Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Skinny river with Little Dippers

patapsco smallmouth bass
First fish of the day, a 12-inch smallmouth bass.
Fished a section of river that I had not fished before.

In a river that I haven't had much luck at all before, either.

And I managed to catch six smallmouth bass in about two hours.

A few weeks ago, I "discovered" the Avalon Park section of the Patapsco River.  This area is probably the closest smallmouth bass habitat near my house, but I only found it after poking around on Google Earth.  Or maybe I overlooked it before because it was a "park" with ample parking, picnic tables and shelters, and I figured it would be over-fished.

It turned out a lot better than I figured.  Twenty minutes in, I got the first smallmouth -- around 12 inches -- on a Z-Man Finesse TRD Worm.  But things went cold after that, despite the 70-degree weather and cloud-less skies.  Just nothing on the TRD worm or the no-name spinnerbait.  Tried a few different spots and still nothing.

Then after one particular spot without anything, I tied on a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper, and on the second cast, a fish clamped on as soon as the lure hit the water.  A 13-inch smallmouth.  Then another a few casts later.  And another.  Five fish total -- one more in the 12-inch range -- and a few that got off in about 30 minutes.

There were indeed quite a few people fishing, but none of them seemed to be catching.  Tossing bobbers or doing whatever, maybe I'm just smarter than them now -- ha ha!  Seriously, it was satisfying to show up in a new-to-me area -- that had a lot of evidence of fishing pressure -- and catch decent smallmouth.

Also, I spotted what looked like snakeheads cruising the river in one section.  They're supposed to be all over the place from the lower Potomac to all the way up to the lower Susquehanna, but I haven't seen one.  And they are supposed to be ultra-aggressive, but these fish paid no mind to the lures I was throwing.  I would really like to catch one because they are supposed to be really tasty.

I sent Maryland DNR a message through Facebook wondering if I did indeed see a snakehead (they look really similar to bowfin), and this was their response:

"A biologist familiar with the current distribution of snakehead in Maryland said they have been caught at Savage Mill (Patuxent) and sections of the Patapsco as well. he wouldn’t be surprised if some were seen in the Avalon area, it’s possible.  Thank you."

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cloudy with a chance of flatheads

George driving with Kirk on his phone searching
Harrisburg Craigslist for used jet-prop fishing boats.
Karen and I were planning on fishing the Susquehanna River last Friday, but rain earlier in the week raised the water level too high, and the trip was postponed until today.

Except Karen couldn't get away from work today, so my friend Kirk took the seat.  You might remember him from my first time fishing on the Susquehanna.  He has barely dipped his toe into the smallmouth waters but threatens to give up our other mutual hobby -- autocrossing -- and buy a jet-prop boat for river fishing.  I'm doing all I can to discourage him.

The guide we have gone out with before, Jason Shay, was booked up for all of April when Karen checked availability back in February, so I went searching for another guide.  Someone on the River Smallies Forums mentioned Joe Raymond with Susquehanna Smallmouth Guides, and I contacted him.  He was booked, too, but put me in touch with one of his "overflow" guides, George DeFrehn.  We set a date for April 20 since it was my birthday, and I anxiously awaited the day.

And then Mother Nature had other ideas, and the trip got pushed back.  There was a slight sense of urgency because the river closes for smallmouth bass fishing in this section from May 1 to June 15, so if we couldn't get a date in, there wouldn't be any opportunity for awhile because I'm sure it would be really difficult to find an available guide at such short notice.

Luckily the river had gone down from almost 10 feet to below six.  Weather today called for some rain, but not nearly as much as from the previous week when the water level ballooned up.  Talking with George on Tuesday, he said we would be using tubes and -- surprise! -- Z-Man Finesse TRD Worms.

susquehanna smallmouth
Just your run-of-the-mill 16-inch Susquehanna smallmouth.
Kirk and I got to the boat ramp, and lo and behold our old buddy Jason Shay was there with his boat in the water awaiting his client for the day.  He must have had a quick moment of panic thinking he mistakenly scheduled us for the day, too.

George showed up a few minutes later, put his boat in the water, and we were off.

The first stop, Kirk and and I each caught four or five fish -- the usual Susquehanna smallmouth in the 14-17 range. But after that it was really slow going.  Places George said he had success just a few days before weren't yielding much.  It was like a switch had turned the fish off.

