Road Trip To California

I’ve been anxiously waiting for this road trip for a long time. I was simultaneously terrified and exhilarated at the thought of moving from the Midwest to California. As my departure date got closer and closer, I started getting more and more anxious, but instead of letting that get to me, I invested as much as that energy as I could into researching and planning each stop of my trip. Finally, on a bright Tuesday morning, my day arrived: I hopped into my little SUV (full of my life in boxes) and started my trip.

The first leg of my journey took me from Indiana to the Meramec River near St. Louis, Missouri. My research told me that this river was a great spot to catch Redhorse suckers of multiple species. Sadly, once I got there, I didn’t feel very confident about my prospects. I had picked a location that was too close to the Mississippi River, and as expected, I could not get past the great number of Freshwater Drum and Channel Catfish to get to any of the more exciting species.

Freshwater Drum

Channel Catfish

Seeing that I wasn’t going to catch my target species, I switched over to my microfishing tactics. I was hoping I could find something exciting before the hour and a half I had budgeted for this spot ran out. But no new species made an appearance. I ended up catching a good number of small Bluegill, Spotfin Shiners and Steelcolor Shiners. They were all cool fish to catch, but nothing that helped me to add fish species to my list.

Bluegill

Spotfin Shiner

Finally realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to add any new species at this spot, I hiked back to my car to finish up the drive for the day. I drove west until I got to the other end of Missouri and camped at Shoal Creek.

Shoal Creek

My goal was (once again) to catch any form of a sucker. As soon as I approached the shore, I saw a small Northern Hogsucker and thought perhaps it wasn’t going to be a difficult thing. But I was so very wrong. That particular sucker disappeared as I was getting my rods set up, and I didn’t see another for the rest of my time there. I spent some time targeting suckers, but once it became clear that wasn’t going to happen during the day time, I switched my attention over to sunfish. One of my goals was to catch a Missouri Longear Sunfish. These fish look dramatically different than the Longear Sunfish we had in Indiana. These have much deeper reds as well as a red line down the nape.

Longear Sunfish (Missouri)

Once I caught one of these gorgeous sunfish, I started trying to catch as many species as I could before it got dark. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this creek was wildly diverse.

Largemouth Bass

Bluegill

Rock Bass

Redear Sunfish

Black Crappie

I had hoped that once it got dark the sunfish would stop finding my baits as often and I would be able to keep a bait in place long enough for a sucker to find it. What I forgot about was that the catfish would get active once the sun went down. As you’d expect, I ended up catching little Channel Catfish instead of suckers.

Channel Catfish

With this frustrating discovery, I decided to try something new. I’ve never microfished at night and it sounded like it could be a wildly productive thing. So, I put on my headlamp and started walking around the shallow areas of the creek. It didn’t take long to find where the various minnows were hiding. I saw a lot of species I recognized, but there were a few, odd, larger, white minnows scattered around. I had a good feeling that they would be a new species for me, so I spent my time trying to get one to bite. After a half an hour of putting a small piece of worm in front of these little fishes faces, one finally attacked the hook. As soon as I had the fish in my hand, I knew it was something new, though I’ll admit I couldn’t figure out its identity. After taking the pictures I needed, I released it back to the creek. I knew I would have plenty of time to work out its identity after this trip was done.

Whitetail Shiner

I caught a few other species during the night, but nothing new or particularly exciting. In the morning, I explored the riffles of the creek in search of another Rainbow Darter. To my disappointment, the creek was on the rise and I couldn’t find any. However, I did find the perfect habitat for Green Sunfish and took the opportunity to catch one since I didn’t have a good picture of one from this location yet.

Green Sunfish

Before starting the next leg of my trip, I wanted to catch one of the Topminnows I kept seeing. I expected them to be the usual Blackstripe Topminnows we had back in southern Indiana, but instead, they were Blackspotted Topminnows! This wasn’t a new species for me, but I still needed a good photograph of one so this was a pleasant surprise.

Blackspotted Topminnow

With that catch, I started the long drive to Texas. This was the drive I was dreading the most. Thankfully, the time changes were on my side and I got there before it got too late. I decided to camp the night at Lake Meredith, which conveniently was supposed to be good fishing. Seeing this lake was an amazing sight. I hadn’t seen any sign of water for quite some time and suddenly in the middle of this red terrain was this giant, blue mass surrounded by these gorgeous, rocky cliffs.

Lake Meredith

I had expected this lake to be a huge challenge to fish because of how large it was and the fact that the climate was so different than what I’m used to. But to my surprise, there were a large number of little sunfish in the shallows. I had expected to catch mostly Bluegill here, but here was an enormous population of Orangespotted Sunfish! I was even able to catch a few Longear Sunfish, which looked remarkably different than any of the others I’ve sampled in other states. I imagine within the next few years they will finally start separating Longear Sunfish into multiple distinct species, much like what they have been doing with black bass over the last couple of years.

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Bluegill

Green Sunfish

I kept seeing small minnows with gorgeous red fins darting around while I was fishing for sunfish, and I couldn’t leave this lake without catching one to add to my species list. I tied on a size 28 fly hook and tipped it with a small piece of worm (the Bluegill stole the last of my tango hooks when I was at the Meramec River). It didn’t take long before one of these little beauties found my bait! After getting some good photos to properly identify him, he was safely released and swam off back to other minnows in the shallows.

With that little shiner, I decided to hop back in my car and make my way down to the area below the lake’s dam, where the Canadian River starts to reform. The landscape was breathtaking, even though the rocks I had to hike over looked like rattlesnake heaven.

Here, there is a nice little fishing pier, but there was a family with two young kids fishing off it that were having so much fun that I didn’t want to crowd them. I hiked down from the dam a little ways and set up my gear in a break in the reeds. I quickly started seeing fish hanging around the rocks near the bank. The water was amazingly clear (I could see straight to the bottom at depths over 10 foot, a very different case than most waterways in Indiana). I could see many familiar fish moving around, but one type in particular caught my eye. I could see a few Golden Shiners on the outskirts of the margins, and I knew that would be my first target. I have good pictures of most of the species I’ve caught, but the day I caught my first Golden Shiner, I didn’t take my good camera and all I had was an incredibly grainy picture from an old video camera. It took a few tries to get past the large number of Green Sunfish, but I did manage to get a Golden Shiner to take a small piece of worm.

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Golden Shiner

There were a few other minnows hiding in the cracks of the shallow rocks, but once again, my search for microfish was thwarted by Western Mosquitofish. They were just too numerous for me to be able to get past, so I quickly gave up on my search.

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Western Mosquitofish

At this point, I decided to play around with the sunfish. I figured there had to be some more Longear Sunfish down here, but to my surprise, all I found were Green Sunfish, and not just a few…I have never seen so many greenies in one place before in my life. I caught close to 50 of these guys before giving up on the idea of getting any other kind of sunfish.

One of the coolest things that happened while I was fishing this spot was a small group of Bullhead Catfish wandered in and started searching around for food. I was able to pitch a worm toward them and was lucky enough to get it past the sunfish. It was amazing to see how quickly these fish could zero in on a bait. Not a new species for me, but it was pretty neat to see a Black Bullhead from a different location.

Checking my phone, I realized that it was going to get dark soon and I hadn’t even decided where I was going to camp yet. I quickly dashed to my car and found a campsite right as the sun was setting.

That ended up being a rough night of camping. First, it was hot, and then as soon as I fell asleep, a huge thunderstorm hit the area. I ended up sleeping in my car while the storm raged on. On the bright side (since I couldn’t sleep well), I was able to start my drive to New Mexico bright and early. Sadly, this drive was cut short when my alternator went out and stranded me overnight in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Luckily, there was an auto shop that was willing to work hard on my car and get me back on the road the next afternoon.

Getting Towed To A Shop

At 2 p.m. the following day, my car repairs were finished, but I still had 4 hours of driving left to get to my campsite for the evening. That short of a drive never felt so long. I knew the only thing standing between me and trout fishing was this stretch of road. But finally, the miles ticked away and I was standing on the side of the Pecos River. And I can easily say that none of pictures even do this place half justice. It was such a calm, serene, and peaceful place that I was a little tempted not to leave.

