Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why Do You Love to Ice Fish? i.e. Why I love to Ice Fish!

I haven't done a generic type post about ice fishing in a long time.  But after discussing a certain topic about ice fishing with someone on my favorite web forum, Iceshanty.com, I got to thinking...why do I still love to ice fish?

I mean, after all, most people, my wife included and most of my friends (since I live South of what is really ice fishing territory) think that I'm nuts.  And, we ice anglers really are off our rockers!  We spend all kinds of money on stuff to keep us comfortable to cut a hole through the ice and fish, and in some cases (even though we know it's "safe") there is enough risk that we always have to be careful, and often we're out there in cold nasty weather when 99% of society would rather wrap up in a blanket next to a fire and rent movies all day.  I won't go into how ice anglers spend a ton of money on ice fishing tackle, gear, and clothing just to catch fish through a hole in the ice.  All anglers are considered crazy for our fishing spending from the viewpoint of the non-angling crowd.

So, why do you love to ice fish?  What is it about our sport that pushes your buttons to keep on getting out there, year after year, in sometimes brutal conditions to try and catch fish through the ice?  Please feel free to post your answer in the comments section.
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OK, for me, here it goes.  First, I like the fact that I can catch fish all year, and ice fishing extends my fishing season.  I like the fact that you really never know for sure what you're about to catch.  I like that you can pretty much get to fishing holes that only a boat can get to, and sometimes get to hot spots that boats can't even get to.  And, not only that, you can find fish and stay over them and not worry about drifting away.  No boat control to worry about!  And, you can catch fish, often a lot of them, and sometimes bigger than any other time of year.  And, you can haul all kinds of gear out there to catch fish and to keep you almost as comfortable as those folks wrapped in their blankets next to their fires watching movies.  Ice fishing can also be a great social activity shared with friends, or to make new friends.
Of course, a joy of ice fishing is when you can share it with friends, or even make new friends.  Here, my good friend Jim Cumming sports a fat largemouth bass that he caught while tending his tip-ups.  I was fortunate enough to introduce Jim to ice fishing many years ago when he lived down my way.
But, that's all great, and many of you probably share the same views.  But here's what really gets me stoked up, why I love ice fishing more than just like to do it:

I have always enjoyed vertically jigging for active fish.  On the ice, I mostly target panfish.  I still primarily target panfish but also bring enough tackle to jig for predators.  But really floats my boat is jigging over active fish and watching it all on my underwater camera, inside my portable shanty, and doing it productively.
Many ice anglers appreciate the seclusion of fishing in a shanty.  It's quiet.  Just you, your gear, and the fish, and you're out of the harsh elements.  But it's also quite beautiful out in the open air.  I always try to spend some time jigging outside too, to gain that appreciation and beauty of my surroundings, and move around and hit a few holes nearby to cover water.
So the crux of this post is basically that I really get my jollies while using my underwater camera.  When fishing with an underwater camera, the question I always read on forums is:  "Do you need to or not?  Or, do you wish to be more challenged or not?"  I guess it's like cheating to some, but I think it's more fun to watch the fish eat your lure than to watch a rod tip.  So yeah, I'll "cheat" for that extra fun.  Heck with the challenge.  If I want challenge, then I'll find some open water and musky fish.  If I find active panfish, then I'll watch, fish, and catch them.  If they are finicky, like most good ice anglers, I will move and use my sonar to find another school of active fish, then drop the camera down there again if I'm getting multiple fish.
This is my set up under my portable shanty...you can see the bottom and my jig easily.  It's great once you find a school of active panfish like yellow perch especially when the schools hang around for a while.  I can observe their behavior, figure out exactly what they want or what turns them off, watch them inhale my lure, and...SET THE HOOK!  It's so much fun.  
Sure, you can catch a bunch of fish using your sonar and not bring a camera!  But I think that the camera nets me even more fish under certain conditions than I would if I didn't use the camera.  Why?  Because I can see bites that I would definitely miss watching my sonar, a rod tip, a spring bobber, my line, or while trying to feel a bite.  I used to come home from a trip and dream about my spring bobber.  Now I dream about watching my camera and catching fish!
Sure you can catch plenty of fish using just your sonar.  I used to do it all the time, and still often do.  My buddies Geoff and Jack are doing just that in this picture.  It's a ton of fun too.  While they were catching a ton of fish, I was doing the same thing using my camera and took a break to get a picture of them in action.
Sometimes the fish bite so light that even a spring won't detect it.  But that camera doesn't miss the bite.  When you see your bait disappear, set the hook quick enough and you will get that fish.  If you miss, then it's not the fault of your electronics, it's probably due to slow reaction time (old age can cause that speaking from experience).  I just get a kick out of watching the fish and their reaction to what I'm doing.  When fish leave my bait or lose interest, usually I can see exactly why (like the lure spinning thing or if they've cleaned the maggots off my jig).

But even cameras have limitations.  For the type of productivity that I describe above, you really have to find a good school of fish or have a great spot.  It takes some time to set up your gear over them.  You lack the mobility and ability to follow a moving school.  Using the flasher, you can stay more mobile.  When you're having one of those "one fish per hole" days, those are the days that the flasher works much better than a camera.  Both are tools, use them under the right conditions to maximize your catch and your fun.

