Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Marsh Fishing 2017

Possibly better-titled Questing for Black Drum.  The invitation I got was approximately I'm going down to Louisiana to catch some black drum; come along if you'd like as there is room in the boat.  Quite an invite on the part of JM: see a place and people I'd never seen before, fish a unique and intriguing setting for species I'd never touched.  And on top of that go with the guy who was the Orvis-Endorsed 2017 Saltwater Guide of the Year.  Just another example of how we and in this case me in particular go about by the good graces of others; could say that it furthers the want in your own person to be generous and helpful in turn.  

We had marked five days of fishing with Lucas in his boat, but got three due to weather (rains, lightning, wind).  On the two off days we went about on our own and logged some pretty good ditch fishing.  Here are some photos and captions from each day:
First half day one there were questions as to the winds in the greater marsh so we stayed in tighter and fished a popper.  That was a good introduction; poppers are a pretty good throw for me given some history with bass.  Also I wanted to exorcise the only other memory I had of being on a platform like this one: a half day affair on which a cold front drove every target from the greater Miami area and we boated around fruitlessly looking for fish; never made one cast other than blind hoping here and there.  The platform is really cool and that "sissy bar" is a critical piece of it.  The whole deal made with sight fishing folks in mind. 

The drama of popper fishing.  Here amplified by the understanding that one could hook any of a variety of species, any of which could be fairly large.

We saw and caught fish of a few different species: sea trout, largemouth bass, and this fish which was the first red I touched.  Caught it on a popper, so given the mouth structure it kind of had to follow the popper and set its mouth down at a particular angle to eat the fly.  Not a big fish but great colors and much appreciated. 

Guided days are typically done around 3-4 PM.  We stop fishing in most cases around dark.  So after the marsh we fished a ditch.  Flat out ditch; no other way to put it.  Giant trucks blasting past us (I'm standing right on the road shoulder while taking this photo).  Not a place to take kids fishing; various reasons as to why that is the case.

This banana spider was present every time we walked by particular location.  Thinking a bit about Louisiana: what it would mean to be a kid walking through these forests.  We run into cobwebs here too but generally unlike this deal.  Add to that some snakes of questionable safety level and some gators in the shallows.  It's a different setting.

We caught a lot of gar on that first night; longnose and shortnose species.  We also caught some very dark species; unsure if those were unique or if they were just dark because they were young fish.

We did not travel south to gar fish, so we didn't have gar-specialty flies.  Rope flies, streamers with very small hooks, etc.  Rather we tapped our carp boxes and just played the numbers game.  Learning right away that smaller hooks are better, and the longnose gar are bitches when it comes to hooking.  Mainly we watched the ridiculous burst-strikes from fish suspended in current right near the water surface...  get fly in face and fish crushes fly, clockwork.  No questions.  Some fraction of time the fish was hooked and landed.  The visuals always present though, and given the fish size and lack of big fight it was almost preferable to just watch them slash and scissor on flies. 

Morning of day two we got more serious about black drum.  We had looked in on a group of them afternoon of day one but it was a spooky situation and we couldn't put anything together.  There was a bit of frustration but in my estimation we hadn't encountered that ideal in which a tailing unawares fish was approached with good angle for presentation.  All the tailers in that video stopped tailing before we could get flies on them.   

JM's specialty is assassinating tailing fish.  Not long and he hooked this one.  I had been 100% sold on the black drum the night before after seeing those tails.  Watching it come together further solidified.  In truth JM had actually already caught a black drum but this was edging toward the big one that he wanted: scaled at 22 lbs.  I valued being there to see him get this fish; he was pretty damn happy.  We all were in fact. 

The next tailer we encountered was brought to hand.  Lucas was very good about saying only important things pertaining to instruction: he understood what we could see and do so he didn't talk much but he did give suggestions in the way of "strip" and "stop" "go again" etc.  Keeping his words few and far between thereby giving them sufficient weight and understood emphasis.  In this case the first cast was right on and the fly was directly into the fish's feeding zone.  I was slow stripping through, in attempt to stay in contact with the fly; Lucas directed a couple pauses which were key.  Line came tight.  Saw some backing, although just one major run.  No net; guide landed fish by tailing it boatside.  At that time this was the biggest fish I'd ever caught, scaled at 33 lbs. 

