Sunday, May 21, 2017

The angriest smallmouth

middle patuxent smallmouth
First smallmouth of the day was really hungry.
Hit the Middle Patuxent again today, and it marked the third straight trip here here now with a legal-size smallmouth bass, which is always good to catch from a little skinny river that doesn't have much fishing pressure.  And that barely legal smallmouth thought it was much bigger!

I decided to try the same spot as on Tuesday but venture downriver past the bridge where I parked.  There are a few nice pools within the first 50 yards but after that it runs straight and feature-less -- a lot like what makes the Patapsco River above Daniels Dam so unappealing.

We had a cold front move in, and temps were in the low 70s.  Plus the sky was overcast, so it was a little different than what it was on Tuesday.

My game plan was to try the reliable Z-Man TRD Finesse Worm but -- to change things up a bit -- a white spinnerbait on my other rod.  If you remember my post from last month's trip to the Susquehanna, I've never had much luck with spinnerbaits.  But that day, I caught a handful when we ended the trip on the Juniata River.

The first fish of the day was a small failfish that put up a fight like a wet sock.  Actually, a wet sock might put up a better fight.  Ugh, hate catching these things.

First smallmouth of the day, on a spinnerbait.
While that fish was caught on a Z-Man worm, I was actually getting some attention with the spinnerbait.  Lots of little fish giving chase and taking swipes at it -- probably sunfish.  Finally, I got a smallmouth to clamp on -- a decent sized fish that was about 11.5 inches.  It must have been hungry because there was a small fish in its mouth already (picture at top).

This was caught below the bridge as I had started to make my way back upriver.  Past the bridge, the fishing was more of the same with lots of little fish (probably not smallmouth) interested in the spinnerbait but nothing clamping on.  Then finally got one that was around 10 inches.

A little while later I caught another smallmouth in the funniest way.  I cast a Z-Man worm upriver, but it sailed through an overhanging tree branch -- but the fishing line stayed hung up in the tree.  The worm was suspended in midair about two feet above the water, so I let out some line, and the lure slowly descended to the surface.  And just as it entered the water, a fish took it!  It was like topwater worm fishing, if there is a thing.  I yanked the rod back, and the line came out of the tree, but the fish was still hooked.  It wasn't a big fish, but at least it was a smallmouth.

I fished this area for 20 minutes -- shaking my head and laughing the whole time at the fish that took the "topwater worm" -- and kept getting hits and misses but couldn't land a thing.

I explored upriver further than I went on Tuesday.  Lots of fast water but not many areas that looked like they held fish.  The bottom was really shallow and sandy -- but I'm thinking these areas might be better suited for the summer when it seems like the bass are looking for more turbulent water since the temperatures are higher.

I had been out for a couple hours at this point and started heading back to my point of entry. You know, low on water, not wanting to catch dysentery.

I stopped at the place I caught the third smallmouth and threw a Hubs Chub topwater lure.  No bass but I did catch a decent-sized redbreast sunfish.  It actually hit the Hubs Chub pretty hard, unlike most sunfish which timidly strike topwater stuff.

trd finesse smallmouth
The angriest 12-inch smallmouth EVAR!
Finally I stopped at the pool where I caught the first smallmouth -- that was 12 inches -- on Tuesday.  Some interest in the Hubs Chub but nothing clamping on.  And then I snagged the Z-Man worm (orange color, I think it's "green pumpkin orange") on the bottom.  But it wasn't a snag, it was a fish.  It came to the surface pretty quickly -- it was a smallmouth bass, but it wasn't very big.

But this fish didn't know it wasn't very big. 

After a brief battle where the fish managed to get into current and work against me, I landed it -- measured right at 12 inches.  It has to be the hardest-fighting 12-inch smallmouth I've ever caught.  If I didn't see it almost right after hooking into it, I would have thought it was a much bigger fish.

That made it six fish for the afternoon with four of them being smallmouth bass.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hockey sucks. Fishing is better.

middle patuxent smallmouth on a z-man trd finesse worm
First fish and legal size.  But they got smaller and smaller.
With the rain we've been having, it's been difficult to find some time to go fishing.  Even as I type this, the Upper Potomac is basically unfishable.

