Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Planning in the time of plenty

Fall, fall is fabulous.  I feel metro staying that word but it's amazing.  Don't have time to write much right now but I'm in sportsman's heaven.  The rut for deer is about to kick off.  Lots of rubs and scrapes in the woods right now.  Some chasing and road side collisions sky rocketing.  As soon as this full moon subsides it will be game on for day time fights, chases, rubs and hopefully dirt naps. 

But there's also fishing.  I'm trying to plan a weekend trip.  Yes, this weekend, you know in three days.  I'm torn all over the place.  The salmon river is stupid loaded with king salmon.  People too but there are plenty of fish to go around.  We usually like to go this time of year or later in October because of early steelhead and less crowds.  Most people are up river chasing and fighting over spawned out white flag salmon when there's usually good numbers of steelhead down low with very few fishermen.  Well, this year very few steelhead have entered the river.  Something is happening to these fish.  Two years ago saw insane numbers and then this massive die off in early fall.  They blamed it on this thiamine (vitamin B) deficiency from eating too much alewife (baitfish) that is affecting the fish.  But that makes no sense because they are obviously healthy when the enter the river.  It's happening in the river where these fish experienced a major die off two Fall's ago.  last year saw poor numbers and it's looking the same this year.  Okay before I research the topic too much, lets just talk fishing. 

There are tons of king salmon in the salmon river this year.  Insane amounts and they keep coming in too so these are still fresh fish. Yes they bite rarely, usually are "lined" or "flossed" accidentally or purposely, even by the best equipped, best dressed orvis or Simms guides and models.  But they are still fun.  They fight like a freight train, backing sightings are regular and it's on like donkey kong.  The river is dead low, but not too low.  Still plenty of flow when compared to other rivers.  It makes it easier for the snaggers to clear out the river but there are thousands of fish.  Now is the time.  A sick day tomorrow would be awesome.  but for a king you ask?  If only the river would fill like that with high flying steelhead?!  It was almost like that two years ago.  A run of steelhead similar to a salmon run in Mid October.  It can happen but if it were going to happen we would have noticed more steelhead in with the salmon.  The whole safety in numbers theory.  Sure there were some but not many.  95% kings it seems over the last few days/weeks when typically steelhead make up a decent percentage.  Yes, I'm only an internet expert fishermen and don't have first hand knowledge but if you knew how much time I spend looking and reading different reports from guides, residents and hardcore fishermen, you'd understand. 

So, there's the salmon thing out of the way.
Then there's Lake Erie steelhead.  The Cattaraugus, arguably the "Crown jewel" of steelhead alley is at historic lows almost.  100cfs as I type this but that's still fishable that's for sure.  Other erie tribs are piss trickles at best but guess what?!!! Rain is on the way.  The streams will rise and "run silver" once again.  The chrome is a coming.  THe last few years Erie area has sucked later in the year.  Most fish are fall runners.  So now might be the time to rock it.  Hit it right after a high water event in late October and it will blow your mind the number of steel that will run those normally piss trickle streams.  The slate bottom streams will flash flood,l fill with water, blow out and look like milky coffee for the first 24 hours and then majically clear to that "big fish green" color and offer up some of the most fantastic steelhead/rainbow fishing found anywhere on the plannet for about 24 hours.  Then it will be low and gin clear again.  Back to the bathtub unnatural BS fishing the place is used to.  But plan that 24 hour window and you''ll be studying Mayan calendars every day of your life from this point forward trying to repeat that day again.  Steelhead bliss is ... well... awesome.  Nothing like it. 

Sure the surf fishing in Lake Erie an Michigan is pretty good right now for steelhead too.  You need a Leeward wind coming from your back as you cast into the lake.  Anything else there will be big waves and muddy water near shore.  With a south wind, clear calm water and steelhead will be so thinck they will bump into your legs as often as the sea of leaves will.  Pretty cool expirence and you can't get any fresher than hooking them in the lake. 

Oh... then there's the Chesapeake Bay this weekend.  It's off the hook, "RockTober" is here in full effect.  I went yesterday afternoon and mangled them.  Found fish in their typical fall pattern of near the mouth of a major river feeding on bait near the surface.  most of the time the bait is small, like bay anchovies about one inch log.  That's when the birds chasing the bait and the fish are tiny.  But find those peanut punker who should be about 4 inches long now and you'll find the "regular grade" fish hunting them.  I stumbled upon really good numbers of fish yesterday in a 3 hour trip north of Kent Narrows.  I went down for the usual early fall asesome top water explosions I'm used to getting in the shallows this time of year.  Many a big fish over 30" as summersaulted over a popper this time of year hiding on shoreline structure. But figured I had some time before sunset and looked in deeper water first before hunting the shallows at sunset.  I found a few birds in 50 feet and some bait and sure enough a huge school of stripers.  They eventually seemed to work shallower and shallower and the afternoon turned into evening and fish were everywhere over a 1/2 mile area feeding on bunker on the channel edge 26 foot contour.  Every now and then they'd surface and the splashes like kids doing cannon balls off the diving board that would pave the way to quality surface and sub surface action of fish from 22" to 33".  Awesome fishing.  I needed that bad.  I had a very slow summer on the bay this year.  I Don't like chumming for dink summer fish (will do it for spring and winter giants though) and didn't connect on much on the few times I tried mid to upper bay this summer.  but I sure made up for it yesterday.  it's on in a big way.  The weather shows no signs of changing this warm global warming craziness, water temps are perfect in mid to upper 60's and the fish are chowing down.  Go gettem...