The TRD worms hugging the bottom of the river were getting the most interest, and Kirk caught a few on some jerk baits.  George was throwing all kinds of lures trying to find something else that worked.

susquehanna flathead catfish
Roly-poly flathead.
I decided to change things up and tie on my Rebel Wee R, the same one I used two weeks ago to catch my personal best Little Patuxent smallmouth.  About five minutes later, a fish slammed the little crankbait.  I knew it was something good, but then I started to realize it probably wasn't a smallmouth.

It felt bigger than a smallmouth.

My hopes for a muskie peaked. 

Then I caught a glimpse of the back half of the fish, it was no smallmouth!  It looked like a muskie!

Then George, who had come to the back of the boat with the net peered over the side, and said, "It's a catfish."  Then I saw the fish's head. 

Yup, a catfish.  Mr. Whiskers had appeared again.  But this was no ordinary cat -- it was a flathead catfish.

George netted the fish, and it was quite big.  While it was no ordinary catfish, it was an ordinary size for a flathead -- 30 inches long and roughly 12 pounds.  Forty pounders have been caught in the Susquehanna!

Still, the fish was a beast to try and pull in, and it was probably my biggest fish of any kind ever.  It was also the first type of fish other than a smallmouth that I've caught on the Susquehanna.

susquehanna smallmouth
Kirk with a smallmouth.
I did catch a couple smallmouth after that on the Wee R, but then I went through a dry spell of almost two hours without hooking anything.  I had 10 fish, and Kirk started yanking smallmouth in the boat and was up to about 17.  Fishing the same lures and in the same location.

We moved around quite a bit trying to find eager fish ... somewhere ... but couldn't narrow down a pattern.  Finally, I caught a smallmouth here and another there on a TRD worm, and another on a Reaction Innovations swimbait.

Then we moved to another section and floated down the river.  For the last hour of the day, even as it started pouring rain, the bite was on.  Like a switch had been flipped. 

We were fishing an area that looked like four or five other sections George had taken us earlier in the day, but now the fish were showing some interest.  I started to have really good luck just dragging the TRD Worm slowly on the bottom and waiting.  Then dragging again.  I used the same orange worm from last Sunday on the Potomac to land almost 10 smallmouth.

I ended up with 22 smallmouth for the day while Kirk held on with the advantage by just two fish.  We caught the same number of flathead catfish -- one apiece -- but his was a whole lot smaller.

Most of the smallmouth were 14-plus inches.  Kirk got one that was almost 19 inches, and my best was about 17.  No matter the size, though, all the fish were chunky and had the typical smallmouth bass attitude and anger for getting tricked.  We jokingly speculated that maybe the fish weren't biting because they were full from gorging themselves.

Kirk and I ended the day at the new tradition for a Susquehanna fishing trip, Al's of Hampden.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Finessing the smallmouth bite

potomac smallmouth
Karen only had one fish, but it was a big 'un!
The weather became seasonably warm, so Karen and I went camping on the Upper Potomac.

Monitoring the river gauges, it looked like the Potomac had gone way down but still flowed about two to three feet above normal summer levels.  It was also fairly stained, maybe max three feet of visibility.

potomac smallmouth
First fish and biggest
of the weekend
for me.
We got to our camp site around 3 p.m. yesterday, and I went to a couple of my usual spots.  At the first one, the water was definitely higher than normal as there were no exposed rocks visible.  Starting off with what was successful on Wednesday on the Little Patuxent, I tied on a Z-Man Finesse TRD Worm on a medium-light rod with a 1964 Mitchell 300 reel, and Rebel Wee R on a medium-heavy St. Croix rod with a Pflueger Patriarch.

The TRD worm got the first fish of the day, a smallmouth bass about 15 inches.  Very subtle bite -- just a tap and then it felt like nothing on the other end.  But instinctively set the hook, and the fight was on.  The fish fought harder than the ones on Wednesday (water temp was about seven degrees higher than the Little Patuxent, so maybe the fish were more energized).

The Wee R wasn't hooking anything except dead foliage from the bottom of the river.

With nothing but that one fish for an hour plus, I moved to another "hotspot" in the area, a place I call The Plateau.  Still slow, but after awhile, another tap on the end of the line on the Z-Man worm, and another smallmouth, this one 14 inches.

The presentation was reeeaaallllyyy slow. Cast, let the lure sink to the bottom, slowly pull back on the rod tip to hop the lure across the bottom a foot or two, wait about five seconds, pull back again, wait five seconds, repeat.

A little bit later, Mr. Whiskers decided he wanted to snack on the Z-Man worm.  You never find Mr. Whiskers -- Mr. Whiskers finds you!

potomac smallmouth on rapala shadow rap
This smallmouth wanted a sample from The Jerk Store.
That was it for awhile, and I switched to a Rapala Shadow Rap on my other rod, ditching the Wee R.  The Rapala peaked the interest of a 12-inch smallmouth very close to the shore.  This fish actually hit pretty hard making me initially think it was something bigger.

