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 one 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

Advertisements

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

20170504_132919

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

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.

20170303_085503

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.

20170304_154752

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.

20170304_163409

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.

20170305_132342.jpg

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.

20170305_132754 (2)

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.

20170306_112350

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

20170306_130453.jpg

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.

20170306_135259

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.

20170307_08231120170307_082518(0)20170307_085313

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

20170307_085327

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)!

20170307_095600

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).

20170307_111749(0)20170307_11244320170307_113802

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.

20170307_15441120170307_160645

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.

20170307_16261520170307_162807

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.

20170308_114535(0)20170308_122932

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.

20170308_145658

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.

20170308_162843

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.

20170309_105341 (2)

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.

20170309_11093620170309_111036

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

20170309_110246

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

20170309_112530

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.

20170309_120235(0)

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.

20170309_144702

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.

20170309_145558(0)

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.

20170309_154432(0)

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

20170309_160311(0)

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.

20170309_160150

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.

20170309_161804

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.

20170309_164856(0)

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.

20170309_170507.jpg

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.

20170310_111852.jpg

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.

DPP_0011DPP_0001

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.

DPP_0004DPP_0012DPP_0013

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

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!

big-bass

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.

wp_20160324_18_09_39_pro

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.

wp_20160420_18_00_57_pro

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.

wp_20160530_16_41_43_pro

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.

crappies-for-days-lower-quality

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.

wp_20160529_14_18_08_pro

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.

CAMERA

wp_20160528_14_10_20_pro

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.

wp_20160508_17_16_09_pro

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.

wp_20160821_16_53_03_prowp_20160620_15_41_43_prowp_20160830_15_36_08_pro

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.

wp_20161001_11_05_34_pro

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.

blue-cat-river-fishy

wp_20160623_18_00_17_proWP_20160419_19_01_32_Pro.jpg

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.

buffalo-fishy

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.

WP_20161010_18_23_58_Pro.jpg

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.

img_9351

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.

wp_20160419_18_36_40_pro

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.

wp_20160703_10_59_54_pro

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.

wp_20160724_16_33_08_pro

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).

wp_20160703_10_38_12_pro

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).

wp_20160701_18_49_39_pro

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!

wp_20161029_15_16_13_pro

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.

wp_20160704_16_17_50_pro

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).

wp_20161016_15_46_33_prograsscarp

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.

img_4901

img_4950IMG_4869img_4893img_4937img_4921

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