Pecos River

This stretch of the river fell into special trout regulations, meaning I had to use barbless hooks. I’ll just go ahead and say that trout fishing and barbless hooks isn’t a very good combination. Between my spinning gear and fly rod, I lost 7 trout before finally landing a little Brown Trout on a spinner (a new species for me). I think my performance proves I need to practice using barbless hooks because between them jumping and the current, they seemed to have no problem shaking the hooks.

Brown Trout

That evening, I camped beside a small stream. Once again, I had lost track of time and didn’t arrive to the site until after the sun had set. I was very happy that I had packed my winter sleeping bag for this site. Fishing in the rain all day had chilled me to the bone and I needed to warm back up. Early the next morning, I got up before the sun had broken over the horizon. The section of the stream I was camping beside had a few decent pools formed by fallen trees, so I took the chance to throw a spinner into these spots before the sun got too high. My camera doesn’t handle low light conditions well so the picture looks way darker than it actually was, but this lovely little Brown Trout bit my spinner at 6:30 in the morning…before any of the other campers were up!

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Brown Trout

With this fish, I packed up my camp and left without disturbing any of the other campers. On my way out of the forest, I passed by Monastery Lake. I hadn’t really planned to fish this lake, but I figured if I already had my fishing license I might as well catch a few stock Rainbow Trout before leaving the state. This lake was surprisingly busy, but I hiked to the far end and found a space all to myself. I was happy to find some new minnows hiding under a water drainage pipe, so I grabbed my microfishing gear and got to work. I was happy to find a strong population of Fathead Minnows- a new species for me- so I was very excited to catch one.

Fathead Minnow

I worked my around the lake a little more and targeted the down-stream side of the water overflow. I expected some Rainbow Trout to be waiting for an easy meal, but was elated to find a much more exciting species waiting: the Rio Grande Chub! I had thought that this species was going to be a long shot to catch, but there you go!

Rio Grande Chub

With that catch, all I needed was a little Rainbow Trout and I was ready to hit the road. I spent some time tossing lures at them, but they just would not hit them. Luckily, this lake allows the use of bait, so I put a piece of worm on a hook and started slowly jigging it close to the bottom. It didn’t take long before a little Rainbow Trout found the worm and struck with all of its might. After a fun fight, this fish was donated to a family who was having trouble catching dinner and I started my next long drive.

Rainbow Trout

I arrived in Sedona, Arizona to the unwelcome realization that every single campsite was full…even though none of them allowed reservations. I decided I would worry about that later, and made my way to an access point on Oak Creek in search of my first sucker of the trip.

Oak Creek

I fished a number of different pools with no luck. I kept seeing trout come up and hit the surface, but the water was too muddy to even consider getting out the fly rod. I decided to stick with my sucker tactics and keep a small piece of worm on the bottom and wait for a bite. I ran into another angler hiking out of the canyon I was fishing in and he was kind enough to point me to a place that should hold a few fish. Words couldn’t describe how excited I was when my rod tip finally bounced and my line went tight with a fish. I was even more excited when I reeled up what turned out to be a Roundtail Chub, another new species!

Roundtail Chub

I cast my rig back out and waited for a sucker to find the bait, but this time when the rod bounced something very different was on the other end…a confused little Brown Trout. I’m not really sure why he decided my sucker rig looked attractive, but he did.

Brown Trout

With this last fish, I looked up and realized that a thunderstorm was quickly approaching. I didn’t want to be stuck down here if lightning started dancing around, so I started the hike back to my car. I was lucky enough to get the last room in a cheap motel in Sedona (my only other option was to park the car and sleep in it). Bright and early the next morning, I packed up my stuff, checked out of the motel, and made my way back to Oak Creek. I wasn’t going to let this trip end until I caught a sucker. I hiked back close to area from the day before, set up my rod, and waited for a bite. A long hour passed with only a few small nibbles but no takes. Suddenly, my rod doubled over and a fish started screaming drag downstream. When it got itself wrapped up in the reeds, I was scared my 4 lb test line wasn’t going to hold up, but eventually I worked the fish out and was absolutely over the moon to be holding a Sonora Sucker.

Sonora Sucker

Sonora Sucker

I took my quick pictures and then released him back into the creek. I was shaking from excitement after that catch; I don’t think many other people get this excited to catch a sucker. I had seen a few minnows hiding near the reeds that the sucker had gotten tangled in, so I decided to tie on my micro gear and see if I could catch one. Most of them were far too small to be able to get a size 28 fly hook in their mouth, but one of the larger minnows charged my bait and I was thrilled see another new species for me: the Speckled Dace!

Speckled Dace

With this fish, I knew I was out of time and I needed to start the final leg of my drive to Los Angeles. I’ll admit that this was the part of the drive I was most anxious about: I hadn’t ever tried to navigate traffic like they have there. But I knew that it was time for me to face that fear head on. I’m happy to report that I arrived safely and that the driving wasn’t nearly as frightening as I expected. This trip was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so happy that I’m finally out in California. Life out here is rather different than back in Indiana, but that isn’t a bad thing. There is still plenty of nature to enjoy. You just have to look in different places, and exploring for those places is half the fun!

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Now it is time to explore the fishing that California has to offer. I’ve already found some new places to try for Carp, Tilapia, Plecostomus, Largemouth Bass and Bluegill, plus the wide variety of saltwater fishing piers that can provide seemingly endless amounts of fish. But that will have to be another blog post in and of itself.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

 

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A Farewell to Indiana

I can’t help but feel a little bittersweet as I’m boxing up my room in preparation to move to California. Indiana has been a wonderful place for me to grow up, I was fortunate to live in an area that I had the benefits of both city and country life. I can’t thank my parents enough for raising me to fully appreciate the wonders of nature. Growing up most of my friends became obsessed with video games, but I became fascinated by the things you could find in the woods and the water. As I grew older I learned that my true passion lived in aquatic biodiversity, and as you can probably tell that means fish.

Neither of my parents were big fisherman, but they still encouraged me to explore the things I enjoyed. I didn’t fish much when I was young, it was mostly something fun I would get to do when we went camping or visited my grandparents. We always tried to camp at least once in the fall, whether it be up at Patoka Lake or Ferdinand State Forest we did our best to go. These trips were usually when I would get to go fishing, and I was always incredibly excited when these magical days would come.

I kept fishing on and off as I got older, though I never seemed to do much catching. My dad would very patiently take me fishing and we would try our best to catch fish, even though neither of us had any clue what we were doing. One of my favorite memories fishing with him was on a camping trip in Wyoming, we both fished in this gorgeous lake at the bottom of mountain range as the fog rolled down. It was one of the prettiest and most peaceful things I have ever experienced. It is a moment I will treasure forever.

Every time we would travel west to Colorado I would get the chance to fish with my grandpa, he was (and still is) my fishing hero. He was the one who bought me my first fishing rod, a little Micro Lite from Bass Pro Shop (the rod you see me fishing with in the first picture). I’ve learned so much about fishing with him and have always loved getting to spend time by the water with him. The biggest gift he gave me was introducing me to the world of fly fishing. He was patient enough to teach a young kid like me how to cast and tie flies. This is something I still do to this day, many of the flies I tie are with feathers that he graciously let me have.

It took nine years and a lot of hair growing before I finally caught my first trout on the fly rod. As I fought that little trout all I could think about was that wonderful day in Colorado where my grandpa had taught me carefully how to cast a fly rod. To make this moment even sweeter the fly I caught it on was a pattern that he had showed me how to tie. My grandpa was very excited for me that evening when I called him to tell about my success. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that my first trout I ever had on a fly rod was caught in Indiana of all places.

