Monday, July 17, 2017

One dink

potomac walleye
Karen's walleye.  Is it real?
Karen and I went to the Antietam Creek area of the Upper Potomac on Saturday.  Instead of the secret spot (AKA, The Plateau), I decided to try another spot that has a natural dam of rocks and rock formations that span almost the entire river.

The last time I fished this area was almost an entire year ago, and that day was pretty successful.

Not on Saturday.  I only landed one dink smallmouth on a Z-Man Finesse TRD worm.  Other than a 12-inch smallmouth that launched out of the water and shook a Heddon Zara Puppy, I had no other action at all the rest of the morning.  No bites or nibbles other than those two fish.

The river was down to normal running level and fairly clear, especially above Antietam Creek.  It looked right and really "fishy" but only two hits in four hours.

Karen claimed she caught a 17.5-inch walleye and two smallmouth.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Busted! Again!!

potomac smallmouth bass
A Potomac trophy -- 15-inch
smallmouth bass!
Not sure why I'm suddenly having this bad luck, but I lost another fish because the line broke today.  This time, I know exactly what happened -- the fish shredded the line on rocks.  

Before that, I wasn't having much success at hooking anything except rocks.  Karen and I went to Taylor's Landing on the Potomac River.  I started out upriver from the boat ramps and had a smallmouth on my second cast using a spinnerbait.  It hit within a few feet of me, and I reeled in until the fish was right in front of me.  It was in the 11-12 range and was thrashing around on the surface. I let it do that for a few seconds before trying to grab it because I figured I'd get a handful of dorsal fin.  Then the fish got off the hook.

After that -- for about three hours -- I had nothing at all.  Even exploring a few areas further upriver that were new to me, neither a spinnerbait, swimbait nor Z-Man TRD Finesse worm could induce a bite.  The river looked to be a foot higher than normal and a chocolate milk color, so there must have been some rain a few days ago.  Not a cloud in the sky today, though.

I went back downriver and found Karen, and she reported similar (not good) luck, too.  The flow of the chocolate water scattered the bass, similar to what we found on the Susquehanna on Friday.


potomac smallmouth bass
Karen's smallmouth.
Heading further downriver and trudging through the brush, I found a spot where I knew there was a group of rocks along the shore, although they weren't visible today because of the higher water.  Casting a "green pumpkin orange" Z-Man worm downriver parallel to the shore and working back, there was finally something on the other end of the line.  It felt like a decent fish, and then it launched a foot out of the water -- the big reveal was a smallmouth bass easily over 12 inches.  I was using a rod with a light setup -- six-pound P-Line fluorocarbon on a medium-light Abu Garcia Vendetta rod matched with a "classic" Garcia Mitchell 300 reel -- so the fight was on to keep the fish from burrowing into the rocks on the bottom of the river.

Luckily I won this round and hoisted the smallmouth out of the water -- it measured right at 15 inches!  It was really angry because after being released back in the water, it splashed on the surface for a couple seconds then disappeared.

The very next cast into the exact same spot -- downriver parallel to the shore -- something was pulling back on the end of the line.  I set the hook and had another fish.  This one didn't feel as big, though, but you never know with smallmouth bass.  The fight lasted another five seconds, and then the line broke.  Flashback to Friday.  At least it wasn't a beast smallmouth bass on the other end, unlike Friday.


potomac rock bass
Karen's rock bass.
Reeling in what was left, and I discovered the line was in rough shape and frayed about ten inches up from the end where the lure broke off.  The kicker is that after I caught the first fish, I checked the line above the lure, and it felt perfect.

The next battle, I was determined to win.  I snipped the spinnerbait off my other rod -- a medium St. Croix Avid paired with a Pflueger Patriarch reel spun with the 10-pound Triple Fish "camo" purchased yesterday at Susquehanna Fishing Tackle -- and tied on another "green pumpkin orange" Z-Man worm.

Let me tell you, the "feel" between the two setups was completely different.  The medium setup did not lend well for bottom-bouncing jigs.  Where with the lighter setup I could feel almost every rock along the bottom, the medium setup was numbing.  At least it was comforting to know I likely wouldn't lose a fish.

And I didn't -- caught two cookie-cutter smallmouth until calling it quits around 11:30 a.m.

Karen managed to catch a cookie-cutter smallmouth and a rock bass.  So we both went three hours without catching a thing to catching five fish between us in about a half hour.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Somewhere downriver from the rainbow

susquehanna rainbow
After the rain, the sun started going down and part of a rainbow was visible.

