Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mixed Bag Multispecies Fishing Fun

So far, the vast majority of my blogging about fishing has centered around bass fishing, and you'd think that's all I like to do.  Without a doubt, bass fishing for bass is a passion of mine.  However, some of my favorite places to fish are the ones that give me the opportunity to catch good size fish, good numbers of fish, and different types of fish.  Variety, size, and numbers translate to fishing fun in my book.  Multispecies action gives the saying, "Variety is the spice of life" great merit in my book.  This time of year, October, is one of my favorite times to put together multispecies catches that leave me anxious to return another day.  My past two fishing trips were to such a place, where we were blessed with good catches of chain pickerel, largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill sunfish amongst other species.  The pictures on this post were from my latest trip.

This chain pickerel fell for a white Z-man chatterbait with a white ringworm trailer.  Pickerel are toothy, agressive, strike with reckless abandon, and just plain fun to catch.  On this day, a front moved through and the bass shut down, but these toothy critters didn't disappoint, increasing my catch rate and fishing excitement.
My buddy Howard and I fished out of his pond hopper boat, an eleven foot Coleman Crawdad that, for years, supported the hefty weight of our bodies and tackle, enabling us to catch many very good fish of all kinds over the years.  Howard and I loaded the boat with two batteries, attached the trolling motor, paddles, life vests, tackle, snacks, drinks and fishing rods, slid the boat down the ramp, and were off just after first light in search of everything that lived in that lake to catch, photograph, and release. 

The three days prior to our trip were extremely windy, but the winds on this day had died down, and when we launched, the lake was like a sheet of glass.  The sun had just risen but was hidden behind clouds lingering from the low pressure system that had passed through the area a couple days earlier, leaving me with an irresistable photographic opportunity to shoot the silhouette Howard and his craft after he launched his boat.  We had a lot of rain during the week so the lake was full.  The water clarity was excellent, almost crystal clear except for the slight stain of tanic acid, jokingly refered to as "satanic acid" by Howard.  Warm temperatures thoughout the week probably had a positive effect on fish activity by keeping the lake water temperature up a bit in the fishes comfort zone.

The Coleman Crawdad, Howard's fishing machine, launches on a beautiful fall morning.
I loaded the boat with my tackle, and six rods rigged for all my possible hot patterns.  Six rods, really?  Well, when targeting multiple species, you need different rigs, right?  All week long when planning this trip, I spent hours at home fiddling with my tackle and rigging my rods in anticipation of the patterns that might have worked given the conditions that we were about to face. 

For largemouth bass and chain pickerel, I had my flipping/pitching rod rigged with a skirted Strike King Hack Attack jig and Denny Brauer chunk trailer on fifty pound Suffix 132 green braided line, to power fish out of heavy cover and pads.  I also had my medium power, fast action spinning rod Texas rigged with a four inch green pumpkin plastic worm rigged with a light wire hook and light weight on light eight pound Nanofil line for a fine finesse presentation.  I had another medium action outfit rigged with a popping plug on eight pound fluorocarbon line for possible topwater action.  I had a medium action baitcasting outfit rigged with a 1/2 ounce white chatterbait with a white plastic worm trailer, and another heavy action long baitcasting rod rigged with Live Target frog with heavy braided line in case the fish were hunkered down in the lily pads. 

And finally, for panfish, I had an ultralight rod rigged with a Kalin's Triple Threat grub in the lemon meringue color, using six pound test Nanofil that has a diameter equivalent to two pound test monofilament line.  That's a lot of fishing rods for a small pond hopper boat, but really, it's just being prepared for all of the situations that I thought that I'd encounter on the day.  That way, I didn't have to take time to cut a lure off and re-tie a different lure on, at least not as much.

Chain pickerel, sometimes nicknamed "jack fish" particularly in parts of Virginia, like this one can attack with lightning speed, giving the angler a thrill and a good fight.  This pickerel had a run in with one of the lakes predatory species.  Perhaps this pickerel was an osprey survivor.
My first fish was an average sized chain pickerel that came off a chatterbait being pulled from the weeds into the water.  As soon as it fell off the slop, the pickerel exploded on it.  Esox niger, the chain pickerel, is the smaller cousin of northern pike and muskellunge, or musky.  They have sharp teeth and can attack with lightning speed, and are known to cut your line if you don't use a steel leader.  I personally don't use a steel leader, accepting the fact that a few of my inexpensive jigs or plastic worms will be bitten off even when using heavy line, simply because I feel that the lures get better action and draw more strikes.  For some reason, on this day, the chatterbait was driving the pickerel nuts.  I finished with nineteen of them, with some of them approaching 23 inches in length.

Yellow perch like this on can provide good action and, if you really get into them, can really pad your numbers for the day.  They are agressive and hit any lure that will fit into their mouth.  This one hit a plastic worm.
Not long after that, Howard caught his first fish of the day, a chunky yellow perch, caught while he was targeting largemouth bass using a four inch plastic worm, traditionally on this particular day a hot bass lure.  The yellow perch were also very aggressive even after the front moved through and the wind picked up.  On the day, the perch attacked my plastic worm, Kalin's grub, and I even caught one on the large chatterbait!

This nice yellow perch attempted to engulf my 1/2 ounce chatterbait for lunch, showing how aggressive they were.
Soon after Howard's perch, I changed tactics and went to the ultralight.  I caught a nice bluegill sunfish right off the bat.  In my earlier posts, I talked about Nanofil line, the six pound line that I was using that had two pound diameter, or even thinner maybe.  For fishing plastic worms, it casts a country mile, but the thin line would break on my hook sets.  So, I went to the eight pound test for that purpose.  Now, I wasn't about to waste the thinner line, so I spooled my ultralight with the thinner Nanofil to fish for panfish with. 

