Jun 29, 2009

The Plan is for Pickerel

Thursday I leave for our annual family reunion and camping trip. This is the sort of camping I was raised with and traditional campsites have always seemed a little silly. Our spot is next to a spring fed pond on a family farm in southern Missouri. No electricity hookups, no showers and most importantly no neighbors. To give you an idea, it'll take me about 20 minutes to get from pavement to the spot, giving me petty
ample opportunities to justify the 4x4.

Most years I don't plan on much other than a few days with the family and ice cold water to jump in on a hot day. This year I've got plans, and it makes me nervous. I don't like expectations - without them you can't be disappointed - but I've been reading up on pickerel. I've caught pickerel in the pond on many occasions, but I recently discovered what a trophy grass pickerel looks like and I think I've seen one in person, maybe even caught one.

Above is the Oklahoma state record specimen. I know what you're thinking because I thought it too. "13 inches makes for a record?" I've always assumed the fish I caught were little, but if these fish are truly grass pickerel (as opposed to chain) the ones I've caught have been impressive. I've also seen a photo of my great uncle holding two that had to be at least a foot long.

Missouri's state record grass pickerel weighed 1lb 3oz but the chain pickerel record is a less likely 5lb 1oz. I doubt a new state record is in my future but I think I can hit 10 inches at least. I better study up on the differences before Thursday. Knowing my luck I'll catch a 15 incher, get all excited and come home to find out it's a chain pickerel.

I won't know until I try....

Update: Click here to see how I did.

Jun 27, 2009

Catch a snatch cat

It was always there, but I never saw it. With my new found fondness of the finer forms of fishing, the crick creek close to my childhood home has been looking more attractive lately. I even noticed a public parking lot I'd never before noticed. It will masquerade as "The Snatch" at least until I can get a better idea of it's prospects. Don't take it personally, I just have some theories I'd like to check into first. If you know me or where I grew up you'll probably figure it out....good for you, you're not the one I'm hiding from.

I've been biding my time; she does not flow every day and when she flows she'll sweep you away. A few days of heavy rain last week followed by a week of sun meant today might be the day and I'd better get on it before another storm. I had my eye on this morning for about a week and I was just in time. This morning the flow was perfect for wading, then we got about two inches of rain this evening. Because this creek is often dry during the summer months I knew I'd be wise to stay close to the Snatch's convergence with the river - hopefully some river fish would venture upstream. I fished solo from 8-11:30 this morning in a 1 mile stretch that started at the mouth and stretched west. I was fully committed to the long rod, bringing only waders, a vest, my 8wt St. Croix and a few of my better bass flies.

Sadly I didn't get to see any smallies, but I was treated to my best fight yet on a fly rod. In fact, it might have been the best fight I've ever had because it was on a fly. The winning fly was an orange/black Clouser Madtom I tied with a weedguard and some custom black rubber legs.

First I discovered the catfish wouldn't fit in my net, so the next order of business was to find a patch of ground I could drag it onto. After walking about 50 yards downstream the real fight started. She didn't want to be anywhere near the shore and made 5-6 strong runs. The fight lasted so long I started to "feel the burn" (now I know what that knob below my reel is for). I even had time to consider setting up the camera for some action video but I couldn't work out the logistics of getting the camera out of the zip-lock bag without forgetting the fish. I didn't have a tape or scale, but luckily I took a picture.

I've now measured my rod. From the front of the reel to the first ferrule measures 21", and it looks like this cat might be a smidgen over that - I'll call it 22". After a very short search, I haven't found a length/weight chart for channels but I'm happy knowing it's length.

I've also discovered 90 degree heat paired with sun and heavy midwestern humidity is more conducive to wet wading. I'll know that next time and pack my trunks, in the mean time can any one provide instructions for getting the stank out of my waders?

Jun 25, 2009

Complete Rubbish

There was a point in my life when I was a record club member, those days are past and I think I'm smarter now. I got a surprise in the mail today as Bassmasters sent me a DVD. The rub? Same old scheme: I hadn't ordered it, and they would like me to send some money. Buying this crap would "entitle" me to receive more crap every "2-3 months". To avoid paying I had to remove the disc and send it back; the case was mine to "keep, recycle or discard."

