February, Fish and Crutches

February has been a very odd month for me. I usually looking forward to the late winter/early spring flooding, it always makes for a new and challenging environment to figure out. But this year I was bested by the season. To my dismay at the end of January I got very sick and stopped fishing. At the same time I strained my leg really badly. Because of being so sick my leg didn’t heal like it should. Once the doctors figured out how to treat what was wrong with me, we addressed the issues with my leg. When I started physical therapy I was missing 77 degrees of extension. I was totally dependent on crutches and was still weak from being sick. It took the whole month of February before getting back to feeling like myself again. I have worked really hard and regained my full range of motion and no longer need crutches.

With all that being said, I really didn’t manage to fish much until the last half of the month when I started regaining my strength. I started small. I would stop at a small creek and fish for Creek Chubs for a half hour (a fish that no matter the conditions is always willing to bite). And then would retreat back to the house to rest.

Creek Chub

As I got more confident walking around on my crutches I started parking my SUV close to lakes and walking short distances to try for bigger fish. I would rarely get further than 100 feet from my car, but that was usually far enough to catch a few fish. I would settle down in a chair or lean against something and fish until my leg started hurting too much. I was fortunate and would usually catch a fish or two before getting to that point. This helped me fight the cabin fever.

Largemouth Bass

I kept working on building my strength and got to the point where I could make one lap around a small pond on my crutches without getting too tired. This let me start fishing more moving baits and get a few White Crappie. A fish that I usually devote a large part of my February to, and I was starting to miss them.

White Crappie

A week later and I was able to start putting some weight on my hurt leg. This opened up some new possibilities, though I was still limited to walking very short distances. The temperature had risen temptingly high and I just couldn’t stay inside anymore. I really wanted to catch something different, I was reaching my limit of catching the same bass and crappie over and over again. This led me to going on the search for a Warmouth!

Warmouth

By the end of the month I was finally free of my crutches and was ecstatic to be walking around (even if it was with a limp). This opened up the possibility to walk to different habitats and target different species of fish. I started with trying to target Black Crappie, and somehow instead managed to catch some gorgeous hybrid sunfish.

Hybrid Sunfish

But with a little persistence I was able to get the Black Crappie to play a long too!

Black Crappie

Having successfully caught the fish I was after I tied on a microfishing hook and decided to explore around and see if I could find anything new. To my surprise I ended up finding a new population of Blackspotted Topminnows! *Correction: After doing more research and sampling a larger size of this population it was determined that these were simply Blackstripe Topminnows that had more pigmentation above their lateral line.*

Blackspotted Topminnow

Along with the topminnows, I also found a number of juvenile sunfish. The coolest being this small Green Sunfish.

Green Sunfish

Seeing the little sunfish starting to move shallow I knew it was time to start shifting my focus more towards panfish. This seemed like a good excuse to tie on a jig and just explore around. I ended up settling on a new favorite ultralight jig that perfectly imitates a small crayfish. It even outperformed my usual minnow imitation jigs!

Bluegill

The final goal for the month was to catch a respectable Redear Sunfish. Luckily I know a few ponds that have strong populations of them. As a reward for making so much progress in physical therapy I reward myself with making a trip up to one of these ponds after work one day. There I was greeted with a good number of Largemouth Bass, Bluegill and most importantly some big Redear Sunfish.

Redear Sunfish

As February ends I can’t help but be incredibly thankful for all the people who have supported me through the last few months. I am incredibly lucky to have so many people willing to drop everything and help me. I have a new found appreciation for my health and am so grateful to be able to spend time outside again.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

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The Year Winter Changed Me

This has been the year I finally embraced winter and truly started to enjoy it. What changed my mindset was experiencing real ice fishing for the first time. Before this year, I had never actually walked on a frozen lake, much less heard the ice sing underneath me. There is something deeply satisfying about having your feet planted on the ice and creating a small hole to see what fish are eager to bite beneath the surface.

