Saturday, October 25, 2008

Everything old is new again - plastic swimbaits now and then

Old School swimbaits from 80's and 90's

Soft plastic swimbaits have been gaining in popularity for a number of years. On many waters, they are THE way to catch the resident populations. And, by and large, they work. I've been fairly astonished at some of the prices these baits command, but as long as they work, they're worth buying and trying.

Over the weekend I was going through some of the scads of tackle I have in my garage (I'm a self admitted gear and tackle junkie) when I came across some of the following, and it got me thinking - is there anything really new about this trend? Bottom line - I think not.

Some of the current crop of swimbaits

I remember back in the 80's when I fished Sassy Shad, and really got behind Twisters Sassy Grubs. I thought they were a step ahead of using Mr. Twisters, which many of us derogatorily referred to as " nickle crankbaits". Anyone could cast them out and retrieve, and catch fish. Gene Larew Long Johns were pure poison on the Susquehanna River smallmouths in the early 90's. As you can see from the pictures, the early swimbaits look eerily similar to the modern ones. They have something else in common - they work just as well now as they did 20 years ago. Another revelation - so do Twisters / grubs.

One thing that is new to the scene is the Cotee Cracker Shad. It is a fine swimbait in its own right, but it has a rattle embedded in it near the base of the tail. It adds a previously missing element to the game. And - it works! Bass attack these baits, and pike wouldn't leave them alone in Canada this past summer. Since Cotee is primarily a Saltwater bait company, you may need to search online for them if you don't live in a coastal area. I know that Cabelas carries them - not sure who else.

Don't take this observation as being disparaging - I don't dislike these baits at all - on the contrary, I have them along on nearly every trip to the water, regardless of the target species. As a matter of fact, I rely on them, and on the previously mentioned grubs, more now than I ever have. I realize that you don't get "more points" based on degrees of difficulty associated with your method of fishing, and don't really care if you did. They work. Period. Both types of baits should have a space of prominence in your tackle box. They do in mine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blustery day on Lake Oneida

The flat water belies the conditions - it was this dark at 10 AM!

Well, the weather forecasts were right. When I WANT them to be wrong, they're not!I met Rob Goffredo at Lake Oneida around 10 AM, and the dark clouds that define fall weather were already pouring in from the west. The heavy rain held off, though, and gave us a 3-1/2 hour window to chase smallmouth. I've mentioned in previous posts that I really enjoy fishing with local talent when I get out on water that I'm not very familiar with. I'd fished Lake Oneida back in the mid 90's, but I really needed to be with a local on this trip. Rob filled the bill perfectly. I first met Rob in the early 90's, when he was working the fishing dept. at one of the Dick's S.G. in Syracuse. Since then, he has fished tournaments from National level to Red Man trail to local club tournies. Oneida is one of his "home waters", so I knew I was in good hands. I was right.

A smallie that fell for a tube

We fished out of Oneida Shores on the extreme SW corner of the lake. It was really the only part of the lake to fish - the SW -W wind made the rest of this 30 mile long lake unfishable. Oneida is only 50' deep at its deepest, and mostly runs 10 - 30' deep. This lake gets very rough with west winds, and that's what we had on Tuesday.

Rob with a swimbait bass

We started trying to locate fish in a nearby channel. They weren't as concentrated as we had hoped, and left that area after taking about 4 or 5 on tubes. The water temp wasn't quite cold enough to concentrate them in that area. Instead, we spent the remaining time drifting weed flats that were 8-15" deep and fan casting swimbaits at first, then some spinnerbaits. The fish were scattered over this structure, but there were enough of them to keep things interesting for the rest of the day. We ended up boating 19 smallmouth, with 15 of them over 14", and 3 were estimated over 4 pounds. ALL were fat and getting fatter for the looming winter months. I LOVE football sized fall smallmouth!

Author's Swimbait smallmouths

The baits of choice on this day were from Strike King. More than half of our fish were taken on Strike King Shadalicious swim baits (4-1/2") in Sexy Shad color. Rob got on a spinnerbait bite toward the end of our trip. Within a half hour of the time we pulled the boat out, the skies opened up, the wind picked up, and all hell broke loose. We were glad to be watching it from a restaurant rather than fighting it in the boat. Even though it didn't rain much while we were on the water, the wind was very heavy. the only way we could fish effectively was by deploying a 60" drift sock, which slowed us down to a comfortable speed. Drift socks are indispensable in situations like these, and are greatly under utilized. I was very glad Rob had his along.