Well I bit. After removing the disc I watched it and I'll never get that 50 minutes of my life back. That's right, 50 minutes full of stuff I would expect everyone to know, providing they live within 30 miles of water.

I miss the college days when AOL discs spent their time protecting the table finish from cool condensation and spilled beer. This disc is already in the mail, but it wasn't all bad...

Disclaimer: Despite your suspicion, this is not a paid endorsement.

Jun 21, 2009

This can't be the big time

Today Lunkerhunt surpassed the 2,000 visitor mark (I only started counting last December.) The feat would be special if I didn't suspect at least 1,999 of those are me.

Jun 20, 2009

But the girth left something to be desired

That's what she said!

The last time I fished the bagel, rain chased us off and I felt like I hadn't really learned anything about it other than fish like the water rushing out of the culvert. So my father-in-law and I went out on the bagel this evening to get a better look and we learned the stumps hold fish. The trip was pretty good despite the humidity and temperature being high. But it wasn't as high as it will be in August, so things were bearable. A couple days worth of thunderstorms had slowed the bite, but we still did pretty good. Plus we got to see two muskrats either fighting or flirting - they whirled and they twirled and they tangoed.

The father-in-law ended up with three bass and three crappie. I focused on bass and tallied six, while letting three others off boat side. Most bass were small, so after catching a 2 pounder I decided we'd better get a picture because it might not get much better. On the next cast, this happened:

This anemic bass was 20 inches long, but weighed a measly 3.8 lb. According to this handy chart, a 20 incher should weigh about 4.5 lb. That puts this fish at 84% relative weight. Why don't you get on that Nate? Regardless of the weight, this fish was a beauty and got me all excited.

Of note, today I was not prepared to fish like a gentleman. While I remembered the sandwiches and the cold beer, I forgot water. Maybe some discomfort is the secret to big fish...

Jun 17, 2009

Slowly swinging, the gate opened again

If enough people know you fish, private water gates will open from time to time. A couple years ago, I was invited to fish a series of spring fed ponds in East Peoria. The ponds are owned by a local seafood retailer and were built in the 1920's as a fish storage facility. A few years later it became, what some claim, the first pay-to-fish operation in the nation. Over the years, Dixon's fishing ponds were the scene for many family memories but in 1992, the ponds were closed and went dormant. About 12 years later I got my chance on a sticky summer night. My host was a Dixon's employee and decedent of the company founder. One stipulation was to stay out of view of the highway to keep people from thinking the ponds were reopened because they were constantly being asked. Despite those pesky rules, we spent a few hours having great fun and not catching a thing. The years of dormancy must have stunted the fish population, but change is in the air...

Picture courtesy of the Peoria Journal Star.

Dixon's ponds will be opening as Hooked on Fishing Park this summer. The parks mission is
  • "to teach the sport and joy of fishing to local children, senior citizens, and special needs groups by providing the equipment, place, and education free of charge.."
According to an article in the Peoria Journal Star, the goal is for kids to "catch a fish every cast." The ponds are fed by artesian springs and arranged in such a way that the cool spring water visits each of the 4-5 ponds before emptying into the Illinois River. This unique setup allows for unique possibilities such as trout, and I think they've got the right guys for the job. Herman Brothers Pond Management has been heavily involved and they're the premier pond management company around (well they at least advertise the most). Nate Herman maintains a blog and I've noticed a few posts regarding the HOF project. See here for his latest post on trap net surveys and see here for his outing with a high school fishing team (I hope that rainbow wasn't lost in recent flooding). Larry Dozard is also involved. Larry is a local fishing celebrity due to his thorough, and mostly reliable, fishing reports for central Illinois (yours truly is an occasional contributor).

In my most recent conversation with the Dixon's family contact, he mentioned we should go fish it this summer. I'm afraid doing so will first require some soul searching. I'd hate to use this privilege to undercut the good work being done but surely a couple hours won't hurt...

I think I'll wait until I can bring my own kids out to "catch a fish on every cast."