That was it for the day.  I headed back to the campsite, where Karen had also returned but said she didn't catch anything.

This morning, I headed off to another spot hoping to catch a walleye, but nothing was even sniffing at the TRD Worm or Shadow Rap.  Shuffling to another spot, I caught a chunky 10-inch smallmouth on a TRD Worm, then a 12-inch smallmouth on the next cast.  Each fish just barely nipped at the lure but fought like a typical smallmouth thinking they were actually bigger than they were.

potomac smallmouth
Back-to-back casts got a 10-inch smallmouth then this
one around 12 inches.
There was still some interest on the bottom-bouncing lure, and I had a few fish hooked but they came off. 

Then a fish hit the worm hard and started pulling the other way -- oh this felt like a good one!

Well it wasn't a smallmouth.  It was, again, Mr. Whiskers.  This one a bit bigger than the one yesterday.

Awhile later, I saw it was 8:40 a.m. and decided to go back to the camp site.  Just as I got on the trail, my phone buzzed with a notification.  Karen texted a picture of a 17-inch smallmouth she had just caught!  I found her a couple minutes later fishing an area I had skipped by.  She said she caught the big smallmouth on a Z-Man worm, too.  So definitely those were the ticket for the weekend.

We fished for a bit longer but without any luck, then headed back to our campsite for breakfast of scrambled eggs and Canadian bacon.

The weather looks "iffy" for the early part of the week with rain right now and extending into Monday.  After that, highs in the mid-50s.  But on Friday we are heading to the Susquehanna!

potomac c&o
C&O Canal Trail.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wee R catching fish

rebel wee r
Rattling around the bottom of the tacklebox, the Rebel Wee R has risen.
It's been awhile, but I finally caught some fish!  After getting skunked the first few times out this year, I was beginning to wonder if them brown fish were ever going to awaken from their winter slumber. 

The weather had started to turn for the better, but not quite ideal with several warm days in a row.  The flakey weather kept having me put off side trips to the skinny rivers near my house, but I finally decided to venture to the Little Patuxent after work today.  Temps about 55 degrees and partly cloudy.  Water temp measured right at 50.  The river level was close to summer levels, but not quite as clear.

The plan was to start out with a Z-Man Finesse TRD Worm and a Rapala Shadow Rap and work them slowwww.  The first couple spots I tried produced nothing.  Not even a bite. 

little patuxent smallmouth
First fish of the day
and 2018 -- a 12"
Moving downriver, I decided to try a spot where I haven't caught anything in the past.  It's really slow moving current, very straight section of river, about three feet deep in the middle.  Lots of big rocks scattered on the bottom, though. 

After a couple casts with the TRD worm, there was a really subtle bite on the end.  I set the hook, and the fish fought back.  It came to the surface, and it was a decent smallmouth bass.  After hoisting the fish up the bank, it measured a nose over 12 inches!  Finally with the first fish on the board for 2018!

A few casts later, another fish loosely clamped onto the TRD worm, and it was another smallmouth bass, but only around 10 inches.

After trying the Rapala Shadow Rap without luck, I moved to another spot.  No bites on either lure here, and it was off to another spot.   And then no luck and off to another spot.  And another.

I decided to head back upriver but wanted to hit a few of those areas with other lures.  Looking through the little tackle box with me, I decided on the no-name spinnerbait and a small square-bill crankbait, a Rebel Wee-R.

A couple things here.  First, I've had this Rebel Wee-R for awhile, since before getting back into fishing in 2014.  So it's 10-15 years old at least (maybe not even made any more in this size?).  Second, all the kids these days say square-bill crankbaits work, and I have made a note to add them to my repertoire this year. They have a fat profile, and the bill supposedly helps skip the lure snag-free across rocks. I've bought a few on impulse buys at Susquehanna Fishing Tackle, but why not try the lure that's been rattling around in my possession for several years?  If I snag it or launch it into a tree, it's not a great loss.

It was a good decision.

Back upriver at another spot where the TRD worm and Shadow Rap had no interest, the Wee R had a a strong strike, but the fish didn't get hooked.  The no-name spinnerbait had some swipes, too, but also nothing.  I kept slow presentations with both lures -- the Wee R barely wobbling through the water, and the blade barely churning on the spinnerbait.