My underwater camera model doesn't work well at night for that evening crappie bite.  At least, I haven't figured out how to make it work.  The light needed to generate an image on the camera end attracts zillions of zooplankton grouped in a cloud that is so thick that you can't see anything, much less your lure or fish.  The newer models of underwater cameras have come a long way though, and may have solved that problem.  Some day I will investigate and get back to you on that.
I recommend bringing both a camera and sonar for your day trips.  Use the sonar to locate large schools of active fish.  Cut a ton of holes if necessary, but be active and find them.  Once you find them, set up your camera and have fun.  If the fish disappear and you stop seeing them or stop getting bites, start the process over and find new fish.  Also, the sonar will save you at night for fishing for suspended crappie.  At least in my case, the camera isn't that useful after dark, but the sonar always shines.
A huge advantage using the underwater camera is that I always know what type of fish are down there, whether or not they are dinks or fish worth targeting.  And it's really cool when a predator stops by.  Yeah, you can see the blip on your sonar, but you really don't know what kind of fish it is.  With the camera, you can identify it and see their mood and why they appeared.  Was it random or did you jig that fish in?  It's a big fish, but is it a carp, a bass, a pike, or a big walleye?  If it's a larger predator, then I can quickly adapt and drop something down there that might tempt them more than a tiny panfish jig.  Also, it's pretty fun when you're fishing for, let's say yellow perch, and all of a sudden a bass, pickerel, pike or musky shows up and tries to eat the camera!  My camera is an Aqua Vu and the camera is shaped like a fish.  I guess I need to attach a treble hook to the camera!
But using a camera can clue you into bigger fish too!  I dropped a bigger gulp minnow down the hole to catch this bass that was drawn in with my smaller panfish jig and wouldn't bite it.
With sonar, you can get a general idea of what the bottom is like, if the bottom has weeds, or is soft or hard.  But with the camera, I can see exactly what makes up the bottom.  I not only see weeds, but what type of weeds.  I can see logs, stumps, rocks, algae, if it's a muddy or a rocky bottom.  I can see baitfish move through and predators follow.  I can see why the fish are there.  I can see pretty much everything.  It's like fishing TV and I'm the producer.  I wish I could be the director and then I'd even catch more fish!

I've seen other guys hole hop and use the camera in shallow water flats to search for pods of fish, and that's effective too.  But for deeper water (10 to 25 feet deep or deeper), which is just about everywhere in the lakes that I fish, I cut a lot of holes and use my sonar to find fish then hone in and watch and fish with the camera.
My friend Scott using his old Aqua Vu to check a bunch of shallow water holes to locate schools of fish while positioning  it to view horizontally so that he could see all around the hole, not just under it.  He'd drop the camera down and spin the cable 360 degrees to check out the areas around the hole to look for schools of fish.  If he spotted a bunch nearby, he'd stop and drop a jig down there and catch a bunch of fish.  It's a great technique to find shallow water bluegills and other panfish, and also to get an idea what type of cover is down there.
Another thing that I do that most people don't like doing is that I like to set my camera to look down on the fish.  I feel that I can more effectively target them while viewing down on the fish.  I can see the fish come from any angle.  Sometimes, if the water is clear enough, I can set the camera about six to eight feet off the bottom and see all the way to the bottom.  It's not right or wrong if people like to watch horizontally, in fact, most people probably fish with their cameras that way.  I simply prefer to look down on 'em..  I rarely see fish approach from above the camera, but sometimes they surprise you and do just that.  But if you're using your camera to find fish in the shallows, then it's probably better to set the camera to view horizontally for sure.
Here's a nice sunfish caught while jigging and using my camera.  You can see the actual camera unit laying on the ice showing that it's shaped and painted to resemble a sunfish.  Maybe this fish was attracted by the camera thinking he met a buddy?
It's so fun to fish that way to me that I think that it's kept my interest up in ice fishing even more than ever, especially given the lean ice years we've had the past decade that really make me wonder of those long drives to even find ice are worth the effort or not... Now I'll make those long drives like I used to do when I was younger and first addicted to ice fishing in general.

These fat yellow perch and a nice chain pickerel were caught using a camera while jigging.  It was so fun to see that pickerel move in, literally with it's snout right up against my lure.  When I gave the jig a quick snap up, he attacked with lightning speed and the fight was on.  Not only did the camera help me set the hook, but I was able to witness the entire scene!
You know what is funny?  When the Aqua Vu first came out, I was a skeptic.  I thought it was a waste of money.  Now I think it's the most fun thing about ice fishing to me.  It's like I'm down there diving with them!  So really, I can be warm and toasty in my portable shanty and watch TV all day long just like those folks wrapped up in a blanket on their couch renting movies on TV, but even better because I'm a participant!

So now you have somewhat of an understanding about my approach to ice fishing.  I love to jig, I try to use my electronics effectively, and most of all, I have fun doing it.  That's what it's all about.  Since we've had some cold temperatures, snow and our lakes are icing up recently, my mind has been occupied about getting out on the ice again to do some jiggin'.   Maybe I'll see you out there!

Please also visit Iceshanty.com if you are interested in learning more about ice fishing.  If you're an avid ice fisher, then I believe that you'll enjoy the site just as much.  It's free to join, no spam and it's a very friendly web forum with plenty of people to interact with that are more than willing to help you about our sport.  Hope to see you on the forum!