Ice Fishing

I think of ice fishing as a strange duality: mankind’s stubborn defiance of nature and complete unity with it. To some extent, one refuses to let nature take its course by creating holes through the ice (a clear sign from nature to keep out). Yet we do it anyway. We challenge the subfreezing temperatures for the chance to prove we can master the elements. But at the same time, we have to be one with nature to know where the ice is safe, where to make a hole, what depths to find the fish at, and what baits to use. This duality is what makes ice fishing so addicting.

Bluegill

Another part of winter I have trouble resisting is the beauty of the sound. Snow-topped ice has the intrinsic ability to muffle all sound, muting the mundane, white noise of the city. Leaving just the sound of geese flying above you and ice creaking below you, in these rare occasions you can break out each separate noise and find its source. First, a flock of Canadian Geese; shortly after, a much more precious and less commonly heard song, the song of the White-fronted Goose. It echoes through the air and then is quickly muffled by snow.

Largemouth Bass

The sound of calling geese is a welcome change from the normal noise of car horns and people. The slow-biting fish don’t seem like much of a challenge when you can lose yourself in the meditative sounds around you. With enough patience, a reward is bound to follow. As the bird calls sound through the air, inevitably, the rod tip will bounce once. It’s usually a quick test bite to see if the offering is acceptable. Shortly after, a second tug on the line. This time, I’m ready and focused. The line twitches and the little ice rod is raised in the air, setting the hook.

Rainbow Trout

The fight begins. I have to keep the fish out of the structure I’m fishing, keep the line from nicking the edges of the hole, all the while keeping a very loose drag on light line. Fish fight in odd ways under the ice. Rather than making long runs like they do in summer, they tend to make quick, circular dashes. Occasionally, the larger fish will take a decent amount of drag, but more often than not, it is simply a matter of working the fish around in circles until it comes up through the hole in the ice.

Black Crappie

I swear the white snow makes each fish’s colors more vibrant. A simple Bluegill looks like a dramatic masterpiece against that amplifying background. My favorite sight is when a Redear Sunfish finds my bait before a greedy Bluegill. The lake I chose to ice fish here has notoriously low numbers of Redear Sunfish, so the competition is high and they haven’t rebounded like the Bluegill. For some reason, the winter has sparked a large concentration of Redears to frequent the structure I like to ice fish. So far this winter, I’ve caught more of them than I ever have historically in a whole year. To me, these are the prize catch on a cold, winter day. Their colors go unmatched in the winter scene; the trout can’t compare.

Redear Sunfish

Southern Indiana’s winter is fickle. Before long, the temperatures rise and the ice and snow melt away, letting the city sounds return. But for a short week, this little lake is turned into a winter paradise.

White Crappie

I enjoyed the last day of safe ice with a bittersweet feeling in my heart. Half of me was excited to see winter giving up its grip, but the other half was sad to see it go. I know each season has its own beauties, but winter has finally shown its true potential to me. As the ice saw its last sunset, I couldn’t help but marvel at the scene before me. The trees are perfectly silhouetted against a fiery sky, while the snow, ever peaceful, starts melting. The sound of ice creaking and popping is clear in the air.

Garvin Park Sunset

This was the end of ice season. Not even I was foolish enough to venture on the ice again. A quick warm front and rain made any remaining ice rotten. A week passed and the ice was entirely gone. The season may have been short, but it will happily be remembered for years to come. This will go down as the year I started to love winter.

Tight lines,

– Isaac

November is a Fisherman’s Dream

I love fishing in all the seasons, each one holds something special that appeals to me. But I have always been partial to fall. The combination of the weather, the colors, and the purely ridiculous number of fish that can be caught make it an anglers dream. One of the things that is captivating to me most about fishing in the fall is the constant flux of the weather and water conditions. One day it can be in the 60’s with great water visibility, and then the next it’ll be in the 30’s muddy and rainy. I like the daily challenge and unpredictability of this season, it helps force me to test new tactics for fish and forces me to explore different methods of fishing than I am not already comfortable with. November has been a wildly successful month, I’ve been fortunate enough to get in a good amount of fishing in all sorts of locations, ranging from the Ohio River down to small public ponds.