Our one-year anniversary is coming up, and Karen asked if I wanted a guided fishing trip to the Susquehanna as a present.

susquehanna smallmouth
Leaping smallmouth bass, better than
a set of dishes.
I said, "That doesn't sound good at all ...  how about a nice set of dishes?"

Then I came to my senses after picturing a smallmouth bass crushing a topwater lure, and I agreed to our fishing trip.

I contacted Jason Shay from Ken Penrod's Life Outdoors Unlimited, and he said he had on open evening trip on July 7.  I forwarded the information on to Karen, and she made the reservations.

This was only about three weeks ago, so it didn't have quite the buildup as our April trip with Jason where we waited four months from the time of the booking to the actual trip (and that original date was pushed back a week because the river was too high).  Most of that wait was through prime cabin-fever season when there wasn't much fishing to be had anywhere..  But the anticipation was high for yesterday's adventure -- the fishing on the Potomac or the skinny rivers here just doesn't compare to the Susquehanna.

The day finally came yesterday, and we met Jason at one of the Susquehanna boat ramps in the Harrisburg area.  He said we would be using spinnerbaits, swimbaits and topwaters (namely the River2Sea Whopper Plopper).  In contrast, we used nothing but bottom-bouncing jigs three months ago on the Susquehanna -- however we did catch a handful at the end of that day with spinnerbaits on the Juniata River.

About 45 minutes after we hit the water, the rains came and pelted us for a half hour.  Thankfully, no lightning strikes in the area so we were able to stay on the water.  I almost didn't bring my rain gear with me, but I was glad I did.

susquehanna smallmouth
The fish seemed to have more girth than length.
Before the rain, I landed the first smallmouth of the day (Karen lost one that would have been the first) then caught a 16-inch fish that we all thought was bigger.  At least 17 inches, maybe 18.  Jason measured it and scoffed, "We're all wrong.  It's 16."

Fishing was a lot tougher than in April.  We were hitting outside edges of weedbeds and around other structure that looked like ideal cover for smallmouth bass, but the fish didn't seem to be there.  Jason said the river went up a little bit because of rain, and the clarity wasn't great.  Unless we were in two or three feet of water, we couldn't see the bottom in most places.

Oddly, most of the fish we caught were in the middle of nowhere with no major structure to be seen.  We observed a nice riffle of water on one side of the boat ... no fish.  On the other side of the boat and nothing worth noting ... and after pelting that area with casts someone would land a fish.

susquehanna smallmouth
Get the net!
We didn't catch fish on anything other than 3/8-ounce white and chartreuse spinnerbaits until Karen started using Bass Pro Shops Sassy Sally swimbaits later in the afternoon.  The cookie-cutter fish liked the Sassy Sally, but I stubbornly kept tossing the spinnerbait in hope for something bigger.  We each tried Whopper Ploppers throughout the day without even a single rise.

I ended up with twelve smallmouth, and Karen probably had that many but said she wasn't counting.  It was a far cry from our last time on the river, but it's interesting to note a slow day on the Susquehanna is about equal to a really good day on the Potomac.  Two of my fish measured 16 inches with another handful in the 14-inch range.  All of the fish we landed over 14 inches were really chunky.

A weird footnote, I was having an issue with the line on the rod I was using for spinnerbaits.  I use eight-pound Trilene XL when using anything other than bottom-bouncing jigs.  Never had any problems with this line.  But yesterday, I lost four spinnerbaits because the line snapped.  Two lures came off on casts, and another on either a bite or a snag -- snapped off with no drama at all. 

After the rain went away, it turned into a beautiful day.
Then the final spinnerbait came off near the end of the day while floating past a weedbed.  Jason said, "There should be something at the tail end of the weeds."  Even though the fish didn't seem to be in those spots most of the day.  I made a cast and that went too far past the weeds.  Then the next cast went perfectly into the pool behind the weeds, and a fish clamped onto the spinnerbait.  It breached the water and we all saw it -- it was a BIG smallmouth.  Probably an easy 18 inches.  It took off downriver and I let it run some.  Jason scrambled for the net, and the fish went behind the boat.  No big deal because I was standing at the back on top of the deck.

Oh snap!

The line broke again.  Other than fish rooting around a rocky river bottom after getting hooked, and Mr. Whiskers fraying the line after a death roll, I've never had problems with fishing line simply breaking.  And it happened four times yesterday.  Thinking back, maybe the line fatigued at the knot with all the casting without hooking fish.  Usually I will check for frays near the knot after catching a fish or even getting a bite and will re-tie the line if need be.