So, please leave a comment and tell me why you love to ice fish!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Deseaba que yo Pescara en España! Part I

Wished that I fished in Spain Part I  
Córdoba and Seville, Andalucía, Southern Spain

I hope the title displays the correct Spanish to match the English translation above!  Google Translate is pretty cool.  But for all I know, it could say that I stink at fishing!  My translation is also titled above, and I hope that it actually is the correct translation.  Since I don't speak Spanish, please forgive me if I've accidentally typed something that doesn't make sense, or worse, insulting!

A couple months ago, my wife and I flew across the pond to Spain for a few reasons, to meet my daughter after she studied for an entire Semester, have a vacation experience that we’ve never had, and make sure that we bring her home…single, and with last name, unchanged!

Neither fishing nor fossil collecting were on the agenda.  We had plenty of tours lined up.  My feet, two months later, still ache from all that walking, although we did take our share of hairy cab rides too.  Don’t get me wrong, in those Spanish cities, where narrow streets and heavy traffic are the norm, those cabbies aren’t bad drivers at all.  In fact, I'd say that the majority of the ones that hauled us around were very skilled.

Our daughter refused to let us rent and drive a vehicle, and after the visit, I agree with her assessment.  Those cab drivers are skilled, but they’re crazy, and they pretty much have to be.  Each cab ride was almost like an amusement park ride, full of thrills.  It was very impressive to see the traffic flow as it did, with so many close calls and tight situations, so many pedestrians, and the amazing thing was that we didn’t witness even one single traffic accident!  That's either pure luck or a testament to their driving talents.

OK, so what about the fishing?  And what about the fossiling?  You do have an outdoors blog, don’t you Kevin?  Hold your horses folks, I’ll get to that.

Our vacation began in Seville, a city in the Southern part of Spain, in the second largest and most populated autonomous community known as Andalucía.  During that stretch, we also toured the city of Córdoba.  These areas are rich in history, art, architecture and are really a sightseeing paradise.  You just can't see it all in a couple weeks, and we only stayed here for a few days.

Our arrival in Madrid followed the night flight across the mighty Atlantic, a first for me, was followed by an enjoyable connecting flight to Seville during the daylight hours.  Of course, I’m like a kid on a plane, I need a window seat.  I always try to see what’s down there, try to figure out where I am, and as an angler, try and figure out what those bodies of water are, and ask myself, what species of fish do they fish for.

I observed many bodies of water from the air that looked like grassy pike type lakes, with what looked like standing timber.  But as it turns out, most of them were gigantic puddles, and most were really temporary.  The terrain around Seville is fairly flat.  As the plane's altitude decreased, I noticed that there were not any homes, docks, or anything that would indicate recreational activity surrounding those bodies of water.  Just to the North of Seville, there are quite a few reservoirs that can be fished as well as a couple of them to the South and East.  Those bodies of water looked pretty fishy too.

Seville does have a river.  In fact, during the final minutes of our tour of Córdoba, and after touring the amazing historical buildings of this fantastic city, we made the most of our final minutes admiring an old Roman bridge that was built during the 1st century BC.  Of course, as if the historical significance of the bridge wasn't enough to amaze me, so was the river.  Were there any fish in there?  Did people fish there?  What kind of fish live there?

Seville and Córdoba share the same river, with Córdoba being upriver from Seville along Rio Guadalquiver.  Well, of course, upon returning home, I had to do a quick internet search of that river.  According to Wikipedia, it's "the only great navigable river in Spain.  Currently it is navigable to Seville, but in Roman times it was navigable to Córdoba."  Interesting, but what about the fishing?
Seville does have a river, Rio Guadalquiver.  Of course, I had to check out the fish along with the Roman Bridge!
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the river is known, as far as fishing goes, for trout and barbels.  What's a barbel?  I had no idea.  I suspected that they are carp, and as it turns out, they aren't, but very carp like.  The truth is that they are native to Spain, and one species is only found in Spain.
video
In the short video above, you may see fish moving in and out of the current breaks created by the bridge pilings.  When I was there, I wondered if they were salmon, trout or carp as I overlooked the ancient bridge, mesmerized by the many fish moving in and out of the eddies.  After researching on the net a bit, my guess they were barbels, but they could have been carp.  I took a brief walk and noticed some anglers down river, but didn't have time to take a picture.  I had a tour bus to catch!  The river in Cordoba is freshwater, and reminded me much of the Eastern U.S. rivers that are home to our smallmouth bass.

Prior to our departure from Córdoba and my fascination with the bridge, we toured some amazing historic sites, including Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba (the Great Mosque-Cathedral of  Córdoba), which had many fascinating architectural and historical sites, gardens, artifacts, enough to entertain oneself for a month.  And of course, the Muslim influence in the architecture was evidenced by the many gardens shaded with orange and lemon trees, flowers teeming with wild parakeets.