Just where will I end up this weekend?  Probably in a tree then on a bleacher watching my son's football and hopefully connected to a fish on Sunday/Monday.  Just what species....I couldn't tell you.  Heck I could do musky close, or musky far?  The st. Lawerence is known for producing world records in the fall and I could make it there even.  Just got a new Transmission in the SUV, time to break her in.  400k miles here I come. Just got the pass from the boss, my actual boss.  The woman boss and I are done for now.  Too much fishing maybe, I made true trout bum status.  Who knows but I can tell you I could write for days of all the fishing trips I've done this year.  Insane.  One of my best years yet. Spring was insane.  Numerous giants on top water.  Ryan scored multiple fish too.  I fished more this past year while separated than I have since college days.  Incredible year.  more to come on that later....


Monday, July 20, 2015

Latley as in July 2015


Lately as in July 2015

This summer has offered up some incredible fishing for my neck of the woods.  I’m going to try and keep this short but there’s so much to tell.  The fishing in the upper bay has been red hot since early June.  Of course I didn’t get on the bite till about mid June and stuck with it for over a month.  Mid bay, bay bridge area.  First I found them suspended over deep water like down 20 feet over 50 feet on the channel edge.  Then I’d found them even shallower on the ledge in 25 feet.  Then I just couldn’t go wrong.  It was incredible on a few evenings in July with a good outgoing tide.  But I must say for some reason I always seemed to hit it at the end of the outgoing and still struck pay dirt.  The basic rig was to jig long skinny plastics like 7 inch zoom super flukes on 3/4oz jig heads on light braided line like 14# with a 25 pound tippet.  With light line like that the jig sinks about 2 feet per second or maybe more like 1.8 feet if you wanted to get really technical.  I’d basically mark fish suspended near bait fish schools, cast out and give it a long 4 count and start jigging.  At 4 seconds my jig should be roughly 10 feet down but continues to sink as I retrieve it.  This way I didn’t go through the fish or below the fish I was marking.  I like an erratic retrieve with a sharp, fast jigging action, picking up slack every time after the jig.  Hits almost always happen on the fall and you have to be ready with a swift hook set.  The fly rod also got some play with sinking line that’s supposed to sink 8 inches per second, 9wt full sinker.  For suspended fish, when there are a lot of fish I might add, the fly rod is not a bad tool for the job.  But nothing can compare to the efficiency a jig will get down to those fish.  If you want numbers, stick with the light spinning or bait casting rod.  But to change things up, a fly rod will do wonders too.  Two Friday’s ago I went out with my old college roommate in his vintage 1980’s aluminum 16’ boat with an old 65 horse merc on the back.  The motor won’t run well at low speeds but does quite well at ¾ throttle. Of course boat wake and typical bay chop beat us up pretty well but wow did we find the fish holding on well-known structure just north of the bay bridge.  We had plenty of company and most people were catching well.  Hankey was blown away how well the jigging rod worked.  Forget the chum he even said.    I went out again on July 18th with a 10-15mph South wind, combined with hundreds of other pleasure boaters and every charter boat in the fleet.  What was I thinking?  I crossed the bay in that crap.  But got on the fish again. This time they were hugging the pilings pretty tight and the jig had to be close to the bottom near the top of the pilings.  Or the up current side of the pilings.  There will be a current break down stream of the piling but also just upstream of them, just like a boulder on a trout stream.  The hydraulics of the water pushing around the structure, boulder, bridge piling creates a nice little pocket just up current of said structure.  Well, they were there and sunset with a good incoming tide was the ticket again.   So, I’ve got a enough striped bass in my freezer to give me mercury poison ten fold.  I’ve eaten striped bass two or three times a week in the last month.  Probably because I also just bought my first deep fryer.  Healthy? Probably not.  Even though I had all this fresh fish I still thawed out a packet of frozen fish dated July 2013?! Cut the freezer burn off, dipped it in egg white, flour and some Cajun seasoning and it was a hit for all my neighbors the other day.  Don’t tell them it was the 2 year old fish.  I had some and it was probably my best batch yet.  I’ve been pretty good about releasing the larger fish and keeping the smaller fish… to some degree.  Of course on July 4th we were staying at a friends on Kent Island and I needed a lot of meat for a lot of people so elected to keep the biggest fish.  This fish would rival anything April on the Potomac could offer.  What’s going on?  Some of these fish still had sperm sacks, large sperm sacks inside of them.  All males and big ones at that.  But for some reason the rest of the bay is void of these fish.  Why are they all above the bridge?  What’s wrong with the water elsewhere?  Why is every charter boat running miles upon miles to the same area to put their clients on fish?  Well because there are fish there.  Or were.  This past weekend’s results were a fraction of what it was two weeks ago. 

July 10th 2015, Two bigguns to hand at once.  Both fish were 35 inches.  Is this April on the flats or July in the upper bay?  I'm confused? 

 July 10th again. Here's a 33 inch fish that broke through a 50 year old net just as we lifted it out of the water.  I knew that net was useless but after losing our first nice fish when I tried to lip it, Hankey wasn't having it. 

Same night. 

July 4th 2015 biggun. 

 
Fly rod light line July 4th fish under the fireworks.  Fish released. 

Loaded up for a quick trip to the bay for a night.  I pack light. 
June 22, 2015 limit.  Insane fishing.  Probably at its peak, before the word got out too much. Many more 30 inch fish came to hand that night.
 
