Wednesday, June 22, 2011

.....and the bite is back on

     Sunday we had our second club tournament of the year and if I could sum up the fishing in one word, that word would be...."unbelievable". It wasn't a tournament that saw quantities of 3lb and 4lb fish, however, when your tossing over dozens of 2-1/4lb to 2-1/2lb fish because they wont help increase your weight, then you know it's been a good day on the water.
     My partner for this tournament was club member Harry, who is a quality stick with club championships and regional qualifiers on his resume. Harry is the proud owner of a new Legend boat and I have to say this smooth riding boat has all the amenities to go with the balanced ride, quick hole shot, and top end speed. As we idled out of the marina, we discussed our strategy for the day and decided to start in a spot we were comfortable getting a quick limit, and later in the day we'd try and locate larger fish to increase our weight. With any tournament, its never a good sign when you drop the boat down, turn around and see a half dozen other boats doing the same. However, this particular day there would be enough action for everyone. Harry dropped the Minnkota and we barely made it 20 yards and he had the first keeper of the day in the boat. Harry started the day throwing a spinner bait and I made a few casts with a pop-R and quickly switched to a spinner bait because of the current position on the rocks. This first stretch was an east west rock wall with current spilling against half the stretch and current flowing over the other half. Water depth was 2'-3' with water clarity slightly stained compared to normal pool 9 water clarity. As we made our way up the rocks we started to pick up more and more fish off spinner baits, chatter baits, and shallow crankbaits. The outstanding thing about the bite this particular morning was the way in which these fish attacked the lures. A few would just lay on the bait and load up your rod, but most would crush the spinner bait, chatter bait, swim jig or crank bait. Needless to say, we quickly filled out our limit but knew we had to increase our weights to have a chance at the win.
     As we watched our surroundings throughout the morning, we noticed several boats with rods bent and nets going into the water, so after a few hours, and a few increased ounces here and there, we packed up and headed to our next spot. The next two spots echoed each other in the fact they were main channel rock walls with shallow water bordering deeper water with steady current. Harry had found fish in these areas during practice and as he predicted, they were still there. This time, the fish were tight against the rocks so once the lure hit the water, you had to be ready for a strike. The bottom side of one little rock point in particular had four largemouth over 2-1/2lbs and two solid fish pushing the 3lb mark. To give you a perspective on this, imagine all six of these quality fish sitting in a foot of water in an area no larger than your dining room table. Harry would have me step up to the trolling motor and keep us in position while he weighed his fish, and just about the time he was ready to start fishing again, I would hook into one and we'd switch positions. Its just the kind of day it was.
     We continued to catch fish everywhere we went, and would gain an ounce or two in weight to slowly but surely work our way up to 25lbs-26lbs. Most of the spots we fished were very similar with rocks, current, and a few weeds, however, one area behind the rocks was a very shallow weed flat with sparse lilly pads and patches of fresh green grass. This area had "Frog" written all over it, so Harry grabbed his spro frog and launched a cast right next to the rock bank surrounded by weeds. Boom!!! The frog was inhaled by a solid 2-3/4lb largemouth he quickly wrestled to the boat. After the fish was released and Harry's very next cast landed beside another patch of weeds, Boom!!!!, another 2-3/4lb largemouth. Back to back casts produced quality fish, with only one draw back. We couldn't go any further because the water depth ran out and the stumps became to much of a risk. So we headed out and decided to finish our day in the same area we'd started.
     As we arrived back to our first area of the day, neither of us were surprised to see the same amount of boats in the general vicinity. Harry dropped the boat down quietly and we got into the rotating line of boats surrounding the rocks and weeds. Just as we reached the spot we finished at in the am, Harry slammed another solid 2-1/2 lb largemouth off a swimjig between the weed and the rock line. At this point, Harry had almost a 3lb average so these fish were not helping him at all, but left me slightly jealous because I needed to get a couple smaller fish off my board. We continued around the bend in the rocks and with roughly 15 minutes of our tournament day left, I was blessed with almost back to back 2-1/2lb fish off a Stanley Vibrashaft spinner bait. This helped bump me closer to a 2-1/2lb average and helped our total to 27.04lbs.
     As we idled into the marina and the talking started between boats, I began to feel that everyone had a tremendous day on the water. And that was indeed the case as everyone in our club had almost the exact fishing experience Harry and I had on the water. It took 27.14lbs to win the tournament with Harry and I coming in second place with 27.04lbs and every other team weight close behind. Almost everyone in our club reported excellent fishing with 2lb to 2-1/2lb fish very common on a variety of lures and techniques. Simply put, the bass had the feed bag strapped on and we had the pleasure of being on the water at the right time. Pool 9 was almost back to normal water level, the water clarity and temperature were just about ideal, and the overcast skies and slight winds were all contributing factors to a remarkable day of fishing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

humbling experience..................