The smaller rivers near me swell in water levels, too, but they settle back to normal within a few days.  Over the weekend, I monitored the river gauges and decided to fish the Little Patuxent on Sunday ... but didn't catch a thing.  The river was slightly higher than normal but was really muddy.

What really made fishing difficult on Sunday was that I decided to visit the Savage Mill area, which I've told myself not to do.  But I did it anyway.  I can hit most areas of the Little Patuxent and not see a single person fishing, but not at Savage Mill.  Nearly every stretch of water I've caught fish before was occupied.  It's like this almost all the time.  And people don't just fish for a little while and move on, they stay in one spot the whole time.

Because my work laptop doesn't react well with water, I had today off (and probably one or two more days) and ventured out to the Middle Patuxent River.  There are a few more access points to the river besides the one I went to two weeks ago, and I went to one of those places -- really easy to get to, just pull off the road before a bridge spanning the river.  There are even a couple trails from the parking area, so getting to the water is a breeze.

Right by the bridge I found a pool that looked really fishy.  I tried a Heddon Zara Puppy but couldn't get any rises.  I switched over to a Z-Man TRD Finesse Worm and had a hit on the first cast.  Reeled in the fish, and it was a smallmouth bass that was right at 12 inches.  A few casts later, a redbreast sunfish clamped on.

middle patuxent river
A lot of sections like this -- while not really
"fishy" -- make wading between pools on the
Middle Patuxent pretty easy.  And wading is a better
option than hiking the bank.
After awhile, I waded up river and paused to fish nearly every pool.  Lots of good places for a half mile stretch (looking at Google Earth, I should have continued further because it there is another nice stretch beyond where I stopped).  After that 12-inch smallmouth, the bass comically went down in size.  The next one was about 10 inches, the next one eight inches, and then two more even smaller than that.  Five total smallmouth and a "bonus" failfish.  I also saw what looked like a brown trout in one pool, but it wasn't interested in anything I was throwing.

Except for one smallmouth on a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper, all the fish were caught on one TRD worm (TRD stands for "The Real Deal").  Literally the same worm -- because they are made from a fancy material called elaztech, they are more durable than most plastic/rubber baits.  Even the Little Dippers get to a point after catching a few fish and getting hook-ups, the rubber baits won't stay on the jigheads, but that's not the case with the elaztech worms.  I usually snag a worm before switching out for wear and tear.  In fact, I changed the jighead today because it was mangled from snags and using pliers to free fish.

middle patuxent river
That white square is a car hood.  
Funny story, I caught one of the fish standing on rocks along the bank.  I saw a pool with several fish -- including one smallmouth that was easily 12 inches, maybe 14 -- and didn't want to climb down to spook the fish.  Of course I caught a dink smallmouth among those fish.  As I was trying to grab the fish, it freed itself and fell down into mud along the water.  The fish was rolling and caked itself in mud while trying to get to the water.  I nudged the fish with the end of my rod until it finally could cleanse itself in the water.

Hopefully, most of the big rains are behind us.  And since Karen and I don't have to go see these choke artists for quite awhile, I should have more frequent blog entries in the future.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Extended weekend: Fishing on a Monday

middle patuxent smallmouth
Old bridge that crossed the Middle Patuxent.
After Karen and I got back on Sunday from spending the night in D.C. after the Washington Capitals Fail I went fishing on the Little Patuxent while Karen opted to stay home and get some work done. I got on the river around noon, and the sky was overcast.

I tried several lures with moderate success;

1. Swimbait: A few bites, no fish
2. Bass Pro Shops Stik-O worm: The one and only fish of the day
3. Campground Tubes: Nothing.  They killed it on the Susquehanna, though.
4. Hubs Chub: No fish but a few bites.

Dink smallmouth on the Little Patuxent.
With the Hubs Chub, or in fact any topwater lure, a bird in the bush is worth  one in hand ... that's how that saying goes, right?

Two fish took a swipe at the Hubs Chub and then another I thought for sure clamped on.  I didn't hook anything, but the adrenaline rush of fish attacking a topwater lure is good substitute for catching nothing.