Some nice fish on the fly rod too from June 22, 2015.

 
 
 

Because of the hot striper bite I’ve done very little musky fishing.  We were plagued with crazy amounts of rain in June.  The full moon in June fell around June 2 and it was cloudy the entire time.  John C and I floated 8 miles in complete darkness on the hottest musky moon of the year and were skunked?!  It was jet black out with no moon from the cloud cover.  But of course we hooked up at the take out.. twice.  Once when we dropped the car off early in the evening and again at 3am when we got back to the car.  Same fish?  Who knows but he got off both times.  But I did score a musky in mid June on a quick trip on my own just prior to one of the strongest thunderstorms I’ve ever seen.  The radar showed pink, purple, green blue, red, all at once about to unleash hell on me and this fish hit Mr. Whiggley just feet from the boat.  Even with that single treble hook in the head of the bait, the fish was hooked well.  It blasted the bait in plain sight just as I started the figure 8.  Awesome take, and a darn good fight for a “small” fish.  I was happy.  But it was my only musky in june.  My third musky of the year out of about 40 hours effort in total.  I’ve had a few complete skunks this winter and spring/summer.  The river is pretty much off limits until it cools down for me.  But my Canada trip is coming up with the full moon in August.  Hopefully I can kill a 9 year skunk on the mighty st. Lawrence.  No that was not a typo, I’ve been skunked 9 years in a row.  Yea, I’ve hooked and seen fish every year but just can’t seal the deal.  Get a guide young man, get a guide damn it.  But I just won’t.  Save some money.. yea right. 

June 20th musky on Mr. Whiggley
 
 
 

 

What else…. It’s hot, damn hot.  The hottest day of the year with temps in the high 90’s fell the last two days, July 20, 2015 and 19th.  The humidity put the “feel” temps well above 100.  Sweat pours down your back as soon as you get out of the truck and it almost feels like a dog tick crawling down your crack.  So what do you do?  You go trout fishing just outside the beltway on a tailwater fishery no one knows about.  Water temps 5 miles downstream of the dam are still below 70 degrees?!  I had 65 degrees at my one favorite pool today in an area that hasn’t been stocked with trout in decades.  The cool water acts like an air conditioner and it’s quite pleasant.  The water is at or near low summer flows and gin clear.  At first I tried fishing an ant from far downstream to try and not spook the pool.  But you inevitably end up walking up on the pool to fish the head of it, knowing full well that the best part of the pool is the root wad in the tail end of the pool.  But no one wanted my dry there so I found myself right on top of the fish.  I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a perfect red stripe just hovering motionless within a rods length of my feet.  One of the nicest trout I’ve seen in this stream was sitting right next to me!  I do a half hearted roll cast and plop the beetle on its head.  The fish just floats back downstream as my size 16 terrestrial passes over its head.  I tried that about a dozen times till I pushed the fish almost out of the pool.  Darn!!  So I take a far cast to the head of the pool but the whole time I’m watching this fish behind me, not paying any attention to my fly.  I know it’s now started to slowly sink but figured I’d still see a tiny dimple on the surface when a fish took.  Well, I didn’t.  I go for another cast and I’m hooked up.  This fish is no joke either.  They are incredibly strong in this tiny stream.  The fish takes line, goes instinctively for the undercut and I try to put the brakes on.  That doesn’t work with 6x tippet.  Did I ever say how much I hate 6x tippet.  There goes that fish.  I felt pissed off for losing the fish but I also felt kind of bad leaving a fly in its mouth.  These are my pet fish.  This is my go to spot, maybe 5 miles below the dam.  I could almost name each of these fish.  Well, maybe not because today I saw probably 8 individual fish that us trout fishermen would consider adults in the 10 to 12 inch size, not including the behemoth 15 incher that eluded me.  I later fished a small brassie off a dropper behind a large beetle.  The black beetle vanished in the water, even if it was a size 14.  It didn’t work well as a strike indicator but I saw the trout move towards where I thought the nymph was drifting and just pause.  It made this move towards something so I just set the hook thinking just maybe it took the fly.  Yep.  Fish on!  A few cartwheels later the fish runs near the bottom and wraps the tippet on the only stick stuck in the bottom and the beetle snags the f…ing stick.  Yep, two fish broken off.  Time for redemption now.  Backed off to 5x, put on the old faithful cone head woolly bugger and hooked up on the second cast and finally got one to hand.  Nice one hour lunch break I’d say.  Later I checked the water temps a few miles further downstream and it only rose a couple degrees.  Still in that comfortable range for trout survival of 69 or 70 degrees.  80 is lethal, 70’s isn’t great but doable.  It sure would be nice to make that whole stretch a catch and release stream again.  Or just keep it to myself.  One of these days I’m going to get that 15 incher and I’d expect there are even larger fish in there somewhere.  Forget the gunpowder or the north branch.  Why drive that far for similar size fish when I have that in my back yard?  My own little St. Vrain in the middle of suburbia.   





 


What else…. Oh.. the bass ponds are fishing well.  Even in muddy water after one of the strongest rainstorms we’ve seen in 5 years the fish cooperated for Ryan and me a few weeks ago.  Dark colored stick worms did the trick. 