The abundant fountains complete with ancient irrigation systems connected each of the many garden sections.  That was all fascinating enough, but did any have fish in them?  I managed to locate some pools filled with carp and goldfish.  Well, they don't allow fishing in the mosque gardens, but at least I could see some real teleosts to remind me of my favorite hobby.
My fascination with the history and architecture in Córdoba was enhanced when I found fish!
Upon our return to Seville along with a nice siesta, we freshened up for a night out on the town.  Our plan was to walk along the river for a bit, then head to a restaurant complete with entertainment.  We ate dinner and watched a Flamenco show at the Tablao El Arenal.  The food was fantastic, but the show was spectacular!  Never in my life did I imagine attending such an event.  The dancing was amazing the the music was very entertaining.  And let me tell you, those flamenco dancers were in some kind of shape!  I was in awe.
A walk along the river in Seville at the onset of our night on the town.  Actually, the body of water is the Canal de Alphonso XIII along the Rio Guadalquiver.  It was beautiful, but I had to  once again ponder the fishing potential.  This stretch of the river is navigable to the Mediterranean evidenced by our sightings of a couple cruise ships and several large tour boats.  It has to have some big fish!
This typical Seville street was the location of Tablao El Arenal.  We waited here for the doors of the flamenco show to open.  The place was small, but was packed.  We had a great time and the food was outstanding!

Here's a view of the river in the distance from the tower of the Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, and also the third largest Cathedral in the world.  You can see the huge drawbridge crossing the river to accommodate the shipping traffic.  With water that big, what big fish can be found here?  In the foreground, you can see part of the Alcázar of Seville, which is a royal palace and a former Moorish fort.
As far as the fishing in Seville goes, the river seems to be tidal, and is known for it's sturgeon fishery although overfishing and pollution may have caused the population of the once abundant caviar source to decline drastically.  Other species caught in the region, either in the rivers or lakes include various coarse fish such as carp, barbels, and tench.  The local Seville waters also harbor perca-sol (sunfish) and róbalo (snook)!  But the thing that, from an angling standpoint, makes me feel at home is possibility of catching pike in some of the local rivers, and even black bass!  

That's right, the famous largemouth bass!  Imagine traveling across an ocean to fish for bass!  The warmer reservoirs are stocked with bucketmouths, while the cooler ones provide action for brown trout, which are native to Spain.  There are also trout fishing streams, although it seems that they are off limits all but for one day a week, where catch and release fishing is permitted (see link below).  I have no reason to not trust the website below that cites those regulations, but take them with a grain of salt and check the regulations yourself (as you might anywhere).

The following website provides specific on where to fish in the Seville area:  http://villalosparaisos.co.uk/fishing-in-seville-region/

The website below has an interesting read on fishing in Andalucía, an article from an angler with many years experience there.  The author's name is Phil Pembroke.  After reading this article, on my next trip to Spain, you can bet I'll get a license and won't forget my fishing tackle, along with a rod and reel! This article also has some licensing advice too.  That is, as long as my family sets me free to explore these fishing opportunities.

I will share more about my vacation to Spain and my missed angling opportunities in my next post, titled, "Wished that I fished in Spain Part II:  Malaga and Barcelona".

For any of the readers that have fished these waters, I'd really like to state that these are merely observations and thoughts combined with a little bit of web research.  I'm far from an expert on this subject, and would welcome comments.  I apologize in advance if I've provided erroneous information or anything, so I will check back on the comments and correct anything that isn't right.  Also, please feel free to share any information about fishing in the Seville or Córdoba area, not only to benefit the reading public, but also to inspire my chance at fishing in Spain during my next visit!

Sources:  Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Brittanica, and the linked sites above.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Happy Birthday Kyle!

For those of you that haven't read about my brother, my inspiration for starting this blog and to keep it going, and for helping to put my life in better perspective, along with the help of my wife, daughter, and sisters, I certainly recommend that you check out his story, linked here:

Tribute to my Brother Kyle

It's his birthday today.  This post, and the wonderful article below by Jim Cumming, are a very fitting way to honor my brother on his day.

I love and miss you Kyle.

Small Stream Summer Ramblings

By guest author Jim Cumming

It’s been said that if you don’t like the weather in Maine, wait five minutes and it will change.  This summer has been no exception, with conditions bouncing back and forth from flood warnings to near drought, from 90 degree heat to jacket weather, and everything in between.  For fishermen, the task has been clear…..adapt or risk dancing with the skunk.
Jim is not only talented at writing fishing articles like this one, he's also a heck of an angler and a good friend.  I hope you enjoy his work.  Please note the links to his other articles posted within this blog at the end of this post.  I'm sure you'll enjoy them as well.
A few weeks back, I avoided my usual left turn toward work (always a good move when you can swing it) and headed right for the Western Maine Mountains in cloudless, bluebird skies.  Conditions were perfect for soaking up some Vitamin D, but the unlimited sunshine would have small water trout at their spookiest.  The hour drive to higher elevations passed quickly for me.  A bite to eat to fortify myself for several hours on the slippery stream bed and I’d be good to go.  The local warden pulled up as I was finishing off my turkey and cheese and greeted me with a question.  “Heading out or finishing up?”.  When I told him that I hadn’t wet a line yet, he didn’t offer much encouragement.  “It’s been tough.  Water’s down and with this much sun you’d be better off waiting till dusk.”  He went on to suggest several other spots.  I thanked him, but since additional driving or staying late were not in the cards, I had no choice but to stay the course and adapt.

