May 30, 2010

What you know and what you don't

Early on, everyone experiences similar frustrations.  On lakes across the globe, you'll find rookies fishing blindly while veterans know right where to slay 'em.  In front of a rookie sits acres of flat water and miles of featureless shoreline; the lake's secrets have yet to be revealed.  Such times can be long and frustrating, but with each cast a mind expands and slowly the list of secrets grows smaller.

With enough hours, the water and shore transform into something far more complicated.  It starts with something simple such as the location of a submerged log, which now owns your finest lures.  With the comfort of new knowledge, we begin to enjoy uncovering more secrets one by one.  Eventually we don't see flat water - in it's place the beautiful intricacy that is your favorite lake.  Only you know it best.

I have an area of Banner Marsh I have lovingly dubbed Warm Pajamas, a name fitting of the comfort I experience while drifting it's water.  I know every hump and every shelf.  Quite often I slip in to fish comfortably in the knowledge developed over countless hours of probing the bottom.  Finding your warm pajamas can be a long and frustrating experience.  It took me six years to discover Warm Pajamas has nothing left to hide from me.  Warm Pajamas was with me when I wrote my first blog post, but she remained unnamed until July of last year.  I suppose that is when I recognized her for what she is.

In the interest of expanding you knowledge, short cuts are strongly encouraged.  If you know someone who has already figured it out, learning a lake can be quick as long as they are willing to share.  Sometimes you can find a contour map, which will provide some focus as long as you know what to look for.  And in the modern age, on-line forums can be a great place to learn what not to do.  Such tools, when available, are a way to piece together the puzzle many hours in the making.  However, even with a guide or map you'll need to log some serious face time to really know.  Otherwise you're left with cloudy knowledge, handed over second hand.

Life can not be complete without excitement.  So you'll stray from your comfort, into the icy embrace of the unknown.  Armed with the knowledge of your favorite lake, you'll jump into a new one and start piecing together a new puzzle.  Knowing how to catch fish and knowing a water's secrets are two distinct skill sets with fuzzy borders.  Finding the border is key to success on new water. Quickly you'll learn a lake is alive and has it's own personality; adaptation is your job, and knowing how to catch fish is your means.

Yesterday, Dave and I stepped clumsily (and sleepy eyed) into the unknown and became rookies again.  Snakeden Hollow State Fish and Wildlife Area boasts 125 "impoundments" (sounds fancy, but they're just strip pits) hidden throughout it's 2,500 acre expanse.  Out of 125 lakes, only Lake McMaster has a boat ramp while the remainder are known as "walk in lakes."  I've had two previous outings on McMaster, one trip resulted in a surprise musky, while the other was dismal and unnoteworthy.

The plan was simple: walk far into the property and find out what's going on in water usually unseen to the mostly barrel shaped public (not you, but everyone else).  We walked two miles into the heart of the park and along the way fished many lakes, each having it's own puzzle.  I was amazed at how well maintained the park was, it was a shore fisherman's dream.  Often, the grass was groomed right down to the water.  In the first lake, we had some luck with scum frogs.  In the next lake we saw the schooling fish featured below.  In the third lake we found nothing.

If you see schooling fish, it is a clue and suddenly a secret has been revealed.  The lake is telling you to adapt - your plans do not match.  Somewhere around lake number four or five I got the hint.  Setting down the bass rod, I picked up the ultra-light and immediate results were...well...the result.  Gill after gill hoped on the line and some of them were pretty big.

Two miles from the truck, we found a lake teaming with life.  I think this will be the starting point next time, and it may be the next lake to learn.  I lay witness to many healthy blue gills, and with a healthy population like that the bass are not usually far behind.  But who knows, it may just be a casual encounter on the way to something far more grand.  By my count, I still need to visit about 119 lakes.

We began to think we'd outrun the fishing pressure when the grass became a little less manicured.  Validation came when the day's largest bass bit my 1/32oz jig tipped with a twister tail.  She was a bit skinny, but I suppose it should be expected this soon after spawning.  It was fun hearing 4lb mono scream off the tiny spool during the couple runs she took.  Enough fun with a mediocre fish to make a man forget about heavier gear forever.

I'm not even sure how many fish I caught.  Changing strategies made a real difference in my enjoyment level.  I'd have to guess the total was close to twenty-five; all I know is that I have but ten fingers and I wasn't about to remove shoes to keep counting.

One good idea Dave had was to print (in color) the satellite image of the site and I recommend doing this to new comers.  First, it was nice to know we were not lost.  Secondly, we used the map and some on-the-ground recon to outline a rough idea of how to bring kayaks to the smaller lakes.  One option (and the one I'm least fond of) is to build/buy wheeled carts, another option is to put in at the ramp and portage from lake to lake.  I suspect we'll eventually try both.

Six hours deep in the day, Dave provided delicious ham sandwiches while we soaked up my truck's air conditioning.  Sitting there, I realized how close to barrel shaped I really am - woo boy, I was tired.

After deciding we should drive down and have a looksie at the main lake, we decided we ought to catch some fish from the dock.  The water was clear, and those fish were swimming around taunting us.  After replacing the worn twister tail, I added a handful of crappie and this tiny walleye to the tally.

The day was a pretty good adventure and it felt good to be a rookie again.  Stay tuned, next time will be by boat.


  1. Clif:

    It is time for an evening trip on the Mack. Couple more days of little or no rain and we should be good to go.


  2. Excellent accounting of your trip, Cliff. Thanks for sharing and taking us all along with you. Sounds like a great area to focus on. A day of bass and bluegill is tough to beat.

    Really enjoyed the photos too!

  3. That pep talk at the beginning convinced me to go have another frustrating day at an unfamiliar lake. :)

    Looks like you guys had a pretty good trip.

  4. @Jonn - good thinking. I tried the Mack about a week ago. It was raging and I was alone, so I didn't go any deeper than my ankles and caught nothing. Unfortunately I'm hearing thunder outside my window as speak, we'll keep an eye on things and go when the time is right.

    @Mel - Glad you enjoyed, I'm excited about exploring Snakeden a little more.

    @Mark - To be honest, reading about your frustration was the inspiration I needed to write the first part. Keep at it and you won't be frustrated long.

  5. Finally a new post! Glad to see you had some success and great pics! Looking forward to the next one.

  6. Enjoyed this post. Glad to see you're out pushing your boundaries and learning more along the way. I think everyone should take a step outside their comfort zone every now and then.

  7. Clif ~ First, can I just say I loved the flow and tone of this entry. Written like a word smith.....
    Second, it has me thinking of all my warm pajama bodies of water. The ones where I know every rock, all the seams, the hidden logs. Thinking about it like that makes me realize why I so enjoy going back to the places I already know. Saves money on flies =)
    I plan on exploring a lot of new bodies of water this summer. Hopefully they aren't too uncomfortable.

  8. @Scott - yea, sorry about the delay. I've been pretty swamped with non-fishing stuff lately.

    @troutrage - comfort is a curious thing. Do you want the known or unknown?

    @Rebecca - thank you for your compliment, it means so much from the fingers of a excellent writer such as yourself. Get out there, new water makes for fine art.

  9. Just came across your blog. You are a fishing\posting machine! Great material. Check out my Colorado fishing blog if you get bored.

  10. Thanks for coming around CoCaster, i'll go take a look.


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