It seems that my fall fishing always starts at Garvin Park, for some reason I’m still a sucker for the stocked trout. I would rather the funds being used for these fish be put into the native species for this area, but since I’m not in charge of making that decision I’ve decided to just go with it and enjoy the opportunity to catch them. Plus it is always a good excuse to break out the 5 weight fly rod.

Rainbow Trout on the Fly

Rainbow Trout on the Fly

The stocked Rainbow Trout don’t seem to be too smart and have been willing to bite almost anything that falls right in front of their faces. Early in November I was lucky enough to stumble across a feeding frenzy happening in the shallows. You could see small groups of trout hunting in the shallow water by the shore and as soon as anything touched the water they would all start attacking it. I was armed with my ultralight that day with a small jig and lost count of the number of trout I caught. It was actually such good fishing I ended up keeping my limit, a very rare thing for me to do (though I will admit this was mostly because they are stocked fish and can’t survive the summers so I don’t feel bad taking them).

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

I caught a lot of trout in November, but one of my biggest goals was to capture some good images of these fish. Last year I was so excited to just be catching trout that I didn’t do them justice in the pictures I took. One of the images I was happiest with was an oddly proportioned Rainbow Trout, but the combination of the colors on the fish with the fall leaves in the background captured the season well.

Rainbow Trout

Humpback Rainbow Trout

But I can’t let all the attention go to these seasonal invaders of the lake, I was able to catch a number of the common species that call this lake their home. You can’t fish in the fall without enjoying how greedy bass get. I don’t usually spend much time bass fishing, much less at this park. But I figured with the way the fish were biting I may as well embrace it and managed a few above average from this lake.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

One of the reasons I like the lake at Garvin Park is the large population of Warmouth that live there. The shallows are full submerged timber, the classic ambush point for this fish to hide in. I usually have a very difficult time hunting down Warmouth once it starts getting cold, so you can image how happy I was to still be finding them in the shallow structure.

Warmouth

Warmouth

No fishing trip at Garvin Park would ever be complete unless you accidentally caught a catfish. This tends to be the fish species people are most commonly fishing for here, and there doesn’t really seem to be any shortage of these little Channel Catfish.

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

One thing I’ve always found interesting about this lake is the ratio of Bluegill to Redear Sunfish. For some reason a lot of these smaller urban lakes have really large populations of Bluegill, and very small populations of Redear Sunfish. And this lake follows that pattern, though I was lucky enough to manage to hook a few of them while jigging for trout.

Redear Sunfish

Redear Sunfish

As November started passing by I knew my window for wading Pigeon Creek was starting to close (and it did occasionally flood enough to be unsafe to wade). I know how fickle this creek can get once it gets truly cold so I wanted to make sure I spent some more time here before winter starts to set in. As you would expect with me I can’t go to a creek without microfishing, I wasn’t able to find any new species this month. But I was happy to see some familiar faces. I caught a ridiculous number of Emerald Shiners this month, with a much smaller number of Mimic Shiners mixed in. Occasionally a small catfish would find my bait first, which is always a pleasant surprise.

Mimic Shiner

Mimic Shiner

Emerald Shiner

Emerald Shiner

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

I still haven’t ever gotten over my obsession with sunfish, for some reason no matter what species I’m after I tend to return back to them. And Pigeon Creek is one of the places that I really enjoy fishing for them at, I like the added challenge that current gives. I have waded enough of this section of the creek to have a decent idea of where my best chances are to catch them at and have been lucky enough to catch a good number of fish. One of them being a surprisingly large Bluegill, he fought so hard I wasn’t really sure what I had hooked until I landed the fish.