Rob with a big spinnerbait smallie
Another great day to be on the water. And, as I anticipated, thank God for good raingear! I love Fall smallmouths.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chilly day ahead

I'm supposed to go fishing on Tuesday on Lake Oneida in upstate NY, near Syracuse, on Tuesday. Just checked the weather forecast of Weather Underground - high of 50, 50-60% chance of rain. Good clothes make a day like that bearable. Layers of Under Armour and Medalist will keep me warm, Muck Boots keep the feet warm and dry, and a great rainsuit will keep all the bad stuff out. I truly believe that a rainsuit is the item of outdoor clothes you should spend the most on, and get teh best you can afford. Especially for fishing. When hunting, especially upland birds, where yo uput on mile after mile, I could be pursuaded to change my opinion to leather boots. Either way, quality clothing can make terrible weather bearable, and extend your time on the water or in the woods. And thats what it's all about.

Since I don't have any photos that mean anything to this post, Ill throw in a pike from Lake Athabasca in June 07.

Actually, it does have something to do with the post. That rain coat will see action again on Tuesday. I can't remeber the brand of it - it's made primarily fo the sailing industry - but the coat and pant hacve been with me on a lot of trips and have always performed flawlessly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fall smallmouth on the Mississippi

The jonboat is ready to take us to the smallies

I had a chance to get in a day on the upper Mississippi River, between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, on Wed. October 15. It's among my favorite trips to make, and one I get to do woefully few times. While all fishing trips are good in some way or another, this one is special - it's with a friend, former co-worker, and truly great guy to fish with - Gregg Thorne. Musky anglers will recognize the Thorne name from the shop Gregg and his brother, Paul, started many years ago in Minneapolis - Thorne Bros. Gregg and I worked together at Cortland Line a number of years ago, and remained close friends after I left. In addition to being a terrific fisherman, Gregg's just one of the guys I enjoy spending time with. Our fall trips for smallmouth have also exposed me to a type of fishing I never do any other time - bait fishing for bass.

Gregg Thorne with a tiger striped smallmouth

Author with typical smallie

We launched Gregg's jonboat at a dirt ramp and went upstream to see if the bass were on their winter spots yet. We soon found out that, indeed, they were. Each spot we tried held a number of smallmouth that pounced on our sucker minnows. Since I'm not usually a practitioner of bait fishing, it takes me a little while to get the feel for the timing of setting the hook, especially with minnows as large as we were using (Some were over 6") But, I came around, and didn't deep hook any fish. All the bass were released alive to fight again, but both the walleyes we got "volunteered" to be dinner at the Thorne residence that nite!

More smallies from MN

As I look back on the day, one recurring theme to my trips jumps out at me - I have no idea how many fish we caught! I'm just not a fish counter. I know we had 2 full buckets of big minnows when we started, and only a handful of minnows left when we quit, and we didn't lose much bait, so, if I had to guess, I'd say we caught 40-50 bass, the 2 'eyes, and one nice channel cat that I got, pushing me over the edge in our hotly contested battle to see who caught the most species. When I go fishing, and someone asks how it was, I answer honestly with "It sucked", "It was pretty good", or "It was great". I usually know how few fish were caught when it sucks, but on the other days, I really don't know . My brother is a fish counter. He was with me on my recent trip flyfishing in Rocky Mtn. National Park. On the day we caught all the brookies, he asked me how many I had caught. I just looked at him - "I don't know - a lot". On last Wednesday, on the Mississippi, I had a good case of "Bass Thumb" at the end of the day, so I know I caught a lot!

Buckets full of sucker minnows

This section of the Mississippi, between St. Cloud and Minneapolis, is a terrific section of water. According to Gregg, a number of years ago, the river experienced very successful spawns a number of years in a row. Those year classes of fish are now in the 16-20" range, and there are a lot of them. We caught 3 fish smaller than 16" on our trip. I've fished here with Gregg in the summer as well and, while the areas and patterns are different, the average size of the bass found here is, to me, amazing. I've fished a lot of rivers for smallmouth in my life, and the best average size I've ever found has come from these waters. In addition to the great bass fishing, we saw an osprey and 6 bald eagles. The leaves were changing, a stiff NW wind was cutting down the river, and it was a perfect fall day to be chasing smallmouth!

