Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fish are already wet

Went out yesterday in the rain.  The stars aligned where John and I could get out for a few hours together.  I saw the radar and the forecast and it said the rain would end around noon.  That's about the time I was hoping to get off work.  Well, it didn't stop raining all day.  Sometimes drizzle, sometimes full on rain.  Oh well.  The fish are already wet.  With John's new 18' G3 Jet we can get to the best spots in seconds where with a kayak or a prop boat these same spots take a day trip and a float trip usually, plus two cars and or an expensive taxi.  Believe me, I've done it.  The river is up, perfect flow and color.  Actually thought it might be a little dirty but had that "big fish green" color to it and didn't disappoint.  The first drift John is still rigging his rod when I yell to him to get the net.  It's a decent fish, smashed the glider near the surface on about the 8th cast of the day.  Hi fives.  Who said musky were the 10000 cast fish?  This is easy.  about an hour later John is throwing a huge bondy swim bait, shallow version with a long tail, they don't make it anymore.  These things are enormous and have hooks everywhere so if they even smell the bottom, you're already hung.  Sure enough he gets hung up.  I use the trolling motor to move upstream to the lure.  Then it starts moving.  He thinks a stick... nope.  Nice big musky.  He couldn't pick up line quickly enough and the fish shook the bait.  Darn!  Did the fish hit it after he pulled it off the snag?  I've seen that before.  Or was he never snagged?  Did it take it right off the bottom?  He had a line twist on his guide that took a few seconds to fix and then got stuck on the bottom.  Who knows. 

Notice the tag?  This fish was first tagged in December 2014 and was 34.5" male.  He didn't grow much and has basically maxed out his size for a male fish.  The females can get considerably larger.  Phoned DNR today and had a decent chat and email exchanges. 

Later we do another drift on the apposite side.  Nothing in the best looking spot.  Tough to keep the boat still.  I fished the glider most of the time.  We set up on a second drift over the same spot, this time with different baits to give a different presentation.  I fished a 3/4oz skirted jig with a 6 inch swim shad and bounced it on the bottom near some timber off a steep bank.  Second bounce and thump.  No mistaking this for a fish.  It hit just like a striped bass sucking in a 10" BKD.  Solid hook set and awesome fight.  This was a good size fish and pretty much maxed out the net.  But John did an excellent job and we got the fish.  Number two, almost number three.  Not bad for three hours!  Even made the run a couple miles downstream to a productive spot in the past and blanked.  Didn't leave for this spot till 5pm.  Talk about being able to bounce around.  A jet opens up so many possibilities it isn't even funny.  Full speed over ledges we used to cringe going over.  Gotta love it.  Finished the evening saying hi to kids, sharing a few adult beverages, drooling over AR15's, 16's 22's, and about a dozen other guns.  Perfect evening.  When I got home I sat and finished a beer on my own and recapped the day over and over again while looking at the pictures.  Then today I just had to write about it.  Who cares if it's January.  Temps are in the 40's, water temps are high 30's or low 40's and the fish are on the feed.  Guess how many other people were out?  Zero.  Thanks everyone. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 was a decent year for trophy fish

2016 kind of sucked emotionally, financially and personally.  Lost my last Grandparent, 95 years young and a heck of a strong woman, lost my dog, best friend and best fishing buddy of 14 years, lost my wife, my house and a lot of money.  With being separated from my wife (but not my son), I've fished about as much in the last year as ever before.  If it wasn’t for fishing and hunting and the love for my son, I’d be in an institution, a bottle or dead or all three by now.  Here's how it went down in pics.  Stories still to be told;

Last winter was a brutal one, but 4x4 and some determination got things done;

January-Feb 2016 is peak musky time on a few major tribs to the Chesapeake.  Got stuck bad at the boat ramp shortly after snow megeddon but it was after we landed two nice fish, including my friends first which was a giant so the two hour wait at the boat ramp for the tow truck was no big deal.  Kind of thought this might happen so made sure I had cell service and a known tow truck business in the back of my mind.  It worked, just took a while.  Made it home about the time I would have been home if it were a summer evening fishing trip.    



