Tuesday, September 19, 2017

There will be blood

Hit the Little Patuxent today for the first time in awhile.  I caught four fish -- two smallmouth, a sunfish and a failfish, but I walked away licking my wounds.

The water was really low and clear.  It seems this year has been plagued by bouts of rainstorms and raised water levels (especially the Potomac).  Now the river water is steady like it's customary to see in early July.

The first fish of the evening was a redbreast sunfish on the trusty Heddon Zara Puppy.  The fish managed to get its mouth around all three treble hooks on the tail of the lure.  It took awhile to get it out with me putting the fish in the water three or four times, but I finally managed to get it free.

The sunfish were especially feisty with packs of them chasing lures on several occasions throughout this venture.  After the first sunfish, I threatened them by saying, "I'm going to keep every single one of you."

A little while later while tossing a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper, I saw a fish that looked like a smallmouth, and I cast the swimbait in the fish's general direction.  It was moving slowly upriver hugging the bottom and ignored the lure.  I cast again and had a hit!  Woohoo, caught a smallmouth!

Nope, it wasn't a smallmouth.  It was a failfish.  And that's why I call them failfish.  I still think I saw a bass but the failfish got in the way.

A little bit later, I had a decent strike on the swimbait, and as I reeled the fish in, I could see the telltale lateral line of a largemouth bass.  Not very big, but a little bonus considering they are much rarer to find in the river.  But the fish managed to get off the hook.  The fish sat there brooding on the bottom of the river and actually went after the swimbait on two more casts but didn't get hooked.

little patuxent rocks
Can't ever resist this section.  Never caught a fish
here, though.
On to another spot where I was standing on a steep bank and could see fish chasing my lures, I was getting the fish to go after the Zara Puppy and the swimbait with equal interest.  Nothing could clamp on though.  Twice it looked like a bass had inhaled the swimbait, but when I set the hook, the lure popped out each time.

Finally on one cast, I saw a smallmouth come out of nowhere and slam the swimbait.  It stayed on, and I reeled it in and hoisted it up the bank.  It was an easy 12 inches.  No picture, though, because when I removed the hook, the fish wiggled and freed itself ... into a thicket of weeds and thorny vines at my feet.  I tried grabbing the fish, but it wiggled itself further into the green mess.  Finally I got a hold of the fish and just tossed it back in the water.

heddon zara puppy
I was hitting the trees pretty good
today. This time, it turned out OK
freeing the lure.  The next time,
though ...
A couple other spots downriver, I had one bite.  Then I moved to another spot that I had only fished once before.  On the first cast straight out, I had a bite.  Again, this was up on a steep bank where I could see pretty clearly into the water.

After a few more casts back to that area with nothing, I cast downriver and brought the swimbait parallel to the bank.  As the lure was wobbling through the water, I saw a smallmouth bass come out from a downed log and swim a few feet in front of me.  And it was a NICE fish.  It paid no attention to the Little Dipper, but then I cast it out again so the lure was more in front of the fish.  And it hammered it!  It was a good fight because the fish tried to head back under the log.  This was on my medium-light St. Croix Avid X rod, so even smaller fish can give an impressive tug.

I hoisted the fish out of the water, and it was easily 14 inches, maybe more.  But then it thrashed, unhooked itself and barrel-rolled down the bank into the water.  I guess when the fish finds his buddy from upriver, they will have interesting stories to tell.

I moved on to some rocks just below this section and made a cast upriver.  What I didn't see was a tree branch way up high over the water, and swimbait went sailing through and landed in the water.  I tried to get the fishing line free, but it wasn't happening.  So I reeled the lure in and yanked the fishing rod.  The lure was stuck.  I kept pulling and pulling and finally gave a big tug, and the lure came free.

there will be blood
Cleanup on aisle three!
I use small "darter" jigheads for the Reaction Innovations swimbaits.  The head looks like a small bullet.  When the lure came off the branch, that bullet shape found my left index finger.  Instant pain and blood everywhere.  Lots of blood -- my hand was half red.  It reminded me of when I cut my hand when I was about 17 -- coincidentally, while fishing.  That time I was walking down a rocky bank, reached over with my left hand to steady myself, then wondered why my hand was wet.  I looked down, and it was covered in blood.  A rock or something had cut three of my fingers, and I needed stitches.

This didn't look quite that bad -- just one slice on my finger, but I gathered my stuff and headed back to the truck.  Thankfully, I had waded/hiked/ambled far enough where I was parked, and there is a first aid kit inside the truck.  Alcohol pad, then a band-aid, but it still hurt really good for awhile.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The inches we need are everywhere around us

I know they're out there.  I've seen pictures of them.  Big smallmouth bass on the Potomac.