     No matter how good the last few fishing trips have been, or how many big bags of bass you've caught recently, or how confident you've become, there is always the next fishing trip waiting to humble you. And that is exactly what I experienced today in a trip to Lansing.
     I accepted an invite to join Mike on pool 9 and head out after some of the good populations of largemouth and smallmouth in and around the Lansing area. We met at the state ramp at first light, dropped Mikes ranger boat in the water, and headed out with relative confidence we could find quality fish. The water table has been somewhat stable over the past few days, weather has been unseasonably warm, and no storm fronts had moved through the area, so the conditions appeared to be on our side. As we put down and idled to our first stretch of bank, Mike noticed the water color had gone from semi-clean to stained. Not sure how this would impact the bite, we started fished the flooded brush and emerging grass along the shoreline with cautious optimism. This would be the highlight of our confidence as we spent the next two hours casting and flipping every piece of cover in the area with little more than a tap or two on the other end of the line. The area had all the components needed such as log jams, smaller flooded brush, fresh green grass, and a mix of current and slack water. Yet nothing more than a missed bite or two.
      Disappointed, we loaded up and headed to another spot closer to the main channel thinking the fish had moved out of shallower back waters. Our next area had similar structure and a little more depth, not to mention a good reputation for holding quality fish. Although the water wasn't at the ideal level, we had hopes of pulling at least a few fish from this area. As we fished the area with tubes, jigs, spinner baits, and the occasional pop-r, our confidence continued to decline as we again had a bite every 50-75 yards and still nothing to show for it. As we approached the back of the cove, and yet another good looking grouping of flooded trees, Mike would stick our only quality fish of the day, a solid 2-1/4 to 2-1/2lb smallmouth. It was somewhat out of place that far back in the trees, however, it gave me confidence there could be more in the area so we continued to fish another hour. Humbly, we packed up our gear quietly, and headed down river evaluating the situation and trying to figure out what the fish wanted. Was it bait fish?, we had seen schools of bait fish. Was it current? we had fished current. Was it weeds, or wood? We'd fished both. Nothing seem to stand out as the reason for our poor fishing.
     We blew through some narrow cuts and down into an area that had two to three intersecting current flows. Again, we had timber, brush, emerging weeds and pads, and now we had rocks. We initially fished the back side of an island and after about 100 yards had one tiny northern pike as the only proof we'd fish the bank at all. As Mike took the boat down one of the cuts, we came up on a bridge and started to fish the rock shoreline with tubes and beavers. Mike got bit almost immediately on the rocks, but didn't hook up while I managed the tinniest of tiny smallmouth on a KVD 1.5 white/grey/chartreuse crankbait. There were a few more bites further up this shoreline, but no hooks ups, so we decided to check a spot or two closure to the ramp. At this point, you could almost feel the desperation between us as the conversations started to dwindle and we both spent that time trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle we'd failed to do throughout the course of the day.
     Next, we sat down in heavy current on a rocky main channel shoreline. Again throwing tubes, beavers, spinner baits, and jigs, we started to get bit. And as we quickly found out, these were 8" to 10" bass grouped together in subtle current breaks. It was nice to get bit, but by now, these fish were little concellation for the days efforts. We fished a little more of the area, then headed into the marina and fished our way to the boat dock.
     Its a little hard to swallow the outcome of the day considering the conditions were right for a good day on the water. Usually, the drive home offers a little clarity on the situation, and provides a bases for wiser decisions going forward. However, Mike and I talked our way through the entire day while we were in the boat fishing our way through pool 9 and failed to come up with any factors except one. The water clarity in almost all the spots we checked had become slightly stained compared to previous outings. This was the only real factor we could come up with that could have impacted the fish.
     The old saying, "A bad day of fishing is still better than a good day of work", still applies. It was a great day to be on the water, and as I do on every trip, learned more about the river than I previously knew. That being said, Mike and I are both competitive and the sting of a humbling day on the river won't go away quickly enough.