Bluegill

Bluegill

One of the cool catches I stumbled across while wading for sunfish was the first Hybrid Sunfish I have ever caught from this creek. I figured they would be around, but in all the years I’ve fished here I had never managed to hook into one.

Hybrid Sunfish

Hybrid Sunfish

And the fish that always likes to steal the show has been still showing some surprisingly bright colors for this late in the year. The Longear Sunfish have become harder and harder to track down as the water temperatures have dropped, but each time I find one they seem to still be carrying some brilliant colors.

Longear Sunfish

Longear Sunfish

I suppose one thing I should point out at this point is that when I’m wading the creek I’m always using my ultralight rod rigged with 4 pound test line. So you can imagine my surprise to find a large drum on the end of my line while fishing for Bluegill. After putting up a hard fight, and using the current to its advantage I was lucky enough to be holding a gorgeous copper colored Freshwater Drum.

Freshwater Drum

Freshwater Drum

I really haven’t fished the Ohio River much since returning to Indiana, so I decided to dedicate one evening to fishing it. I took my usual approach to fishing the river, I found a good current break by a boat launch and set up my rods there. I quickly microfished up a few small Emerald Shiners to use as live bait. I cast those out to the deeper water on the edge of the current and let it drift into the calmer water and simply waited for a bite. It didn’t take long before the first fish bit and I was holding a lovely little White Bass.

White Bass

White Bass

As the sun started to set the bite started to pick up and I managed to catch my first Hybrid Striped Bass of the evening. I’ll be honest when I set the hook and reeled it in I didn’t really realize I had a fish on the other end of the line, I guess that was the downfall of using a slightly heavier river rod.

Hybrid Striped Bass

Hybrid Striped Bass

I think it should be no surprise that using this tactic also resulted in a few small Channel Catfish. I’ve found over the years that my luck with catfish at the river is mostly just bound to Channel Catfish. I still haven’t managed to catch my first Blue Catfish of the year…and I’m almost out of days in the year to make that happen.

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

As it got dark the bite slowed down to a crawl but I didn’t want to give up until I had caught a few more fish. I caught a larger live bait and cast it back out and waited. As I was starting to get chilled to the bone my line twitched and I set the hook into the first Striped Bass of the evening. Nothing helps warm you up like catching a fish.

Striped Bass

Striped Bass

As I was microfishing for Emerald Shiners to use for bait I had the pleasant surprise of stumbling across a number of very small Freshwater Drum. I even broke my personal smallest Freshwater Drum (a thing only a true microfishing nerd would say). It was cool to get to see them at this size, I usually find them when they are at least hand sized.

Freshwater Drum

Freshwater Drum

No fall fishing is complete without visiting the State Hospital Park to do some crappie fishing (though I feel like I’d say that in about any season, simply because I really enjoy the challenge of crappie fishing there). Plus this lake produces some of the prettiest White Crappie I have ever seen.

White Crappie

White Crappie

I’ve fished this lake almost all of my life, and it still seems to bring the occasional surprise. This time it was in the form of large Golden Shiner! I have never once seen a shiner in this lake, much less one this size. So that was a very exciting catch, though it will be something I’ll be keeping my eye out for. I’d be curious to know if this is a lone escapee from a bait bucket or if there is an established population.

Golden Shiner

Golden Shiner

One of the highlights from November was getting the opportunity to fish a private lake that sees very little fishing pressure. We were asked by the landlord to thin the crappie population, which was something my fishing partner and I were more than willing to do for him. The cool thing about this lake is not only does it have Black Crappie in it, but it has Blacknose Crappie in it. This fish is the result of a recessive gene and is the only location I’ve found with them in Indiana so far.

Blacknose Crappie

Blacknose Crappie

Plus this lake has some of the most aggressive Hybrid Sunfish I’ve ever seen, and with the lack of fishing pressure there is a good number of very large ones. This one was aggressive enough to attack a lipless crankbait!