One final thing about the river - I consider my self to be an excellent reader of water on a river - any river. I can usually be put a river I have never seen and figure out where the fish should be. Not here though. Without the direction from a person with a lifelong history of the fish and their patterns, I would flounder desperately on these waters. The winter holding areass are small and very subtle - most of the time not showing any indication on the surfac that this is where you want to fish. Local knowledge rules on these waters, and I love going with Gregg!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pond Fish in October

This past weekend had temperatures climbing over 60 degrees in Illinois. I decided to take a walk across the street and give the development ponds a shot on Sunday afternoon.

While there are some legitimate fishing opportunities in urban northern Illinois (Fox River, Kankakee River, Forest Preserve ponds), the fishing opportunities have increasingly been related to ponds in housing developments. These are either accidental fisheries, or designed to be fisheries for the residents. The 3 acre ponds on my development are primarily for stormwater retention, but they have a very good population of bluegills, largemouth, crappies, and other occasional entrants. I've seen honest 11" gills come from these waters, and a fair amount of 3-4 pound largemouth. There is a lot of algae and aquatic weed growth in these ponds. When I fish these ponds, and just want to hook something, I put a few Cubby Mini-Mites in my pocket along with some 1/16 oz. jigheads and 2" Munchie grubs. Armed with an old Fenwick HMG ultralite, I went for a walk around the ponds.

Nothing spectacular happened, but the action was pretty steady. a few small LM, 3 gills (largest was 7"), and 3 nice crappies. Then, ... I got a hit on a pumpkinseed grub. Another gill, decent size. It was on for a second or 2, and then my drag started peeling off the reel. A second or 2 later, a very large head poked through some weeds, and the bluegill popped out of its mouth!! A largemouth had eaten my 'gill. It was certainly the largest bass I've ever seen in these little ponds - I'd say it was a solid 6 pounds, maybe a little larger. Of course I didn't land it, and don't really care, but it proves a point I like to make very well.

Nothing neat will happen to you unless you make the effort to get out on the water!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Iowa trout - number 39 on my list It's never as easy as it should be

On 10-7, I caught 3 trout on N. Bear Ck. in Iowa on a drizzly. overcast morning. It was perfect for fly fishing, and the fish were active. So, catching a few fish shouldn't have been a big deal. Except - I forgot my fly reel.

I had packed hurriedly the day before. I was on a business trip to western WI and had a morning that I thought I might be able to sneak out and try an Iowa water and , hopefully, mark it off my list of "catching a fish in all 50 states". I had never wet a line in Iowa before Tuesday. After a long drive on a lot of unmarked dirt roads (thank God for the DeLorme Gazetteer!!), I found my stream. I had an hour and a half to fish. When I got my gear together, I panicked - no reel. Well, its impossible to flyfish without flyline. So, I put everything away and walked to the creek to at least see what I was missing.

The creek was clear and beautiful, running at a perfect level. As I stood next to the creek, I saw 3 separate fish working in a pool, 2 taking dries and one emergers. Below this pool was a 45' long, 2' - 3' deep fairly fast run. I felt certain there were multiple fish in the faster water. I REALLY wanted to catch something to knock Iowa off my list. So, I dreamed up the following: I cut off a 12' length of 4x tippet, and tied it on the tiptop of the 8-1/2', 4 wt.rod. I tied on a BH Prince #16, and tied a dropper below that of a BH soft hackle Hare's Ear #14. It wouldn't be pretty, but I could flop the mess into the fast run, high stick it downstream about 8', and swing the flies at the end of the drift. It was ugly, but I HAD to try something. On the second "cast", I saw a swipe behind the flies as they were swinging. Over the next 45 minutes, I worked every inch of the fast water, got 5 hits, and hooked and landed 3 trout - 2 on the Prince and one on the soft hackle.

On one hand, I felt pretty good on the ingenuity scale, for devising a way to catch a trout with a fly rod and no fly line. On the other hand, the stream looked awesome and I think I could have had a truly memorable day if I wasn't so stupid as to forget the reel. I'd love to get back there , because it really is a pretty stream, but I did get my Iowa fish! Sorry no pics - camera didn't make it , either.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Presidential Amendment maintains fishing rights in Federal waters

This didn't get much press recently - everyone was too busy watching the rollercoaster that is the stock market. As I understand it, President Bush signed an amendment to an Executive Order that ensures access and the right to fish on all Federal Marine waters. While the number of people this directly affects may be minimal, the precedent can't be overstated. Anytime the government is doing something to maintain access and fishing rights, it's a WIN for the sportsmen.


