Thursday, July 23, 2015

Big Bluegill on a Crank

Just a quickie post.  I was on my way home from work when I stopped to do a little fishing in a pond I have ice fished.  Since I've drilled it full of holes and measured depth several years in a row I knew the area I was throwing my lure in was 3-4 feet, sometimes shallower than that.  I had a 3/4oz Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer-Eye EGG  crankbait tied on from my last time out.  This crank can dive about a foot deep if I start my retrieve with my rod tip down or waggle back and forth like a wake-bait on the surface if I have my rod tip up.

I had my rod tip down so the lure was at a foot or a little deeper.  I say a little deeper because I had 8# fluorocarbon line on and fluoro sinks.  My crank was halfway back to the shore and still running below the surface when my rod bent and I instinctively swept the rod to the side to set the hook.  As I reeled the fish in I figured I had a small bass eat my crankbait.  That can happen and the fish that wiggled when I hooked it kept still while I wound it in.  When I got it near the shore I realized I was going to get to add to my "on a Crank" series of blog posts.  I caught a Big Bluegill, fair hooked in the mouth, on a big BPS EGG crankbait!

That's why I keep a rod in the car.  If I've got some time I need to wait anywhere I can find some water and go fish it.  If I'm near water I know I can stop and wet a line.  I caught several largemouth this outing as well but none were very big.  What I got was a chance to catch another species in a new way.  I've caught big bluegills before, but this was my first Big Bluegill on a Crank.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Open Water 2015 - Not a bad start

You may have guessed by my lack of posts from the ice this year that I didn't do a lot of fishing.  I did do a fair bit of fishing just not a whole lot of catching.  I made the decision to spare everyone my mental wanderings of the days I didn't catch anything much to blog about. There were lots of those days.

This ice season the fish seemed more spread out.  Far less concentrated to areas, depth ranges, or pieces of cover.  It took many holes to find fish and many more to stay on them.  So as usually happens after ice fishing several months straight I start to want less vertical jigging and more overhand casting.  A quickly hatched plan got me out fishing with Martin Rogers (WackyBass on DuPage Angler) this morning.

O'Dark-Thirty rolled around and Wacky and I walked down to the first of two ponds we'd fish today.  The dew was frozen on the grass blades and we could see our breath.  I tied on several lures before I found the one that hit.  Spinnerbait slow-rolled, burned, reel-pause-reel, rod-movement to flare the skirt yielded nada.  Jerkbait got no love for slow twitches, fast twitches, let it sit there and make a sandwich between twitches.  Nothing seemed to work.

It was possible the water was too cold and the fish were sluggish.  It was possible the bass were spawning or pre-spawn.  What would bass want to clobber into the next block in pre-spawn binge or during spawn territorial strike?  How about a big-ol bluegill swimbait.

That did the trick!  A very nice first open water bass...heck, first open water fish of 2015!  It would be the only fish either of us caught all morning but what a way to start the open water fishing season!  In the excitement I forgot to weigh or measure her before I released her back to the cold water of the pond.  It doesn't matter, she was a quality fish and it made me hopeful for the open water season to come.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Old Man and the Ice

My friend and fellow DuPage Angler Dan "Pondboy" Byrne was born in January.  Every January on or near the anniversary of his birth he takes the day off work and goes ice fishing all day long.  I've had the pleasure of taking off work along with Dan and joining him for his day-long ice fishing extravaganza the last two years and this year I made it three.

I was joined in my ice fishing birthday well-wishing by two other DuPage Anglers; Ted "Soonerbass" Yates and Chunsum "JC1Crappies" Choi.  We met Dan at 6:30 in the morning to start out on our day with the Old Man and the Ice!

By now you've probably guessed who the Old Man is and this Old Man recorded a not at all candid but very cool video of me drilling or more technically "shaving" a hole in 6-8" ice.  I'm partial to the slow motion water that comes up with the auger once the hole is cut.  Isn't cell-phone video cool!

Back to fishing now. I made some holes and the four of us ran around dropping lures and electronics down into the holes to try to find fish and where they were holding.

Chunsum caught first and got a nice gill topside for a picture.  His electronics didn't show any other fish in the area and he soon moved from this hole.

Ted and I got a double.  His largemouth bass and my bluegill bit at the same time and came up for photos.  No evidence of schooling bluegills or fish of any kind evident in either of our holes meant we both moved on like Chunsum had.

