Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My New Family Member

Well, before everyone congratulates me for having a baby, let me come clean by admitting that it’s not human, it’s a boat.  I recently purchased a used sixteen foot Alumaweld aluminum panfish style boat with stick steering powered by a 60/40 horsepower jet outboard drive motor.  This boat is teamed with an eighty pound thrust Minn Kota Maxxum trolling motor.  The set up of this rig is designed to navigate and fish the shallow rocky rivers of the Mid-Atlantic for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, musky, and panfish.  Basically, the idea is to navigate where prop boats can’t go without damaging their lower units.
My new son!
After purchasing the boat, I brought it home and ran into my first two challenges.  The first was navigating the sharp ninety degree turn into my driveway, and meanwhile, stressing the transmission trying to push the boat up the steep hill of my driveway in reverse which proved challenging enough.  To make things tougher, I recently had to do it in pitch dark with no lighting on the driveway. 

Even more challenging was the acceptance of a new family member by the rest of my family.  After parking the boat, I entered my house and asked my soon to be twenty year old daughter, who was laying on the couch, why she wasn’t excited to meet her new brother.  Her response was something to the effect of, “It’s not my brother and if you say that again, I’ll slash the trailer tires.”  My reply shot out, “That’s no way to treat your new brother, go to your room!”  I then walked down to the hall to the master bedroom, and made my second mistake, opening the door and waking my wife from her beauty sleep of an afternoon nap, and asked her if she wanted to come out and see her new son.  Needless to say, that didn’t go over very well.  My fishing time was instantly reduced while more tasks were added to my honeydo list.
Sitting in my carport with the jet drive partially visible, waiting to meet his new Sister and Mom!
Why would I pick such a craft to fish from?  There are several ramps on a nearby river within a half hour of where I live, and a dozen more within an hour and a half.  In addition, there are several more similar rivers with excellent fishing within a couple hour drive.  My new jet boat will put me on some of the most famous smallmouth streams in the United States, the Potomac, Susquehanna, Delaware, Juniata, Shenandoah, Rappahannock, New and James are all within my fishing domain now. 

Also, there is an outstanding electric only lake only ten minutes from my house, and a bunch more within an hour drive where that Minn Kota will move me quite nicely from one fishing hole to another.  I can also easily put in some of the many ponds on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, or easily fish the Upper Tidal Potomac or larger lakes in Maryland, Virginia, or Pennsylvania like Deep Creek, Raystown, Anna, or Smith Mountain Lake.  It’s not a boat that can do everything, but it’s one that gives me the most options.
My fishing pal Howard achieves the honor of catching the first fish out of this boat under the new ownership, a dink smallie photographed magazine style!
The jet drive loses thirty percent of the motor's horsepower when drawing water through the intake and shooting it out the back, hence the 60/40 horsepower rating, but the loss of power is offset by the ability of the craft to go places that would tear a prop and/or lower unit instantly into scrap metal.  It’s akin to a four wheel drive truck designed for mud bogging compared to a BMW doing the same job.  Plus, the boat is small and light, and that much horsepower gives it plenty of speed for me, about 26 mph boating against the current, and 28 to 30 mph motoring with the current.
My first fish out of the boat was a dink smallie also, but this was my second fish which reached the fine honor of being the first keeper sized bass caught out of the "new" boat.
Howard with the honor of catching the first keeper largemouth out of my new boat.
Why the panfish style with stick steering?  The seating arrangement places me up to the front, providing a great view ahead allowing me to spot rocks and current seams while the stick steering provides improved ability to maneuver around such aluminum crushing obstacles as boulders and rocky ledges beneath the surface.  Also, the weight is more evenly distributed, maximizing speed while allowing the rig to get on a plane much more easily.
The seating arrangement allows the driver to easily see obstructions while navigating on plane while evenly distributing weight to maximize speed and enable optimal drafting while drift fishing rocky shallow Mid-Atlantic rivers.
I have quite a history with this particular boat.  I purchased it from a buddy of mine, Bob.  I’ve actually fished out of the back of the boat for years while catching many big fish, some of which were personal bests for me during those times and remain so today.  Bob and I had some awesome times and I have many fine memories those trips over the years.  Thanks Bob!
My personal best musky was caught out of the back of "Bob's" boat...now my boat.  I'll break that PB  some day soon I hope.
I’ve made many trips, some long distance vacation type fishing trips and fished out of the back of this boat, including trips to Canada and the Adirondacks in New York, along with countless local trips. 
I caught this nice catfish on a trip to Canada chasing muskies out of the back of  this boat!  Notice the similarities of the characters here...shape of the belly, whiskers.
I’ve caught some of the biggest freshwater or brackish water fish of my life out of this boat.  Several years ago, I was able to boat a forty five and a half inch striper that weighed a tad over thirty eight pounds that remains my personal best striped bass catch.  Unfortunately, I didn’t snap a picture of that massive fish because we used up all of our film earlier on smaller fish.  We also didn’t realize that they reached that size where we were fishing, only discovering the “fishery” a few days earlier.  This was before any of us had digital cameras, which were just out on the market at the time and very expensive.  
Although this striper is quite a bit smaller than my personal best, it's another nice one caught off the back of my new boat, another moment in it's history.
A thirty inch fish at that time seemed huge to us, but a 38 pounder?  It was unthinkable until it happened.  I caught it casting a Bomber Magnum Long A minnow style crankbait after seeing a huge striper try and eat an eighteen inch small striper that my buddy caught at boat side.  When I saw that, I dug into my tackle box for the biggest lure that I could find, and it paid off big time.  My biggest four stripers that day went 45 ½” and 38.1 lbs., 37” and 21 lbs., 34” and 15.2 lbs., 31” and 11 lbs, and I caught several more in the eight to ten pound range that evening.
Bob with a beauty of a striper, a.k.a. rockfish in Maryland, caught at the helm of the boat under his ownership.
I’ve also caught, photographed and released my largest musky, my personal best walleye, and countless big smallmouth and largemouth bass.  Oh yeah, there’s a lot of history and memories on this boat, not to mention solidifying a great friendship with Bob, and making other fishing friends through him.  Now instead of fishing out of the back, I’ll be at the helm and hopefully, there will be more personal bests for me and my fishing pals.
Thanks to Bob taking me fishing out of his boat, I've been able to get some personal best on several species including this fine walleye taken on the last day of 2011.