Sunday, June 5, 2011

Products and techniques to this point in the season

     It's been a different sort of spring this year on the Mississippi river with water levels starting out high and never going below 3'-5' above normal pool levels. Because of the high water levels, the cooler than normal water temperature, and the consistent current, its been a struggle finding and patterning fish. However, it has been a decent spring for quality fish and with that being said, I'd like to take a brief moment to discuss some of the tackle I've been using this season, and what lures have been consistently taking fish.
     I made a switch to fluorocarbon line in early May and have to say I am very pleased with the results. 15lb Vicious Flurocarbon has limited the stretch I was getting with monofilament and has also helped get the plastics I've been throwing down quickly. My main concern was how it would cast, and between my Pinnacle Inertia's and Abu Garcia Orra SX reels, it has been smooth and fluent.
     It's hard to pick a single lure that has produced the best for me this season on the Mississippi river. My personal favorite and go to lure is the RC Tackle 4" black with red flake tube. I''ve fished this lure in every condition this season and it has almost always produced fish. Along with the tube, I've fished a jig made by a friend of mine who started River's Edge lures. This jig is a brown/orange/watermelon combination with a papi craw brown and tan trailer. There was a day in early May where I would estimate I fished this lure 90% of the day in many different situations, and couldn't keep the largemouth and smallmouth off. Another bait I was introduced to this season was the Reaction Innovation Sweet Beaver in watermelon and red. When weighted correctly for the conditions, this bait has produced fish in heavy, heavy current, which is almost everywhere given the river levels this spring. Personally, up until the last week or two, I haven't had any consistent luck on spinner baits and chatterbaits. I've caught fish, but nothing as consistent as a tube, a jig, or a beaver. However, the last 2 to 3 weeks have been a very hot spinner bait bite, and it took a butt kicking by my boating partners to change my perspective. I'd been throwing a larger profile spinner bait, and this was apparently my issue because once I was guilted into putting on a low profile spinnerbait, I began increasing my hook ups. Specifically this last weekend in which the majority of my fish came off a spinnerbait. I usually throw a Stanley Vibrashaft spinner bait in various color combinations, but this spring has shown me the profile of the bait can become as important as any other aspect of the lure.
     As far a techniques and patterns go this season, it's been all about current. Deep water areas that usually hold pre-spawn staging fish have anywhere from 3' to an extra 6' of water on them with heavier than usual current. So getting the bait down to the fish has required a heavier weight for plastics, a heavier jig, or even a heavier chatterbait or spinner bait. Along with the consistently higher water this spring has been the junk floating at all levels of the water column. This has made crankbaits, rattle traps and even some top water lures hard to effectively fish. But when the water conditions have been right, I have taken a few fish on both rattle traps and crankbaits.
     The really curious thing to me this spring has been the amount of good quality fish we've caught in stronger than normal current. I mean kill your trolling motor batteries in a few hours fast current. With this much high water and current all over the river, one would think the fish would like enjoy a break from swimming so hard. However, it almost appeared the opposite of that thought process this spring. I've fished in current I never would have considered previously, and found consistent concentrations of quality tournament fish. If I had to take one lesson away from the season thus far, it would be to never overlook an area because of the speed of the water. If the area has all the right factors, make sure you give the spot a chance. Chances are, the fish are their.   


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Memorial day.........