Hybrid Sunfish

Hybrid Sunfish

I think we lost count of the number of crappie we caught that day, which is always a sign of a good time. We are both fairly stubborn people and we decided we were going to catch at least one fish on the fly rod even though it was cold and windy. To our surprise we were able to cast to deep enough water to reach the crappie. I stuck with a simple streamer pattern and found some very willing Black Crappie (a few that ended up being part of a Thanksgiving fish fry).

Black Crappie

Black Crappie

I know fall is starting to come to an end when Blue Grass FWA closes down for duck hunting. There was a one week break in the middle of duck season where the lakes were open to fishing and took advantage of it, knowing it would likely be February before I could fish there again. I didn’t have any big goals going there, I knew the conditions were going to make the bite difficult. But I really just wanted to catch a Longear Sunfish and then I would be happy. My first stop didn’t result in a Longear Sunfish, but rather a very aggressive Hybrid Sunfish.

Hybrid Sunfish

Hybrid Sunfish

I switched over to microfishing tactics at this spot thinking maybe I could catch a juvenile Longear Sunfish. Sadly this didn’t happen, but to my surprise a Green Sunfish found my tiny bait and managed to stay hooked! These little guys have a tendency to either brake my leaders or shake my tiny hooks.

Green Sunfish

Green Sunfish

While exploring around for potential spots for Longear Sunfish I came across the largest group of Blackstripe Topminnows I have ever seen. Without fear of exaggeration there were easily over 100 grouped up together in a shallow stretch of water that connects the lakes together. I couldn’t help but take advantage of this and catch a couple to get a good picture of the species for my records.

Blackstripe Topminnow

Blackstripe Topminnow

At my final stop of the day I finally found the habitat I was looking for and found the fish that I was after. The water was cold and this little guy didn’t have the brightest colors, but that didn’t matter to me. I was just happy to have found the fish I was after and being able to say farewell to Blue Grass FWA on a high note until the spring.

Longear Sunfish

As you can see my November has been a mixed bag of a little bit of everything. And honestly that is what makes fishing so much fun to me. I like that this season doesn’t let me get in the rut of fishing one specific way for a specific species. It gives that extra bit of encouragement to get out and try different styles of fishing at different places. I hope you all have been getting out and enjoying this last bit of fall before winter sets in.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

Pigeon Creek: Southern Indiana’s Most Misunderstood Creek

Pigeon Creek is a fairly large creek that runs through a small section of southern Indiana before flowing into the Ohio River. For a lot of its history it has been known for being a heavily polluted waterway, and that view of the creek really hasn’t wavered in the area. There have been some improvements in the water quality of the creek, but I’ll be the first to admit this creek still has a long way to go before I’d ever consider consuming fish from it. That being said, the improvements made on this creek have made it one of the hidden gems of southern Indiana. This creek is often overlooked by anglers because of the stigma that this creek is terribly polluted, but I’m writing this article to try to get you to reconsider this waterway.

Pigeon Creek
Pigeon Creek during low water conditions

This creek has always offered good fishing year round, it just takes a little bit of searching to finding the places worth investing the time in. My favorite time of the year to fish it is in the late fall when the water levels have dropped very low and the pools are very obvious. The deeper pools always seem to hold fish, but the more interesting features to me have always been the runs between riffles, or the eddies formed by fallen logs in the current. These places tend to be overlooked by any of the few other anglers that venture along the creek. If you ever see me at the creek it will often be waded out in the riffles exploring spots like this to find new species.

Wading the creek is not only relaxing, but gives you access to some species that most conventional anglers won’t catch. As you all should expect by now, this does mean I will be doing some microfishing in this shallow water and any good eddies I can find. You can’t seem to fish any body of water in Indiana without first coming across the humble Bluegill.