A double on the Susky, Bob with his smallie and me holding mine near to the camera a couple years ago.  We spent a lot of time chasing smallies together on the Susquehanna over the years out of this boat.
Meanwhile, what about Bob?  He's a bit sentimental and emotional about transferring ownership to me, but at the same time, he's excited.  He would only part with such a boat if he had a suitable replacement.  "Suitable" hardly describes his replacement though.  He just brought home his new RiverPro 186 LoPro built by Kevin Turner in Missouri.  This, my friends, is my dream boat.  But alas, I can't afford one as yet.  Congratulations to Bob for his magnificent purchase.  I'll save the details on this boat for a future post after I ride and fish from the back of this fine machine.  Bob will have a ton of fun on his new ride, and will soon forget about his old boat before long.
Bob's sleek new RiverPro 186 LoPro with the 200 hp Mercury SportJet will pictured here on it's way home, soon allow Bob to be less sentimental about the sale of his old boat to me!
Actually, my new purchase is my dream boat.  Hey, it puts me on the water and I can fish just about anywhere I want to go.  What more could I ask for?  At least until I hit the lotto!!!!

Only one question remains…  

What should I name my new boat?  Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hot out? Wade!

I hear complaints on the radio about the current heat wave sweeping the Mid-Atlantic, but the way that I look at it is that it's summer, and summer is hot.  I have sympathy for the thousands of people that lost power in the aftermath of last weekend's storms and especially for those that still don't have power.  My birthday occurs this time of year, and I try to spend it each year fishing or doing something fun.  Here's a news flash, it's hot every year on my birthday reaching near record temperatures every year but rarely breaking them.  It's not global warming, its summer.  So how do I cope with such hot weather on my birthday?  One could take refuge in the air conditioning, go see a movie, hang out at home and maybe do a cookout, watch fireworks in the evening...all that is good, but for me, I like to find a river or stream and wade for smallies.
When it's hot, get out and wade a river or stream with a good population of smallmouth bass.  You'll stay cool, catch a lot of fish, and have fun!
As my buddy Rodger put it after yesterdays half day of wading, smallmouth bass are like little pit bulls of the fishing world because they fight hard all the way and including through the release, often pulling off acrobatic leaps in the process.  Imagine wading waste deep in gin clear river water, hooking a fat bellied pugnacious bronzeback, and having it nearly leap over your head while running circles around you during the fight.  Folks, that's what it's all about.
Rodger wading our river, refers to the smallies here as pit bulls!
So, other than keeping cool and catching good numbers of willing smallmouth, why wade?  It's true that boats can put you on lots of fish by either running from productive spot to productive spot, or drifting for miles at a time over tons of productive spots to pick off the most aggressive fish on the river.  Kayaks or canoes offer similar advantages.  So, why wade?  First of all, the cooler water is always at hand if you get overheated.  But from a fishing standpoint, wading can actually be as productive if not more productive if you pick a spot that has a good population of smallmouth bass to fish because, quite simply, you can cover those hot spots and fish much more thoroughly.

On most streams, once you get away from the put in location, the scenery is very nice.  I'll often find a nice rock to take a break mid way through the trip, have a drink of water or each a little lunch, and observe the scenery and wildlife.  I really enjoy watching the smaller aquatic stream life at my feet during my break.  I'll pick up a rock or two and check out the aquatic insects attached to the bottom.  I guess the presence of mayflies and caddisflies pacifies me a bit, giving me perhaps a false impression that the stream is healthy.  Increasing populations surrounding this particular watershed translate to more cars on the roads, and increased pollution results.  I know that the stream could be healthier, but at least for now, it appears to teem with life.
I'll usually take a break for a drink or snack during the trip, and check out the aquatic life nearby.  Here I picked a rock off the river bottom and turned it over to examine the aquatic insects.
Zooming in, you can see one of the mayflies that lives beneath the rock.  Mayflies are an important staple food for smallmouth bass and other fishes within the river, and an indicator of stream health.
Like many trips in the past, my fishing vest was packed to the hilt with my favorite wading lures.  The biggest vest pockets were crammed with soft plastics including soft stick baits, flukes, tubes, creature baits, grubs and small plastic worms.  One large pocket held two boxes, one containing my terminal tackle, hooks and sinkers, and the other stuffed with crankbaits, topwater plugs, and hard jerkbaits.  And one small pocket held another summer smallie favorite, small 1/8 ounce buzzbaits.  The large back pocket held four water bottles, and it's really important to keep hydrated in this hot weather, and a can of bug spray to ward off biting flies and mosquitos.  Other small pockets held spare reel spools, worm dye, and other necessary hardware.

