Plaines River with my friends from DuPage Angler.  Oh, I caught my first pike but Pondboy caught a very nice pike!

Pondboy's Angling Experience -DA ProStaff: Fall Des Plaines River Pike: After reading member Sooner’s BLOG on Kayak Pike Fishing, Jcrappies, Darkstar and myself could not take it any longe...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Quest for Bronze

I had a problem.  I haven't spent nearly enough time in the rivers and creeks this year.  I hadn't caught a decent smallmouth bass yet in 2013 and the weather was getting cooler.  Plans were made to wade.

Dave caught the trip's first fish; a decent little smallmouth on a worm. I'd get the next smallie on a minnow.  A better fish.

Then another again on a minnow.

Dave realized the fish were preferring minnows today and scored a nicer fish after making the switch.

I saw the copper flash of the side of the fish as it hit my next cast.  I thought it was another decent smallmouth.

It wasn't. It was a decent rock bass.  Time for a rock bass selfie.  (at least I'm not doing the duck-face)

Cast after cast, minnow after minnow we'd pull bronze out of each hole we fished.  The morning was a success in numbers and in quality fish landed.  We knew we'd be happy if we had to call it quits right then but one more hole looked so inviting we had to cast at it.

More quality smallmouth came up for a photo.  Dave had his rod tucked into his wading belt.  His float ten feet from our position.  He asked me to help get a Plano box of floats out of the back pocket of his wading vest when I noticed his float was down.  I grabbed his rod and line between the reel seat and the big sripper guide and pulled tight to set the hook.  Dave took over and reeled in the best fish of the day; 16.5" long 9" girth calculated to 2.25# of bronze!

Dave and I were both happy with the quality of fish today and the excitement of the last catch hadn't worn off before my float went down.

Dave set the tone for my fight when he said "Holy $hi+, that's a GOOD ONE!!"  The fish made two runs.  I used my 7' custom Micro-Wave spinning rod as leverage to steer the fish away from a fallen log.  The fish jumped but I saw the #4 Gamakatsu Octopus-Circle hook was set firmly in it's lip. 

Bronze!  Big bronze!  18" long, 10.5" girth would calculate to 2.75#. WOW!  My biggest smallmouth of 2013 and a little smaller than my personal best.

I was complaining earlier this week I hadn't gotten out and caught my favorite species of fish.  I was complaining I hadn't put on my waders much and walked in moving water this season.  I decided to change that today and I'm glad that I did.  

I was on a Quest for Bronze, and bronze was what I got.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bass Start Early

One of the things I have learned in the few years I've been fishing is that fish feed at night and the morning bite is usually better than any other part of the day.  Today was no exception.

Dave and I got to the pond we would fish before six AM.  We worked our way to our favorite spot and began calculating how we were going to fish what we could see.  It looked like some weeds grew where I knew there to be a ledge.  I tied a 2/0 Owner cutting point EWG hook to the 15# fluorocarbon with a simple palomar knot.  

I was wanting to fish a Rage Tail plastic called the Shellcracker.  In two times out fishing I've had two bass grab the bait on the drop and on both occasions I didn't get a hook in the fish.  I dragged them up to the surface and watched them let go of the bait.   This time I rigged it up weightless, Texas rigged, and texposed

I cast out into the dim light conditions and saw my bait land past some weeds.  I worked it like a stick worm, let it fall then raise it up.  Once I hit the weeds I flipped, flopped, hopped the little bait like a fish out of water on top of the weed growth.  When I reached a hole in the weeds I let the bait flop right in, twitching it once.  


Reel down and WHAM!  BASS!!

See, I told you bass start early.  I didn't know if it was luck or not but this bass hit pretty much like I thought it would; on the drop as the "dying brim" floated and twitched it's way to the bottom.  I cast out in a different direction bringing the bait to the weed edge again.  Again flopping, hopping, then drop........Bass!!   

Same cast, same retrieve, and same result.  Dave got one too!!  Nice double!!

The sun was lighting the sky but it still hadn't broken the horizon.  More early-shift bass bit our bait.  Then the finesse plastic bite stopped.  We kept casting but stopped catching.  As all good fishermen do Dave started switching baits, tying on other lures, other colors, other presentations until he found what the bass were wanting.  Swimbaits!!