     My introduction to the Mississippi river began when I was old enough to walk, and I've been in love with this river ever since. My grandparents owned a summer home in Harpers Ferry and I can remember spending almost every summer weekend with my grandfather on the river fishing for everything from blue gills and crappies, to walleye and northern pike. So every Memorial Day, I spend at least part of my day fishing the Mississippi river allowing it to take me back to much simpler times in my life. And this last Memorial Day was no exception as I spent another day on pool 9 with Eric, a fellow Northeast Iowa Bass angler.
     We started our day on a large section of backwater fishing shallow weed beds. Eric began by throwing a spinner bait and I began by alternating between a pop-R and a spinner bait. Even at 5:30 in the morning I was quickly reminded of the forecasted winds for that day as we had more than a few waves chopping up the back of the usually quiet lake. It took roughly a half hour before Eric boated our first fish of the day which took longer than either of us expected. The emerging weeds and shallow depth looked like a perfect spawning area, but to our discontent, the first stretch we fished did not hold fish in any concentrations. We moved deeper into the back of the lake and found a few defined weed points and slightly deeper water. These points held a few fish as we both got bit around the same bush on a tube and a jig, but came up empty. We fished the area out with only a a few dinks to show for our efforts and decided to try another area with more current and considerably more weed growth. This new area didn't take long to produce as Eric boated a solid 2+lb largemouth on a spinner bait withing minutes. Shortly after that I boated my first keeper that exploded on a Berkly pop-R just outside the defined weedline. The whole area looked like it should hold fish with a shallow weed flat out of the current, just 20-30 yards away from a deep secondary channel. We again caught a few more small fish (and one enormous dogfish) as we finished this area, but nothing that would help the cause, so we strapped down the gear and decided to head down river.
     On our way down Eric punched the boat into what is usually a clear water feeder creek, but was surprised to see milky stained water throughout the area. We fished this area quickly, as Eric noticed the water temperature was almost 10 degrees cooler than our other stops, and with no luck and headed down the river a few hundred yards to the top of the Winneshiek. As the boat spilled out of one of the canals, we were greeted with another bass boat sitting one the area we intended to fish. So, we made short work of the area we had left to fish and decided to continue our trek down stream in search of more consistant fishing. We fished the top and bottom sides of a few points on our way down stream with a few fish here and there, until finally we found a solid concentration of fish. This area consisted of another feeder creek spilling directly into the river with 2' inside the creek spilling into a 3'-5' flat with a few large tree stumps barely sticking out of the water. Our first positive sign was bait fish holding behind each of the logs blocking the current. Just at the mouth of the creek we found the fish feeding aggresively, and biting on everything from spinner baits and crankbaits, to tubes and beavers. To be honest, the area was loaded with fish, but they were mostly 10'-12's. However, I did take my best fish of the day off a black with red flake 4" tube. This 2-3/4 to 3lb fish came directly in the mouth of the creek in about 4' of water. And, as we could see when we buzzed a spinner bait behind the current breaks, they were feeding on the bait fish holding in the area.
     As fun as consistantly catching fish can be, Eric and I both wanted to keep searching for bigger fish so we put the poles down and quickly traveled around the corner and into a partially flooded island cove out of the wind. Eric quickly noticed all the activity in the area, but realized it was carp and other rough fish making all the commotion. Regardless, the area looked solid with shallow, but cleaner water and fresh green grass patches springing up to the east of our boat and an immature lilly pad field to the west of the boat. Eric blanketed the weed line with a spinner bait and swim jig and I pounded the small lilly pad field with a modified Stanley Vibrashaft spinner bait. Eric quickly swept two solid 2-1/2lb fish into the boat and I added a third keeper minutes after that. As we made our way between the weeds and pad field we would pick up a keeper every 10-15 minutes, but what made this intriguing was the fact we were catching no dinks. These were solid tournament fish. As we made our way into the very back side of the island we were in very skinny water and spooking fish as we went. At first we thought these were the carp we'd seen jumping and moving around earlier, but Eric and I both realized these weren't very quickly when he hooked into a solid 3lb largemouth and I boated another solid keeper on a Rivers Edge Peanut Butter and Jelly Swim jig. This area was being used for spawning and the pad field on the outside was a staging area near deeper water. Even though the fishing wasn't fast and furious, we continued to pull quality fish from this area until my watch told me it was time to be getting back to the vehicle and heading for home.
     Eric and I began the day struggling to find consistent fish in areas we both thought would be holding various stages of spawning fish. But as it often plays out, we needed to move around from spot to spot to find areas with active fish. Even though we caught fish in two main areas, it was clear this was two different kinds of "active". The mouth of the creek had fish in the feeding mode with schools of bait fish holding behind almost every log and current break. The shallow weed flat and adjacent lilly pad field had larger fish, but they were reacting to baits in and around spawning beds. Regardless, we would have had a solid bag of fish on any tournament day, and in the process, learned a lot about how the fish were using the two different areas for different purposes.