We weren't really targeting redfish and as such we didn't catch that many.  I don't have enough experience with them to offer any notes of deep substance but at a really basic level I can say (1) they are beautiful fish, (2) they fight pretty hard, (3) they are easier to catch than carp by a pretty longshot because they appear to be mean aggressive SOBs and they eat whatever they see.  Further on this last note Lucas had to break our carping habits of being too careful - too finesse and/or leading the fish by too much.  Basically he said punch those damn fish in the face with the fly; most of them won't spook, rather it'll serve to make them eat.  That worked.

Morning of day three was a repeat, only Lucas had to apply his local knowledge to deal with a curveball i.e. certain good water being fouled by dolphin activity.  By all accounts he knows the marsh in and out; which is unreal in itself because there is so much water; so many channels and ponds.  A true maze.  So he dealt with that and brought us here, where JM hooked another giant black drum.  I like this pic because it shows what a big fish looks like giving its last effort to head marshward.  

What a dinosaur.  Scaled at 27 lbs. 

The fly we used was a black and purple streamer that got down pretty quickly.  Big saltwater hook and pretty heavy tippet.  We weren't dealing with tippet-shy fish. 

By fish number four we were in a pretty good groove.  Overall summary regarding the lure of these black drum: (1) anticipation: they tail, which is explanation in itself; you can see tails from a long way off, (2) technically challenging in that they don't charge flies, they need to be fed, similar to the carp deal, (3) they get really big.  This one scaled at 34.5 lbs. 

And again just to keep fishing, each night we took on the DIY ditch monsters.  Gar.  True prehistorics.  In this case I looked at JM and saw him violently strip-setting (we made a conscious decision to strip set very hard thereby either hooking or losing the fish immediately) and crouched down in predator mode.  He exclaimed something to the effect of I've got the biggest gator fish you've ever seen, etc. 

And indeed he did: estimate I got on age was 6-10 years.  Caught from a roadside ditch with a little carp streamer from the Lake Michigan box.  A number of challenges including seeing the fish, getting fly to it before it disappeared to depths, fighting the fish to shore (couple good and scary (for thought of losing it) thrashing runs), and landing it with our folding carp net.  This video isn't much but it does convey the vibe of urgency we had going.  I realized in short order there could be no video.  All hands were needed.

Biggest I landed which wasn't close to the monster but still a sweet looking fish.  Very small window of encounter that afforded only one cast; it was sufficient. 

My clothes probably should have been burned: mud, saltwater, rain, sweat, fish slime, fish blood and human blood all ground into the very fabric. 

Weather days we did some solid eating at local restos. 

Another ditch or more appropriately stormsewer I'd say.  We caught a lot of carp on the days on which we couldn't get out.  People driving by had to think we were feral beings or idiots or both.  Nothing new for carpers though. 

Each morning we met at this cafe to examine the coming day, weather, etc.  The waitress called us her babies which cracked me up. 

Small urban Louisiana carp were everywhere feeding; we got a lot of shots in fairly regular pattern; pretty fun. 

New species: Rio Grande cichlid.  Dapped a carp fly on it; ate.

Last night we tried to get into an oyster bar seafood joint but it was packed.  Just down the street: an empty resto that serves Honduran food.  What a good stumbling-into.  The man is from Ecuador, the woman from Honduras and another woman from El Salvador.  The whole deal had the vibe of authenticity.  We watched them flatten balls of flour and water to make these tortillas on the spot.  In parting I walked back into the kitchen and said Buenas noches; gracias por la comida; gracias por la cena.  They laughed appreciatively at the gringo and just kept say ok, bye; ok, bye.  That was our exit.  Thanks again JM and Lucas; great chapter.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 3rd Ole Miss Float

Three brothers, two sons, two nephews, three uncles and two cousins all accounted for in local datum of five guys.

Trying to capture the water clarity.  We could see bottom most everywhere save the deepest corner holes.

My two brothers doubled up on the point bar; this is a favorite pic.

Plenty of swimming holes from which we chose this one.

Pretty good harvest.  I think we boated ~18 walleye and kept 15; caught a fair number of pike and kept four maybe.  Few hours after this photo sister-in-law prepared best fish platter I've had in a while.

One of those pics that our grandkids will look at down the road; the classic stringer pose.  Another favorite image.  Everyone present contributed multiple fish to the lot.  A highlight for me to get out with brothers and nephews (my kids are away from MN for a short while, touring; otherwise at least one would have made this float).  Thank you guys for managing the logistics and making this happen; should do it more often.