Sometimes it takes an escape from the confines of my work cubicle to be creative.  How creative can one be when a move of a foot and half in any direction causes a collision with a file cabinet or a cubicle wall, a trip over a power cord, or other typical Monday through Friday hazard?  Leaving that in my rearview cleared my mental fog and ignited a focus on the task at hand that I hadn’t felt in days.  As I waded up the rocky streambed, I compiled a mental journal (a “play-by-play” if you will) of my thought process for dealing with the tough conditions of low water in bright sunshine, and what ultimately did or didn’t work.  I ended up with a series of mental snippets and observations leading to the following bits of advice which should be helpful wherever similar conditions prevail.

Stay Low
It’s great to know that fish are at least in the stream you’re fishing.  It’s not great when you make this discovery by virtue of wakes of spooked fish darting off.  That was the result of my approach to the first pool upstream.  I thought I’d been stealthy enough, but the trout proved me wrong.  Time to “Get low, Jimbo”, or to get behind a shoreline rock or bush to block my quarry’s view.

Get High
What’s this?  Is he truly altering his frame of mind?  For sure, I’m a child of the sixties and seventies, but being on the water is buzz enough for me.  What I’m referring to is the benefit of getting higher in elevation in a watershed in summer conditions.  An obvious benefit is lower water temperatures, particularly if your quarry is a cool or cold water fish like trout.  Another benefit is the lessened impact of flood damage at higher elevations.  After ruining my first pool by spooking its residents, I waded for an hour or so with no sign of life in the fish department.  I had noticed that the bottom was very light in color, not the dark, productive, food-rich bottom environs I’m used to.  If that was a sign of scour from flooding, what I found around the bend was a dead giveaway.  Mystery of the slow bite solved.  Flood waters gain volume from run-off and tributaries as they rush downstream with gravity.  The lower section of the stream had fallen victim to this.  Time to get high…or at least increase my elevation.
Although the water was low when the author fished it, debris piles reveal a history of flooding that left this stretch of stream unproductive, at least for a season.
Easy Going Doesn’t Mean Easy Fishing
A move uphill was just what the doctor ordered for finding a stream that hadn’t been damaged and scoured by flood waters.  On top of that, the fine gravel and sand was easy wading on my half century (plus) old legs.  On the other hand, it lacked the cover to hold fish.
The author enjoyed wading this featureless bottom, but the action was non-existent.
A move to a bottom with larger boulders and bedrock got the catching into higher gear.  Yeah, the slips and trips multiplied, but so did the bites.
What this stretch lacked in terms of easy wading, it made up for in good action.
This feisty wild rainbow trout struck readily in a stretch of broken water.
Don’t Get Cut Off
Over the years, I’ve been immersed in large metropolitan area traffic from time-to-time.  Now, living in Central Maine, that’s largely behind me.  Still, getting cut off on occasion is enough to re-ignite the road rage in me.  It’s also something to be avoided on a stream.  Under the existing low flow conditions, the pool in the foreground in the picture below has enough depth to hold fish, but is cut off from the main flow toward the top of the picture.  Water cut off from the main flow is productive only under very limited circumstances, and rarely during the summer.  It is not as well oxygenated as water in the main flow, which can be critical during the warm months.  In addition, it suffers from the continual problem of lacking the current conveyor belt that fish favor to bring food to their doorsteps.
The water in the foreground had adequate depth, but lacked the current that stream fish favor in holding areas.
Leave the Swimming Holes to the Kids
A little more wading brought me a deep, slack water hole.  Great to cool off in.  It was a weekday morning so I had the place to myself.  The quiet, however, wasn’t enough to help the fishing.  I rarely do well in stretches like this, in spite of legends of occasional big fish falling to mainly bait fishermen.
This deep, slack water hole is great for a dip, but poor for summer trout action.
The Shadow Knows
The catching can get nearly impossible at mid-day in the open stretches of a small stream.  You can often break the funk by fishing in the shade of a high bank or tall trees.
This high rock ledge cast just enough of a shadow to be a potential fish holding area at high noon.
This deeply shaded hole held a nice fish, but the author ended up with a swing and a miss.
I had the right fly, made the perfect cast, had a nice drift, and had a nice trout nail my dry fly in the picture immediately above.  An imperfect hook-set left me with an empty net.

