Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful for Windy Day Crappies

For the Thanksgiving Holiday today I'm thankful for a lot of things.  One of those things are my dogs.   Ebony came along with me today to go crappie fishing.

Pre-turkey dinner I loaded my gear in the car then loaded my dog Ebony in the car.  Ebony is the younger and smaller of my two dogs.  She's always excited to get to go somewhere but she didn't know what was in store for her when she came fishing with me on this windy November 22nd.  

We parked and walked to a spot on the lake I have learned is productive for crappie.  I discovered that it's a bit more difficult than I had assumed it would be to handle two rods, a tackle bag, a minnow bucket,a small stool to sit on., and a nine year old black lab mix on a leash all at the same time.

Ebony is an AKC Canine Good Citizen and is generally well behaved and listens.  Today she was overloaded with the smells brought to her by the wind.  Oh, the wind was something else.  It brought rain to us this afternoon.  It certainly made it more difficult to cast this morning.

The wind made waves across the surface of the lake.  It was in our faces as we watched my float.  It was pushing my heavy float into the weed bed.  The first time it did that I set the hook into the weeds.  Better to do that then miss a fish.  I reeled in my ultralight rod's line and chucked it out into the lake.  The weeds pretended to be a fish again and I gently pulled the minnow over the weeds when the float went down more slowly.  I set the hook and brought in Ebony's first crappie.

She sniffed it's tail and it flapped her nose with it. Undaunted she sniffed a bit more while I fussed with the camera before releasing this nice, healthy crappie back to the lake.

It seemed I spent more time with line management today then fishing or catching for that matter.  I did manage to land two more including a nice 12" crappie measured on one of my Plano boxes.

I was thankful to catch these pretty crappies today but eventually I had to pack up and get away from the wind.  A man and a dog can only stare into the wind for so long before one of them wants to leave.  To my surprise today it was me.  I figured Ebony would get fidgety after a while but she didn't.  She's sweet companion to go wet a line with; she enjoys a good walk, likes to lay in the grass and sniff around, and doesn't mind waiting for me to catch crappies.

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving and enjoys what for many is a long weekend.  Get out there and go fishing if you can.  The weather is forecast to be cold and clear and the wind should become a breeze tomorrow.  I've got minnows left but the cold weather lets them stay vital for much longer than the summer months.  Hopefully I'll get out again this weekend to a pond that has them and catch the fish I am thankful for on Thanksgiving; the wily crappie.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cold Wet Eyes and Warm Crappie Surprise

38 degrees Fahrenheit.......
Why do Pondboy (Dan) and I always have to go wading in the dark and cold?

The answer to that question goes back to two places; Dan's childhood river stomping grounds, and my 2012 fishing goals from a post on DuPage Angler.

During the "ice-season that wasn't" last year a post was started on DuPage Angler asking members what their fishing goals were for 2012.  I responded I wanted to get into the Five-Pound Club on the website and I wanted to catch a "toothy-critter".  The Five-Pound Club is simply a forum area dedicated to catches of any fish species weighing greater than five pounds.  The toothy-critter is any of the species of local sport fish that have teeth; IE: Northern Pike, Muskellunge, and Walleye.

I cemented my entry into the Five-Pound Club early in June.  The toothy critters had evaded me.  I was thinking I'd have to work Silver Lake in the DuPage County Blackwell Forest Preserve extra hard on first ice (hoping it happens before Christmas) and bag a walleye or pike through the ice to get my toothy-critter this year.

Now that the what, why, when, and who have been taken care of the where will be known as several locations on the Fox River where Dan knew there could be walleye.

Wading in November isn't for the casual angler.  Some specialized equipment promises to make the task more pleasant and that equipment is a set of neoprene waders.  This material used in wetsuits insulates well  and conforms tightly to your body.  Out of the water this feels like a warm hug.  In the water it holds back the dark, cold of the Fox River and enables you to stand mid-stream and try to catch fish.

We spent from sun-up to 8:30 AM working a hole in the river.  This hole is off of a fast current area and stretches for 30 feet or so.  It can be deep at times and today it was between five and six feet deep.  Deep, cold, long hole, fast current....toothy critters....a text book walleye spot.  

We drifted, dissected, switched up the bait, changed the presentation, dragged bait across the hole, up it, down it.  Nada.  No bites, nothing resembling a nibble, and to add insult to injury Dan learned that his patch job to the crotch of his neoprene waders wasn't completely sealed and I learned that my brand new neoprene waders leak in each stocking-foot.

We moved to a nearby bridge to work two pilings.  Drifting minnows and crawlers I got no fishy-love and Dan got three fish but they were all bluegills.  Nice gills mind you but this was not what we were there to catch.  To make matters worse I repeated a performance I made last year at this spot and tripped over a submerged slab of concrete and submerged my forearms and got my jacket and chest-bag pretty wet.  This sucks...two years in a row this spot skunks me and gets me wet and makes me cold.