July 31 2009

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lake Michigan 2017

Eight June episodes on Lake Michigan now.  Short story is that we didn't know what we had when we started; summary in figure 1 above (water level dashboard).  In 2011 and 2013 we lit the place on fire: fish everywhere in the bays; thick spawning groups; fish cruising rocky points adjacent to the bays.  The water in those years was approximately half a meter lower than the long-term average; roughly 1.6 feet down from average elevation of the water surface.  Now we're at 0.3 meters above the long-term number; so ~.8 meters or 2.6 feet higher than our glory years startup period.  In short this means that bays that were full of carp and bass in 2013 can't reach nearly the same water temps with respect to any given measure of solar radiation; specific heat is the study term I think.  We talked on this trip how it is entirely possible that we may never see those bays choked with fish again; maybe not in our lifetimes.  I talked with one landowner who noted that "the water has come back...  it was gone for a while and now it's back."  He termed the current state the "normal" state; his anecdotal agrees with the data.

Means further that Lake Michigan is reclaiming some of its rightful lakebed from the opportunistic terrestrial vegetation takeover effort.  We saw it last year, and noted this June that plants were dying and some had disappeared entirely.  A lot of dead woody shrubbery persists in some places but suppose wave action and violent storms will eventually dislodge now that the roots have rolled over.

The duty becomes adaptation and the study is after more water.  Which places on old air photos will now be inundated with water.  What water (that we recall easily walking in the past) will now be too deep to cross.  What water will heat up the fastest and stay warm.  What is sheltered from the wind.  We've added water to the list and some of it is quite good; the new good stuff.  This also speaks to why we don't give up locations when asked: doing the recon, getting there and being right about a place is a significant chunk of the fulfillment; wouldn't want to steal that from anyone.

We ended up fishing a lot of jungle water - that in the cul de sacs, with good residence time and thus the warmest temperatures.  The fish were there; some were spawning but many were just staging to do so.  Many were sleeping in the warm bath.  We woke them up.  The summary grade as I see it is a B+ or A- because we caught many fish, and we caught a lot of big fish, but the ideal Lake Michigan visuals - giant carp breaking off 90 degree turns and closing for ten feet to eat a bunny leech - were infrequently encountered.  We got some of those but not enough to put it in the top three lake trips.  2011, 2013 and 2015 still stand as the top three in chronological order; not quality order.  It'd be hard to rank a trip lower than fourth when guys were regularly not fishing to 18 lb carp that surely would have eaten; when guys were passing on dozens of fish trying to pry out the biggest females in the jungle packs.  So put it at fourth of eight episodes in the overall campaign.  

That said I love every one of these trips.  It's not what I'm getting away from; in fact my family is gone for a while and I can't stand being at home by myself; lonely.  Quiet.  I don't need breaks from them; I don't need breaks from home.  I would never leave here and sit on a chair and read while sun tanning for five days.  The trips are adventures or as close as we can get to them in this day.  That could draw a chuckle but really it's pretty serious: how would an average middle aged guy right now get closer to adventure than hunting and fishing trips.  We need a little substance with which to build some portfolio of memories.  Looking at the world isn't enough; have thought so for some time.  Put your hand on it and the memories will be a lot more vivid.  Capture something by difficult means or maybe shoot something to take home and eat; vivid.  Good things.  That's why we walk miles each day basically eschewing food and drink and staring at water searching for carp.  Key for me is going unencumbered: no boat to haul around, no giant packs.  Rod and a sling; light clothing and wading gear.  Free to go.  No schedule.  Wake up and have at it is what we do.  Pretty fun.

As stated we got only a few dramatic turns and run-downs.  There were some other takes that were noted and appreciated.  JM can chime in with his own suite; I will highlight these:

(1) Our favorite new water was screwed by wind; pounding waves.  Turbid mess.  We had been looking forward to fishing it for around 365 days.  Never did come together; we checked it twice.  Walking through the turbid water, we did find some fish up tight to shore, tailing in little pockets.  Nearly impossible to see; just flashes of black fin edges for fleeting seconds.  I addressed one of these fish after detecting it and immediately losing sight of it by setting a black (best color for turbid water) leech on one side of where I figured it to be.  Slowly dragged it across toward me, again figuring where head was facing.  Damn it if the carp didn't find that leech and eat it.  Kind of cool to take one from a tough spot.  I still can't figure if I felt the eat or if I just slowly picked up and came tight.  Probably the latter.