The tradition of camping with the family in the fall started to fall apart as we all grew older and all became busy. But there were a few times I was able to get my dad to go camping with me through high school. One beautiful fall day we made the familiar drive up to Ferdinand State Forest to our favorite fishing and camping spot. I remember that being one of our best camping trips ever. We had the one of the most beautiful parks in Indiana almost to ourselves and the fish were biting the whole trip. The silliest memories stick out from that trip, but I think the best part was sitting by the campfire with him eating green beans out of tin can as we sat and talked about life.

As soon as I got my first car in high school I would travel as far as the poor beat up thing could go in search of new places to fish in Indiana. In retrospect that was a terrible idea considering how often that car would break down and the fact that I had the worlds most unreliable phone. On one such occasion I drove myself 4 hours away from home to fish a lake in the middle of the forest in search of one of the only year round trout fisheries in Indiana. That day was an absolute disaster. The fish I was after wasn’t biting, and to make matters worse I dropped my phone into the lake ruining it. As it got dark I made my way back to my little beat up car and started making the drive home…until I got very lost. This was before we had a GPS and I remember searching through my Indiana map trying to find any of the crossroads I would see. This was one of those moments where I learned to become self-reliant, I was lost in the middle of nowhere with no phone to even call for help. The drive home took an embarrassing amount of time, but I was never so happy (or proud) to have my rickety old car parked in front of the house. The only photo I have from that day was of a bass I caught on a jerkbait, this couldn’t have been taken more then 10 minutes before that phone took a swim.

I only got more and more into fishing as I started college, for the first time in years I finally had large amounts of time to spend on my favorite hobby. I spent those years doing my best to try to figure out every species I could catch in this state. Indiana treated me very well and reward me with over 50 different species of fish. As I started to finalize my moving date I still had one last species I knew I couldn’t leave Indiana without catching. When I started micro-fishing I had one main goal, I wanted to catch a Rainbow Darter. Most people aren’t even aware that these tiny fish exist, but in my eyes they are considered a trophy catch. I made one last trip toward central Indiana to get in the range of this fish and met up with a fellow species fisherman who was kind enough to help me find my dream fish. Minutes before a sever thunderstorm rushed us away from the stream my tiny hook was found by my prized catch.

With this little fish it hit me that I was really about to leave my home state and embark on a whole new chapter of my life. As I released this beautiful little fish my fear of change started to switch over to excitement. Indiana has treated me well: I have met my best friends here, I fell in love here, I spent time with my family here, I became an engineer here, and I learned who I was here. I’m excited to start forming a new list like this in California. I hope you all choose to tag along with me as I go on this journey.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

Fly Fishing For Bowfin

I can clearly remember the first time I ever saw a Bowfin: I was fishing a little irrigation ditch that ran through some corn fields when this strange looking fish slowly surfaced and gulped some air before disappearing back into the muddy water. As soon as I saw that fish I knew a new obsession was starting. I spent the next trips out there experimenting with different tactics and baits before landing my first Bowfin. From then on it was a constant search for these prehistoric fish, trying to catch them in different venues and figuring out all the different ways I could trick on into biting. Now years later from that first encounter, I still go through phases of being purely addicted to catching these fish. The habitat they live in always draws me in, something about backwater creeks has always made me feel at peace.

One of the coolest things about this fish is the wide variety of baits they will bite. Not many fish will hit a piece of cut bait with the same enthusiasm that they will explode on a popper. This unique feeding habit makes them a particularly fun fish to fish for, you can fish for them like bass or catfish and you will still manage to catch fish. When I first started fly fishing I thought about how much fun it would be to catch a Bowfin on my fly rod, but then quickly assumed that it would be too challenging to actually accomplish and discarded the idea. This month that dream popped in my head again when I saw a Bowfin surface and gulp air. I jogged to my car and grabbed my 5 weight fly rod and tied some 12 pound leader to it. I then grabbed my bass flies and searched through them to see if anything in there would fool a Bowfin. I settled on a white streamer to imitate a bait fish and headed back to the creek.

I knew hooking a fish was going to be challenging, and landing one was going to be even harder. This creek is full of lily pads lining the edges, so first I would have to coax a Bowfin out of that cover, hook it and then find a way to get it through the lily pads without getting tangled in them. But I am nothing if not stubborn, so I figured if I was careful enough and attempted it enough times I would land a fish. I found a spot I thought I could land a fish at and proceeded to make cast after cast to the edges of the lily pads. I would cast, let the streamer sink, and then slowly strip it in (making sure the streamer stayed close to the bottom). After about a half hour of tiresome casting a fish found my fly, I strip set into the fish and the fight was on! As soon as the fish got hooked it made a mad dash trying to get back into the lily pads, luckily for me my little 5 weight rod had enough backbone to keep the fish out. You wouldn’t believe how relieved I was when I finally had this fish in my net.

I’ve never had a fish fight so hard before on my fly rod, so I couldn’t resist returning and trying to duplicate the experience. Most people would think I was crazy casting a fly into this muddy water, but I knew what was in there waiting for an easy meal. That evening I managed to put 2 fish in the net on white streamers.

I’ve since tried some different patterns for Bowfin, but I keep returning to these white streamers. It seems no matter how muddy the creek is they still manage to find these flies.

I know most people’s passion for fly fishing will always be with trout, but these fish will always be my prized catch. I would encourage you all to break out your fly rod and try to hook into one of these toothy, prehistoric fish. I’m sure after you set a hook into your first one they will have you coming back to do it again.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

A Fish Per Day…

This month I decided to take on a simple challenge: catch at least one fish every single day. My work schedule allows me to stop at a lake for about an hour on the way home, so I thought I had the decent shot at accomplishing it. This is how my month went…

May 1st: Yellow Bullhead

May 2nd: Warmouth

May 3rd: Redear Sunfish

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May 4th: Green Sunfish

May 5th: Largemouth Bass

May 6th: Bluegill

May 7th: Redear Sunfish

May 8th: White Crappie

May 9th: Bluegill

May 10th: Largemouth Bass

May 11th: Hybrid Sunfish

May 12th: Channel Catfish

May 13th: Largemouth Bass (caught while micro-fishing)

May 14th: White Crappie

May 15th: Redear Sunfish

May 16th: Redear Sunfish

May 17th: Warmouth

May 18th: Flier Sunfish

May 19th: Flathead Catfish

May 20th: Bowfin

May 21st: Green Sunfish

May 22nd: Channel Catfish

May 23rd: Largemouth Bass

May 24th: Black Crappie

May 25th: Warmouth

May 26th: Grass Pickerel

May 27th: Striped Bass

May 28th: White Crappie

May 29th: Warmouth

May 30th: Bluegill

May 31st: Redear Sunfish

This has been a fun month of fishing, by the end of the month I was surprised to see all of the different species of fish I had caught. This has been interesting challenge, and it been a nice way to force myself to take a break after work before working on the projects I have going on at home. I think the best way to understand how rewarding this has been would be to do it yourself. So with that in mind, I challenge you all to give it a try too.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

Creek and River Hopping

Watching the water levels change in the Ohio River is my favorite part of driving to school every day. When I see it rising high enough to start entering the flood plains, I never fail to get excited. This always means two things: Any eddies you can find on the main stem of the Ohio River should be full of fish, and all of the creeks should also be teaming with fish escaping the high current.

The river was starting to reach that magical height when I decided to play a risky game. One of my favorite challenges in fishing is using an ultralight setup in the most difficult conditions possible, and the Ohio River never ceases to offer opportunities to test your abilities. On a lovely Sunday afternoon, I found myself beside the boat launch at Angel Mounds armed with a couple of my lightest rods. I rigged them with a simple, tight line setup with nightcrawlers and cast them into the current break downstream of the launch. It didn’t take long before my first rod bounced and I set the hook into a lovely little Channel Catfish.

It seemed like every ten minutes or so, a rod would bounce and I would reel up a small Channel Catfish or Freshwater Drum. I played with these fish until some large logs got washed downstream into this eddy and made fishing impossible.