Dave ran out of Big Hammer Swimbait tails so he decided to pull a Stange and rig up a 5" Berkley Flatback Shad on a Strike King KVD Heavy Cover Swimjig.

First looooooong cast, I hear the swimbait hit the water.  I hear Dave say $h!+, I think I'm snagged.  Then I see it jump and toss it's head back and forth....BASS!!!!!

This would be the biggest we caught weighing in at 4.25# on my Boga-Grip.  She did lots of acrobatic jumps and pulled drag on Dave's spinning reel four times to gain back line.  Here's what she was trying to toss with each jump.

See how completely this bass ate the 5" swimbait tail and the extra inch of swimjig?  The swimbait paddle tail is in the bass' stomach.  This is the textbook definition of the term "She ATE it!"

Needless to say I switched to a swimbait and began to catch bass too.

I didn't keep count but Dave figured I caught 12 and he hooked seven including the 4.25#.  My largest was 3.5# but not a bad morning at all.  

After a short hike back to my car Dave and I loaded rods in the hatchback then headed to his house to enjoy a homebrew.  We flipped through pictures on our phones of the fish we caught and marveled that all fish bit only two styles of lure.  

Early morning the bass were favoring smaller fish sized plastics.  After the sun peeked over the horizon the only thing that caught fish was a larger fish sized swimbaits.  Less than half of our fish were caught once the sun was up.  The bulk of our bass came early.  Bass start early, so I need to start just a bit earlier.  If I get to have this kind of a productive day I'm happy to start early too. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Anchor Away

I had a lake I wanted to kayak before I had a kayak.  I had been taken to this lake a few years ago by Marty and Patrick from DuPage Angler in the summer for shoreline bass fishing.  We did ok but not great.  The next year I was taken here to fish for crappies.  There are nice crappies here and as I learned VERY nice bonus bass!  

Like most lakes and ponds in the Mid-West the shoreline weeds make it tough to fish from shore during the summer.  Enter the kayak.  Ok, so it was a literary device AND the next thing I did before I started paddling.

I pitched my minnow bucket over the side of the kayak and began to look for a spot past the shoreline weeds to look for crappies.  I anchored my kayak and positioned the anchor line at the rear of the kayak with my homemade anchor trolley.  Satisfied with where my boat was positioned I nose-hooked a minnow 1.5 feet under a float and cast to a spot clear of the weeds.   Soon I was rewarded with crappie.

It wasn't the largest I'd ever caught at this lake but at least the skunk was off.  I could concentrate on fishing now that my boat wasn't drifting across the lake.  In some situations the drift would be welcome but not when I had minnows under floats.

I wanted the minnows to get eaten by hungry crappie but the bass had other ideas.  After catching several small largemouth bass I decided to stop wasting minnows and pull anchor.  Anchor away I started paddling to a new spot.  My effort was rewarded with another crappie.

I used the rest of my minnows and caught more crappie and comparable size largemouth. 

The wind had been light but steadily blowing.  I say had been because it all of a sudden stopped. The surface of over half the lake glassed up and became still.  It was then when bass started rippling the surface eating bugs and minnows.  I quickly got my tackle box out and tied on a large perch patterned Chug Bug topwater plug.

I cast near a surface weed clump and chug-GluG-GLUG-chug-p a u s e-GluG-chug- l o n g e r pa u s e........SMASH!!!!!!

My plug disappeared.   I saw the strike and had the presence of mind to wait and reel my 15# fluorocarbon snugly to my custom spiral-wrapped casting rod.  My Lew's BB1 held tight as the rod bent and I felt the weight of the fish.  Ok, now it's time to set the hook!

Oh, that seemed to tick her off!  The bass leapt into the air shaking her head back and forth to let the trebles loose from her lip.  She hit the water and I got her closer to the kayak when she jumped again, tail walking and shaking her head.  I saw one of the two treble hooks that was attached to lip hanging free.  I didn't want to stick my thumb in the bass' mouth at the angle I had her at because I'd certainly get a treble hook in my hand.  I did the next best thing, I reverse-lipped her; stuck my index finger in the bass' mouth and my thumb under the bottom lip.  I had her!

3.5# on my Boga Grip scale.  I have to say that topwater of any type is cool but topwater on a kayak when you're right down at water level is awesome!!!