Ted's new hole yielded a crappie....and nothing else.  The fish are very spread out and we were working to find a pattern to the bites.  I took this picture of Ted and his crappie then picked up my flasher and rod and headed to one of the first holes I'd drilled.

Ooooo...a mark came in from the bottom to check out the jig and wax worm I'd just dropped down the hole.  This mark was different from the bluegill I'd caught earlier.  It was bigger.  It took my jig and I felt mushy-weight on my rod.  I set the hook.

My rod bent down quickly like it was iron and the hole was a magnet. Big head-shakes, decent runs. I monitored my drag and held on to the rod. Dan asked me if I needed any help.  I asked him to get my flasher's transducer out of the hole.  He did one better. He got down on the ice and watched and waited for a glimpse of the fish and the chance to help land it. 

The big mark was a nice largemouth bass! I love catching all species but I always enjoy catching bass through the ice.  Usually I'm not targeting them so they are a fun diversion from smaller panfish. On top of that they're a hoot to catch on very light tackle!

After releasing this bass the bite stopped.  We made more holes and caught no more fish.  The decision was made to pack up and have lunch. While we ate lunch at a local burger joint it was decided to make the short trip to a pond Dan grew up fishing.  Someplace we could get on schooling fish and find a more consistent bite. 

Ted had to leave us here so Dan, Chunsum, and I went to the pond.  Dan and I figured out where we wanted to set my shelter up and got settled in to start catching fish.  The crappie, bluegill, and bass we'd catch here were smaller than the private pond but more consistent of a bite.  We ended up catching another 20-30 fish before we decided to pack it in and head home. 

We all had a great day fishing.  Tomorrow we would all return to the 9-5 existence but tonight Dan would get to enjoy the rest of his day with his family.  Fish were caught, anniversaries celebrated, and friendships strengthened.  

Happy Birthday Dan!  I look forward to the end of January 2016 when I'll take a day off work and join you and probably other avid ice anglers in the celebration of your birth the only fitting way we can; by drilling holes in the ice and jigging up fish.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Pond, Familiar Lake

There are stories passed down between fishermen when they meet as acquaintances.  Most involve tales of how big the fish were or the quantity caught the last time the angler was fishing. Once there is trust established by this conversation the "sharing of the spots" sometimes occurs. I was fishing the ice on a lake I fished a lot last year.  I had things figured out so I could find the crappies I so love to catch last year so when we didn't have early winter and didn't have the extreme cold, and snow the fish weren't in the same places as they were last year.  

The story that got me to even try this new body of water was due to the expert words shared by a fisherman that his buddy's friend said if I walk x-number of paces off this landmark on the shore of this new pond nearby I'd find a 17-foot hole full of crappies. Hmmmmm....the buddy's friend says, huh.....well what the heck.  I took the week off to ice fish and relax.  So fish on this stranger's-buddy's, friend's, recommendation I shall!

This week has been pretty warm; in the 40s during the day and around or just below freezing at night.  I was happy to see I had "that many" inches of ice.  (1" increments were etched in my old hole-scoop; it broke)  I'd guess that's at least 6-7" which is plenty safe even in the warmer temperatures.  Now to drill holes based on the coordinates provided by...well, you've been reading.  You may be guessing how this will go.

I drilled more than 40 holes in this new pond.  I drilled near the landmark, set number of paces off the landmark, deep into two lobes where the pond juts off in directions; basically all over the pond.  I didn't catch my target species but I did get to increment my species caught and species caught through the ice by one.  Please welcome the Yellow Bass to the number of species I have caught freshwater fishing in my lifetime.

While pretty, the Yellows were also kind of tiny.  They did fight well for their size but after two hours, 40+ holes, and only two Yellows to show for my morning I decided to cut my losses and fish the nearby familiar lake where I'd learned about this little gem of a pond.  (can you feel the sarcasm?)

I traveled light to this lake.  It was warm and from what I learned the other day fishing I would need to be mobile and it was too warm for me to be stuck in my shelter.  My ultra-light custom ice rod, my fishing bucket that held my flasher, auger battery, jigs, larvae, and plastics, and my ION auger all were placed in my small Otter sled.

I found I could kick my holes open from the other day.  That will save me time.  I found my holes over five feet of water and dropped in a jig tipped with a waxie.

Bam!  I got a quick hit on my first drop.  A nice perch came up for a photo.  I wonder if...

Well, fish do school and look at that.  More than one nice perch from the same hole.  I wonder if I can do it again.  Nope.