Something that triggered the first big bite on the Hubs Chub came after casting close to the other side of the river -- a cut bank with a few downed trees and limbs.  Letting the lure float down, I twitched it intermittently but didn't reel in much of the slack line.  That seemed to keep the lure more in preferable areas rather than pulling it back straight across the river.

Today I hit the Middle Patuxent River after work and before storms were expected to roll through.  If you remember from last year, I fished the Middle Patuxent right at its confluence with the Little Patuxent.  That was my first time fishing the river in several years,  Before that, I fished the river for trout, and I had been scanning Google Earth trying to figure out where that was.  All I remember was that there was an area to pull off the side of a main road, and there was a dirt trail that led down to the river.

I thought I had found the spot and went there today.

It wasn't the same spot.

The area I went to today, there's a road that ends about an eighth mile uphill from the river.  But where the road ends, a paved path continues past barriers down to the river.  There are the remains of an old bridge, so the road must have gone all the way across the river at one time.

Even though it wasn't the spot I was looking for, it didn't discourage me from fishing.  The water was running fairly clear, and I decided to try the Hubs Chub since it was getting interest yesterday on the Little Patuxent.  And it had similar "success" early on today -- lots of failed attacks from what I assumed were sunfish.

The river was a lot shallower and easier to wade than the Little Patuxent, and I waded downstream stopping at a few pools and rocky areas.  Still the same hesitant strikes on the topwater lure.  I also had a Z-Man TRD Finesse Worm on another rod, but that lure wasn't getting any interest.

middle patuxent smallmouth
Twelve inches on top.
Finally I came to a spot that just screamed smallmouth -- circling water in a pool just below a rocky section, and a huge -- at least 10 feet long -- rock protruding from the opposite bank.

I fired the Hubs Chub at the rock, and it hit squarely on the flat surface and plopped down on the water.  I twitched the black lure a couple times and had a not-a-sunfish strike.  Waited a second to make sure the fish actually got the lure, and when I couldn't see it on the surface, I set the hook.  Yup, a smallmouth bass was on the other end, and I successfully landed it.  Measured around 12.5 inches.  My first fish on top this year, so no doubt I will exhaust my efforts with topwater stuff on every trip until October or so.

I fished that pool for a little bit longer but couldn't get any more interest from the fish.  At this point, it seemed like the wind was picking up, and I wanted to get back to my truck before the rain started.  I waded upriver and stopped at a downed tree that was partially submerged in the water.  It looked like the tree had been there awhile as there weren't any branches on it.  This area featured slow flowing water without much cover except for the tree, and I usually don't find smallmouth in sections like this.

middle patuxent smallmouth
Big fish of the day, measuring right at 14 inches.
If you look closely at its ... ass ... it looks like a string.
But I think it's milting, which means this is a male.
But I cast out the Hubs Chub anyway, right on top of the tree.  And a smallmouth came up from the depths to investigate ... and then two more appeared.  They seemed to shrug off interest from the topwater lure, so I switched to the rod with the Z-Man worm.  I cast beyond the tree and hopped it over to where I saw the fish.  And a fish came out and hit the worm.  Set the hook, and could see it fighting below the surface.  It was an angry one -- gills flaring as it shook its head below the surface trying to get free.  I landed it and it measured at 14 inches -- my biggest non-Susquehanna smallmouth of the year so far.

Thankfully there was a red circle indicating where
the fish were hiding.
I let the brown fish go and cast the worm back to the same spot.  Hey, I saw two other smallmouth, and I wanted all of them! 

After a couple casts, I caught a redbreast sunfish, albeit one of a decent size.  Probably a keeper but it seems pointless to keep one sunfish to make two fish-nugget filets.

I moved upriver and started fishing at the base of the downed tree and managed to catch a dink smallmouth.  That was it for the day as I made it back to the Lightning before the lightning.

Still not bad in a new area -- four fish with two being legal-size smallmouth.  The Middle Patuxent is the same width in most parts as the Little Patuxent -- it's really easy to stand on one side and pepper spots casting lures to the opposite bank.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Back to normal

little patuxent smallmouth
First smallmouth, measured at 12 inches.