Friday, June 3, 2011

1st club tournament

     After having the first club tournament of the year cancelled due to high water, we were finally able to have our pool 9 spring tournament out of Lansing. I was excited to get an early jump on the mornings fishing but was quickly deflated by the site of 25+ bass boats lined up at the state ramp in Lansing. Bass World Sports was having a tournament out of the same ramp, so I knew right then and there the river was going to be crowded. Our club members put their boats in, wound our way through the other tournaments staging boats, and put up on plain headed for our first spots. My partner for this tournament had prefished the lower end of pool 9 and was confident in our ability to find fish, with the only question being size.
     As we dropped down near a quiet shoreline, I was excited about the prospect of calling up some early morning fish on my Berkley Pop-R, while my parnter started the morning throwing a scailed down spinner bait. We were on a flat of about 1-1/2' to 2' of water with 3+ feet of water just beyond the other side of the boat. The water was slightly stained from the rain the night before with moderate current on the shoreline timber. The water temperatures where 63-65 degrees. As we fish further down the shoreline I had a few hits on plastic but no hook ups, but Dan was also getting fish hitting the spinner baits but not eating. We both agreed we were on a spawning flat with fish either sitting on or guarding beds. Shortly after that conversation Dan hooked up with his first keeper of the day, a solid 1-3/4"-2lb fish. I continued to alternate between the the pop-R and an RC Tackle Beaver with nothing to show for my efforts. As we made our way down the bank, Dan would occasionally get bumped on the spinner bait and quickly used a follow up soft plastic bait. The fish would appear to run off with the bait but would not get hooked, so this re-confirmed the fish were guarding beds and only carrying off the baits versus truely eating them. After about 200 yards, we turned around and worked our way back up the bank and Dan managed to boat two more keepers and some dinks while continuing to get bit on the spinnerbait. We entered an area just north of the shoreline we started on only to find the creek feeding this area had muddied up the water. So, we decided to head offshore near some emerging grass flats. This grass was in extremly shallow water, but bordered 3'-5' of water. This was where i hooked my first keeper of the day on a spinner bait. Normally this wouldnt be that interesting of a side bar, but the fact of the matter is i casted into the wind, got one whale of a backlash, and when I managed to untangle the mess, and start realing in the line, there was a solid bass on the other end. Needless to say, that was all the amunition Dan needed for a day of ribbing about deadsticking a spinnerbait.
     With a solid limit on the board for Dan, and one pure accident on the board for me, i agreed to tie on a custom spinner bait that seemed to be the ticket for the early morning bite. And oddly enough, the first stretch of rock bank we went down I nearly got the rod jerked out of my hand by to very agressive smallmouth. This was enough to convince me that slow rolling a spinner bait was going to be a big part of my afternoon.
     As we crossed over onto a rock bank with decent current and varying water depth from 2' to 6', we started to find active fish on a variet of lures. Dan was alternating between spinnerbaits, tubes, jigs, and an occassional crankbait, while i was throwing mostly black RC tackle 4" tubes, rattle traps, and a Rivers Edge jig. We caught fish consistantly for the next two hours with Dan culling out a few fish and me finishing out my limit and upgrading a little. The magic depth consistantly holding good centrations of fish was between 3'-5'.
     Early afternoon, we decided to start looking for some bigger fish which meant heading back up river and out of our wind protected lower end. And with that being said, i can truely say the last couple of spots, and the periodic short rides up the river were a real challenge. We consistantly fought 3'+ waves with some rollers reaching 4' or better. This made for some tense moments and a real appreciation for a being in a 20+ foot boat that handled the conditions quiet well. Between these short boat rides, we managed to catch more fish, but nothing that increased our overall team weight. And with some of my fish barely crossing the 14" limit, i knew this might hurt our chances at a win.
      We entered the Lansing state ramp marina and fished our way to the boat ramp with little more than a few lost lures thanks to some overly agressive shallow water Northern pike. So we loaded up the boat and had to settle for a 3rd place finish. Dan had over twelve pounds and I had slightly less than 8lbs running our total to 20lbs. Not what we wanted, but considering the dropping water levels, and the limited prefishing, we were content with the results. It took 23+ lbs to win our club tournament with big bass being a little over 3.5 lbs. Overall, a very enjoyable day of fishing, and a reality check for me regarding my stubborness in staying with baits i want to catch fish with, versus fishing with baits I have proof the fish are agreesive with.