Later in February we did almost the exact same thing.  It snowed again, we drove down the hill to the boat ramp, we fished, and got into multiple fish in 32 degree water, literally casting under ice bergs and I broke off a fish that dwarfed the one above my friend is holding.  The fish even went air born…. In 32 degree water?!  I think they like the winter.  Turns out I had a small knick on one of my guides.  A quick visit or two to Back Yard Custom rods got me back in business.  Plus a dozen other rods that have been collecting dust over the years were brought back to life.  Cool business and even nicer guy.  That fish still haunts me though. I had no idea the knick in the guide was there and I just respooled with 80 pound power pro.  Oh, we made it up the hill no problem during the snow.  Getting chains and a winch for this year.  I’m not scared. 


 The trout will bite okay in dead of winter too, especially on spring creeks that have a constant or close to constant temperature.  Stuck a few decent browns on Fishing Creek near Lamar Pa on a day trip.


March 2015

As soon as it gets warm and March is on the Calendar you have to try and hit the perch run.  It was a nice weekend day, made the 1.5 hour drive to the eastern shore to a spot that has produced and managed to fish with some old friends and legends.  All the light tackle “force” gurus were in attendance, Phil, Shawn, Rich, … to name a few and it was a day of perch catching.  Football size perch, the biggest I’ve ever seen.  Kept just under a limit for my son and I but could have and did catch well over a limit and gave them a hot oil bath.  Oh… each fillet had worms in the meat.  Ate them anyway, cut most of them out, ate the rest.  I Will not waste a good fish.  We had a blast with ultra light rods, bobbers or just jigs, rigged in tandem or alone.  Even got into some pickerel with little effort.  Awesome stream, great Maryland tradition that I plan on keeping. Free dietary supplements too. 





Early March brought some insanely nice weather and kicked every fishery into high gear.  The walleye bite downtown turned on strong.  I was hitting it before work most days well inside the gorge with a mile plus hike in.  Even met a few other die hards that were a lot better at the technique than I was.  With these kind of temps would the shad show up early?  I tried the tidal waters early in March for shad but no luck, even with 50 degree water.  The largemouth were on the prowl though.  Spinner baits, cranks, jigs, all seemed to work well.



The bluegill bite in the ponds was fantastic in early March.  Bluegill, aka, the gateway drug.


No the shad didn’t show up in early March with the magic 50 degree number.  The shad showed up on queue like they always do, March 25th, high tide.  It was also “Rocking” that day.  Even White shad joined the party.  On march 25th?!!  And not just on the Potomac.  The susky had a decent showing of white shad in March!  Don’t believe me?  See the pic.  For the last week of March and first week of April offered some of the best of the best . Just in time for Ryans spring break.  Catfish to 60 pounds, stripers to 40, and a few well bigger on my own…. It blew up everywhere from the susky, to the plants, to the open catch and release areas.  It was clock work awesome fishing and we didn’t get rained out once.  I say it every year.  Even if I lived in the keys or Timbucktu or Kamchatka, I’d still come back to Maryland for April. 

Ryan stuck the first shad on March 25th.  I was so proud of him.  But still tough to keep him interested.  He got spoiled quick.  If it wasn’t a fish every cast, he got discouraged.  It was that good.  Oh, and he also got the first of these giants?!

Two at a time fly rod style on March 26th.  When the getting is good, you leave work and school.  Period. 


Spring break time


White shad slammin in March!

How about some catfish?

60 plus and Ryan did all the work.  Except when it got near shore.  Then I did all the work.  Got stuck in the mud, slipped on the rocks.  Cut my leg pretty bad.  But who cares, kids loved it and this thing was a giant. 


Spring break continued, more of these.  Had a school near a mile long for three days.  Jigs, cranks, bait, it didn’t matter. 


More of the same…..




I got out on my own a night or two on some other areas.  Never seen the flats banging with big fish like this in March!?!  If I told you how many I got over 40 you wouldn’t believe me.  It was on for about a week, actually a little less depending upon where you went. 

Didn’t have a camera man.  Had to release fish quickly.  Fresh spool of 150 yards of 80 pound braid, bran new reel…. A few wraps of line left on the spool I finally turned her.  They don’t get much bigger.  36” girth and well…. long too. 