Went out for a couple hours this morning on the Little Patuxent River.  I wasn't expecting anything like Monday on the Susquehanna River, but it was nice not to get skunked.

First fish of the day was a small failfish, maybe five inches long.  Peck, peck, peck -- typical failfish bite.  I got it on a ... who cares?  It's a failfish.

I moved upriver to an area I had never been before and had a few bites, but I think they were failfish or sunfish.

After an hour or so, I moved downriver to a slow section that was below a ripple of rocks.  I spotted some large submerged rocks so figured it might be a good area.  After a couple casts, I had a smallmouth hooked.  Definitely wasn't fighting like a failfish or sunfish.  I reeled the fish in closer and it was a smallmouth bass, about 12 inches.  It jumped within a few feet of me and freed itself.  Oh well.

Spot where I got the first smallmouth.
Notice the large submerged rocks.
That fish was on a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper, and I switched later to a Z-Man TRD Finesse worm.  Working the worm slowly on the bottom -- hop, pause for five seconds, hop, pause for five seconds -- I felt resistance when trying to hop the lure.  Definitely not a snag and definitely not a failfish.

This time I landed the fish, and it was a 12-inch smallmouth (pictured at top).  It looked almost identical to the one that jumped off previously in the same location.  Hmmmm.

I had a few more bites but nothing could clamp on.

little patuxent smallmouth
Last fish of the day, an angry 11-inch smallmouth.
Moseying downriver, I stood on the bank -- about a two foot drop down to the water -- and tossed the Little Dipper across the river on the opposite bank.  After a few casts, a fish clamped on -- another smallmouth, about 10 inches.  But there was a large branch in the water, and when I tried lifting the fish over the branch, the smallmouth freed itself.  The fish landed in about an inch of water, kicked up some mud and silt, and sped away through through the water.

Moving downriver some more, I hit a few spots and couldn't get anything in some "fishy" areas.  I was about to call it quits when I cast parallel to the shore and had something hit within five feet of where I was standing.  Another angry smallmouth!  Gills flaring like an angry bull trying to shake the hook.  I successfully landed this one and measured it right at 11 inches, albeit fairly chunky.

So two smallmouth landed, two almost landed, and a dumb failfish.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Video from Monday

Short video Karen took of Jason netting one of my fish on Monday.  This was at the first hotspot between the riverbank and an island.  You can see how the smallmouth bass was using the current to put on a fight.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Potomac swimbait surprise

potomac walleye
Potomac river toothy fish.

potomac smallmouth
First fish on Friday.
Since Karen was on spring break from teaching last week and I usually get done with work early on Fridays, we decided to go camping on the C&O Canal last Friday.  We got to Antietam Creek Campground and realized that they do online "reservations" instead of just paying at the campground for your site.  Karen figured out there were a few sites that hadn't been reserved, and we set up camp at one of the open sites.

I went fishing at one of the spots I normally go to.  Should come up with a nickname for it since I usually hit this spot in the area.  Maybe "The Plateau" -- the rocky terrain under the water forms kind of a plateau for 50 yards that drops off a couple feet on the downriver side.  You can't see it for the most part unless you wade out in the river.

Anyway, I caught a couple smallmouth bass in about an hour, one dink and this chunky one that was about 12 inches.  Both were on a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper.  During the summer, the water is usually too low for crank/jerk baits, but it was running a couple feet higher than normal.  Since I felt confident that I wouldn't snag it, I tried a Rapala Shadow Rap for a little while ... and had zero interest from the fish.

Chunky 12-inch smallmouth
Because The Plateau forms a point out from the bank, it creates a pool downriver against the bank.  I had never caught anything from that pool -- always in the faster moving water.  Figuring "what the heck," I ambled down the muddy bank and tossed a swimbait into the pool.  Water was really murky, and because of the river depth, I wasn't sure how deep the pool was.

Well on that first cast, I had a fish hit.  Reeled it in and to my surprise it was a walleye!  It measured right at 15 inches (fish pictured at top of page).  A couple casts later, another fish -- this time a smallmouth, but it freed itself right at the bank.  A few casts later, another fish -- another smallmouth, but this stayed on the hook.  This one was 12 inches but not as chunky as the one earlier.