I jigged up a crappie!  One of my favorites!  I wonder if there's anything else down this hole. There wasn't.  I had to go fish another hole; several actually.  What did I find in those holes?

A few hours of catching and I had my fix for the day.  I caught fish on both live maggots and artificial plastics.  I switched from live bait after I started catching more small bluegills than anything else.  The plastic I fished was the Trigger-X Moustache Worm.  It's like fishing a stick-worm wacky-style in concept; in practice it probably resembles some kind of bug.  The fact that the two, wispy tails cause the bait to sit horizontally makes it a large target. Most fish will think twice about the size of their mouths before attempting to tackle this bait and that was the idea.

Now while I don't recommend following every recommendation a stranger's-buddy's, friend makes regarding life choices fishing is another thing entirely.  All it took was the suggestion that this new pond held fish to push me over the edge to fish it.  I had been "Google Maps scouting" the pond for a while now.  I would have fished the new pond eventually but it took a recommendation from strangers-buddy's, friend and now that I've fished it I doubt I'll fish it again.

As for the Familiar Lake, I'll be back always looking for for more fun catching. More fun fishing, and more species diversity.  All fish got to swim away with nothing more than a cool lip-piercing and photo to show for their topside visit.  

I never did find that "crappie hole" as described by a guy I didn't know.  I didn't suspect I would.  I had to fish the New Pond for the same reason people climb mountains; because they are there, because they pose a challenge, a puzzle to unlock. I had to return to the Familiar Lake for the same reason.....and because there are fish in that lake.  Catching fish is ALWAYS more fun then searching for fish!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 First Time On Ice

ICE!!!  We finally have ice!!!

Living in northern Illinois I often watch ice reports from North Dakota and Minnesota.  Those are the first states I see ice reports from.  I start to get excited when Wisconsin and Iowa have ice thick enough to fish.  I wait semi-patiently while weather gets cold, skim-ice starts to appear on ponds and lakes, my fellow ice anglers and I turn into weathermen as we watch extended forecasts waiting for the water to get thick enough for us to feel comfortable walking out on the water.  This year we had a few weeks of cold, then warm, then cold, then warm, then frigid, then finally frozen!

This past Saturday was my first opportunity to get out and ice fish.  My friend Alan was just as excited as I was and we met shortly before sun-up to take our first steps into the 2015 ice season.

I started drilling holes; the first to test ice thickness which was 7-10", the rest to find weed edges, and the depth transitions I knew should hold fish.  Alan followed with my Vexilar flashing depths and checking for fish activity.   As often happens to the person following the hole-driller Alan hooked up with his first fish of 2015!

Ok, a little underwhelming but the skunk was off Alan.  I kept drilling holes with my ION until I heard Alan say, "Hey, a big mark is chasing my jig."  Yeah it was!!  Alan set the hook when he felt a mushy sensation and was rewarded by his straight line reel handle spinning backwards and whapping his palm several times before he could use his hand as drag. With pressure on the line the fish knew it was hooked and began to massively bend Alan's panfish rod toward the hole.  After five minutes of back and forth Alan turned the fish and got its head up the hole.

Alan seriously upgraded on his second fish for 2015!  A very nice largemouth bass with a tiny, perch-pattern Fiskas jig tightly embedded in its upper lip.

We decided to set up my shelter over this hole for the obvious reason being held by Alan above. We were sitting on top of 7-8' of water right off a transition down from 5'.  It didn't take long before I was able to jig up my first fish of 2015 using a small Salmo Chubby Darter lure.

While it isn't a huge crappie I'm glad my first fish of 2015 was a nice chunk of a speck.  I enjoy catching the wily crappie and I released this pretty example back to the cold water to swim, eat, and spawn.  

It turned out this would be the only fish I caught my first outing of 2015. Alan started moving around a bit bouncing from hole to hole outside the shelter when he hollered for me to come check out what he caught.

Alan hooked into a very nice perch!  There is probably a good reason the perch-pattern jig caught the nice largemouth bass earlier today.  This perch was also released to eat, spawn, and grow.  I feel it's the right thing to do in small, un-managed lakes and ponds and so does Alan.

The sun was high in the sky, the ice surface was getting sloppy, and frankly I was tired.  We called it a day around one o'clock.  It was a great day getting out on the hard water!  Alan had a fantastic day of catching and while I only caught one crappie it was enough to get my skunk off as well as give me a taste of ice fishing again.  It had been too long since I last walked on water to do one of the things I enjoy most.  I'll be sure to get out again soon.