The water stayed high throughout most of this month, so I spent a lot of time creek hopping. [Location name redacted] is one of my favorite places to fish when the river levels are high. This backwater creek is always full of species that many people don’t target. I usually target the deeper sections of the creek early in the year, but with the temperatures starting to creep higher the fish have been moving to the shallower sections of the creek. These fish are always easily spooked, but that makes the challenge of catching them all the more fun. On my first hike back to a shallow stretch here, I thought I spotted something I hadn’t seen in two years: a Grass Pickerel. But before I could investigate, the fish vanished across the creek. I managed to scare this fish off during my next three ventures, but on a lucky hike, I managed to catch it off-guard and landed a small jig right in front of his face. To my surprise, the fish made a quick dash and my jig vanished. I set the hook and was delighted to see a small Grass Pickerel.

After documenting its size and location, I released this little fish back into the creek and moved on to my next spot. The lily pads have started to grow here and a decent number of predatory fish are taking advantage of them as ambush points. Like this little Largemouth Bass.

Another stretch of this creek held a fish I hadn’t seen inhabit this waterway before: a little Redear Sunfish. It turns out that this section of the creek now houses a large number of these fish! I’ve fished this creek for years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen them, so that is a pretty interesting new change.

I couldn’t give up on this spot until I caught one of all time favorite fish, the Flier Sunfish. This one had to be tempted with Bee Moths put on the smallest jig I could find.

This little stretch of the creek housed some amazing panfish diversity. Tossing my jig toward a branch that was partially submerged, something darted out and attacked my jig but managed to miss the hook. I tossed back into that spot, and this time the fish didn’t get as lucky. After a quick fight on light tackle, I was greeted with a feisty little Warmouth. These guys start getting abundant in this creek come May.

That same branch seemed to be home to another similar species: the Green Sunfish. My favorite comparison I’ve heard is that they are the “micro version” of a grouper, and I couldn’t agree more. They put up a great fight on light tackle and are very willing to hit most baits.

As the month continued, the weather kept getting nicer and more people have been deciding to get out and go fishing. I’m always excited to see people out fishing and enjoying nature, but this is usually when I start going to some of my more remote places where I know less people will be at. This led me to one of my favorite little creeks in Evansville: Locust Creek. This creek is always filled to the brim with Creek Chubs, and this is the time of year when they are all getting ready to spawn. My main goal of the day was to catch some small ones for bait on Pigeon Creek, but I was also hoping to hook into a spawning male. After filling my bait bucket with enough small creek chubs to last the day, I turned my attention to trying to catch a larger male. Before long, I set the hook into what I suspected to be a small Largemouth Bass, but turned out to be a large Creek Chub in full spawning attire. During spawning season, the males grow tubercles and in this case also took on the rusty orange color that adult creek chubs can have.

After happily catching my fair share of Creek Chubs, I packed up and drove to my favorite section of Pigeon Creek. After a long hike with a very heavy bait bucket, I set up my three rods in hopes of finding my first Flathead Catfish of the year. The bite was incredibly slow and the fish seemed to be remarkably skilled in hitting my bait and then instantly snagging my line around the debris on the bottom of the creek. But after an hour of frustration, one of my poles doubled over and the battle was on. I carefully worked the fish out of the log jam it tried to wrap itself in and was thrilled to see a Flathead Catfish finally break surface.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try to catch one of the Gar that I kept seeing surfacing around me. I finally found one that was cruising right below the surface, and I quickly put a minnow on a treble hook and cast out in front of it. The Gar dashed forward at the minnow and then dived, and my instincts said to set the hook (but I’ve made that mistake enough times to know better). So, I let the gar swim with the minnow for about 45 seconds before setting the hook, hard. The hook set perfectly in the lower jaw and I was able to easily reel in the Gar. I was even more excited when I realized that this was actually a Spotted Gar, a species that I didn’t have on my list yet.

Toward the end of the month, I returned to [location name redacted again] to see if any new species had moved into it yet. I was happy to see some Gar spawning in the backwater creek and even a few Bowfin cruising around. Sadly, my ultralight setup was not ready for the challenge of one of these toothy critters. I switched my attention back to the panfish- hoping to find a Redspotted Sunfish in Evansville. Unfortunately, the closest population I have found is still in Winslow, Indiana. However, the creek still has a stable population of Bluegill, Warmouth, Green Sunfish, Redear Sunfish, Black Crappie, and Flier Sunfish.

I still hadn’t caught a decent Spotted Bass this year, so I headed to the river to try to change that. The boat launch at Angel Mounds has a fantastic current seam that always holds a few bass when the river is rising. I set up two catfish rods like usual, and then started tossing around a small white curl tail grub on my ultralight rod. It didn’t take long before I felt a bump and I set the hook into the first species of the day: a little Striped Bass.

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The next fish to fall victim to the lure was a Skipjack Herring, the first one I’ve found this year. I ended up catching two of them and keeping both as catfish bait for a later trip.

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After catching a handful of Striped Bass and White Bass, I finally had a hit that felt distinctive from the others. I set the hook and this one fought differently. A short fight later, I was holding my first half-decent Spotted Bass of the year.

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The bait rods started getting hits, but they kept managing to miss the hook. After multiple failed hook sets, I connected with one of the small Channel Catfish that were crowding this spot.

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This was a rare occasion where the Freshwater Drum were slower to find the bait than the catfish. But eventually, I stumbled across a small one.

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Because I was getting so many small bites, I decided to downsize my hook size. This quickly resulted in what most people around here refer to as a “river minnow”- or if you are into identifying fish (like I am) a Silver Chub. This was another exciting catch since it was a first for my species list!

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The White Bass were getting active, so I couldn’t resist trying to mark off another item off my bucket list: catching a temperate bass on a fly rod. I tied on my last Clouser Minnow and got to work. It took a while, but finally my line twitched and I set the hook into the first of many White Bass.

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My success at fly fishing left me feeling accomplished, so I decided to explore some of the water upstream of the boat launch. I decided not to tempt my luck too far and only took my ultralight rod and a container of nightcrawlers. The real highlight of exploring this new stretch of water was hooking into a lovely little Longnose Gar.

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While I’ve enjoyed fishing the river, this has really been one of my best years fishing backwater creeks. I would highly suggest that any of you with access to places like this try exploring them. A lot of very cool, overlooked species are living here, and better yet, you usually know you are the only person who is fishing these spots. I will always pick these hidden backwater creeks over a trophy Largemouth Bass lake any day, and I hope you will consider giving it a try, too.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

Florida Fish Species Hunt

This last month has been full of adult responsibilities: I’ve been working on finishing up my last semester of college, getting in as much time at work as possible, and finding time to fill out job applications. All of this hard work has made the reality of my final semester quite clear to me, but this also meant that this was my last chance to get to enjoy a spring break. My dad and I have talked about making a trip down to Florida to do some fishing for years, but we knew this was our last chance to make it happen. So, we both researched where to fish and started making plans. I had a pretty simple goal for this trip: I wanted to add 10 new species to my list. My dad wanted to do a little bit of bass fishing. Besides those two things, our plans were pretty wide open.

Indiana had just started changing to spring when a sudden cold snap brought back some light snow. I don’t think any other weather would have made me more excited to go to a coast.

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On the first Friday of spring break we drove all day and spent the night in a hotel. On Saturday, we got up early and drove the last bit down to Gainesville, Florida. We visited with my uncle, who lives there, and hiked around Paynes Prairie to spot some wildlife.

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This sign didn’t lie; we saw more alligators than I could count. It was easily one of the coolest places I’ve hiked yet.

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We got up bright and early Sunday morning with plans of going down to Cedar Key to do some fishing with my uncle.  It was only a short hour drive there, but I hadn’t gotten to do any fishing yet and I was starting to get excited about catching some new species. We started off by bank fishing some of my uncle’s secret spots in hopes of catching a Red Drum. We all got a few bites, but no one was able to connect with a fish. We drove around, hoping to find another good spot to fish, but the tide wasn’t where we wanted it (so we were mostly out of options). Luckily for us, there were a few public piers and bait shops nearby, so we had a fall back. I ducked into one of these shops and bought us some frozen shrimp. I didn’t really know what we would catch from this pier, but I figured that one rod with a slip rig and one rod with a tight line would give us a decent chance at catching something. The fishing started out slow, but after moving around a little bit we managed to find a deep channel running parallel to the pier that was full of Silver Perch.