And after that, nothing.  It was like a switch turned off, and the fish stopped biting.

After that, I tried a Whopper Plopper and again the fish weren't interested.  In fact, I have yet to even get a bite on topwater lures yet this year.  But I'll keep trying them until the fish want them.

potomac turtle
I saw this turtle on the bank near "The Plateau" on Friday. 
When I went back on Saturday, it was there again!
Karen said she caught one cookie-cutter smallmouth bass fishing downriver from me during this time.

Saturday morning, I woke up early and headed downriver to an area that has large exposed rocky formations.  Usually.  Most of the rocks were submerged, and the river was flowing fast.  I couldn't get the fish to bite so I moved up to where Antietam Creek flows into the Potomac.  Usually this area is really shallow, but I figured with the higher water would hold some fish.  I managed to catch one cookie-cutter smallmouth on an orange/black Z-Man TRD Finesse Worm.

After Karen made breakfast, I went back to The Plateau and caught one cookie-cutter smallmoth.  So that made the tally five smallmouth and a walleye on this trip.  Not too shabby, but it pales in comparison with what happened the next time we went fishing.

antietam creek aqueduct
Antietam Creek Aqueduct.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tubin' down the Susquehanna

karen pat susquehanna smallmouth
Karen with her biggest smallmouth and me with mine.
Love seeing the different color patterns on these fish.

Karen and I were supposed to fish the Susquehanna River on April 7 with Jason Shay of Ken Penrod's Life Outdoors Unlimited.  At that time, the river was running high, and to top it off, rain pelted the area the day before.  Jason called and reported the river was close to flood level -- he said we might catch some fish, but he recommended to push the date back.

susquehanna smallmouth bass
This is my smallmouth bass.
There are many like it but
this one is mine.
We rescheduled to Monday, and what a difference the wait made!  The river then was close to 10 feet that Friday, but it had dropped to about 5-1/2 feet by the time we showed up Monday morning.  By the end of the day, we managed put 117 smallmouth bass into the boat.  I tried keeping track of the fish I caught but lost count after 12 or so.  Which is good.  I'm guessing my personal tally was 40-plus, and Karen had that many fish, too.

Karen with maybe the first fish
of the day. I don't remember.
The frenzy started at our first spot on the river when Jason parked the boat behind a natural dam of rocks, and we tossed campground tubes into a pool of water off a strong current.  The tubes were the hot ticket for most of the day.  I tried a Z-Man TRD Finesse worm for a bit but kept going back to the tubes.

Anyway, Karen got the first fish and it was crazy for the next few hours.  A lot of cookie-cutter fish but also a lot of nice bass 14 inches and bigger.  Most of my blog posts are how I caught a few fish and remembered how each one was hooked, but this time, things blurred together.  I got a couple, Karen got a couple, like shooting fish in a barrel.

This dam of rocks had a pool of water on one side against an island, and there was a similar pool on the opposite side against the bank. When there was a lull, Jason would say, "OK if we go 10 minutes without a fish, we will move to the other pool."  The shot clock clicked down but one of us would catch another fish to reset the clock.  Finally we moved to the other side of the river, and it was another feeding frenzy!  I caught three fish on my first three casts -- just crazy.  The only downside was this pool was more prone to snagging the bottom-bouncing tubes.

A double early on.
At some point, Karen and I realized Jason had a fish counter.

"That makes 53."

"What?  You're keeping track?  We caught that many fish?!"

He kept tallying the fish, and at 11 a.m. we had more than 70!

Finally, things died down (I don't think the shot clock ever expired), and the crew voted to move to another spot.  Jason took us to a weed bed practically in the middle of the river.  The weeds protruded a few feet above the surface and created two fast sections of water on either side with slack water in between.  He said a lot of people try fishing this area and move on after only catching a couple fish.  Thankfully, those people weren't around to watch us, because that weed bed had some lunkers!  He instructed us to throw the tubes into the channel on one side and let the lures bounce along the bottom with the current doing the work.  Initially it was slow, but we kept at it and discovered that the tubes need to be fished REALLY SLOW.