After a few more spots without any luck, I returned to the same section where I caught the two smallmouth bass earlier.  The spinnerbait had some interest ... from trout!  The Maryland DNR stocks trout in the Little Patuxent and many other rivers and streams during the offseason, and that includes golden trout, a variation of rainbow trout (but not to be confused with golden trout found in the western U.S.). They are easy to spot cruising the river because of their bright coloring.  And this one nibbled on the spinnerbait and actively followed it on subsequent casts.

Switching to the Wee R, the trout still showed interest but wouldn't bite.  After a few casts into another section to avoid the curious trout, I had a light hit on the little crankbait.  But when I set the hook, it felt like something good.  The fish rose to the surface (but didn't jump), and I could tell it wasn't any ordinary Little Patuxent smallmouth.  Not even a 12-incher.

I got the fish on the bank and measured it at 16 inches.  I've caught three 15 inchers prior on the Little/Middle Patuxents, so this was my biggest for those rivers.

little patuxent smallmouth
Sixteen inches, a new best on the Little/Middle Patuxents!

My personal-best from the Potomac -- a 17-incher -- came in September, so maybe this bodes well for the trip Karen and I have next Friday on the Susquehanna.  The temps are supposed to be going back up the next few days, so who knows.  Smallmouth Season has started!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Smallmouth Saturday

It's been awhile since I went fishing, and cabin fever is in full swing.  I've been reluctant to try and fish for smallmouth because I'm afraid of being discouraged to not find any fish.  When the temperatures go down, they migrate to some winter hiding holes.  Where are they?  Nobody knows because they are hiding!

Karen and I were in Hershey two weeks ago for the Outdoor Classic hockey game between the Hershey Bears and Lehigh Valley Phantoms, so we made a side trip to Susquehanna Fishing Tackle.  We live maybe five minutes from the Maryland Bass Pro Shops, but Susquehanna Fishing Tackle is worth the trip because of its proximity to the Susquehanna River.  The tackle selection seems to be almost 75-percent geared toward catching smallmouth.

We managed to escape only spending $80 worth of stuff.

Last week Karen received an e-mail notification that SFT was holding a "Smallmouth Saturday" event at the store on Feb. 3.  Discounts throughout the store plus free seminars from local fishermen about tactics to catch them brown fish.

smallmouth saturday
The stash of new lures from Smallmouth Saturday.
We woke up at zero-dark-thirty yesterday morning and headed up.  The first seminar was on spinnerbait fishing with Jason Shay.  You might remember Jason being mentioned here in "Somewhere downriver from the rainbow," "Tubin' down the Susquehanna," and other blog posts as the guide on all my trips on The Big River Up North.

I've mentioned before that I haven't had much luck with spinnerbaits, but my confidence went up when Karen and I hit the Juniata at the end of our trip last April with Jason.  Then I used a small white spinnerbait (still not sure of the brand) to catch a few smallmouth away from the Susquehanna last year.

Jason described and showed the spinnerbaits he preferred and optimal uses for them (bigger, flashier spinnerbaits earlier in the year when the water is high and more stained, more low-profile and lighter lures when the water is low and clear).

He also said he uses baitcasting rigs instead of spinning tackle for the spinnerbaits because he can reel in faster when necessary.  So one of my goals this year is to break out the Shimano Curado reel I've had for maybe 10 years and try and get enough confidence in it.  I've tried in the past and just made birds nests, then gave up trying to make it work for me.

After Jason's seminar, Karen and I went back into the store and bought spinnerbaits.  I looked at a few baitcasting reels but decided to just try and master what I already had before buying another reel.

We stuck around for the next presentation on finesse techniques from another local, Corbin Gotwalt.  He preached about using Z-Man products like the TRD Finesse Wormz, which wasn't new to me or Karen, but a lot of other people in the room had not tried them.  Corbin kind of reinforced the what I have used for these lures -- a medium spinning rod with six or eight-pound fluorocarbon.  But he also indicated that he doesn't give the lure much action once it hits the river bottom.  Just lets it sit there and drags it back slowly.  The smallmouth are naturally curious, and the buoyancy of the elaztech material peaks the fish's interest.

Corbin also brought up using newer Z-Man products made of the soft (yet durable) elaztech -- Tubez and Boar Hogz.  I picked up some of those and can't wait to try them out.

A couple other lures he mentioned were swimjigs and Jackall Lipless Crankbaits.  The latter really intrigued me as it looks like an old-school Rat-L Trap.  But, again, Corbin's technique is to drag it across the bottom.  And when I found the lure in the store, it had a $14.99 pricetag.  I envisioned those two treble hooks snagging the river bottom on the first cast, but I'll keep it in mind for later.