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We caught a ridiculous number of these little guys, but it was an absolute blast since the morning had started off so slow. After weeding my way through a lot of these little Silver Perch, I managed to hook into an Atlantic Croaker.

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We fished until a little after lunch. We then made the drive back to Gainesville to drop off my uncle and then drive down to Lake Mary, Florida. We spent the rest of the day at my grandmother’s house and enjoyed catching up with her and her husband. We rested well that night and had big dreams about getting to fish a private lake that was rumored to have huge bass. Getting going on Monday was slow- all of the driving had started to catch up with us. But after breakfast, we drove to the lake to try our luck at some lunkers. There, the lake looked like it had potential, and on the second cast of the day I hooked into a fish. This ended up being a sixteen inch bass and I knew we would be in for a good day. Little did I know that on the third cast I would hook into the biggest fish of the day.

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We worked our way around the lake and landed close to thirty fish. Dad even managed to catch his new personal best!

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This lake seemed to be the perfect bass fishing paradise, so much so that I couldn’t resist breaking out my five weight fly rod for a little bit to test my luck. It didn’t take long before a fish fell victim to my Clouser Minnow.

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We ended our fishing adventures for the day around 4pm to run some errands for the saltwater fishing we had planned for the rest of the week. Plus, we wanted to get everything done early so that we could be well-rested and make our fishing charter in the morning.

On Tuesday, we got up before the sun rose and started down to Ponce Inlet. I was delighted to see all of the green on the drive there, but I was much more excited when we arrived at the charter and saw how beautiful the water was. We heard the usual safety speech and then we were off to find some fish. Our guide motored the flat bottom boat to an old dock that was destroyed in a hurricane. He had us using rods with 1 oz slip sinker rigs with kahle hooks baited with frozen shrimp. I hadn’t actually ever fished with kahle hooks before, so you can understand my frustration as I was getting numerous bites and not being able to connect with any of them. It took a while, but we finally figured out how to hook the fish. At the first dock, we both managed to land Lane Snapper, Mangrove Snapper, and Hardhead Catfish.

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Dad caught a few fish here that I didn’t, including a Pinfish and this lovely Pigfish.

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Motoring around the intercoastal waters, we fished many of the places the guide suggested. We had lots of bites, but we were still having trouble keeping the fish hooked with these new hooks. However, after a lot of frustration, I finally managed to land my first Pinfish (the fish I thought would have been the easiest to catch)!

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At this point, it just became embarrassing how many fish I missed, but dad had much better luck. He landed a Black Drum, Red Drum, and some Weakfish (some of which ended up coming home with us to be cooked for dinner).

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With that, our half-day on the boat was up and it was time to go to our next spot. We decided that we would go to Canaveral National Seashore with the big dream of catching my first fish while surf fishing. As soon as we arrived, it was abundantly clear that today was not the day to go surf fishing, so we decided to focus our attention on Mosquito Lagoon. We tried a few spots with little luck, and eventually ended up at the fishing docks they had built. As you’d expect, there were fish by the docks. I quickly caught my fair share of Pinfish and even got lucky enough to hook my first Southern Whiting.

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The next fishing dock we tried was closed for construction, but had the added benefit that it was built right beside an oyster bed. This spot didn’t yield any new species, but I caught more Pinfish than I could count, some Silver Perch, and some small Mangrove Snappers.

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On Wednesday, we made the drive over to Cocoa Beach to rent a kayak and fish the Banana River. My dad grew up close to the spot we fished, so he was excited to show me how the fishing was done here (and promptly out-fished me). He managed to land another Red Drum, a Spotted Seatrout, Southern Whiting and Hardhead Catfish. I only managed to land Southern Whiting and Hardhead Catfish. But it was priceless to see how excited he was when he hooked that Red Drum.

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The wind started to pick up and I was trouble keeping the kayak in the cover provided by the island, so we decided to paddle back. Our next stop was at Cocoa Beach Pier. We didn’t last long here, the bite was slow and this pier was particularly crowded.

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We decided we would try to fish at Rodney S. Ketcham Boat Ramp, which is the closest public fishing spot we could find to Canaveral Lock. Small schools of bait fish were swimming around where we could see them, so I was hopeful that we would find some predators hanging around. Dad managed to hook and land a Ladyfish on a small spoon. It was deeply hooked, so we unhooked it and released it before getting a chance to take a picture. I set up a small rig to target some of the smaller fish with shrimp. It didn’t take long before I found something willing to bite. Over the next hour, I landed a good number of Irish Mojarra and even got dad to catch his first one, too.

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After about an hour, we called it quits for the day, but we couldn’t resist going down to the lock to see what kind of fish were hanging out there. I was stunned to see the sheer number of large fish here. Everywhere you looked there were schools of fish that dwarfed everything we had caught so far this trip. I even saw my first Tarpon, and after laying eyes on it, I started to understand why there were “No Fishing” signs hanging everywhere at the lock.

Thursday was our last day of salt water fishing, so we planned to make it a special day and drive all the way down to Sebastian Inlet to try our luck at the big fish. We had heard reports of people catching large fish there recently, so we figured if they could do it, maybe we could too. We came prepared with heavy weights, new hooks, live bait, and frozen bait. We tried fishing live baits in the inlet and the ocean side with no luck, but we had driven this far and there wasn’t a chance we were leaving without catching something. I decided to shift my expectations and try to catch a smaller fish. I tied a simple tight line rig with a dropper loop and baited it with shrimp. This time, instead of casting it out, I simply lowered it down right beside the pilings of the jetty. As soon as I lowered my bait, it got a hard tap so I instinctively set the hook, expecting a little fish. The drag screamed and the fish darted- trying to break me off on the pilings. I got lucky and worked the fish out before it broke the line, but the next challenge was how to land this fish. I ended up hand lining the fish up the wall of the jetty and was amazed that the fish didn’t shake the hook or break the line. I was ecstatic to have landed my first Sheepshead, especially with how slow the fishing had been up to this point.

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I figured Sheepshead wouldn’t be the only thing near the pilings, so I lowered my rig again and quickly got another bite. This time, I was greeted by the first of many Hairy Blennies. It was amazing to see how different the coloration was between the male and female Hairy Blenny.

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I was lucky enough to catch a second type of Blenny, the Molly Miller.

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Dad even joined in on the fun and quickly mastered the art of catching these little guys.

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Before leaving, we tried fishing the section of the jetty that ran under the highway. In retrospect, we should have started fishing here because there was a fantastic current break that looked like it would hold some large fish. We ended up catching more Hairy Blennies than we could keep track of, but after weeding my way through them, I managed to hook my first Wrasse. I think that fresh water fish have some strange names, but this fish seems to have them all beat: This type of Wrasse is called a Slippery Dick.

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With this fish, we decided to move on to our final salt water location: Jetty Park in Port Canaveral. The people at this pier were some of the nicest I think we’ve met. The pier wasn’t crowded at all, so we had plenty of room to fish without having to worry about tangling up with other people’s lines. I kept fishing my tight line setup with small pieces of shrimp. I learned my lesson from Sebastian Inlet and simply lowered my rig straight down from where we were instead of casting it. It didn’t take long before a small Blue Runner found my bait.

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I seemed to get a bite each time my weight touched bottom; it was just a matter of getting a hook to hold in these little bait stealers. After a few missed hook sets, I managed to hook into my first Spottail Pinfish.

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Every time I reeled up a fish, it seemed to be a new species for me. My luck with this tactic ended with this small Atlantic Bumper.

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After this, the Harry Blennies started finding my bait before anything else could.