My buddy Rodger and I picked a location on a medium sized Mid-Atlantic river sporting classic smallmouth habitat.  I haven't had the pleasure of wading this river for several years, but it has plenty of chunk rock and ledges - prime cover for lurking smallmouth lurking in ambush of unsuspecting river prey.  It's also kind to my aging bones, allowing easy wading most of the day with a minimum of aches and pains afterwards.  We parked one vehicle at the put in, and one at the take out location, which allowed us to cover more water with the least amount of physical effort in a shorter amount of time.

We entered the water just before sunrise and began to wade, but mid-eighty degree water temperatures don't take that much to get used to, and even though the sun wasn't up yet, the conditions were quite comfortable.  I began fishing a small green pumpkin four inch plastic worm, with the tail dyed chartreuse, using light weight and a small wire Gamakatsu offset shank worm hook.  I didn't use psychic ability or indepth fishing skill in choosing this rig, rather, it was simply tied on from my last fishing trip.  Yeah, I'm lazy that way!

The water was low and clear, but the bass were more than willing.  It didn't take long for the first strike as a fat smallie inhaled my plastic worm and nearly wrapped the line around my leg during the fight.  As that happened, I saw bass chasing bait along the bank on the far side, so I opted to tie on a buzzbait.  Fish are often much more aggressive during low light conditions, and dusk is a great time for topwater.  Actually, if the bass are hot on topwater, that action could last all day.
I caught bass like this one all day long.  This spunky bronzeback hit on my second cast.
I fished the buzzer for about an hour, with a fat fourteen inch smallie crushing it on my first cast, followed by his twin who hammered my buzzer on the successive cast to the same spot.  That was it for the buzzer.  Oh, they hit it, but a dozen strikes later, all misses, even after adding a trailer hook, I became frustrated and went back to my fishing comfort zone, the plastic worm.

The fish weren't really holding in the usual places where we could count on finding them in past years.  It was really weird though because we'd find them holding on deeper slow sections with chunk rock, and then find other similar spots and all we'd get were red-breast sunfish.  But, when we found the smallies, we found them in bunches.  If anything, we probably could have caught more if we didn't get hung up spending so much time trying to catch smallmouth where they were supposed to be and weren't, than if we had just kept moving until we found them.  I guess that I'm hard headed that way.

Other lures may have worked, but I knew the worm would work, and I wasn't disappointed.  But the sunnies drove me nuts, attacking the soft plastic fake morsel with reckless abandon on nearly every cast.  Most of the time, you could discern their strikes from the bass.  I purposely didn't set the hook unless I thought that it was a smallmouth, and I still hooked and landed fourteen of the little buggers without even setting the hook!  They drive me nuts because they tear the tails off the worms or pull the hooks out of the Texas rig changing it to a less than snag proof red-breast rig.
These pesky red-breat sunfish drive me nuts, tearing the tails from my soft plastics.  But I have to admit, they are one of the most beautiful of fish to catch in our rivers.  Check out these spectacular colors.
My wife was counting on me being home for some much needed household chores, including repainting our bedroom.  Needless to say, I came home late.  Hey, they were biting, and the wade which usually takes about six hours to complete took much longer.  I won't get into why, but a Thunderstorm moved in right after we started and held us near the bridge until passing, and that cost us some time.  Fish, or paint the bedroom...not a tough choice for me!  Rodger and I had a great time catching a good number of bass.
Here's Rodger with a river pit bull and a big grin!
But I'm happy with the results.  I landed forty one smallmouth between ten and fifteen inches, two small largemouth bass, and fourteen red-breast pesky sunfish.  Rodger caught a bunch of bass and sunnies as well, mostly on soft plastics but a couple on a small deep diving crankbait towards the end of the trip.  I've had better days fishing this spot in the past, but looking back, I think that it was a decent day considering that I've been out of touch with the spot for many years now.  I can't wait to get back.
Smallmouth bass dominate the fish populations in our upper Mid-Atlantic warmer water rivers, but now and then you will tie into largemouth bass.  This is a little guy, but some of them can get quite large.  They prefer slower water and woody cover while smallies prefer rocky river cover and moving water.
Did I get in trouble with my wife?  Maybe a little bit, but a short trip to the grocery store and bringing home a tasty dessert for dinner later that evening eased the tension dramatically.  So, take it from me, when it's hot, get out of the air conditioning and wade for smallmouth bass.  You won't regret it.  Life is good!