Jun 14, 2009

The take out classes the give

A while back, Stream Stalker requested a carved Dahlberg diver in exchange for some of his own creations. I made the diver for him and held it in my fly box in hopes our paths would cross. We finally gave up on trading in person and held our fly swap via the post office. Over the phone he said he had "some flies" he'd box up and ship. "Some flies" didn't give me much clue what to expect and after seeing his definition of "some" I'm afraid he got a raw deal. If we met in person I would not have walked away with so many flies. Here's the give and take:

I gave the Dahlberg, a popper blank and a Sneaky Pete blank:

A few days later, this arrived in the mail:

Holy smokes! Not only does "some" mean 13, I now have a new box. Here's the contents:

Jonn, if you're reading this I feel like you've done too much. I truly appreciate your generosity.

Jun 9, 2009

This lesson feels like a rock

Long ago I learned the only time fishing is really good is when your so thirsty you can't swallow. I then learned the lesson about bringing lunch. It was always thirst or hunger that pulled me off a good bite and now a cooler is a permanent fixture in the boat. Me thinks I'm in the middle of my next lesson now.

Like tulips before Easter...Like snow signals you to oil the fly vise...Like orange leaves prompt me to sharpen my rake...I've got my first serious fishing burn of the summer. First it hurt, now it itches but it has always been strangely satisfying.

A couple more "lessons" and I'll be returning from a 10 hour expedition fresh as a spring chicken. I might not catch as many as a dried up hungry tomato, but at least I'll be comfortable

and that's how gentlemen fish.

Now is your big chance

Dave was upset when one of the previous Lunkerhunt logos featuring his likeness fell as the strong favorite to dock fishing. I personally think this new one will put him back in the running. This one comes from a picture I took during our late fall outing on the Mackinaw River.

For you to compare before you weigh in on the new standings...
Dave's previous entry
Dock fishing (the current favorite)
My father-in-law's Chippewa Flowage musky

Let me know what you think. After this I've got one more in the queue...

Jun 8, 2009

When life gives you lemons, find someone whose life is giving vodka.

Due to the global economic meltdown, I ended up with a one week furlough last week. Luckily the company is allowing us to pick our weeks, so mine fit nicely on a five day trip to Kentucky Lake with the in-laws. The wife and I showed up last Tuesday to Cedar Knob Resort, a fishing focused group of cabins near Benton on the Johnson Creek bay. The Johnson Creek area was large enough that we never had a need to explore the main lake because we never finished exploring the bay. On the last day though, we rented a pontoon and spent the day getting sunburned on the main lake.

The weather cooperated for the most part, we got a nice mix of hot sun and cool rain, and the fishing was good. Over the course of three and a half days of serious fishing, the group ended up catching ten (maybe twelve) species of fish. The variety was a very nice surprise, because everything I'd read about Kentucky Lake focused on bass and crappie. After the fat lady sang, the species taken and possitively identified were largemouth bass, spotted bass, black crappie, bluegill, red ear sunfish (locals call them shellcrackers), long ear sunfish, channel catfish, sauger, and yellow perch. The species taken and not really identified were either white, yellow or striped bass. I'm not very familiar with the temperate bass species, so I'll let you decide what we caught...more on that later.

We caught plenty of largemouth and spotted bass, but none of them were particularly note worthy. In fact, now that I've had a chance to review the pictures we only have proof of catching one largemouth. It was a fish I had deep hooked and I was performing surgery when my wife caught her first of the trip - a crappie. While lining up the shot, I held the fish out over the water, hoping to keep it out of her shot...here is the result. I could have achieved the desired effect with a quick crop, but this picture is a little funny as is. She claims I'm trying to steal the spotlight and it looks like I am.

We'd been having fun catching some small white/yellow bass from the dock, so I had a minnow under a bobber during a light shower when I caught the heaviest fish of the trip. It was a hoot bringing in a 3.5lb channel cat on a 5'6" ultralight rod with 4lb test. After a long argument about whether or not it should be under the dock, I somehow got it up and weighed it. I was alone at the time, so I managed a picture as proof.

The cat might have been the heaviest, but the nicest fish was a fourteen inch crappie my father-in-law caught on the first day. This after catching an eleven incher the day before. Anything over ten inches is pretty good where I come from, but the crappies on Kentucky Lake enjoy a ten inch keeper limit. This one is still swimming around down there somewhere if you're interested.

I need your help. We caught plenty of small fish about the size of the one below. Most I believe were white bass, but this one looks more like a yellow. Any temperate bass experts out there?