Hang Around Something Cool
As the afternoon wore on, the bite slowed again.  A check of the water temperature showed it had gone up a few ticks since morning….from 65 to around 68 degrees.  This was enough to put the cold water-loving trout off their feed.  As a note of caution, I avoid fishing for trout in water with temperatures much above the mid-60’s.  Catch and release may not be successful after the fight in warmer water.  The solution on this day was to find cooler water, which was provided by tributaries draining higher, shaded terrain or fed by springs delivering groundwater.
A tributary from higher terrain joins the main stream (at the top of the photo) providing cool water and concentrating trout.
It may not look like much, but this spring seep (at the left of the photo) delivered enough cold groundwater to create a fish-holding spot where it joined the main stream.
Both of the spots pictured above produced multiple fish, including the “hat trick”….not a three goal game in hockey, but instead a mix of brook, brown, and rainbow trout.
Wild rainbows dominated the catch in this stretch.
But native brookies were by no means a rarity.
And with persistence and a little luck, the day’s catch was rounded out with a big, colorful brown trout.
Beware of Imposters
Not all tributaries are created equal.  Some drain boggy, dark bottom areas and many actually deliver water that is warmer than the main stream itself!  The excessive green algae in this tributary are a strong indicator of a high nutrient content and warm water temperatures.  However, the surest way to determine this is with your stream thermometer.  I can’t stress enough the importance of having one and using it, especially for summer fishing.  At 71 degrees, this tributary was three degrees warmer than the bulk of the stream and certainly didn’t hold any trout.
While most tributaries deliver cooler water and good summer action, this warm drainage brought in warm water and had the opposite effect.
Summer Breeze Makes Me Feel Fine
For those of you who weren’t around, this is a soft rock title from Seals and Crofts (1972).  It was a day for flashbacks, what can I say?  It did have relevance to my fishing situation however.  Hot sun in the mountains is called “destructive” in meteorological jargon, meaning that it is self-limiting, and leads to instability and often showers.  Kind of casts a cloud on a beautiful day, doesn’t it?  Speaking of clouds, the heat of the day on my outing did indeed cause thermal updrafts, mountain breezes, and just enough cumulus clouds to dim the sun and ignite a few bites.
A few afternoon clouds blocked the bright sun just enough for the action to pick up.
Pick Some Pockets
No, it’s not my latest get rich quick scheme to follow-up on the Economic Stimulus.  Instead, it’s another way to bring a few more fish to net in tough summer conditions.  As my upstream trek neared its end, the combination of cool tributaries, higher elevation, and lower sun angle had water temperatures back down into the mid-sixties.  Still, it was quite bright and the bite wasn’t what I’d hoped for.  However, the stretches of water with broken water and deep pockets provided the cover and feeding lanes to hold a decent number of fish.  Strikes from opportunistic trout were swift and enjoyable.
This pocket water yielded three or four quick fish to cap off a good day.
I ended my day with a pleasant walk down the dirt road back to my car.  I thought of how the day started with a warden questioning whether my time would be well-spent on this stream, and I chuckled about how a few tricks I had up my sleeve had beaten the odds.  Those are the most satisfying days on the water for me.  I hope others find my approach helpful.  You can do a lot worse than warm sun, a good bit of exercise, and a hat trick with no ice in sight.

Blogger's Note:  Thank you Jim for this wonderful contribution.  I'm sure that everyone that fishes will love this post and your beautiful pictures.  For those of you that are interested in more of Jim's work, here are some quick links:

Small Stream Magic...Going with the Flow

Small Streams...Arctic Style


Thursday, August 8, 2013

What? Too Much Fishing Tackle? You can never have enough...

I always carry way too much fishing tackle with me.

Why? I don't really know. Maybe it's a fear of not having what the fish want on any given day. Having everything that the fish will likely bite on either in the boat, in my tackle bag, or in my fishing vest, gives me a sense of confidence and security.

The extra tackle also comes in handy when you're fishing with a buddy and they run out of something, or don't have anything like what you're catching fish on. After all, you want your fishing buddies to catch fish at the same rate that you do, right?  If not, shame on you! What? You're competitive? Nooooooo.... That's a future blog post right there!

I admit that I have an obsession about fishing lures. Kind of akin to Imelda Marcos having too many shoes, or perhaps my wife!  I mean, how many shoes do you need, right?  Well, she can say the same thing about me.  "How many lures do you really need"?

I'm a tackle collector. The lures that are made that catch more fishermen than they catch fish? Well, I probably have them.  Going into a tackle shop for me is like my wife heading to the outlets.  It's addicting.

In fact, my fishing pals joke that I have enough tackle to open my own tackle shop. I'm not sure about that, but I definitely have enough to catch fish the rest of my life.  I guess that's why it takes me so long to prepare for a fishing trip the next day, because I have so much to go though, and takes time to find what I really need to bring.  But what happens if a secret hot lure comes out on the market, some lure that catches fish far more effectively than anything out there? I gotta have it!