Did I say crazy?  Caught this smallmouth, and it had
a tube (not ours) down it's throat plus a live crayfish.
Dragging the tubes across the bottom, Jason figured the bass weren't really feeding, just angry something was invading their spawning beds.  You could feel the fish tap-tap on the other end, set the hook, and it was fish on!

It wasn't quite the frenzy we encountered at the previous spot, but the smallmouth bass were an overall better size.  The cookie-cutters under 14 inches weren't roaming this hotspot -- fifteen incher here, 17 incher there, a few around 16.

Then I hooked into a fish that felt like an absolute beast on my medium-light St. Croix Avid-X rod with six-pound P-Line fluorocarbon.  I kept trying to pull the fish to the awaiting net Jason had in the water, and the fish would dive down below the boat trying to escape.  With my rod tip in the water keeping the smallmouth from jumping, the fish finally reached the net -- she was a fat female (microaggression!) measuring around 18.5 inches.

Like I said earlier, the timeline was blurring.  Karen was getting nice smallmouth bass in the back of the boat, and then a big fish clamped on the other end of her line.  After a fierce struggle, she managed to get this one into the boat, and it measured 18.75 inches!  The guide service has a "20-inch club" but women get entered for catching a fish 18 inches or larger.  It's kind of like ladies classes in autocrossing.  Karen got a sweet medallion and a gift certificate from Under Armour for 40 percent off apparel from their web site.

Meh. It's only 16 inches.
At this point we began laughing at bass under 16 inches.  "Should I take a picture?"  "Nah, let it go." If most of these runt Susquehanna smallmouth were caught on the Upper Potomac, I would have taken a picture of every one of them and posting to Facebook.  But on the Susquehanna, they were just average. Not to discredit them brown fish, they were still a blast to catch.  Because of the fight they put on, you really didn't know what size fish was on the other end.  Fish that felt like monsters weren't that big but were smart and worked against the current trying to escape.  Some of the smaller females were still chunky because they were full of eggs and ready to spawn.

susquehanna jet boat
Our steed for the day.  Jet-prop boat with large talons.
When the fish counter clicked above 90, we kept asking Jason for updates.  Fish number 91 here, 92 there ... finally reaching 99.  Who would get number 100?  Karen.  She got the first fish of the day, the biggest and the 100th.

When the bite on the grass bed died down, we moved down and floated off shore from an island for a little while.  Lots of snags here and only a few smallmouth.  It was around 2 p.m., and Jason asked if we wanted to try a couple more spots.  One of them was on the Juniata (not Juanita) River where we would try spinnerbaits.

I hate spinnerbaits.

Watching all those fishing shows since the mid 1980s where they were slaying bass after bass on spinnerbaits, I had never caught a single fish on a real spinnerbait.  But this is one of the reasons I go out with guides -- to try different lures and techniques.

Fish counter read 117.
We jetted up to the Juniata past the Susquehanna confluence and began firing spinnerbaits at the bank while floating downriver. There is absolutely nothing to fishing with a spinnerbait -- cast, retrieve slowly.  The blade(s) give resistance through the water so they can be fished at almost any depth.

Surprisingly to me anyway, everybody caught a handful of smallmouth -- nothing big, just about every one was 12 inches or smaller.  But it was still fun to get confidence in spinnerbaits.  Jason figured in a week or so, they would be the go-to lure.  When I go to Bass Pro Shops the next time, I will probably buy 10 of them.  Oh wait, I already have 10.

Pizza Boy victory beer.  Pizza Boy is my new favorite
name for a brewery.
It was a fantastic day and well worth the expense of a guide.  Unfortunately, the Susquehanna and its tributaries are off limits for smallmouth bass fishing from May 1 to mid-June, so another trip will have to wait.  Going to have to make due with cookie-cutters on the Potomac and Little Patuxent rivers for awhile.

After parting ways with Jason, we stopped at Pizza Boy Brewing for a couple slices and sampling of beer, plus a six-pack and crowler to take home.

Wild animals seen: smallmouth bass, bald eagle, mink, turtle, duck, duck, goose.