Then we had a little slow down during second week of April.  Not sure why.  Smaller stripers mostly and more blue catfish than you could possibly imagine.  Jig and crank bait eating fools they be.  Countless fish to 30 pounds on artificial.  I was begging for reprieve.  Hands cut to shreds, tackle getting low.  Time for some trout fishing, some fineness.  6x tippet please, had to get away from the tackle testing giant turd rolling invasive catfish.  Had schools of catfish crashing on herring like ocean migrant stripers off cape henry just a short while ago? 



Trout fished some, nothing special.  Missed the best hatches already.  Back to the flats for the last 10 days of april.  Another date in the spring run that you could set your clock to.  Hit them on the way in, hit them on the way out.  Stella, insane, top water glory days of the early 2000’s.  Here’s a small sampling and a 50 on a top water plug! 




May…. Time for the surf.  Sure why not.  I like the ocean.  Most of the big fish are gone except those playing in the MSSA tournament.  Don’t like to troll, would rather pull a 5 gallon jug around a bathtub on a brook stick.  Ran down to hit the last of the run leaving the bay and hitting the flats around the barrier islands.  Oh, there’s also giant bull reds there.  Wind was a major factor though.  But there were fish.  Saw a popular sight casting guide come and check on me from time to time.  25mph winds and I’m in a 16’ boat, 30 HP yami, 6 gallons of gas.  I’m in protected waters, inside the barrier islands.  Or beach bound.  Need to watch the tide though. 



This is a “small” red.  Some bigger ones made it boat side.  Too difficult in that current to get a decent pic.  I think I saw 4 other fishermen the whole time.  Burned 4 gallons of gas, got a few big stripers and reds, countless skates, all in 24 hours. Slept in truck and made it to my sons basketball game the next day. 



Well, back to musky now that the spawn is over.  Stuck my first on a fly rod, 9wt, 80 pound shock leader, 9” articulated streamer, first cast in this one spot.  Fish released well. 


Stuck a few more little musky in June but it got too warm too quick.  Don’t want to target them with water temps over 80 degrees, it could be lethal.  These are all natural fish so this is all we have.


Then Goshen summer camp with my son for his first long camping trip as a cub scout. 


Yes of course we did some fishing.  That lake is LOADED with giant carp.  I mean loaded.  Corn, corn and more corn is needed next year.  Lost a rod because we weren’t paying attention and the boys were goofing off.  But did some awesome hiking, swimming and sight seeing.  Beautiful place.  Decent smallmouth water too near by. 



Left Goshen and drove straight to Canada for a few days.  It was early July now and the bass would be just coming off the spawn on Lake Ontario.  Incredible smallmouth fishing.  Yea yea Lake Erie is where it’s at right?  Well, I assure you there’s nothing wrong with Lake Ontario either.  Giant smallies near shore, easy to get to.  Later in the summer, not so much. 


Literally the first two casts off the dock. 


A few days later……

A 22” behemoth smallmouth.   I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this big.  You can imagine the girth.  My son is 4’11 at 9 years old at the time.  He never lets me real in my fish. 

Action shot.  Got lucky.  That’s lake Ontario, while wading with the boat on the trailer behind the camera man.   That’s Amerherst Island in the back ground, near the mouth of the famous Bay of Quinte. 


July was back to dink stripers on the bay.  Joined the fleet near the Magothy with our tiny tin boats and didn’t do very well.  But put some kids on fish. 


Tried some crabbing.  Hottest day of the year.  First time with a trot line.  DISASTER.  Got three crabs in 6 hours.  Went and supported the local water men. 


Got injured while fishing… twice.  First was an ingrown toe nail while wading.  Took a month to heal.  Then I’ve had this on going pain in my wrist from jigging for years.  Turns out carpal tunnel and a torn tendon.  F surgery.  Will deal with it later.  Cortisone shot and I’m 80%.  Slowed me down… kind of.   

 In the dead heat of the summer there's a myth about the silver king making an appearance at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  It's more than a myth.  More than a few people I know have jumped and even landed them.  The temperature has to be unbearable, the flies are so bad they can bite through clothing, even denim... and the place is infested with sharks.  Scary infested.  There's miles upon miles of salt marsh islands with a labyrinth of mazes and cut channels snaking their way through the islands.  Over some trial and error, you can explore and often times get lucky with a tarpon or two encounter.  I did it several times just before my son was born.  But then gave it up for 10 years.  This  trip I was hindered by the wind which makes the back bays muddy or at the very least significantly impacts visibility.  This area can and often does look like the everglades or the keys at times with the right conditions.  About as beautiful and untouched as you can get and it's only 3 hours from DC?!  I managed a few sea trout, aka weakfish some shark and even hooked up with a decent cobia but pulled the hook.  No tarpon for me again.  One of these years...... 