After catching a few small Bluegill, a new species found my bait! To my surprise this was a species I didn’t have on my list yet: the Emerald Shiner. While these are an incredibly common fish, I hadn’t ever put the time into finding a place to catch them. So that was an excellent surprise!

Soon after that little fish I found a familiar face, a little Mimic Shiner! This has always been the main base forage species I’ve observed in the creek.

At this point I had lost count of how many Mimic Shiners and Emerald Shiners I had caught from the creek and was starting to give up on finding any other cool species in the eddies. On one of my last casts into the eddy something different found my bait. I was elated to find a Bluntnose Minnow (a species I had embarrassingly misidentified on my list previously)!

With this boost of confidence I fished that spot a little more and found another familiar face: the Spotfin Shiner. For some reason I forgot to take a picture of it in by the water, but I do have an image from my photography tank.

I figured for the sake of having an accurate sampling of the minnows I should also spend a little bit of time checking out the local topminnows/livebearers. I was secretly hoping I would find something new, but I think I knew better. As expected the local populations were Western Mosquitofish and Blackstripe Topminnows.

Knowing my luck with the minnows was starting to run out I switched over to a size 16 fly hook and baited it with a small piece of worm and explored around in hopes of finding the sunfish that I knew had to be around. I was astonished that one of my first finds was actually an Orangespotted Sunfish! I had never sampled one from moving water before!

After this happy surprise I went on the search for a Green Sunfish. This stretch of creek has some rock formations that provide some excellent hiding places. And it is no secret that Green Sunfish like to hide in places they feel hidden so they can ambush anything that passes by. It only took dropping my bait by a few rocks before I had a bite.

After catching a few more of his friends, I started the search for the bigger and more colorful species of sunfish. I already knew Bluegill lived in this creek, but I wanted a mature specimen for a picture so I waded for a while and found a good population of them. Eventually luck was on my side and I hook into a solid Bluegill, surprisingly the big ones were more willing to hit small cutbaits than worms.

While searching for the Bluegill I had another less common catch, a Redear Sunfish. While it isn’t really a surprise that they would be here, I had never heard of one being sampled here before.

This brings us to the main reason I love creek fishing, this creek has a very strong population of Longear Sunfish. One of the prettiest sunfish in my humble opinion. It was hard to pick just one image to include in this post, but this smaller fish did the best justice to the colors that these fish have.

This creek has always been known to hold great numbers of Channel Catfish, and I can assure you that is still true. On my wading trips I’ve lost count of the number of juvenile catfish I have caught. The bigger ones tend to show themselves typically when it is least convenient. In my case after having two of my micro fishing hooks stolen! I rigged up a stronger setup and put a bait back in the same place. Before you knew it I was battling a decent Channel Catfish.

Along with the Channel Catfish this creek will also hold Flathead Catfish this time of year. I was lucky enough to cross paths with a micro version of this species while drifting worms in a deep pocket right before some riffles. I can assure you there are much larger specimens in this creek, but this was by far the coolest one I’ve come across yet.

The final species that you expect to catch this time of year is the Freshwater Drum. I have a true appreciation for this fish, and am always happy to catch one (they force you into learning to detect very subtle bites, or you risk gut hooking these fish often). Along with the typical small Freshwater Drum you’d expect to find, I did manage to hunt down a few of the larger specimen (large being relative to this creek).

This creek holds many different species depending on the time of year, we haven’t even touched on the Blue Catfish that you’ll find in the spring or the amazing gar fishing that can be had in the summer. There are so many amazing species in this creek, and so few people are even willing to explore it. Hopefully this post will help change a few of your minds about this wonderful place.

I want to leave you with one final image, because sometimes a picture is worth more than words. If this creek was really so bad, why would a fool like me be this excited to be standing in the middle of it? I think the smile on my face every time I’m here would make a solid case in defense of the creek alone.

Longear Sunfish
Even on a very chilly late October day this creek still manages to bring a smile to my face

Tight lines,

-Isaac

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.

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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

 

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

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