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

Fishing Adventures in Los Angeles

My work schedule finally freed up and I got the chance to fly out to Los Angeles to visit my girlfriend. This trip, we made sure that we made a little bit of time to go fishing. The first stop that we made was to explore Malibu Creek State Park. We had a lot of trouble finding information on whether or not they allowed fishing in the park, but after asking a park ranger, we quickly learned that the creek was off limits but fishing was allowed at a little lake in the park called Century Lake.IMG_4819

We hiked a little over a mile through some beautiful landscapes to discover this gorgeous little lake (which was actually deceptively deep).

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There wasn’t much shore access on the lake, but I found a little rock to fish off of and hooked my first fish (which promptly came unhooked just as I was trying to land it).

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But I continued tossing around my little jig and was happily rewarded with a lovely little bluegill.

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I worked my way down the bank and enjoyed the lovely scenery.

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I even found a second little bluegill right off of some submerged branches.

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Right as we were getting ready to leave, I saw a new target: some bigger bluegill starting to bed in the shallows.

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I danced jigs around their beds, and they would nibble but not fully take the lure. So I switched tactics. Instead of jigging the lure, I would set the jig right in the center of the bed and just let it sit there. The bluegill would swim over, stare at it, go nose down on it, nibble it, then get frustrated and actually bite the lure.

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With this lovely bluegill, we decided it was time to hike back and get some lunch.

 

We then went to Malibu Pier to see if we could catch any fish there. Luckily, there was a little shop at the end of the pier where I bought some 2 oz. lead weights and a package of frozen squid.

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We started on the sunny side of the pier near the deeper water, mostly because that was one of the only places where I had some decent room to play a fish if I caught a larger one. After watching everyone else around me hook a few fish, I finally got a bite and reeled up this little California Scorpionfish.

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We stayed put at that spot for another hour, but I didn’t manage to get another bite. In the last 30 minutes, we decided to move to the deepest (and shaded) part of the pier. Instead of dropping the bait straight down like I had been, I started casting it out as far as my light line would let me. I immediately hooked into my first ever California Lizardfish.

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Look at the chompers on this little guy!

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I continued fishing this spot and hooked into my first ever Barred Sand Bass. The other anglers at this spot kept hooking into Mackerel, but I just couldn’t manage to get one this time.

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The last place we went fishing at was the Santa Monica Pier. Once again, we stopped at a bait shop right at the end of the pier and purchased bait. I was hoping for squid, but the shop only had Anchovies left (which actually worked way better than squid). We set up on the end of the pier and before I was able to hook a fish, a Sea Lion swam up begging for bait.

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After he swam off, I was able to fish without the fear of him eating my catches and dropped my bait down. The first fish to bite on the Anchovies was a little Queenfish.

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This trip, I was determined to catch a Pacific Mackerel and decided that fishing directly on the bottom was not the solution. I quickly discovered that suspending my bait halfway up the water column resulted in the largest number of bites from Mackerel.

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After catching a few of these little guys, I switched back to fishing the bottom to try to get some other species. I found a little deep spot by a pier piling that held a large number of Kelp Bass.

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I even got my girlfriend to catch a fish, her first Barred Sand Bass.

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At this point, I wanted to just catch one last little fish before calling it a day, another little Barred Sand Bass.

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With this last little fish, my trip was coming to an end. It was a great adventure and I was lucky to have great company to spend it with me. I ended the trip with a total of 6 new species for my list and only a mild sunburn.

Tight lines,

-Isaac