 

 

 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Memorial Day Stripes


Memorial Day Weekend Stripers             

May 25, 2015

 

Usually Memorial Day is a little late to intercept the migratory run of striped bass in our area. Our area is the Delmarva, or Delaware, Maryland or Virginia.  However, this Memorial Day fell a week before the last weekend in May and there were a few fish around to play with.  I did a family trip to the beach for the weekend.  We made a 24 hour pit stop on Kent Island where I merely only caught a few dink stripers and white perch from shore under a dock light.  But with the white perch already in their summer pattern of holding to shoreline structure, that was good to see.  Some really nice white perch will hug the rip rap along the western shore of Kent Island and an ultra-light or fly rod will get the job done.  Okay, so back to the beach.  My first evening fishing was Sunday evening.  We first stopped to pick up fresh bait in Cambridge and a sea food distributer named Kool Ice.  Fresh bait is key.  It’s probably the most important part of bait fishing whether surf or chunking from a boat.  If it’s been previously frozen or sitting on ice for a few days, it’s basically worthless.  How can you tell?  Well, does the bait bleed?  Is it mush?  Does it fall off the hook on the first cast?  Does it smell foul?  These are all bad signs.  The bait I bought was fresh bunker or menhaden or alewife…. Lots of different names for the same thing. 

 

So the first evening I’m set up with beautify fresh bunker on Ocean City surf.  Usually OC surf is kind of lifeless.  They have a lot of beach replenishment and basically suffocate the life near shore because of it.  But if there are sand fleas in the surf, then there is life.  And sure enough I’ve caught a good number of sand fleas in the surf over the years and a few decent stripers.  Sand fleas work well for stripers and black drum also BTW.  But do not stay on the hook for very long.  So I start fishing at 515pm.  I ask one life guard and he says I’m okay.  Then walk to a better looking spot that was actually a GPS point from last fall.  Basically you just want some sort of anomaly in the surf, something to break up the monotony.  Ideally you find a rip current or a break in the sand bar where water is sucked out past the breaking waves.  Find one of those and you will find a feeding frenzy.  I’ve only found a few in my day but wow was it fun.  They are often not very obvious unfortunately.  But if it gives you confidence, then have at it. 

 

The first life guard said fish.  So I did.  Then the second comes down and tells me to leave.  At this point I’m frustrated and told the guy I’m fishing.  Well, two minutes later 3 more come down and tell me to leave.  I told them to show me the code.  Then a fourth more senior guy comes on a 4 wheeler.  At this point I just had to wait 10 more minutes till 530 but I wanted to fish.  Slack low tide was at 745 or so.  So I reeled in the line.  Then at 526pm I threw back out.  Hahah.  At 529 my rod bed over to the ground. I was casting out my second rod at the time when my big heaver, 10’ tica with a diawa conventional saltiest is spewing drag.  This is no skate.  I put the other rod down and start the fight.  This fish fought well, head shaking the whole time.  I planned the breaking wave’s right and surfed it in to shore.  My first keeper from the beach this year!  In the ocean in MD now it is a one fish per person per day limit of a fish 28” or greater.  This fish was over 30” but under 36”, figured I’d keep it.  Why not.  Success.  No more hits, 745 and dead low came by and I packed it in.  Met my wife, sister and brother in law for dinner 30 minutes later. 
 
 

 

The next night I got the pass to fishing again except this time I hit Indian River inlet in DE.  It was the end of the outgoing tide and I chose the jetty.  I wear spiked corkers on my feet for added traction on the slippery rocks.  Almost a necessity.  There were two other guys at the end of the jetty fishing for the elusive sea trout or weak fish.  We used to catch them all the time on small jigs back around 2004 but not much since.  I hear they are making a comeback but it’s hardly worth the effort for a 12 inch weak fish.  A striper the same size would tow a weak fish back to NC in a second.  Well, not but five minutes in I get slammed and my drag is screaming with the outgoing tide.  I am way under gunned hear using a 6’6” medium heavy st croix too.  But I seal the deal and land a respectable albeit skinny 39” striper.  I released the fish but later found out I had to because DE has a slot of two fish from 28-36” and over 44” so anything from 37”-43.9” must be released.  That’s a lot of released fish right there.  I later moved a few feet down the jetty to try and reach the hole at the end of the rocks.  Another gentlemen moved into my spot and started putting on a clinic.  He was using a 6 inch storm shad, clear color.  I was using a 10” BDK with a one ounce head.  The wind was ripping from the south so we were throwing right into the wind.  He caught one really nice fish and must have measured it a dozen times.  Right at 40”.  It was out of the water a while too and when released floated up at first.  But then took off.  Who knows if it survived?  He was not happy he had to release it.  He caught several more shorts and good size keepers or slot fish too.  Sometimes that exact rock is the ticket.  The tide was near slack and I think it was the swim shad.  I didn’t have any, stupid me.  My baits were going too deep?  Or not deep enough? Anyway, I only fished an hour or so the first night and a few hours the second and got two good fish.  Missed a couple more too.  Things are still going strong down there.  I read about multiple fish caught over the weekend from as far south as VA Assateugue Island.  I also heard that the Cape Cod Canal was rocking with huge fish smashing lures for the shore fishermen.  Crazy Jim is on big blue fish and stripers up on the Cape.  There are still some big blues around IRI in DE but not nearly as many as there were earlier in May.  It was an epic two week blitz of giant blues for IRI.  Too bad I missed it.  Time to change gears now and chase Muskie I think.  Water temps are already approaching 80 degrees on the USGS.  Over 80 up river and it’s too warm..!  We’ll see what the full moon brings this weekend.   
 