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It was time to try something new, so instead of fishing the side facing Port Canaveral I decided to fish the side facing the jetty. The meant making daring casts into the rocks of the jetty and hoping I’d be able to pull out whatever fish lay inside. I was once again greeted by a large number of Harry Blennies.

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But dad and I knew that there had to be more than just these hiding in the rocks. After catching my fair share of Hairy Blennies, I set the hook into something slightly larger. Luckily, this fish decided to charge out of the rocks instead of going back into the snag. I was ecstatic seeing another new species for me: a beautiful little Black Margate.

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Dad managed to catch a few Sergeant Majors off of the jetty rocks, but I couldn’t seem to get as lucky. But after moving to a few different spots, we found a nice section of rocks that was full of them and I managed to catch my first one.

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At this point, it was late in the day and we still had to make the drive back to Lake Mary. So, we decided we would catch our last salt water fish and then head out. We ended the day with a double: dad caught a Sergeant Major and I caught a Spottail Pinfish.

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Friday morning before packing, we went back to the lake we started at to get in a couple of hours of bass fishing before starting the trip home. Dad and I both managed to catch a couple of solid fish to end the trip on, but nothing that compared to the fish we landed on that first day.

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With this last bit of fishing under our belts, we packed everything up and made the drive back up to Gainsville. We visited with my uncle again and shared some fish stories. After spending some time with him, we went and checked into our hotel. That evening, we went and watched a Gator’s baseball game at the University of Florida. This was the big thing dad wanted to do this trip, and while I don’t usually enjoy sports much, I ended up having an absolute blast at the game.

Saturday morning, we got up early to go to Paynes Prairie one last time, and this time we were armed with our nice cameras to get some better pictures. Thankfully, the alligators were still out even though it was a cooler day.

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There were also a good number of gorgeous birds and cranes flying around. I even got to watch one catch a small Bowfin, a fish that I didn’t realize was really on the food chain for these birds.

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With this last adventure, we all hopped back in the car and made the long drive back to Indiana. By the end of the week, I had added 17 new species to my list and learned a lot of new things about how to fish saltwater. All in all, the fishing was great, but the real highlight of the trip was getting to spend time with my dad doing something we both enjoy.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

A Strange Winter Continues

I have always had this paradoxical obsession and hatred of the winter months. Part of me wants to prove that I am a true outdoorsman and that no weather can stop me from spending time outside, and the other part of me just wants it to be spring again and for green to start creeping into the forest. This strange dichotomy has fueled many of my fishing adventures in the winter months, though I will willingly admit that part of what always draws me to that outdoors this time of year is that rare peace and quiet that only exists in the winter.

Early in the year temperatures fell well below freezing and an exciting thought kept occurring to me. This could be the year that I was finally able to catch a fish through the ice. A few days of brutally cold temperatures finally happened and an icy film started forming on the lakes, I had my fingers crossed that we could hit that magic depth for it to be safe for me to walk out on. But I wasn’t naive enough to count on that happening, so I did some early season scouting and I had a backup plan. Our ice thickness only hit an inch and a half, so the idea of safe ice disappeared quickly. Luckily, I had found a fishing pier at a local lake that had access to 6-8 ft of water directly off its edges. So, on a chilly Monday afternoon I bundled up in all of my winter gear, tossed my ice rods in the car and drove to my secret spot. I wasted no time punching a few holes in the ice at the end of the dock and tied on a size 14 tungsten jig and tipped it with a wax worm. It didn’t take long before I felt a light tap, I set the hook hard and quickly saw the silhouette of a fish swimming under the crystal-clear ice. I carefully got the fish up through my crudely cut hole in the ice and was delighted to see a lovely little Bluegill. A quick photo session later and I released him back through the ice.

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I hadn’t in my wildest dreams thought that my plan to catch fish through a small hole in the ice would actually be effective. But after working my way through 2 containers of bee moths, I knew I had figured something out. I was hoping I would be able to get my first crappie through the ice before calling this adventure a success. But instead I hooked into a small Redear Sunfish, another first for me through the ice. With this small victory, I retreated to the warmth of my car.

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That night I dreamed of returning to the ice before this fickle winter weather melted it, but between work and school I wasn’t able to return soon enough. I was disappointed I wasn’t able to catch my first crappie through the ice, but I did mark an item off my bucket list: I caught a fish through the ice.

The weather continued its odd habits and before I knew it enough rain had fallen for the Ohio River to be in full flood stage. Most people would be fishing the river for the chance at a trophy Blue Catfish, but my target laid in a humble flooded out creek. One of my goals for the 2017 fishing season was to catch a Flier Sunfish on my fly rod, and these high-water conditions provided me with the chance at this. Armed with my 5 weight fly rod and a variety of size 12 minnow imitations I turned my focus to this creek. It didn’t take long for my first fly rod fish of the year to find my fly, a healthy little Bluegill.

 

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This fish gave me the confidence to keep fishing this spot, even with the cold-water temperature the high water seemed to have pushed a good number of fish into this stretch of the creek. I found some submerged stems from dead lily pads, and started targeting this feature. I knew that Fliers like to hug vegetation, and this was the only form of vegetation I could find in this creek. Finally, I landed the perfect cast on the edge of lily pad stems and slowly worked my minnow along them. I saw the slightest twitch of my line and instinctively set the hook expecting another little Bluegill. Suddenly a golden fish surfaced and I knew I had accomplished my goal, I quickly grabbed my net and landed my first Flier of 2017.

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To my delight this spot wasn’t holding only one Flier, but ended up catching three of them before I called the day. I snapped a quick picture with my nice camera before releasing them, this was the first time I’ve seen them take on such a vibrant golden hue. I put my 4-inch knife for scale in the picture, making the larger fish in the image below my new personal best.

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I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try to catch my first fly rod crappie of the year while I was at this creek. I knew from past years that this creek tends to be one of the first places to fill with crappie in the spring, so I was hoping with the high water a few little crappie would have traveled upstream with the other sunfish. Much to my delight I found a school of small Black Crappie in the deeper section of the creek.

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Another week passed and the weather had continued to warm up, my dreams of learning how to catch fish in the cold were starting to disappear into dreams of fishing crappie spawn. I put in extra hours at work early in the week so that on Friday I could take a half day and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. I had been spoiled by the early season fly fishing and just couldn’t seem to shake the fly fishing itch. As soon as I got off work I made my way to one of my most reliable lake with hopes of finding some willing Bluegill. It didn’t take long to find some hungry Bluegill that had moved up into shallow water. A few casts with a small wet fly resulted in my first Bluegill of the day.

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There seemed to be no shortage of Bluegill up in the shallows, I was even able to get them bold enough to rise to surface and strike at top water flies. I couldn’t help but smile like a little kid with the idea of catching fish on top water in the dead of winter.

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After catching my fair share of Bluegill I moved over to the deep end of the lake with the wild idea of targeting some of the crappie in the deeper water. I knew that the chances of this working were slim since I was fishing with floating line and a very short tippet. But after about 20 minutes without a fish my line made an uncharacteristic twitch and I set the hook. To my surprise I wasn’t snagged, and was battling a small crappie. A quick fight later I was holding my intended target, a small White Crappie (also the first White Crappie I caught on the fly rod in 2017)! The rest of the fish I caught that day faded in comparison to the excitement I had catching this little fish.

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The weather continued cycling from freezing cold to surprisingly warm as the winter got older. But I wasn’t going to complain about the idea of being able to fish in a long sleeve shirt, even if it only lasted for a day. I took advantage of the warm days while they lasted and turned my attention over to catching more White Crappie. The warm weather had scattered the fish throughout the water column, and these conditions are a dream for a fisherman like me. It didn’t seem to matter what depth I was fishing at I would hook into a fish, mostly they were Bluegill. But occasionally a Largemouth Bass would find my hook before a Bluegill could, and on rarer occasions a White Crappie would do the same.