And this guy my wife caught in the main channel. You may have noticed she wasn't holding any of her fish in previous pictures. This one flopped off the hook so her normal pose wasn't possible and I had to help her out. Isn't she cute? My first thought was this is a white bass, but after some internet research I'm not so sure. Is this a white, a striper or a hybrid?

If it's a white bass it might take over the "nicest fish" title from her dad's crappie. I'm curious what you think.

My wife caught the first and largest sauger of the trip and I followed up that night with a sauger of my own. Both fish came in fairly shallow water, an oddity this time of year but it happened twice in a day for us. I noticed water temps had fallen from 80 degrees on Tuesday to 75 degrees on Friday. Perhaps the sudden drop confused a couple. Sauger are such a pretty fish and catching these made me long for the days when I focused mainly on Illinois River sauger, maybe some time on the river is in order.

Also of note was the yellow perch I caught. I took a picture of this not due to it's size, but because this is the first yellow perch I've ever caught. It came on a crawler fished from the dock.

Another first for me was a red ear. How I caught the read ear is the interesting bit. It bit on a crawler and I caught it with a shaky head jig. In case you didn't understand that, here's how it went down. I had a crawler sitting quietly under a bobber on the dock and was fishing a shaky head worm. My shaky head got hung up, so I walked down the dock to get a better angle at getting it out. While unsnagging the jig we heard a big splash. My ultralight rod was gone. We stood around a few seconds scratching our heads, then my bobber floated back up. On my first toss, I hooked the line with my jig and pulled in the fish. Then pulled up my rod. I didn't get a picture of the rascal, maybe I was too flustered about losing and then finding my rod.

Beyond the variety of fish, the other surprise came on Friday. I don't follow tournament fishing, but apparently the pros (the real pros, you know...the kind that hold trophies up in front of fireworks) were on the lake Wednesday through Saturday. During our pontoon expedition on the main lake, it was easy to pick out the pros. They were the ones shooting all over the lake in big sponsored boats while we tooled around in our rented pontoon with a 40hp 4-stroke. If I'd known that before Friday I might have tried to make a weigh in, or at least ventured out of the bay to spectate a little.

I think for the next furlough, I'll be drinking more lemonade.

Jun 1, 2009

I don't mess around

Dave and I hit one of the club lakes I haven't sampled yet and we brought John and Kim's kayaks (thanks guys). Dave's been in a kayak previously, and this was my first time but neither of us had fly fished from one and sure didn't know what to expect. Turns out it's a blast but if we plan on spending 7 hours in a yak again, we'll invest in some seat padding. My backside is still a little sore.

This lake is the smallest of the set, but produced the biggest bass in the club's annual tournament a month ago. So we had to give it a shot. I started out with a Floating Diver I made and Dave used a Mad Tom. This is about as big as we could get for bass but we caught a few like this and some real dinks.

Sure we caught some bass, but what sparked my interest was how pan fish couldn't leave the diver alone even though it is sized for bass. I finally gave in and tied on a small white pencil popper.

From this day forward, if I ever have a hankering for pan fish, I know where to look. We got on the water a little after 7:00am and fished until about 2:30. We ended up catching a lot of fish, I'm not even sure how many but I know most were bluegill. In one area I popped 8-10 very nice bluegill and a rock bass in about 15-20 minutes. What impressed me most was the lack of tiny fish; all were a minimum 8 inches, the first picture is about the average size. Dave claims he caught one the size of a salad plate, but I didn't see it and for some reason there is no picture....

This next one is Dave's, caught on a spider.

And this thing, it's pretty but I'm not 100% sure what it is. I've caught a few of these before in my life and I'm pretty sure it's a rock bass. Can anyone confirm?

Update: Stream Stalker helped me out in the comment section. This is not a rock bass, but it is a green sunfish.

After a while of that, I went and fetched Dave for some action photography. He came over and started taping. Sure enough, it wasn't long until I hooked up again. The blue gill and rock bass were loving the small white pencil popper I offered. Here's the video; I love how I yanked the fish through the air. In the heat of the moment I don't mess around, or perhaps my 8wt is a bit much for 8-9" blue gill.

I ended up taking two fairly artistic shots, the first you saw at the start of the post. Here's the next. I'm not sure why but I really like this picture, it's a shame the fish is so small. Maybe that's the appeal, it tells the story of how fishing is fun so long as your catching lots of fish - any size.