 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Low light moving tide


Schoolies

May 19, 2015

 

With the tides just about right and a free afternoon, I quickly threw some things together to fish the bay bridge yesterday evening.  I got home at 330 and was out the door by 350.  Traffic was a nightmare, even with the ICC and it took me a full 2 hours to get to Sandy Point but oh well.  Current tables showed max flood current at 730 pm, meaning it should be going strong that last hour of light.  Exactly what you want.  Doesn’t really matter if it’s in coming (Flood) or outgoing (Ebb), just as long as you have strong current combined with low light… a match made in heaven.  The bridge pilings almost always have fish.  Actually, they always do, but we just can’t always get to them.  Winds were light and my 16’ skiff was up for the journey.  First checked out some birds mid channel that looked like they were on a slick.  No dice.  Nothing at eastern shore rock pile.  Didn’t even mark anything with a strong incoming current there.  Off to the shallower pilings on the ledge to the channel and I think third cast hook up with quality fish.  I lose a few and land a few 20-24 inch fish. I was planning on keeping a fish or two but didn’t have a tape on board.  The new regs are fish must be over 20” and these guys were cutting it close.  Then I finally caught a really nice fish.  I had to muscle him out from between the 6 legged pilings but got the job done.  I had on 20 pound shock leader and didn’t want to risk leadering the fish.  It was pushing 30 inches, probably more like 26 though.  So I grab the jig head like I often do to lift in the boat and it thrashed and was gone.  So be it.  I was using the same old medium heavy 6’6” Avid, spinning rod, 14 pound braid, 20 pound mono leader and 1oz jig heads with 7 inch gulp or 7 inch white zoom super flukes dipped in chartreuse die.  Most of the fish were on the bottom in 15-22 feet but I saw quite a few suspended and some really nice marks well away, down current from the pilings but couldn’t get them to hit.  Almost certainly stripers but likely cruising on their own back behind the piling.  Trolling might hit those fish but I’d rather cast. 

After I lost the big one I had drifted well back from the bridge.  I decided to look around, south side pilings, then north, then the sewer pipe. I never should have left those fish. It seemed like only dinks were elsewhere when I was on a decent bite of decent size fish.  Finally went back to the starting point but couldn’t buy a fish.  The tide was still going well, not sure what happened.  But once or twice I banged the aluminum boat up against the 6 legged piling while inside of the span and that might have spooked those fish.  Any noise is a killer in that situation.   Now the sun had just about set and I figured I would like to try and get a fish on a popper.  There should be something in shallow with a decent tide.  All I have to do now is find the sewer pipe in shallow like 4 to 8 feet.  The rip over the sewer pipe is not all that pronounced on an incoming.  It’s much easier seen on an ebb tide.  Not sure why.  But my GPS points got me close.  Sure enough there were all sorts of good marks in shallow.  I should have been jigging but I already re-rigged.  I threw the 10 inch BKD for a while but no luck.  But the top water got hit, quite a few times even in the waning tide.  Can’t beat that.  Stuck a good fish that I thought was dink at first, even over 9 feet of water.  That one came home for dinner.  My limit is one.   Easy to say when you only decided to keep one.  Sometimes success is that sweeter when you actually accomplish what you set out to do with respect to fishing or how you wanted to catch that fish.  Should be pretty good there for most of the summer, just try and plan it around the strong current at low light. 
 
Quick update.  It was late at night yesterday when I was cleaning the fish.  I decided to fillet it with the skin on. I almost always cut the skin off but thought I'd do something different.  This is the first fish I've killed all year.  Anyway, I was in a hurry and was scaling the fish.  Man those things flew everywhere in my kitchen.  I tried cleaning up but this morning I found one on top of the coffee maker.  I'm sure there are others.  Oh well. 



Monday, May 18, 2015

Close by trout trip


Quick Trout trip close to home

May 16 ,2015

 

A friend was in town visiting one of his many brothers over the weekend.  He hit me up with a few questions about what and where to go fishing.  I said Chain Bridge schoolie stripers, top water, jigs, crank baits, maybe fly rod…. He wanted trout.  He was thinking of heading to western MD to the Casselmen where 100 fish days are a possibility this time of year but I said I didn’t have that kind of time.  I had a soccer game at 1030 for my son and then a football practice followed by a game where Ryan’s the QB.  So a typical busy Saturday.  We settled on the Patuxent River special regulation area, lures and flies only, year round catch and release. This area was stocked back in early April with 2500 brown trout that were well spread out via float stocking.  I looked back at one email from the Potomac Patuxent Chapter of Trout unlimited and picked the most remote area that got the most trout, downstream from Hipsley Mill Road.  I picked the most remote mostly because now we are well into the season.  Poachers and law abiding fishermen have been out hard for a month or two and the trout will be well educated.  The trick is to find fish that have not been fished over too much or not all caught.  Not just by fishermen either, there are some river otters around these parts too and they will clean out a stream in short order.  Great Blue Herons take a toll as well.  So does natural causes, temperature starts to play a huge roll this time of year too.  Heck even other trout, like that two foot long swimming log of a trout that as held over a year or two might eat a few fresh stockers.  I’ve seen a whole family of river otters once on Morgan Run before, another good peadmont year round catch and release trout water.  Thought about going there but didn’t. 