I was very pleased that I could cast my 1/48 ounce jig just as far as when using four pound fluorocarbon line, if not further, with very little effort.  The line has no memory either, and is very sensitive, which is nice for jigging panfish so you can feel the bites easily.  You can feel every little thing, and the thump of a fat bluegill bite feels like a BIG thump.  At first, I was worried about the line visibility, but the fish weren't line shy at all, at least on this trip, including a bunch of fat bluegills caught throughout the day.  The Nanofil passed the panfish test.  My next test of that line will be through the ice this winter, and thus a final review of the brand for that purpose.

Bluegill sunfish like these were willing biters on my little jigs even on the white Nanofil line.
Normally, this lake produces good catches of fat slab crappie.  But on this day, the calicos were tough to find, but we both caught a few of them.  We were casting and slowly jigging our ultralight jigs.  Perhaps a change in technique would have landed more crappie.  Maybe that change would have been a micro tube jig, or perhaps a Berkley Power Wiggler fished under a float?  With other species cooperating, I wasn't going to spend much time re-rigging, so I stuck with my original plan.  Even though the crappie didn't cooperate as much as I had liked, the pickerel, perch, and 'gills gave us plenty of action.

Usually, on this particular lake, crappie are abundant.  But on this day, we only caught a few.  The other species kept us busy though, with plenty of action on the ultralight from pickerel, perch and bluegills.
What about the bass?  This lake has some big bass in it, and on some days you can rack up some decent numbers of quality largemouth.  Howard and I each caught a three pound bass, but once the front passed through and the wind picked up, the bluebird skies seemed to send the bass off the feed.  We each managed to catch our bass on the chatterbait.  Howard later lost one while jigging his chatterbait in deeper water.  He all but had the bass landed when it decided to behave like an acrobatic smallmouth bass, and leap high out of the water tossing Howard's lure back at him. 

Although the bass numbers didn't pile up, we knew that in future trips they will.  In the mean time, the chainsides kept us busy.  Perhaps one reason my bass numbers were low was because I spent a considerable amount of time catching the panfish on my ultralight.  The way I look at it though, I was really enjoying myself doing that and the fish were cooperating, and the action kept me giggling like a child every time I set the hook and fought the spunky fish to the boat.  After each catch, no matter the species, I took the time to admire the size of the fish, plus the beautiful coloration of each of them.  But, not so much time admiring as to harm them, so each one was carefully released to fight another day in a reasonable amount of time. 

I'm sure that I could have brought home a nice stringer for the dinner plate, but right now I still have plenty of fish in my freezer from my winter ice fishing trips, enough to get me through until we get ice again.  I don't know, but to me, the fish taste better when caught through the ice.  I don't have any scientific merit or reasoning behind that statement, but it just seems that way to me.  For me, open water fishing has become traditionally catch and release for many species (except for some saltwater or brackish fish that I can't get through the ice, like an occasional rockfish or white perch), while ice fishing fills my freezer only to meet my needs and no more.

This chunky largemouth bass annihilated my chatterbait.  The bass shut down not long after this fish was caught.
Howard with a nice fall chatterbait caught largemouth bass.
This golden shiner rounded out our sixth species caught
on the day.  Big baitfish like these are one reason that
the chain pickerel and bass in this pond reach good size.
We found a lot of chain pickerel active in one to three feet of water, relating to weeds that hadn't died off yet, in areas where baitfish were abundant, and especially in shallow water.  They attacked the bass lures that we threw, including Howard's favorite pickerel choice, a Bagley's perch color minnow, plastic worms, and of course, the chatterbait.  Towards the end of the day, the pickerel would charge out for the lures leaving a big bulging wake as they attacked our offerings.

Chain pickerel aren't huge like muskies or northerns, but they are every bit as aggressive.  It seemed as if every other cast along the lily pads, submerged weedbed clumps, or any sunken wood resulted in a savage pickerel strike at the end of the day. 

The evening bite was hot.  I finished with nineteen chainsides, one fat bass, sixteen bumphead bluegills, two fat crappie, one huge golden shiner, and fourteen nice sized yellow perch for a total of 53 fish, and six different species caught.  Not a bad multispecies day!  Howard had similar numbers, not a lot of any one species, but good numbers of everything including some nice sized pickerel.. 

The action picked up at the end of the day with chain pickerel attacking our lures nearly every cast, along with a few fat yellow perch getting in on the feeding action as well.
In summary, lakes like this one that provide good fishing for many different species, all of which are relatively good size, that make for difficult choices on the water.  It's a dilemma, what species to fish for?  The answer to me is clear, and it's spelled F-U-N.  What I mean by that is, I like to go with the flow, for what's biting, to try different techniques for different species, and let the fish tell you what to use.  If I catch many different species along the way, then my day is complete.  This is typical for this lake, to catch some of each species, but not really tear them up, and at the end of the day when you add up your numbers, you realize that you've had a pretty good doggone day of fishing.  On this particular day, the pickerel, perch, and bluegills gave us the most action and kept us quite busy all day long.  So, rather than beat my brains against the side of the boat trying to catch more bass when they weren't as active as we normally find them, I prefer to adapt to make the most of my experience on the lake, and sometimes it's the species that you don't normally target that make your day.  I'll take it!  And I'll take it every time!

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