(2) Not a new one but I always need reminders on this type of take: the "half-sight-fishing" deal.  Cast to a group of cruising carp and just bass fish the streamer through the group.  I tend to not do this enough because so focused on trying to put the fly in front of a specific fish.  But in this case I did it, and came tight.  A streamer stripped through a group of carp; one of the doggers snapped it up.  Good reminder regarding meat eaters.

(3) We saw a number of carp cruising in groups of 2-4.  Not actively spawning just cruising.  Not the hunting cruise though.  More the idling/traversing cruise.  They could be had but they were not really positive.  And if they caught sight of angler, they were negative.  In one instance I got a good jump on a group of three, and instead of standing and banging out false casts I jolted myself with some discipline and crouched down low, basically butt in the water and line behind me ready to flip.  When they got close enough, I dropped a big streamer on the group; sank it and then twitched it on the bottom.  The last fish in the group swam by the fly, then did a 180, came back and set mouth down on the fly.  Another reminder for me: low profile very good.

(4) Carp mood is a big part of the deal as is commonly known.  After putting flies on negative fish for a while, I stepped into a shallow bay and saw one fish, head down, looking.  Searching.  I said aloud to JM there is the fish.  This one is caught.  It wasn't difficult from there.  Not because of any particularly good presentation.  It was the right fish recognized as such.

(5) We caught three 24 lbers and the first of them afforded another good reminder: don't give up if the fish isn't spooked, even if it comes within a foot of your own corpus.  We were fishing the jungle picking out big females.  I got a decent jump on one in a scrub patch and put a fly on her as she swam toward me; no go.  But I was a statue and she didn't spook. Swam closer; right to my feet and then past me.  To my 180 degree mark on the compass.  I twisted waist and kept feet set, dapped over her shoulder at a rod length and she at the fly as it fell.  Pretty cool.

Other than that just some captions.

Jungle fishing.  Heavier tippet required.

JM on a point reclaimed.

Flies we like to use are basic dark streamers of varying size.

Lake Michigan.

Deep in the jungle.  Warm water.  Calf wrangling.  Not ideal but one cannot ignore concentrations of large fish.

Wave-driven turbidity and dying scrub conifers.

For a couple days carried a backup rod.  Broken rod tally on this trip was (1).  Been quite a few over the years.  This ain't trout fishing.

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Lot of fish cruising this water; really tough targets.  Difficult spot because so beautiful and the fish just came group after group.  We could see our streamers perfectly and put them on a hundred fish.  Wouldn't eat.  How it goes sometimes.

More terrestrial veg getting murdered by the new world order.

Simplest fly you can tie.  It caught a lot of fish.  I brought about fifteen of them; lost a lot.


Scouting day before JM arrived; this was one of the first fish of the trip scaled at 16 lbs.  Feeling good getting on the board.

Terrible picture but it was 22 lbs so had to set up a camera timer.  Biggest fish of scouting day.  Had hooked one that was bigger and lost her in a cattail thicket.  Got upset about that and cut my leader down.  That worked was a portent.

Never really spent much time looking into bass but they were around.  We caught maybe a dozen in the 14-16 inch range.  Most up really shallow.

20 lbs.

24 lbs.

Bass with a worn out C&R mouth.

23 lbs.

Captures our collective spirit I think: double in a downpour.  It didn't occurr to either of us to stop fishing.  We each hooked multiple fish when the water surface was broken by rainfall. 

20 or 22 lber; can't remember exactly which is a good sign.

I think a 19 lber.


20+ toad bastard fish with a pig gut.



Long mean dog right there.

I don't have all the pics at hand.  JM has posted some too.

Total of 16 fish that were 20-24 lbs.  JM got nine of them; two days he had three 20+ lbers.  I only logged seven but achieved a couple streaks: five consecutive days of at least one 20+ lb carp; can't remember doing that before.  And on June 12 there was a 19 lber between the 24 and 21 lbers; pretty good run of four consecutive fish.

We still think a lot about nets.  Have not found the perfect model.  The Frabill short handle in foreground has a great strong hoop but tears easily (we've torn maybe four bags, and this one pictured went to hell on the third or fourth day; it was brand new going into the trip).  Zip ties are good for field repairs; ball the tear up and make a pig-tail.  Works.  I'm toying with idea of putting a rubber basket on the Frabill.  One negative would be increase in overall weight.  Welcome comments about the best carp nets.

Thanks JM for another chapter.  We'll keep going.