 

SO we set out on a tributary nearby that connects with the Patuxent close to a mile from the road.  This tributary is also stocked and is about half the size.  Walking the trails this time of year is difficult to say the least, the best way is to go straight down the middle of the stream hitting the pools on the way down.  This one trib scores excellent on the habitat scale with numerous pools to riffle ratio. But when walking downstream you disturb the water.   So I like to fish fast and as soon as my mud line catches up to me, I just keep on trucking downstream.  Caleb met me with his brother whose birthday was recently.  Caleb was visiting from NC and wanted to take his brother fishing.  Caleb is a well-seasoned fly fisherman, every year he does a do it your self trip to Alaska where they go as far as to put an add on Craigslist to rent a car.  No, going to a rental company is just too easy.  These guys literally rent some families SUV and put about 1000 miles on it in a week, cross rivers and streams with it and camp creek side on some secluded trout honey holes.  They know what they are doing and are about as fit and keen as a fishermen can get.  Caleb is in his mid 30’s like me but his brother just turned 50.  And guess what, has never cast a fly rod before?!  Okay, this might take some doing but I’m up for the challenge.  Caleb wanted another rod so I brought a couple, a 9’ 5wt and a 7’ 3wt that Fred used.  It didn’t take long to find the trophy fallfish.  They were as aggressive as freshly stocked trout and about the same size too.  We finally stumbled upon a good pool that was just loaded with fish.  But much of the rest of the stream was void of fish.  I guess that’s how it goes.   Caleb hooked a few trout and let his brother real them in and it wasn’t long before Fred stayed out of the trees and banked a couple also.  These browns were looking up too and often hitting the surface.  Wooly buggers, nymphs and san juan worms all had action.  I even got a few fish myself.  Good times.  It’s not every day that you turn 50 and do something for the first time.  Fred even held on to my rod.  I’m not so sure he wants to give it back.  So, there’s plenty of fish if you are willing to put in the effort.  At 10am I had to hightail it out of there and bush wacked my way to the car in record time.  My legs were cut to pieces from thorns and grass as I was only wearing shorts but I made it to Rockville for my son’s soccer game by only ten minutes late.  Not bad for a short morning trip close to home. 
 
A couple of Depps, a fly rod and a trout.

Trophy Fall Fish
 
Here's Fred and I as I try to show him how to flick a bugger into a likely looking honey hole. Not the easiest place in the world to learn to fly fish but is probably the kind of place where most people started.  Tight quarters, lure eating trees all around but a few fish to make it worth while.
 
Carnage Riverside.  This is what is left over from a Great Blue Heron.  The carcass was up on the bank.  Not sure what killed it but I'm not too upset about it either.  I'm sure he's eaten a few trout in his day. 



 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The End of An Era


 

May 14, 2015

The End of an Era

 

My fishing partner and I have a theory that when we break something while fishing or lose something valuable, we often have a pretty good day.  We are or I am very hard on my fishing equipment.  I have friends that say it’s Griffithsized, or basically just destroyed by the time I touch something.  I like to think I just use my equipment.  I fish something like 5 days a week in the spring.  Spring for me is March 1st through May 15th give or take.  But really the best fishing for the true giants is winter until opening day of the striped bass season.  Well, I’m about to tell a story of the last day of the catch and release Susquehanna Flats Fishery on May 3, 2015.  This is an area that the DNR made an exception to allow fishing in a spawning area because many businesses, fishermen and fishing guides rallied together to allow fishing to continue.  The MD DNR made an exception to allow catch and release fishing for striped bass in an area known as a spawning ground.  Money talks, screw the fish it’s for the money.  But hey, I’ll play.  These fish sometimes gather in incredible numbers in the spring on the flats.  However, the last few years the fishing has been less than stellar.  Many guides have given up and headed home.  The “fleet” of aluminum and fiberglass boats has vanished.  Most people now a days are largemouth bass or perch fishing out on the area known to Chesapeake Bay fisherman as the “flats.”  But one has to believe.  If they show up there historically, then they will show up there again.  That was my friend John and my thought anyway. 

 

So, what broke or what did we lose do you ask?  Well, I’ve had an SUV since a year after I graduated college.  I bought my first new car in July of 2002.  I wanted 4 wheel drive, something that could tow, something manly and tough to help me feed my fishing addiction.  I bought a trailblazer that has fit the bill well.  It has gone through 3 boats.  Towed much of its life, driven all over Assateguge island on the days I did not own a boat.  Still has sand under the skid plates to this day…. It’s basically been slimed by every fish species in the North America and has served me well, over 218k miles.  Lately however the Transmission has been slipping.  Lately like the last 4 months.  I just keep driving it.  The differential is just about toast also.  But it was April, hands down the best month of the year to fish for everything that swims.  I need to get out there.  I just figured if it died I’d catch a cab to a dealer or enterprise for the day.  But when you are towing a boat everywhere every other day, that could get complicated.  Well, on Sunday afternoon, May 3, 2015 I was set to meet John at a park and ride along I-70 with boat in tow to head 80 miles north to fish the top of the bay.  To find the last of the spring run.  The Susquehanna usually runs about a week or two behind the Potomac, my home river.  Even though it was near the end of the run, it should be about prime on the flats.  Except all the reports were dismal.  Every report I read was that the fish are not there, the water is too muddy, too cold…. But there was still hope.  We can check live NOAA bouy data and get accurate turbidity (water clarity) and temperature readings.  Sure we could fish the Potomac.  It served me well this year.  Two fish over 50 pounds on my beloved river this spring, a day in mid April that only lives in your dreams when your best friend visits and we stumble across a giant school of lure eating spring spawners.  But there were a few skunks too.  Just a few days before this trip I was skunked when it came to fish with stripes.  Sure I caught dozens of American shad on the fly rod and a few 30 pound catfish on artificial lures.. anyone anywhere would call that an epic day but for me at the beginning of May on the Potomac, I should have had double digit striped bass all day long as well.  Not sure what happened.  So John and I gambled on the Flats.  I’m driving my car down the road to meet john at the rendezvous spot and my tranny just goes.  My RPMS hit the roof and I’m barely moving!  With boat in tow!  I have a line of a dozen cars behind me now and I’m just creeping along. NOOO! Not now.  I was literally a mile from John.  I tell him he’s got to drive.  I limp to meet him, switch the trailer to his truck and we are off.  I have no idea how I’m getting home but I can worry about that later. 