Nothing else would come on topwater today but that's ok.  Catching a big bass is enough.  The wind kicked up anyway and I was out of minnows.  Time to rig up the 4" Power Worm finesse rig. I can fish that in my sleep and pick apart areas between the weeds for bass.

I caught several small bass and a nice bluegill.

I pulled my anchor back to the center position on the trolley and hand-over-handed the anchor up from the depths.  Ok, it was really only about seven feet but I'm not used to anchoring the kayak yet and the anchor trolley performed flawlessly.

Several more small bass ate my Power Worm on the drift across the lake to where I had parked. I was ready to go.  The bluebird skies with the big fluffy clouds are pretty to look at but they make fishing stink.  I got some sun, I caught some crappies, I got rid of minnows in a way I hadn't thought to before, and I experienced topwater bassin' in a kayak.  All in all a great morning that started because I wanted to test my anchor trolley.

First Cast Creek

Dave and I try to go fishing every Sunday.  Schedules don't always permit but this Sunday we decided we wanted to wade.  I haven't been wading much this year.  This would be the third time out to walk in water and I wanted to check on a body of water I hadn't fished yet this year.

The creek looked inviting.  I'd never waded this stretch but it looked promising from the word go. In the photo above see how you can see the brown bottom in the foreground that is about a foot to a foot and a half deep.  Notice how the water takes on a blue-green color as you move closer to the far bank.  That's at least three feet deep.  I know because I set my float at least three feet down while I fished this spot from shore.  This is where we'd enter the creek.  

Unless the spot where you enter a moving body of water is exceedingly shallow it's a good idea to fish it from the bank before you walk through it.  Dave was faster getting baited up and pulled off a first cast fish; a nice, clean channel catfish.

I'm encouraged by the sign of life and quickly finish setting up my split-shot weights and nose hook a fathead minnow.  My first cast didn't go where I wanted it to.  Not close enough to the far side of the creek.  Adjustments were made to the float and my stance and by my third cast I hooked a big rock bass.

Full of hope we step into the creek and begin working our way upstream.  Dave has always been quite the bluegill angler where creeks are concerned.  He can always seem to find them.  Today was no different.  

Any bluegill you can lip is a good bluegill.  We'd catch bluegills and catfish until about 8:30 AM. Every time I fish this creek it takes until about 8:30 before the smallmouth start biting.  I guess they enjoy sleeping in.  No matter, four ate my minnows in four successive casts.  

The average size was 10 inches or so.  Not huge but fun to catch.  Dave caught a smallmouth with a beautiful color pattern.

Very white belly, dark bronze spots and bars by the eye; a gorgeous example of a juvenile smallmouth.  It, and all other fish caught today were released to grow larger.  I'll come back and catch them in a year or two.  They can have time to fatten up and grow.  

When all was said and done Dave caught six species of fish and I got five, missing only the venerable creek chub.  We could have caught many more depending  on what species had come up the creek to spawn and decided to stay.

We finally decided to call it a day and began our walk back to our entry point and car.  In total Dave and I each landed a dozen smallmouth, a largemouth or two, some channel catfish, a handfull of bluegills, different sized rock bass, and Dave bested me by catching a sixth species; a creek chub.

It was a good Sunday walk in the water.  A good time out with an old friend.  This creek is a good one.  I've fished other stretches and it can produce some excellent sized fish.  Today nothing over 12" was caught but we enjoyed every minute of it.  

A creek doesn't have to be a small body of water but most around here are.  We have to walk and cross many yards of unproductive water to get to the deeper holes that the fish live in.  Once we find the holes we sometimes have to work them from many angles and drift our bait past many times before we get bit.  

Today we knew it was going to be a good day early on because Dave caught first cast.  It doesn't always happen that way but of any place I've fished I'd bet this creek to produce a first cast fish before most others.  It's a special place away from the stresses of our lives.  Surrounded by the beauty of nature we bait, cast, catch, release, snag, break off, retie, and adjust our floats.  These motions become fluid and practiced and routine with time.  What doesn't become routine is the creek; it's natural beauty and ever changing landscape make it a challenge to wade and a challenge to fish.

To call it my happy place is an understatement.  To call it by name is forbidden.  From now on I may call it by my own made up name; I may start calling it First Cast Creek.   Today it was, and may it stay that way!