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

Multi-Species Adventure

Last week, I had one of those rare days where I didn’t have classes, work or homework to deal with.  Naturally, I decided to go fishing. I thought it would be fun to stay close to home and see how many different species of fish I could catch at different public spots in town.

I started the day off at the State Hospital Park, tossing around a Roostertail on my ultralight rod. It didn’t take long to hook into some feisty little Largemouth Bass.

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I actually came to this park hoping to catch some carp, but my favorite carp spot was taken so I abandoned that idea and focused on a second species. This particular lake had been heavily stocked with Yellow Bullhead by the DNR so I figured it would be pretty easy to hook into one. This pond is special because it is split between two sides of a road and is connected by two large pipes that flow under it. For some odd reason, the little bullheads love the shade and cool water that is inside of the pipes. So I cast a nightcrawler up into the pipe and waited. My bait had only been in the water for about a minute when the rod tip bounced. I set the hook and reeled up this little guy.

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I then packed up my stuff and switched to Diamond Valley Park Pond in hopes of finding a couple of Redear Sunfish. My usual tactic for these guys is a small 64th oz jig tipped with a little piece of nightcrawler, but they just weren’t playing my game. But on the bright side, I hooked into a good number of Bluegill while I was searching.

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After landing more Bluegill than I could count, I finally hooked into a tank of a Redear Sunfish. But he seemed to be alone today, I couldn’t find another one for the life of me.

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I continued casting my jig as I worked around the pond, and hoped I’d be able to find a few Green Sunfish. My search for these guys was significantly more successful.

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I even managed a surprise species while I was working my way around the lake: a Channel Catfish. I planned to target these fellows on the Ohio River later in the day, but I checked this one off my list early.

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After a nice break for lunch, I meandered over to the banks of the Ohio River to try to catch the evening bite. It didn’t take long before I hooked into my first fish, a lovely little Largemouth Bass. I usually only catch Spotted Bass at this spot, so I was pleasantly surprised when I landed this guy.

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The spot I was fishing at here had a large school of shiners and shad, so I knew there had to be more predatory fish hanging around. I continued working that spot and managed another species: a little White Bass.

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Soon after that, I set the hook into another fish, and this one felt significantly larger. After a few drag-screaming runs, I knew there was only one thing I could have hooked into: a Striped Bass. I was especially surprised when I saw that it wasn’t a hybrid, the true Striped Bass aren’t as common to catch here.

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I had caught a couple of Freshwater Drum by now, but I realized that I still hadn’t taken a picture of one. So I cast out a nightcrawler on a circle hook and waited. It didn’t take very long until this little drum found my bait.

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I still wanted to catch one last fish before going home for the night, so I decided to move a little further down river and try a deeper spot. I sat there for about an hour, snagging up most of the rigs on the rocky bottom. I was starting to get frustrated and considering calling it for the day when one of my rod tips finally bounced. I set the hook immediately and was surprised when whatever was on the other side of my line started peeling drag. It took off in a crazy run downriver to the point where it took half the line off my reel before I could turn the fish. As soon as I got it moving back up toward me, it made a run upstream and again took half the line off my reel. I finally worked the fish near the bank and managed to get it up to the surface. I could see that it was a gar, easily the biggest Longnose Gar I had ever hooked. I put a little bit more pressure on the fish, knowing it was hooked well, and got down to the bank before it could cut through my line. Luckily, I had a tape measure in my backpack and took a quick length measurement on this beauty: 43 inches long. A quick photo session later, I released this lovely gar back into the Ohio River to fight another day.

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This final fish exhausted my supply of bait, so I decided to call it a night. I managed to land ten different species of fish before the end of the day, which is a pretty good number for me (considering I didn’t target any of the ‘micro’ species). I had a great time chasing all of the different fish around town, and with a new personal best, I couldn’t be happier with how my day went.

Tight lines,

-Isaac