Dan suggests Plan-B.  You see Dan always thinks two spots ahead of where he is fishing.  This is a quality that makes him a great guide.  We didn't catch at the first location so we changed cold river spots to another spot I could try for my first toothy-critter.

We bumped into JC1Crappies from the DuPage Angler at this spot.  He was spending a little time catching fish off a current stream from shore. (catching and kissing; I guess he loves eyes)  Dan and I waded in 10-15' to allow us more accurate casts and better coverage of the area.

My float goes down!  Could it be toothy?  Naw, just a bluegill.  But it was a nice gill and I was now under no pressure to beat the skunk.  

Dan pulled in a few largemouth bass and bluegill before he found the walleye groove.

Ok, JC1 caught some walleyes and Dan caught some walleyes.  What do I catch?

My float goes down in the slow water near the current stream, I set the hook and feel the wiggle at the other end of my line.  What could it be?

My first ever walleye!  Yeah, it's the size of a king size candy bar but it's better than that because it's my first toothy critter!

Then I couldn't cast without catching one.  Cute little eyes with their firm, unique skin that feels different than the other species I have caught thus far.

Eventually we both had to cry uncle.  We couldn't feel our feet too well and Dan's poor leg was moist with cold Fox River water.  Not the most pleasant thing to be moistened by.  We changed out of our waders, put on warm, dry clothes, and stopped for a bite to eat before heading to Plan-C.

Plan-C involved ultra-light rods, heavy floats, and ice jigs.  We had several dozen more minnows left over from the morning fishing and we wanted to catch another fish that turns on in the cold weather; crappies!

Dan catches the first, then another, then a double.  I get a nice 12" crappie then a double, then another.  Dan sets the hook on one crappie, reels it in, lips it, then picks up his second rod to set the hook then reel in another crappie while he is holding the first one.

So far Dan and I are at around 60 fish for the day thanks in no small part to the big, beautiful crappies in this catch and release lake.  What could cap off the day?  I'll tell you what.

How about a 4.25 lb largemouth bass that ate a minnow on a Yellow Perch-colored Fiskas tungsten ice-jig, I think that caps the day off nicely!  Add to it that I caught it on  Pflueger Ultra-Light rod and reel on 4# test Trilene monofilament.  To the uninitiated, smaller tackle adds a pretty high level of excitement to catching a fish this size.  Your line is lighter so it could snap, the rod is bendy and less able to absorb the shock of  larger fish, and the reel is smaller with smaller drag which this bruiser peeled off my reel for a good long run before I tightened it down a touch to tire it out. 

I dropped Dan off at home, stopping in briefly to say hi to Dan's family and his golden retriever who has a canine-crush on me.  Dogs like me, what can I say?  We chatted a bit more then parted ways.  Neither of us had any idea the day would turn out this well.  Both of us were cautiously optimistic and even hopeful we'd have a good day and catch our quarry.  And we did just that and more.

The day started off with Cold, Wet Eyes alright  but the Surprise wasn't a Crappie.  That's what makes fishing so much fun.  You can try for one species in particular and end up catching something completely different.  I'll take bass this size all year round if I can catch them.

11/18/2012 USGS Fox River 11.24 ft 710 cfs @ Montgomery Gauge

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trying for Crappies

Temperatures rose to almost sixty degrees today as Indian Summer temperatures made what is likely their last appearance here in the mid-west.  I had made plans with PWoody from DuPage Angler to meet him at a pond near his home and try for crappies.  When I mentioned my plans to my friend Monique she jumped at the chance to come fish with us as she and PWoody are cousins                    by marriage and she enjoys fishing.

We all met at the pond.  I had heard from Pondboy that the bite wasn't happening for crappies today in his normal crappie spots.  That didn't bode well for us but we walked the pond anyway.

It is always nice to get out and fish with members of DuPage Angler and it was a pleasure to meet PWoody this mild Saturday morning.

We had figured live bait is best for crappie today so we came prepared with crappie minnows (fathead minnows of a smaller size, not actual crappie fry), wax worms, and red worms.

The standard live-bait rig I use for crappies is similar to the way I drift rivers.  In place of the circle hook I use an ice jig for weight and presentation and replace the spring-float with a slip-float.

None of us got skunked but none of us caught crappies; all bluegills, all day.

We fished for two or three hours until the scattered showers that were promised in the weather forecast came to pass.

It got dark in a hurry.  I guess if we'd have started walking to our cars when we heard the thunder none of us would have gotten as wet as we did.  "One more cast" was the mantra until the small rain drops turned into big ones.

As we loaded our cars and said our goodbyes the heavens let loose and gave us some rain to fill in a small part of the gap left in our ponds, lakes, and rivers by this past dry year.  

Autumn into Winter is a challenging time of year to fish.  The weather and temperature fluctuate and days get shorter.  Fish know the ice is coming.  Signs posted around this pond ensure the fish will be safe from anglers under the ice.  That's a pitty.  I'd love to search for slabs here this winter.  I will ice fish for crappie this winter, just not at this pond.