The next two seminars seemed like they were more specific to locations fishing the Susquehanna, so we didn't stick around.

A few takeaways from this, I'd really like to become comfortable with baitcasting reels.  Every guide I've fished with has them, and I think using them would give me more options for lure presentations.  I also want to be more patient with finesse lures with the tactics Corbin mentioned.  Instead of making lures more active, "dead stick" more and let the natural action of the lures entice fish.  He covered jerkbaits, too, and giving them slow, subtle twitches through the water.

And now, some unedited Smallmouth Fishing Porn:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Island hopping

Next spring and summer, I'm predicting this will be my new favorite area on the Potomac.
Only one fish landed today, but with this time of year, anything's a bonus.

The sun's going down early this
time of year.  As is the smallmouth
Let's talk about the weather.  Temps were unseasonably in the low 70s and water temp was around 65.  But I think the smallmouth are instinctively migrating toward their winter burrows.  Wherever that may be.

I decided to hit The Community Pool but a bit downriver, a section I had not fished in almost two years.  Lots of pools behind big rocks, but the river was really low and flowing fast in most places.  I think I'll keep this area in mind for next year when the water/air temps are warmer.

Anyway, peppering shallow pools with a Whopper Plopper and Reaction Innovations Little Dipper, I didn't have any bites.  Finally wading between the shore and a small island, I saw small sunfish scurrying away.  I threw the swimbait downriver and had a fish hooked.  But the fish escaped, but it flashed just below the surface and didn't look a smallmouth.  Maybe a largemouth bass?

On the next cast into a different area, another hit.  This time the fish stayed on until it was right at my feet.  This one was definitely a green largemouth.  But it also escaped.

potomac smallmouth
The one fish that wanted
its picture taken.
A couple hours later with absolutely nothing, I switched to the frog-flavored Heddon Zara Puppy and a Campground tube.  This time, I was wading among some big rocks off shore from another island.  On the third cast with the Zara Puppy, working it back, I wasn't paying attention for a brief second because I was looking for a good place to make a step between some rocks.

I didn't hear the fish.  I didn't see the fish.  I just felt the fish tugging on the other end.  Despite this, I instinctively set the hook, and it felt like a decent fish on the other end.  Not huge but not a cookie cutter.  The fish started to rise to the surface -- a typical smallmouth bass behavior -- and it made a boil ... and it managed to unhook itself.

A little bit later with the Campground tube working the bottom, I felt a peck on the other end and set the hook.  This fish, this cookie-cutter fish, stayed on.  At least it was something.

A couple other fish tried to slurp the Zara Puppy, but I think they were sunfish.  Then I had what I thought was a hit on the tube, but it broke off.  It was one of those things were it happened so fast, I wasn't sure if it was a fish or just the line wrapping around a rock.

Interesting discovery mashed between a big rock.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Winding down

As the leaves start to turn colors and fall, and the temperatures drop, river smallmouth bass go somewhere.  I'm not sure where, but they can't be found for the most part in their usual warm-weather spots.  Some say they find deep holes to chillax during the cold weather, some say they migrate somewhere else.  If they can be found, it usually takes a slow, slow presentation to entice a bite.

I don't think the weather is there quite yet, but it sure feels close.  A couple weeks ago, I fished the Little Patuxent River and didn't catch a thing.  Had a quite a few bites and even had a nice 12-incher hooked up, but none of those fish found the shore.

Today it was really similar on the Middle Patuxent.  I would see a fish grab a lure, take off with it, but then the lure came out right away when setting the hook.

But unlike two weeks ago when I got skunked, I managed to catch something.  The first fish was a failfish on a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper.  Then I moved upriver to a spot where I always have some kind of action, and it was more of the same this time.  Three cookie-cutter smallmouth and a redbreast sunfish, and a lot of bites and follows.

This was one of those weird situations where I cast upriver and worked the lures down -- the Little Dipper and also a Z-Man TRD Finesse Worm -- and didn't get anything.  Then I moved to a sandbar and cast straight across the river to the same area and caught the fish.  It's interesting how using the same lures but casting them at a different angle can sometimes entice a bite.

The water as clear here, too, and I counted almost 10 fish resting on the bottom at one point secluding themselves away from the current.  Most looked like smallmouth bass but I think a couple were failfish.  There was also a nice smallmouth (for the Middle Patuxent -- probably 14 inches) in the mix, but it didn't sniff at any lure.

Maybe I'll make a couple more trips to the Upper Potomac, but it feels like things are winding down for the little rivers near my house.