I'm miles inside one of these maze channels.  At low tide the mud flats get exposed and there are oysters for as far as the eye can see. 
Here's a little guy.  About the only thing that can feed well when the water gets turbid.  There are much, much larger buddies lurking everywhere back here.  They provide plenty of sport and fight if the tarpon don't show. 

Back to Canada in August in search of the world record musky.  Fished the st lawerence and the famous Ottawa river.  Word to the wise, get a guide.  I’ve done this on my own for ten years and only just finally broke my Canadian musky cherry.  I’ve caught way bigger back home.  Had other encounters, lost fish, close calls like always. Probably what keeps me coming back.  Kids had fun messing with perch at the dock.



September is a busy time.  Ryan’s first true love is football.  Multiple practices and games every week.  He’s starting QB and can out throw most adults I know.  He has a rather impressive arm.  Look out for him because if he doesn’t make it a fishing pro, that’s because he’s gone on with football. 


But we got out some in September, just after a different kind of quarry.

A friend of mine and I decided to take my 16’ lund down to CBBT one weekend in September/early October for the red drum run.  None of this bait and wait or trolling jazz.  I wanted to jig em up and they were there like clock work on the pilings on the shoals.  Landing them… well, that wasn’t easy.  Same drill as we used to do in the fall winter, 1.5oz heads, 10 inch BKD or similar, smelly jelly, 30 pound leader, 30 pound braid and when you hook up, you will need 30 pounds of drag too to keep them out of the pilings.  Haven’t figured that part out too well yet.  Sleigh rides are fun.

Early October went pond hopping with perfect spring like conditions for GIANT bass putting on the fall feed.  Got some kids their first and likely their biggest. 

We caught 4 fish like this in less than an hour!  Skinny fish for some reason.  But they sure were hungry.
Sometimes you just need to go trout fishing for a fish that's as large as some of the lures I throw.  There's just something right about it.  Something pure. The pursuit is everything.  Very self gratifying.  Picture yourself on a narrow spring creek with gin clear low October water levels. Stealth is key and crawling and knee walking as if you are putting a stalk on a mature buck.  Watching a 10" stream born brown come up from the depths to inspect your fly, behaving as if he is reading the manufacture's autograph and flipping the fin to you as he turns away like someone flipping you the bird, is an experience that never gets old.  Connecting, albeit only small, or even not connecting with a fish, still makes it worth it.  The simplicity of it or the technicality of it is so enticing and luring, that it keeps you coming back for more. 
Here's an early October brown from a local spring creek.  This day I fished a couple hours and managed to put 5 fish in the next from 6 to 12 inches including an encounter with something in the 20 inch category.  Can't beat that for an autumn afternoon after work adventure.