From: ASA Communications [] Sent: Friday, September 26, 2008 8:14 PMTo: ASA CommunicationsCc: ASA CommunicationsSubject: Presidential Action Ensures Recreational Fishing in Federal Waters

For Immediate Release Mary Jane Williamson, Communications director,, 703-519-9691, x227,

Presidential Action Ensures Recreational Fishing in Federal Waters
President Bush’s historic amendment maintains fishing in marine protected areas

Alexandria, VA – September 26, 2008 – On September 26, President George W. Bush signed an amendment to the 1995 Executive Order on recreational fishing. This historic amendment ensures that federal agencies must maintain recreational fishing on federal lands and waters, including marine protected areas. Once implemented, this policy will provide access to places where men, women and children can enjoy fishing now and in the future. The Executive Order revises Executive Order 12962 signed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton.

Over the past two years, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), the Center for Coastal Conservation and its members, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Shimano American Corporation worked together to secure recreational fishing and boating access. President Bush’s amendment recognizes the marine and freshwater conservation impact of recreational anglers by allowing responsible recreational fishing and boating in marine protected areas and federal lands.

“We applaud the President for taking this unprecedented step which recognizes that anglers and boaters play a significant and critical role in this country’s successful conservation model which is the envy of the world,” said ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman. “As a recreational angler and boater himself, the President clearly understands that sportsmen and women are conservationists first and foremost and that recreational fishing is an essential component of the nation’s heritage.”

“The President’s action established a legacy for recreational fishing by securing access to fishing and boating, the lifeblood of the American model of fisheries management and conservation,” said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. “Every time American anglers buy fishing licenses or sportfishing equipment, an investment is made in fishing’s future. This highly successful user-pay system for fishery management depends on access to the resource.”

An August 25 Executive Memo signed by President Bush set the stage for today’s Executive Order. The memo directed the Secretaries of Defense, Interior and Commerce and the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality to sustain access to recreational fishing as part of their study of potential marine protected areas (MPA) in the central Pacific Ocean. ASA supported the president’s directive and his decision not to include the Gulf of Mexico and marine areas of the southeast United States as part of that MPA study.

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association, committed to looking out for the interests of the entire sportfishing community. We give the industry a unified voice, speaking out on behalf of sportfishing and boating industries, state and federal natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, angler advocacy groups and outdoor journalists when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect sportfishing business or sportfishing itself. We invest in long-term ventures to ensure the industry will remain strong and prosperous as well as safeguard and promote the enduring economic and conservation values of sportfishing in America. ASA also represents the interests of America’s 40 million anglers who generate over $45 billion in retail sales with a $125 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for over one million people.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

TOTAL Fishing blog

I've discovered something interested while surfing around the web, looking at fishing Blogs. I guess it's something I always knew, but it really hit home recently. There is a complete and total separation between fly fishermen, and what I call conventional fishermen - baitcasters, spinning guys, ice fishermen. There are scads of blogs pertaining to fly fishing, many of them helping to keep alive the myth that they (fly fishermen), and they alone, occupy the point on the top of the fishing food chain. There are a lot of bass blogs, with most of the ones I've read centering on Bass tournament fishing. There are saltwater blogs, and all the specialty areas as well. But I have not read a single blog that successfully combines and meshes all the various fishing techniques, lifestyles, and theories into a neat little package called FISHING.

Am I the only person out there who likes to FISH, and it doesn't really matter how I'm doing it? Yes, I fly fish for trout. It's been over 15 years since I caught a stream trout on anything but a fly. That doesn't mean worm fishing or fishing with salted minnows is wrong - it's just my choice. I've caught bass on a fly, but not many, because I'd rather throw spinning or baitcasting gear for them. And, I've caught stripers on flies, and WILL NEVER do it again. Way too much work. If all you do is flyfish, you never get to try to land a 9' sturgeon on the Columbia River. And if you refuse to use live bait, your success ice fishing success will plummet. Your catch rate on flathead cats will suffer as well. No complete walleye fisherman abstains from using live bait, either.

Trying to bring everything together into a place where the focus is about fishing, and fish, and streams, appears to be a daunting task. If I can do it effectively, it will be the end result of this adventure - the whole body of work. And maybe I can't do it.

But I can try!

Bass w/ baitcaster

Tiny wild brook trout on a fly

My favorite?? The one I'm doing at the time!