 

It’s mid Afternoon on the last day.  The flats close to targeting striped bass at midnight.  It’s a full moon, we plan to fish late but I’ve got an appointment for work at 8am. Oh well… it’s the last day on the best time of the year.  Drink a red bull or ten.  Fishing at night on the flats was a good way historically to avoid the flotilla of boats that used to be out there when the fishing was good.  Striped bass feed well at night all up and down the coast and it holds well for our area also.  And guess what… no body around here does it… well, except for John and I.  I think in 15 years fishing the flats I’ve seen about 2 boats out there well after sunset and I think those two boats were kayaks.  Sure people fish the river after dark but not the skinny water up on the flat.  I bet you could even run planner boars and troll the shipping channel after dark and do well but trolling is about as much fun as petting a cactus.  With night fishing you get an awesome bite in the evening or at last light and then things just die out for some reason.  Well, at first dark, the fish need time to acclimate.  So give it a little while and fish after true dark, say an hour or two after sunset.  By now the fish know what’s up and figured out how to use their senses again.  It’s almost like the change in the tide.  Give the fish time to figure out where the bait will set up and how the current flows.. they’ll go back to their same haunts time and time again.  John and I fish hard up on the flat with an incoming tide and a fading sun.  John found his old school hand held GPS that is pushing 12 years or more old.  It’s got dozens of marks of trenches and honey holes from the years of the haydays.  But back then, say 2004 time frame I think you could fish in Tidings parking lot and hammer the fish.  It was so easy a rookie could do it.  Oh, we were rookies back then.  Well, it’s near the finest hour now and John and I are skunked.  Not a darn fish.  I’m cursing the place like I did a week or two before when john and I slept in our trucks to allow us to fish as long as possible.  We took a skunk then too but the river was much higher and muddier, so was the flats.  We head down south to the old faithful, never fail spot.  The spot that used to be littered in fiberglass.  The spot where guides used to anchor next to each other in unison and block the regulars from fishing just so their clients could hog all the fish.  Many, many a 50 ponder have come from here in 5 feet of water.  We have a good incoming tide and I think it was the second cast I hook up.  The fish hit inches from the boat and is now airborne.  Nice 28 inch football.  Exactly what we were looking for.  Now let’s just hope for some numbers.  Sure enough, he and all his friends and fat girlfriends were there, ready to party.  There wasn’t another boat for as far as the eye could see.  Could this be real we thought?  The sun was just setting below the trees, we were rasing against time but the fish had arrived!  We were in the middle of acres of bass.  Our shallow diving stick baits were bouncing off the backs of stripers on every cast.  We were getting slammed about every 5th cast from all sizes of fish.  The smaller guys like mid 20 inch size were a lot easier to hook and land but even they threw the hook often.  I don’t know what it was but we just couldn’t land a biggun.  The two treble hooks were working against each other it seemed.  When a large striped bass hit the lure in 4 feet of water, they have nowhere to go.  They can’t dive deep like they usually do.  So they go up.  I kid you not, a 40 inch 25 pound striper will go air born under these conditions.  Or at least try.  They kick and roll on the line at first.  Well that’s after an arm jolting strike where they literally try and steal your rod.  During this rolling process, they often dislodge the lure.  We should have removed a treble hook or used good quality J hooks on the slip rings instead of trebles.  Sure we tried top water but the fish would hit top water very rarely.  Like one out of 20 casts.  We wanted action.  John had not caught a striper almost all spring!? So action we got on floating crystal minnows and Diawa SP minnows.  At one point john hooked about a 15 pound low 30 inch striper and it rolled at first and literally jumped, completely airborne like a smallmouth.  When it landed it spooked the sea of fish that were in the area and the whole place just exploded.  Earlier we had seen many swirls as our boat drifted over the fish. We knew there were good numbers of fish around but nowhere near that many?  From all around the boat to near 50 yards away this enormous school took off all at once with thousands of swirls and splashes happening simultaneously.  It was insane.  All we could do was watch in aww.  Or take another cast.  We had to move… like 20 yards to hook up again.  A trolling motor is essential out there.  I wish I had a power pole too.  Stealth is key.  We used to have to start our engine, just like the flotilla of guides that were all Parkers without trolling motors used to have to do.  But back then it didn’t matter.  There were so many fish that if you spooked that school, you’d just move a 100 yards and be on them again.  Well, that’s how it was for us on the last day.  So I broke a car and hammered the fish.  We found gold.  Oh how sweet it is when a plan comes together like that.  It almost makes up for all those skunks and poor days.  But again, every day I keep thinking of that line, “It’s not always the fish we are after.”  Sometimes just taking in the wild is pleasure enough.  And that night it was truly wild.  We didn’t land nearly as many fish as we should have.  There were probably thousands of fish stacked in layers all around us and often times we call a blank on our casts.  It didn’t seem possible.  Or these big giant fish would just have their way with us.  WE didn’t break any fish off, our hooks were sharp but they just knew how to get away from us stupid fishermen.  These fish had done this a time or two before.  So we each landed a few fish in that flurry of action before sunset and were quite happy.  By now the sun was long gone and the first dark hit.  Sure enough it slowed to a crawl.  Then to top it off the tide slowed to nothing.  What most people would do at this point is run home.  F that.  The moon was looking marvelous.  Even just staying out there to watch the stunning bright moon rise over the bay from the east would have been worth it.  But when we had the majority of the upper bay’s spawning stock around the boat… we weren’t going anywhere.  They will turn on again, just be patient grasshopper..  Well, it worked.  Waiting till true dark, like dark 30 or let’s say 10pm was the ticket.  Now for some reason we were able to hook and land these bastards.  Like the fish hit the lure with more accuracy or something.  The same pattern happened again. Swirls happening here there and everywhere around us.  And I mean giant swirls.  These were legendary fish.  The kind that only shows up this time of year and vanishes just days later.  These are the repeat spawners, the biggest fish of the entire stock.  Who knows, there could have been 100 pound striped bass around us.  We caught a few of the bigguns and it was just awesome.  My big fish of the night went 44 inches and probably met with 40 pounds as she was just as girthy as they come.  This fish hit almost when I was taking my lure out of the water.  This was not the first fish to do that either that night.  When this happens the chaos that proceeds is just stupid.  I should have been doing more figure 8’s musky style.  I did a few that came up empty. A good musky fishermen knows that a figure 8 is essential every time, after every cast.  We did some minor lure modifications that I’ll hold to myself for now.  They were John’s idea that he read somewhere.  Just a little add on to the rear slip ring of the stick bait but sure enough does this work.  Every time I see it I’m like ahhhh, that’s BS.  I don’t need it.  Well, after watching John do the dosy doe around the boat a few times on his 4th fish to my zero… you’ll change.  I’m no dummy.  He hooks me up with this little add on and it’s off to the races.  I’m hooked up like the 4th cast to the giant.  After releasing the fish I had to do the two step on the deck of the boat.  My own little happy dance.  I did it.  I set out for a giant in shallow water and succeeded.  Everything is gravy now.  My car problems just vanished.  Everything was right in the world.  I didn’t need to take another cast.  Now I just sat back and took in the scenery… in the middle of the night, full moon over head, swirls and splashes like little kids playing in a pool from all around us from one side of the bay to the other it seemed.  This is just cool I thought.  We fished some more of course but then we looked at the time.  It was 1216am.  It’s closed.  Time to go home.  We had to make an 8 mile run in a 16’ aluminum boat.  There were still floating mines of logs all over the flats.  Hopefully the moon will be my guide and sure enough it didn’t let me down. 
 