This time of year, when I wade to fish for smallmouth bass or fish off the bank for largemouth, my vest is stuffed to the max with bags of soft plastics, at least a hundred of each in a couple hot colors.  My pockets are also lined with boxes of crankbaits, a bag of buzzbaits, a topwater box, a few spinnerbaits and chatterbaits, a box of terminal tackle, a jighead box, a bottle of worm dye, extra reel spools of line, and just about anything else that I can carry that I may or may not need.  It's almost comical that I'm stuffed so much with tackle that my vest pockets can act like arm chairs while I fish!
My vest is so packed with lures and tackle that I can use the pockets as arm rests!  I'll carry whatever I think that I may need, and then some, to catch smallies like this spunky little guy.
And the obsession doesn't end there.  It happens in all forms of my fishing.  When fishing out of someone else's boat, my tackle bag weighs a ton.  Lifting that monsterous bag onto a trailered boat would give Lou Ferrigno a workout if he had ten reps with it.  In the case of my buddies that own jet boats, getting on a plane might be an issue.  And, my buddy Howard has a Coleman Crawdad, so I need to be careful how much I bring or water will spill over the bow!  Of course, everything turns out OK, but I still catch fish on far few lures than I bring with me.
When fishing with my friend Dave, I carried all these boxes were crammed into a gigantic Cabela's tackle bag along with a pounds and pounds of soft plastics and other tackle accessories.   I caught all of my fish that day on the only lure that I tried, a soft plastic worm.  I had other rods rigged with stuff, and plenty of tackle, but didn't need any of it.  The fish wanted one thing, the first thing that I offered them.   I could have brought one small box of terminal tackle and that bag of worms that day!
Another example, when I ice fish, I have a portable shanty called a Fish Trap.  It's basically a big sled that has a bass boat seat to sit on, and converts to a pull-over shelter.  Of course, I have to cram it full of tackle too.  That poses problems when fishing in deep snow and/or slush, especially when mobility is the key to finding fish.  The sled with the additional weight sinks into the snow, and is tougher to drag around.
Pulling a Fish Trap stocked with tons of tackle will weigh it down, which takes a ton of effort to haul over ten inches of snow and slush.  My buddy Jim is off in the distance, leaving me way behind, pulling my gear, huffing and puffing.  He's a billy goat anyway and can scamper around because he's in better shape than I am, but he also carries far less weight in his sled.  I have to make sure that I have all of my lures, rods, tackle, heater, lantern, depthfinder, portable video camera, and ice auger in my sled.
Now, my boat is like a giant tackle box.  But since I'm the Captain, nobody really can complain as long as there's enough room for them and their stuff.  But the downside is that carrying more tackle means more weight, which makes it tougher to get on a plane and slows the boat down.  But so what?  I have all of my tackle at my fingertips!  I'm in heaven!
The great thing about owning a boat is that it's one giant tackle box.   I'm in fishing heaven when I'm in my boat!
One last point though, is that there is a downside to carrying so much tackle.  When making decisions on what might work or not work, I tend to go with my confidence baits, and forget about some of the stuff that I've dragged along.  I'll peer into my tackle bag, rummage through the boxes, open them up, study what is there, and ultimately grab something that I have confidence in, leaving the rest for another day that may or may not ever come.  It can actually get confusing!

The ironic thing is that the same lures that worked twenty years ago are just as effective at catching fish today as anything else on the market. Catching fish is all about confidence, technique, and more importantly, understanding the habits of the species that you're targeting.

The next time that I go bass fishing, I'm thinking about limiting myself to ten lures (a pack of soft plastic worms counts as one lure) and a box of terminal tackle. I bet that I catch just as many fish on that trip that I normally would.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Dog Days of Summer Again...Be Careful!

Friday my friend Mark and I set out to for something a little different, to chase some musky cousins.  I had frog fishing on my mind…no, not fishing for frogs, but using frog imitations worked across lily pads and other slop that we were bound to find on the pond.  We certainly found plenty of that.  Weedless lures logically seemed to be the ticket.  I spent quite a bit of time working the frog baits and Texas rigged plastic worms across the pads and slop during the early part of our trip without the results that I expected.    Although we caught a few fish early, the bite was a bit tough for a while.  I wasn’t sure if it was because the of the fish or because of our inability to cope with the heat.  I looked at my depthfinder to see that the surface temperatures were 96 degrees.
This was my first chainside on the day, measured twenty two inches long.  I had at least three others that flopped off my measuring board  and into the water before I could get a good measurement or photo that were bigger.   From now on, I'm getting pictures first, then measurements! This one fell for a chatterbait. You can tell it was earlier in the day as my shirt actually looks dry.
Rather than waste casts, time and well needed energy in that area, my theory was to move up to the creek where the water source should be cooler.  And, in doing so, maybe find some shady relief for us as well.  We managed to catch a few chain pickerel on the way up as water temperatures improved, from 90’s to 80’s, and eventually in the upper reaches we found temperatures in the upper 70’s.  You’d think that the fishing would be on fire up there, right?  And we saw some really nice sized bass way up in the creek, but they were spooky and just would not bite for some reason even though conditions appeared to be much improved!
Here’s Mark working the upper reaches of the lake where water temperatures were in the upper 70’s…conditions seemed right and the scenery was beautiful, but the fish weren’t all that willing as you might suspect.  There were monarch butterflies everywhere, making my breaks from fishing entertaining.  What a beautiful sight that was!
Well, after spending some time sweating to death in the skinny water, we decided to head back down where we were getting fish (at Mark’s suggestion).  Ironically, as we made our way back toward the ramp, the fishing actually improved.  There was a section of 90 plus degree water that was devoid of bites, but we managed to find that the fish were active where we found mid-80 degree water.

Let me tell you that it was sweltering hot.  We thought that moving up into the upper reaches of the lake would not only prove that the fish were more comfortable and motivated, and we’d find some shady relief for ourselves.  That actually made things worse, because even though the temperatures in the shade were a tad better, the trees blocked any chance of a breeze to help give us relief.  As we headed back, we noticed that where it was breezy, the fishing improved, and the breeze gave us some relief from the heat as well.

On our way back, we decided to fish the scum and slop that we bypassed earlier, working it with frog baits mostly.   I finally had some frog action, having four explosions, hooking and losing two decent bass before giving up on the frog.  I went to the plastic worm and landed a decent bass in the slop.

