2017: What a Year

2017 has been one of the most difficult and rewarding years I’ve ever had. This year started with my last semester of college. After 4 years of hard work I graduated from college with big dreams of moving across the country to California. I worked hard and made that dream a reality and moved out to Los Angeles. I quickly discovered that big city life just wasn’t for this Midwesterner and return back to Indiana. A disappointing discovery, but something I would have always regretted not trying. Life seemed to speed up from there on, I found a full time job that I absolutely love and have been working on getting settled back here.

This year has made me realize the parts of my life that I am grateful for. I’m so grateful for my ever understanding girlfriend, my family, my friends and those peaceful moments spent by water. There are countless more things I’m thankful for, but those four things were what made this year a success for me, without them there is no knowing what this year would have turned into. I know this is fishing blog and that is probably what you came to read about, but I felt like I couldn’t write this in good conscience without acknowledging the things that made a year like this possible.

As I searched through my photos to try to pick the pictures that best represented this year, I found it very difficult to narrow it down. I tried to narrow it down to just a few species, but then I realized that just isn’t what appeals to me about fishing and that isn’t what this blog was made to be about. So instead of a long explanation here are a few highlights from the year.

I hope you all had a fantastic 2017 filled with many days spent by the water. Here’s to hoping 2018 holds more new and great adventures!

Tight lines, 

– Isaac

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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

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

Sometimes Technology Fails

I wasn’t feeling like doing anything fancy today so I grabbed the bait I had and went to the river with hopes of their being a few decent fish. The river was up a little higher than it was the last few days, sitting at 15.56 feet. My initial thought was to fish a spinnerbait, which did end up being a decent call. I fished right beside the boat launch at Angel Mounds, one side has a very rocky ledge and the other side of the boat launch has a current break with a mostly muddy bottom. I choose to use a spinnerbait with two blades to give off a large amount of vibration, one larger Willow blade and a smaller Colorado blade.

I started by working the side with rock ledge with and was rewarded with a decent spotted back, the problem was I took a picture with an old camera. And when I got home I found the camera had dumped the picture, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. After this fish the bite really seemed to just stop.

At this point I really just wanted to catch anything, so I switched to the side with a current break and tried my hand at some micro-fishing. I used hot dogs as bait and the smallest fly tying hook I had. I don’t know what the name of the species is, but they are very common in this area in the creeks and the river.

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After I had caught a few little minnows it seemed logical to use these as bait and that resulted in 0 fish. Right at sunset a few skipjack started attacking some of the minnows so I tied on a little jerkbait and caught one 8 inch skipjack. But alas the camera failure resulted in no proof.

This spot does have potential for holding a decent number of fish and has been a good place to fish for years. I believe the main problem today was that a commercial fisherman had set his nets right off the boat launch.