 
So how did I get home?  Well, I lost my two high gears of my transmission.  John drove me to the meeting spot and I had another 20 miles to do and my top speed was about 25mph up the hills and about 40 down.  Who cares.  I just got on a lifetime striped bass bite in shallow water.  My truck could catch on fire right now and I’d could care less.  She lived an honorable life.  She died an honorable death.  I made it home about 330am still grinning.  The next day I read the “Flats reports” on my fishing websites.  Every one saying they threw the kitchen sink and didn’t touch a fish.  I couldn’t say anything.  I knew those fish were still there and even though off limits my report online would attract unwanted attention.  People would still go and beat up on those fish and say they were largemouth fishing.  They do need a break to do their thing.  Water temps were as high as 64 degrees when we were on the fish.  DNR was nowhere to be found.  Why patrol and area that has no fish or fishermen?  Well, that’s what they thought anyway.  Till next year.

 

As I type this the fish are hitting the Delmarva Beaches hard.  Assateauge Virginia just closed its ORV zone because of nesting birds, just in time for the mass of fish.  For some reason the Va portion of Assateague Island gets covered up with giant stripers.  The MD portion however is considerably slower.  Giant blue fish have invaded much of Delaware.   This is very rare.  Usually it’s a NJ thing to have huge blues around. They are littered in Indian River inlet, even the smaller inlets are producing double digit blue fish.  The flats at the mouth of the chesapeake bay are filled with giant bull red drum and sight casting in gin clear water to spawned out cows is happening right now on the flats at the mouth of the bay.  This phenomenon does not last long.  Early to mid may that’s it.  The bull reds will be there well through May but the stripers in the skinny are probably already fading. The bull reds will later move out of the white water and head to the deeper shoals off the bridge at the mouth of the bay for much of the summer.  But right now they are in the white water, In the skinny.  In the fun zone as I like to call it.  Shallow water fishing at its finest.  I’ve burned about every last vacation day.  I’ve tested the patience of my wife to the limit.  My fishing needs to take a chill pill for a little while.  My house and yard has weeds growing out of weeds.  Things are falling apart and require my attention.  I did catch two snakehead yesterday in about an hour’s effort.  Quick easy drive up spot in Downtown where they tend to stack up this time of year.   Good fun but they just aren’t striped bass in 4 feet of water.   I don’t know what compares to that that is accessible in a 16’ john boat.  Anyway, tight lines.   I saw freshly hatched ducklings and goslings the other day.  Some of the finest top water strikes of the year await us. It’s just about musky time.  Who’s ready?