All loaded up with the Triple Fish "camo" line.
A local tackle shop that sponsors Jason, Susquehanna Fishing Tackle, had recommended to him Hi Seas Triple Fish Camoescent monofilament line.  It's a three-color fishing line, and, despite being apprehensive because of the strange coloring, he said he has been using it with great success.  Clients who can't cast very well get lures hung up in trees and rip branches off without breaking the line.

After returning to the boat ramp and loading things up, Karen and I headed to Al's of Hampden for some pizza and Pizza Boy Beer.  Surprisingly, it wasn't very crowded for a Friday night.  Then we stayed at a nearby hotel which was enticingly right across from the Susquehanna.  I didn't sleep well last night perhaps knowing the smallmouth bass were within sight.

This morning, we headed to Susquehanna Fishing Tackle in Columbia, Pa. I had ordered tackle from them online before but had never been to the store. From the outside, the building didn't look like much, but inside, it was packed with nearly everything catering to bass fishing.  They didn't have the Triple Fish line in stock but had it in bulk where they could spool the line on our reels.  It cost just over $9 for two reels, which didn't seem too bad.  After wandering around the store and impulse buying, we managed to escape with less than $90 worth of stuff. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

One-hundred-and-two smallmouths

Me and my shadow.
Two years ago, my first full year of chasing smallmouth bass, I caught my 100th smallie in September.  Last year, my 100th smallmouth came on July 17.

For 2017, after Saturday, I was sitting at 97 smallmouth for the year.

This morning I ventured to the Middle Patuxent River in search of number 100.  Karen and I are going somewhere on Friday where it would be really easy to reach the milestone, but the challenge was too great on a skinny river 20 minutes from home.

Not sure what to name this section of the Middle Patuxent -- maybe just "The Bridge" since I usually start at an overpass spanning the river.  Right by the bridge is a great spot where a rock formation creates two pools.  Every time fishing these pools, I catch something.  On my second or third cast into pool number two, a cookie-cutter smallmouth clamped on a Z-Man Finesse TRD worm.

I had a few nibbles after that and decided to try topwater. This time I scaled down with a Heddon Zara Puppy -- a three-inch version of the famous Zara Spook.  The fish weren't interested, but when I moved to another pool upriver, the fish took swipes at the lure.  Nothing would get hooked, though.  Still, the heart rate gets going when fish are actively going after a topwater lure.  But you have to balance that out with patience because you have to wait until the lure has disappeared below the surface before setting the hook.

I caught another dink smallmouth on a TRD worm, so that made it two for the day and 99 for the year.

Up to another spot and activity was similar -- some action on the Zara Puppy but no bites.  Then it happened after switching back to the TRD worm, smallmouth number three for the day and 100 for the year!  And it was a beast:
Smallmouth number 100 for the year
The fish was maybe five inches.  Maybe the smallest bass I have ever caught.

A couple casts later, the first failfish fallfish of the day made its presence known.  About 10 minutes after that, another fallfish.  I'm not sure how many failfish I've caught this year.*  Nobody brags about catching fallfish.

Another move upriver to the best spot in this section.  I usually catch something here, and I first discovered it when I was hiking 10 feet above the bank and spied a few decent smallmouth bass and sunfish chilling in the water.  Since then, I've waded in the water on the other side of the river and approached the area with more stealth.

Now I peppered the area with the Zara Puppy and had a frenzy of activity on one of my first casts.  Something was creating a ruckus around the lure -- splash, splash, splash -- but nothing took it.  The topwater lure was just floating along like nothing had happened.

middle patuxent river
Lots of shallow pools below rocks and riff-raff in this area.
Then finally, I actually caught a fish on a topwater -- a redbreast sunfish.  These fish usually fight like wet socks, and this one was no different.  Switching back to the Z-Man worm, I caught another smallmouth, about 10 inches long.

Then I tried the Zara Puppy again and actually caught a smallmouth.  What followed next was hilarious -- just as I pulled the fish out of the water and wrapped my hand around it, the lure popped off.  Then the fish squirmed free and fell into the water.  I was standing in maybe two inches of water, and it was like that all around me.  The fish just sat there, and I reached down to grab the brown fish. It seemed like I had hold of it, but it wiggled and swam a few feet away.  So I chased it and got hold of it again -- briefly.  Another wiggling attempt to get free worked, and it swam a little further away and stopped.  When I said it was two inches of water, the fish was partially submerged but its back and dorsal fin were exposed.  I tried to grab it again but then it took off with more determination and kept going until it reached deeper water.