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The warm weather was quickly replaced with a bitter cold wind that dropped the temperature across Indiana. Once again a thin layer of ice started forming on the lakes, but the sun came back out and melted this off quickly. This quick cold snap followed by a lot of sunlight had the bass in a feeding frenzy, and I seemed to be the only one brave (or crazy) enough to go out and try to capitalize on this bite. When I know fish are in feeding fairly aggressively I like to tie on two white grub lures and fish them at different depths. This seems to mimic a small group of bait fish, a sight a hungry bass just can’t resist. It didn’t take long for me to hook into a handful of small bass, but on the last cast of the day I set the hook into a fish that actually started pulling some drag.

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This has one of the strangest winters I have ever experienced, but it has offered some new challenges that are helping me improve my fishing skills. Easily my favorite challenge of winter was getting the chance to catch a few fish through the ice. I hope you all have been able to make the best of the odd weather we are having this year.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

 

Early Winter Panfish

Whenever I think of fishing in January, people in huge, winter coats walking on sketchy ice always come to mind. Personally, I’ve never seen ice thick enough to even think about stepping on. Until this year, the idea of fishing a lake during the winter seemed like some kind of cruel joke. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to fish lakes in the winter before and I have caught a few fish doing it. But I have always been very dependent on live minnows and I tend to catch far fewer fish than the 12 minnows I purchase. In the past, the best reasoning I could come up with for the fishing spots I chose had been, “I caught fish here in the summer, so they are probably here in the winter, too.”

But this year, I decided this lazy mentality had to stop. This year, I was going to learn how to catch fish during the winter. I figured when most people start learning how to fish they start out targeting Bluegill, so why shouldn’t I start there as well? Bluegill seemed like the obvious choice since they are a fairly predictable fish: they will try to eat almost anything and they are (thankfully) still fairly aggressive when the water temperature drops.

I started by fishing all of the lakes that hadn’t iced over yet. The first lesson I learned was that it wasn’t really necessary to go to the outrageously small size jigs that I had thought I would need. It turns out that that isn’t entirely what dictates if you will catch fish. I started my Bluegill quest fishing with 1/200 oz jigs and I caught a lot of fish on this set up. The problem with fishing jigs this small is that I had to set up a special ultralight rod just to be able to cast these. This ended up being an 8 foot 5 weight fly rod with a small spinning reel spooled up with 2 lb test line. I love fishing with 2 lb test line (which is about the only line I’ve found that can cast these tiny jigs), but when ice starts forming on line that small, it becomes a nightmare to cast.

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The smart solution to this problem would be to step up the weight of the jigs so you can cast it on heavier line that can handle the build-up of ice. The solution I found was to use an ultralight rod with larger guides and spool it up with 4 lb test line. The larger eyes make it easier to cast line with ice on it and makes it harder to totally freeze over the front guide. I’ve found that 1/64 oz jigs have worked the best for me so far: they fall slow enough to entice bites from some of the smarter fish, but still weigh enough to be able to cast it a decent distance. The problem with jigs this size is that smaller Bluegill can have trouble hitting the right spot to get hooked, especially if they are a little lethargic and not sure they want to hit at all. Luckily, this problem can be solved by tipping a jig with some crappie nibbles, or better yet bee moths (if you can find any tackle shops that carries them in middle of January).

Bluegill haven’t been to hard to find; the easiest feature to target them has been to find a source of water flowing into a lake and fish the deeper water around it. This can mean there is slightly warmer water for the fish to live in or that the fish are used to this flow of water bringing them food. The second feature I’ve had luck with is to fish the first major drop-off from the bank. Most of the lakes I fish have shallow edges that are only about a foot deep, but about 10 feet from the bank they quickly drop off to a depth of about 6 feet. A lot of Bluegill will follow this drop-off in search of food, even though the water temperature isn’t as warm as some of the deeper spots in the lake.

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Once I felt like I was starting to gain some headway on catching Bluegill, I decided to shift my emphasis over to catching winter crappie. My favorite time of the year has always been spring, and this is largely due to the fact that crappie spawn in the spring and they become easily accessible from the bank. I knew in bigger lakes that I would need a boat to have much luck finding them this time of year, so I decided to focus my attention on large ponds that I knew had a few crappie. The problem with this particular lake was that I have only caught 10 crappie in the last 4 years from it, and the largest one I caught was only about 9 inches. I have always just assumed that there wasn’t a very large population of fish, and that the few fish that did survive were usually harvested by the other anglers in the spring. But the one advantage you get with heavily pressured lakes is that the fish that are left tend to be smart, and as a byproduct of that, they tend to be much larger than the fish that are harvested. I knew that the bass population in this lake was that way, so I was crossing my fingers that the crappie would be, too. And by some miracle, I was actually right.

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I try my best not to over-complicate crappie fishing. My usual tactic is simply finding a ledge and hopping a jig tipped with a bee moth across it. If I don’t find fish on the ledge, then I usually tie on a searching bait, like a curl tail grub, and work a lot of different depths and locations until I can find where they are schooled up at. So far this winter I have found them consistently sitting on ledges. If you can find any underwater structure, that has been an added bonus (but not at all necessary to hold crappie). I’m a firm believer that a slow rate of fall triggers more fish to hit than a fast rate of fall, so I tend to fish with a 1/64 oz jig and occasionally 1/32 oz when it is particularly windy.

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I didn’t expect the crappie fishing to be better in the winter, but so far this pond has fished better in the cold than it ever has before! I’ve caught more than 3 times the crappie these last 2 months than I had caught in all of the last 4 years at this pond. I also managed to catch the biggest crappie I have ever seen in this pond (as shown in the picture above).  I have always loved the challenge of catching “smart” fish, so I decided to keep the tradition of this lake alive and practice catch and release on all of the crappie I have caught. Now the question is, can I fool these fish twice?

Tight lines,

-Isaac

 

2016 Year in Review

2016 has been one of my best fishing years yet and I thought it would be fun to do a quick review of the best fishing trips of the year. I caught a record number of fish this year and managed to bump my species list up 45 different types of fish!

I thought a good place to start would be with some of the best bass I caught this year. The first big fish I caught was during early spring, while I was fishing for crappie. I wasn’t really expecting to catch any big fish that day; I was fishing with an ultralight rod with 4 lb test line, hoping to get a limit of crappie. But while jigging a 1.5 in fluke, something much larger engulfed my lure. Luckily, the water was cold and the fish was a little sluggish, so I was able to carefully work it out of the fallen tree it was hidden in. As you can see, I was pretty excited to catch this 5 lb 9 oz beauty!

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The next big bass I came across was during prespawn. I was exploring new places to fish and came across a series of beaver ponds in one of my favorite federal wildlife areas. I found a shallow cove with an old abandoned beaver dam and knew that at some point the big fish would have to move from the deep water to spawn in the shallow area. I fished this spot religiously for a few weeks and caught a lot of fish in the 2-3 lb range, but I just couldn’t connect with a big fish. After a few weeks, I was starting to give up on my mission, but then I struck gold: a 6 lb 6 oz tank of a bass.

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After this fish, I really just started focusing on catching numbers instead of size. But as many of us know, once you catch enough fish you are bound to catch a few big fish, too. Throughout early spring, I got hooked on catching fish on top water frogs and caught a ton of little fish on them. But one day, right before a big storm front pushed through, I fished one of the many public ponds close to school. I was really just hoping to catch a couple little fish before the rain started. But today held something different in store: right as the wind was starting to pick up, a big fish smashed the surface after my frog but totally missed it. I twitched the frog a few more times and it smashed the frog again, this time taking the frog under. I set the hook so hard I lost my footing and slid down the bank into the pond. I fought the fish while standing knee deep in water and landed the biggest fish I had ever seen in this lake. My scale put this fish at 6 lb 1 oz, but I’ll be honest: I don’t think I really buy that number.

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The last fish was by no means a monster, but it was one of my favorites of the year because it was a great trip with a close friend. I had always heard rumors about how good the fishing was at Sugar Ridge FWA, but the first lake we fished was full of stunted fish. I was a little disappointed at first, but this FWA has multiple lakes, so we switched to a new lake. We didn’t catch a lot in this lake, but all the fish we caught were quality.