There are so many choices in October it's not even funny.  Duck hunting, deer hunting, steelhead, salmon, smallmouth, musky... but striped bass top water fishing in the shallows is always a necessity in early October....  October is also known as "Rocktober."  I took off an hour early from work one afternoon and towed the skiff to Kent Island.  There are several perfect points, rips and ideal shoreline structure within a few hundred yards of the bridge that hide some impressive striped bass this time of year.  It's not uncommon to get into a dozen fish up to 12 or even 15 pounds on 7wt fly rods with surface flies in that last hour of light in October?!  or spinning rods and a spook or surface popper.  The surface explosion from a 20 inch three pound striped bass will always entertain.  But when that 30 inch ten pound or 40 inch 25 pound fish comes calling, it's an eye opening experience to say the least.  In deeper water rockfish will bull dog fight you and try and stay deep.  But in the shallows, they have no where to go but up.... then out.  So they often go air born.  On this day however, the shallows weren't quite on yet.  I thought I could just spend an hour in the open bay areas of Eastern Bay or the Chester and return to the points and rips at sun down.  I'd look for birds and follow the channel contours looking for bait.  As soon as I crossed the channel I saw surface activity.  There's a large swirl, then another.  The fish finder was blacked out at this point.  The bait fish extended from the surface to the bottom and rockfish were crashing the party.  However, the pods of predators were on the move.  At first I was on them but lost them.  It took 20 to 30 minutes to locate a decent size school again and when I did, it was on just about every cast for the next two hours with fish up 13 pounds and 33 inches.  Top water got it done, swim shads, jigs and skinny plastics, fly rod, it didn't matter.  Most of the fish were high in the water column or suspended and feeding on peanut bunker.  The birds on the bait and fish were not the little "Liar" birds or terns.  These were the larger gulls.  When you see this pattern, it's almost always big fish on big bait.  It would be tough to beat that kind of fishing action anywhere in the country at that moment.  Absolutely incredible action for a solid two hours until the sun set below the horizon.  The fish kept working shallower too all the way to 12 feet with a school several acres in size.  It stayed that way for the next two weeks too but I wasn't able to get back over there for a variety of reasons.  Truly epic fishing.  Rocktober at its finest and only 1.2 hours from home.  Kept my first limit of the year, a nice 33" and a 26" plump October rockfish, aka striped bass.




November had me all over the planet.  November 1 I took the morning off from work to climb a tree.  First time this year on this one site on my own.  I'm rattling hard at first light to some chasing off in the distance.  A few minutes later I glance over my shoulder and a nice 8 pt buck is making  a scrape not but 30 yards behind me.  He proceeds to walk right under me with every hair on his body standing up.  I pierced his heart from 15 yards and had a 30 yard tracking job.  Incredibly exiting and you just can't bottle that kind of adrenaline. 

My grandmother passed away in England a few days later.  We knew she was not doing well but this isn't something you plan for.  Off on a plane.  Saw some family and mostly had a good time at a sad time.  I packed a suit, One or two changes of underwear, jeans, waders, boots, fly rod, fly boxes and a bunch of pike stuff.  Pike are very prevalent there and they show up in the strangest of places. A 20 pound pike could be in a 4 foot wide spring creek covered with water cress and shallow 3 inch riffles.  This is their home native water and they are the top predator.  They are mostly seen as a nuisance species there, rarely fished for.  People would rather "sport" fish with long rods, spider threat thin fishing line, floats rated to .0005 grams that can detect a fish breathing on the line.  They even use electronic bite detectors.   We mostly fished the river Itchen with my cousin's husband and son who's the same age as my son.  This kid is a fishing machine too.  All that I've done has rubbed off on him.  We spent a few nights tying flies together and he's good, darn good.  He's the British spitting image of my son except he plays Rugby instead of "American" football and his first love is fishing.  This kid thoroughly enjoys it where as my son I kind of force it on him sometimes and that's a mistake.     The river Itchen has been fished by people for thousands of years.  The romans reconstructed channels here and were the first people to design flood control. The  Brown trout in the river are pure as they get from their historic place of birth.  Never been stocked and have more than a PHD in avoiding fishermen.  But I tricked a few and even managed my first grayling ever, on a dry fly no less.  But maggots under floats worked well too.  My cousin even got his first Atlantic salmon! 

 English proper carp fishing, notice the electronic bite detector on the line.
An atlantic salmon, spawned out, miles and miles from the ocean in a stream about as wide as a pick up truck.






The trip to England was short lived.  I had work to get back to and fishing of course.  Had my annual steelhead trip booked with my best friend up in Michigan.  It didn’t disappoint. Insanely huge steelhead on the hard to get to spots. This kind of trip takes a great deal of planning and trial and error.  When done right, you can score.  A little luck helps too.  We stumbled upon a pod of record size steelhead on the last day.  The first day we floated with a guide, a 20 year old who had a 20 year old canoe.  We found him, he was dirt cheap, hadn’t made it big yet, XXL Chrome Chasing.  We crushed the fish the first day.  Skunked the second.  And found gold, I mean silver on the third on our own.  Double digit fish numbers and double digit heavy weights.  We fished the Pere Marquette (sucked) and the Manistee (dead) but found a few out of the way no name rivers that paid dividends.  My all time favorite fish is a steelhead, then musky, then striped bass.  Can’t you tell?  Happy holidays and happy new year.