The worm might have produced more, but I was bitten off three times in a row.  I didn’t feel like tying on any more not only because of the prospect of losing tackle, but I was losing the energy and the will to do any more work than necessary.  So, I fished with heavier tackle the rest of the time.  In the pictures to follow, my shirt looks quite a bit different here, doesn’t it?  I had to reapply sunscreen several times, or I would have had “well done bacon neck syndrome” by days end.
We bypassed this section on the way up and hit the upper feeder stream first, then it on the way out and work it more thoroughly with frog baits.  This section just yells out for frog topwater action!  We gave it a good effort and had plans to fish some other spots, then come back to this spot for the evening bite.
I went to the plastic worm and landed this decent bass in the slop, using the worm to follow up on fish that missed the frog and wouldn't hit it again.  The tactic paid off with this chunky largemouth.
Here's Mark working the slop.  Looking at this picture, I think he must be an alien from outer space because given the fact that it was well over 90 degrees that day, he doesn't seem to be working up a sweat at all!  
The bite improved so much that I’d say that it was as hot as the temperature.  I managed to catch nine quality chain pickerel, all but two between 22 and 24 inches long, and four chunky bass between 15 and 19 ¼ inches long.  Toward the end of the day, for whatever reason, I lost seven fish in a row before landing my final fifth bass on the day, a chunky 15 incher before calling it quits.  And, the hot bait of the day turned out to not be weedless at all, but actually was the trusty Chatterbait, and man was it on fire!

Prior to this trip, Mark caught northern pike from his many Canada trips, but had never caught a chain pickerel before.  Well, he’s added a new species to his list, and caught several nice ones on the day.
Mark's first introduction to chain pickerel.  Here he is showing off his toothy grin (the fish, I mean)!
Here's another chatterbait victim!
Here's another nice chainside that chomped on Mark's chatterbait!
Even though the slop was tempting, we put plenty of time there with not much to show for it.  As we moved down toward more open water, using the chatterbait to cover water quickly around any cover that we could find, the fish really seemed to turn on as the temperature increased.
I must have guzzled a dozen bottles of Propel but it looks like I just poured it all over me.  Fortunately I had enough energy to land this 19 1/4 inch bucketmouth that hammered my trusty chatterbait!  This fish, ironically, hit in open water far from any cover that must have been near 90 degrees.  The purpose of that cast was to get a loop out of my baitcaster from the previous cast!

Not to be outdone, Mark tied into this largemouth that bested my biggest by 1/4 inch, measuring a nice 19 1/2 inches long!  Nice fish Mark!
OK, after reading this, you may be wondering what happened after that?  Well, the bite, like I said earlier, was hotter than the temperature.  We left the lake at about 3:30 PM right during the peak of the bite.  Why?  My muscle cramps were so bad that I couldn’t even lift a fishing rod or nearly work the trolling motor any longer.  I was fully hydrated, and heat usually helps my situation.  But for some reason, I was in a bad muscle cramping cycle and just couldn’t hack it any longer.  I wasted a lot of fishing time all day trying to medicate and recover from various cramps so I could fish.  I don’t know if it was my constant complaining about my camping problem or if Mark was feeling the heat, but he convinced me to stop fishing and call it a day.

I had a very hard time dealing with that decision, still making casts and cranking in my chatterbait on the way back to the ramp, but it was obvious that he was right.  I was pushing myself to limits that I had never done before.  And it was really hot out there.  And, I’ll admit, that there were times that I felt a little dizzy while in the upper end of the lake.  I took breaks and drank fluids, but it was really tough out there.   Mark may have been worn out from it too, and if he wasn’t, he was looking out for my health.  I appreciate that.  He was absolutely correct in his assessment.

It really hurt to come off the water knowing that we may have easily doubled our numbers had we fished through the evening bite, but he was the voice of reason.  As it turned out, my hands were cramped so bad and I was in such terrible pain that I had to pull over and let him drive the remaining ¾ of the trip home.

When I’m fishing, I’m like the goldfish in the fish bowl that doesn’t know when to quit eating that store bought fish food.  Like the goldfish eating, I don’t know when to quit fishing.  Quitting anything, whether it’s fishing or driving, just isn’t in my nature.  I guess that’s a fault though.

My heart wanted to fish, not only because the bite was so good, but because I brought my friend all the way out there to fish, and I didn’t want to let him down either.  Bottom line, we had a ton of hot fishing fun, and we made it home safely, and Mark caught his first ever chain pickerel!  I think he's hooked!

Since I haven't posted in a long time, I thought that I'd add some more pictures from my previous trip...we caught some fish that day, but nothing noteworthy.  It was a very scenic lake and a serene place to fish, Sleepy Creek Lake in West Virginia.



My buddy Bob workin' that plastic worm!
Bob's Son Carson with his best bass of the day.  Man can that boy catch fish!
And look what we saw cross the road as we pulled the boat off the ramp!  This timber rattlesnake was easily four and a half feet long, and as big around as Carson's thigh!  We got close enough for a picture but his rattle warned us to stay a safe distance, or else!
I want to apologize to everyone that has followed my blog for not posting more recently.  I've had many things happen in my life that I won't bore you with here that have kept me away from the keyboard.  But rest assured, I'm back!  My next post will be a little different twist on the outdoors experiences of mine, and include some pictures from my vacation to Spain a short time back.  Stay tuned!