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While I did catch some nice bass this year, I really focused more on panfish than I ever have before. I started in the spring like I usually do, with a lot of crappie fishing. I’m usually more of a catch-and-release fisherman, but this year I actually harvested some my catches. One of my best trips was on a perfect, cold, rainy day. The crappie bite was crazy- it seemed like on every cast I would hook into a quality Black Crappie. Indiana has a really large crappie limit, so I chose not to take a full limit, but I caught enough for a few meals.

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The best White Crappie I caught this year was (oddly enough) while I was doing some bass fishing. I launched my little, inflatable kayak into a beaver pond in hopes of some big bass. Strangely, instead of the bass I was hoping for, I actually hooked into my biggest White Crappie of the year.

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I also spent a lot of time this year trying to break my personal best for Warmouth. I know this isn’t typically a fish people care much for, but I think they are one of the most underrated panfish out there. My hunt this year was very successful: I landed some of the biggest Warmouth I have ever seen in Indiana. None of my fish were record fish for my state, but as far as I was concerned, they were trophy fish.

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One of my favorite catches this year was a Flier Sunfish. I tend to catch a couple of these each year in the Ohio River flood plains, but this year I wanted to catch my first one on an artificial lure. And I actually succeeded! I also discovered after releasing this fish that Indiana’s record Flier is only 3.5 oz, so I think next year I am going to try to break this.

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I caught the usual Bluegill, Longear, and Redear Sunfish throughout the summer. They stayed shallow for most of the year, so my 5 weight fly rod was the weapon of choice to target most of these fish.

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The prize fish I caught this year was my first ever Redspotted Sunfish! I know they are common in most areas, but I am right at the edge of their native range, so they really aren’t a common catch for me. The best part was that I caught it on one of my homemade jigs.

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As you’d expect, I also spent a lot of time fishing the Ohio River. This was probably my worst year for catfish because I spent more time fishing lures than cut-bait in the river. But I did manage to catch the three main catfish species from the Ohio River. The biggest catfish I caught this year was this Blue Catfish during the spring flooding, but I also caught the odd Flathead Catfish and a lot of little Channel Catfish.

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I seem to catch one Smallmouth Buffalo a year, and this year I actually had a decent camera with me so that you all could see it. These are always one of my favorite fish to catch, and one of these days I’m going to figure out how to catch them regularly.

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And if you’ve ever fished the Ohio River, you know there is never any shortage of Freshwater Drum there. And I caught a LOT of them this year! None of them were particularly big, but they always break the silence on slow fishing days.

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On one of my rare night-fishing trips, I broke my personal best for Longnose Gar. I got very lucky with this fish because I don’t tend to fish with steel leaders.

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Every year, there seems to be about a two-week window where the river conditions are right to catch Sauger from the bank. And this year, I actually managed to guess the right day to find where they were schooled up. Still no big fish, but this was the first year I was able to capture a high-quality picture of these gorgeous fish.

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I even managed a rare Ohio River Smallmouth Bass this year (well, rare for how south I am). I’ve caught a whopping 3 of these out of this river for as long as I have fished it. This one was easily the smallest one I’ve ever caught, but it was also one of the prettiest.

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The summer brought the usual run of Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass. I tried my hardest to catch one of these fish on my fly rod, but that just wasn’t in the cards this year. But I did catch more of these fish than I could keep track of on my spinning rod.

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I rarely target Spotted Bass because I don’t have many good access sites where they are common. But there is one rock wall by a public boat launch that tends to hold one or two Spotted Bass, so I went out with my ultralight rod on a mission to catch one. Oddly enough, I hooked into one on my very first cast at this spot (after this fish, I couldn’t seem to find another Spotted Bass for the life of me).

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I spent less time in the Ohio River flood plains due to the heavy course load I took this semester, but I did manage one adventure back into some of flooded areas and hooked my only Bowfin for this year. I’m proud to report that this year I even manage to not get injured while handling it (last year one of these put a hook right through my hand).

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This year, I even hooked into a few Rainbow Trout! It’s been years since I have been lucky enough to even see one of these fish, so to actually be able to fish for them was enough to make my year. To make it even better, I even caught my first trout on my fly rod!

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One of the most surprising catches I had this year was a Koi from a local park pond. I was hoping to catch a little Common Carp, but this fish was far more exciting than my target.

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While exploring a little drainage ditch for Creek Chubs, I caught my first Grass Carp ever (not the size I was expecting my first Grass Carp to be, but it was a Grass Carp none the less).

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On a quick trip to Los Angeles, I added a good number of fish to my species list. I fished from a few public piers and managed to catch some Barred Sand Bass, Kelp Bass, California Scorpionfish, California Lizardfish, Pacific Mackerel, and Queenfish.

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This was a fantastic year filled with some great trips with some phenomenal people. I hope that you were all able to spend some time out on the water with the people you care about and catch a few memorial fish. I hope 2017 is just as fishy as 2016!

Tight lines,

-Isaac

Fun With Stocked Rainbow Trout

Every fall, the DNR stocks lakes in southern Indiana with trout, giving a few of us southern anglers a chance to target these gorgeous fish. This year, they stocked 650 Rainbow Trout into Garvin Park, so I was hoping the odds would be in my favor to catch at least one. I’ve tried fishing here for trout before, but have always started too late in the season (long after most of them had been harvested). This year, I made sure that my trip happened right after they stocked the lake. I started out with a small inline spinner and hooked into what I was afraid I would: a very aggressive Largemouth Bass.

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I knew I needed to change spots if the small bass were up that shallow, so I explored my way around the lake. I found a shady spot with a pretty fast transition from deep to shallow water, and my luck changed quickly. On my first cast, a trout chased my spinner all the way up to the bank, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I kept casting here, and after a few minutes, I got a violent strike. After a short fight on my ultralight, I saw the fish I had been searching for: a gorgeous little Rainbow Trout.

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I was about over the moon with this fish, so I continued to cast my spinner. I immediately managed to make a terrible cast and dangle my spinner off a tree branch just barely touching the water. I quickly reeled in my line, trying to hop my lure over the branch, and somehow an aggressive trout attacked before I could clear the branch.  After some careful maneuvering, I untangled my line and landed another little Rainbow Trout.

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As you can tell by the picture above, I couldn’t have been more excited about actually catching some Rainbow Trout! I kept casting inline spinners and managed to catch four little trout from my spot.

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I knew my luck wouldn’t last for long, so I ran to my car and grabbed my fly rod. I only had a few flies in my car (mostly flies that were meant for targeting bluegill), but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying. I tied on the least ridiculous wet fly I had in my box and started casting it around. After some trial and error, I discovered that the fish were interested in a very slow presentation and would hit as the fly was falling. Most of my bites came after the fly sank 2-3 feet. After a few minutes of casting, my line finally twitched and I set the hook into a little Rainbow Trout.

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As you can see, the fly I was using is not what you would typically see someone fly fishing with for trout. But the fish didn’t seem to mind, so neither did I. I kept casting and was quickly rewarded with another little trout.

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The next morning, I set right back out to Garvin Park to test out my homemade jigs. I’ve caught a lot of different species on my 1/64 oz chartreuse jigs, but they hadn’t landed a trout yet.

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I tied a jig on my ultralight with 2 pound test line and cast it around in a shallow cove. On one of my first casts my line started running sideways. I wasn’t expecting to get a hit so quickly and missed the hook set. This gave me a lot of hope that my jigs might actually work. Shortly after that, I got another strike. This time I was ready and set the hook. After a great fight on light tackle, a small Rainbow Trout was in the net.

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With this last little trout, it was time to go home and start on the homework I had put off. I can easily see how people can become obsessed with targeting trout, and I’m pretty sure I’m joining the club. I hope you are all enjoying the fall fishing as much as I am!

Tight lines,

-Isaac