I swear I need to mount my GoPro on my head to capture stuff like this.  I was laughing my ass off.

After that fish got away, it was like a switch turned off.  Maybe it went to tell the other fish about the encounter with the idiot human, and all the other fish scattered.  Up the river and back down the river, the fish seemed to have disappeared.

Maybe an hour later, after switching to a Hubs Chub, a fish hit the lure about two seconds after landing in the water.  Check out this beast:


green sunfish
When using topwater lures, I usually go with a slightly
heavier setup.  You know, just in case.
A green sunfish, which is slightly rare for me.  Not sure what it was thinking -- maybe it didn't want another fish on his turf?  Or it was just that hungry.

A little while later with no more bites, I called it quits.  Five smallmouth on the day, two failfish, a redbreast sunfish and a green sunfish.

Reaching a milestone like 100 smallmouth in a year is probably

* Actually I do know -- it's 10 fallfish for the year.  Ten unmemorable fish.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Saturday swimbait smallies

potomac smallmouth
Somewhere on the Potomac.
It is officially Smallmouth Season.  The rainfall has diminished and the Potomac River looks to be at normal summer flow -- low and really clear.  Finally.

potomac smallmouth
First fish of the day on a "penetration" colored Little Dipper.
This morning, I woke up at zero-dark-thirty and headed for the Upper Potomac.  I got to my favorite spot -- The Plateau -- at 5:30 a.m. and was in the water shortly after.

Man, this early morning fishing is AWESOME when smallmouth bass are supposed to be really active and nailing topwater lures!

Right?!

Nope.

I have yet to have any topwater activity for awhile.  The fish are just not interested in anything tied to the end of my line.  The only thing I haven't tried is a buzzbait, so maybe I'll dig one of those out for the next trip.

potomac rock bass
Hey Rocky!
It started off really slow -- maybe hindered by my stubbornness to keep trying topwater lures.  After the first three hours, I had three fish.  But I had a handful of legitimate hookups -- fish on the other end of the line, jumping, and then they did Harry Houdini impersonations and got off the hook.  Mostly they were hitting Reaction Innovations Little Dippers -- only one fish the entire day was caught on anything else, which was a Z-Man Finesse TRD worm.  Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, freakin' topwater -- they weren't sniffing at anything but the swimbaits.

Except that one on the Z-Man worm, which was too funny.  When I use bottom-bouncing jigs (worms, tubes, whatever), I wait a couple seconds after the lure hits the water before doing anything.  This fish couldn't wait that long.  The second the worm splashed down, I felt a hard tug.  It's like two fish were just chilling in the river, and one of them said, "Hey Frank, I bet you won't try and eat the next thing that falls out of the sky."  "Oh yeah, I betcha I will!"  And here came my lure sailing right on top of them.  The smallmouth was sub-12 inches, but I was chuckling for about 10 minutes about the whole scenario.

potomac smallmouth
When I switched to this color Little Dipper,
things got interesting.
Out of the first three bass, one measured right at 12 inches.

After a lull without much action, I waded back to the edge of "The Plateau" where it's furthest from shore and caught another 12-inch smallmouth.  Then a little while after that, I waded closer to shore where the water is actually fairly deep -- right below my waist -- and started casting towards the shore.  Hey, another 12-inch smallmouth.  Then the rock bass, which was pretty chunky.

Then another 12-inch smallmouth!  This was all occurring within a span of 30 minutes after hits being few and far between for most of the morning.

potomac smallmouth
Biggest smallmouth of the day, just under 13 inches.
Then I spotted a pocket of water nestled between weeds sprouting along the shore and fired the swimbait into that spot.  Perfect cast, and just as soon as I started reeling in, a fish hit it.  This one turned out to be the biggest fish of the day -- just a tick under 13 inches.  After exhausting the area, I waded to the spot where the fish was hiding, and it was less than two feet of water.

That made it four legal-sized smallmouth for the day, which I had never achieved on the Potomac.  My best has been two.

I caught one more smallmouth that may have been close to 12 inches but had to perform emergency surgery (it's always fun and games until the pliers make an appearance) to get the hook out, and I didn't measure the fish since I wanted to get it back in the water as quickly as possible.

Not a bad morning -- seven smallmouth, with four being "legal," and a chunky rock bass.  There were at least seven or eight hookups, too, where fish Houdini-ed their way free.  Also, nearly every smallmouth bass attempted some feat of acrobatic display -- nothing like seeing fish launch out of the water like a missile from a submarine.

Oh deer!  Passenger-side "step" on the bed of
my Ford Lightning.
The morning was also a hair closer to not happening at all.  Winding through the backroads to get to the river, I had an encounter with a long-legged rat (AKA, Bambi).  Practically stopped to avoid some that were trying to cross the road, then five minutes later came around a corner and this dumbass deer was standing halfway on the road.  I swerved, it fortunately backed into the woods, but I heard a small thud. This picture was taken later in the day -- there was a lot more deer fur snagged in the plastic.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tech Tip Tuesday

Here's where I don't write about the fish I caught but how I caught fish.  It's been three years since I started chasing them brown fish in Maryland and Pennsylvania rivers and streams, so this might be a weekly column revealing some of my knowledge to the three or four people who actively read my blog.

The last few weeks on the Potomac, I fished different pools without success.  But then when I went back to the same area and threw lures at a different angle, the fish started biting.

Maybe it was just a different time and the angle of the moon and the solunar tables just aligned.

Probably not. After three years of chasing river smallmouth bass, maybe I'm starting to identify some patterns.

Exhibit A from The One That Got Away:

A typical river rock parting the water.


Parked downriver in the current below that rock, a plastic worm, swimbait and a topwater lure launched into the middle of the pool didn't catch a a thing.  Not even a bite.

I trudged upriver past the rock formation and landed one or two fish.  Then I waded down right where I took that picture -- and cast the lure to the top right and worked the worm parallel to the rock and slow water.

The action was hot for awhile.  There was the One That Got Away plus landing three or four smallmouth.  All because I think the presentation was different.

On Sunday, I fished a similar rock formation that split the current with fast water running along either side.  The water downriver from the rock created a slow, swirling pool.  Really fast water all around, but there was that enticing pool of water.

Again, casting a plastic worm toward the far side and working it parallel through the pool of water, I had a ton of action.  I only landed one fish but had several misses and hooked one briefly that looked to be in the 14- to 15-inch range.

So that's the tip for today: Sometimes when an area looks "fishy" but you can't entice anything, try a different presentation.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fishing's fun until other people show up

Massive downed tree that looks like it fell several years ago.
Karen and I went to the Upper Potomac this morning to the same area where I missed The One That Got Away two weeks ago.  Monitoring the river gauges, the water had spiked at Paw Paw from rain on Thursday and Friday, so it would be a race to see if we could get to the river before the water was unfishable.

And we just made it.  Barely.  The depth was a foot higher than normal compared to two weeks ago, but the clarity was pretty good.

I fished for maybe an hour and didn't get a thing.  Not even a nibble. Then finally got a dink smallmouth.  And then nothing.

I abandoned Karen and hiked the C&O Trail to the spot where I lost The One That Got Away.  Seemed like a good idea -- caught some fish two weeks ago, missed a big one.

Second smallmouth, a chunky 11 inches.
And today in that exact same spot, what happened?

Nothing.  No fish or even a nibble.  Using the exact same lures.  That's why they call it "fishing" and not "catching."

I moved down to another spot that, when I was here two weeks ago, yielded nothing.

So what happened today?

Three hits on the first three casts up against a weedbed.  I landed one fish -- about 11 inches -- and had a 12-incher get off right before landing it.  Then a little while later, two more fish.

And then like an on/off switch, the bite switched off.

I went back down the trail where Karen was fishing.  This is an almost treacherous area for wading because of the large rocks and hidden trenches.  I've fished this area before when the water was lower but didn't feel comfortable today venturing too far out from shore.

I found a pool down from a partially submerged rock.  Casting a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper and dragging it back parallel to the rock didn't get ... anything.

Then I switched to my St. Croix Avid-X rod with a Z-Man Finesse TRD worm and had a hit.  Next cast, another hit.  Next cast, another hit and I saw the line going upriver and could see a nice smallmouth bass just below the surface.  It tugged back, and I fought it out of the current -- the fish jumped and easily was in the 14-to-15-inch range.  And then it got off the hook.

I stood in the flowing water for 30 minutes after that and had a few more hits but could only land a dink smallmouth.

Then the people who have no sense for personal space showed up to "party" on the river.  At least a casting distance away, they made their home on a rock.  Yay, let's go swimming in the bacteria-infested river!  Then more people armed with their buckets and fishing rods started making their way out to the river.  No place else for them to go but to where I was standing.  I deal with 300+ people a week, and now on a calm Sunday morning I would have to deal with more.  No thanks.

Karen managed to catch one smallmouth while I caught five.