Since I started fishing again three years ago and chasing smallmouth, I've only caught two 16-inch fish -- nothing bigger -- on the Potomac.  On the Susquehanna River, I've caught one 20-inch fish and two 18 inchers.

potomac bees
The bees were hungry.  Tried to get a good picture
of three or four bees buzzing around in each
patch of flowers, but they were too quick.

But I know those big fish are out there on the Potomac.


Yesterday I finally inched closer to those Susquehanna fish with a 17-inch smallmouth on the Upper Potomac.  It was actually my first bite of the day after NOTHING for almost two hours.

Karen and I set up camp at Antietam Creek Campground, and I headed to my "secret spot" while she went to "walleye central."  Usually ... OK, always, I catch something at the secret spot.  But yesterday was a big fat zero.  Nothing even sniffing at any lure I threw.  After an hour plus in that area, I decided to head to another section.  I hit the trail thinking this other area was a good hike but it was only a five-minute walk away.  Usually when I've fished here, I've parked at another location other than the Antietam campground, so that's why I was thinking it was further away.

No sweat after the short walk, and I waded into a fast section of water running over a string of rocky formations.  My plan was to cast down from the rocks into the slower tailwaters or target laterally against the current and working lures across.

I started off with a Z-Man Finesse Worm for a few casts.  Then I switched to my medium St. Croix Rod Avid rod with a Pflueger Patriarch spinning reel rigged with 10-pound Hi Seas Triple Fish Camoescent line and a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper swimbait.  That's a lot of name dropping!

17-inch potomac smallmouth
Unleash the fury -- new personal Potomac best!
Anyway, I spotted a small, slow-moving pocket between the bank and fast current.  I zipped the swimbait there, and it splashed down a couple feet from the bank.  A second or so after I started reeling in, there was a hit on the other end.  Oh wait, it's a snag.  No wait, something is taking the line away from the bank!  Set the hook, and the fish did a half-jump on the surface, and I could see it was a good-sized smallmouth!

Another little jump, and the swimbait went flying, but the fish was still hooked.  After a brief battle trying to keep the fish from jumping while also trying to keep it from burrowing down in the rocks, I got the fish next to me.  The hook was firm in it's upper jaw, and the fish finally calmed enough where I could grab it.

pb&j smallmouth potomac
It's PB&J time for this sub-12 smallmouth bass.
With the adrenaline flowing, I pulled the camera from the front pocket of the waders, shakily took a picture, put the camera back, unfolded my measuring board to measure the fish, then let the fish go.  All this going on while holding the fish with my rod tucked under my arm in fairly fast flowing water..  It seemed to take forever but probably took 30 seconds.

The fish was a tick over 17 inches, my biggest from the Potomac!  It probably took me 10 minutes to calm down, rig up a replacement swimbait and make the next cast.

I caught two more smallmouth the rest of the day as the sun was setting.  None were close to 17 inches, though.  They were each a bit under 12 (actually, I think they might have been the same fish) and caught on a "PB&J" Z-Man worm.

potomac smallmouth
Topwater time!
This morning, I hiked back to the same general area but a little bit further downstream.  Temps were in the mid-60s with a fog blanketing the river, and the conditions just screamed "topwater."

My new favorite topwater lure is a Heddon Zara Puppy in a "bull frog" pattern.  This is actually the lure that started my obsession for smallmouth three years ago when Karen dragged me camping at McCoy's Ferry and I lost a nice smallmouth.

The first cast with the Puppy had a fish take a swipe at the lure twice, but it managed to evade the two treble hooks.  I had one more similar strike then another where a fish caused a huge ruckus on the surface, but again, nothing tugging back on the other end.

potomac smallmouth
Subsurface view of a smallmouth that hit a surface lure.
Finally I had a good strike on the little Puppy, but this time the lure wasn't floating on the surface anymore.  I started reeling in frantically and then the fish must have thought something was up and started pulling back.  The fish surfaced and I saw it was a nice smallmouth -- maybe not 17 inches but not a dink or a barely legal fish.  It was a similar battle with the 17-incher from yesterday as I tried to keep it from breaching the surface and slicing the line on the rocky bottom.  I successfully landed it, and it measured just over 15 inches by the length of a caudal spine.

The Zara Puppy is a scaled down version of the more famous Zara Spook.  Both lures have the same action and require more of a finesse approach.  Each twitch of the the rod has the lure sliding side-to-side across the surface.  With fall looming, underwater weeds are starting to die off in the river, and strands are now floating on the surface.  Each time the lure snagged a piece of grass, the Zara Puppy stopped its enticing side-to-side movement.  Reel in fast, remove the grass, cast again.

That was it for the morning, and I headed back to the camp site for breakfast with Karen and to deal with an invasive species -- Jesus-Christ-Sandal Man and his son "trespassing" through our camp site because they were too lazy to use the canal trail to travel between camp sites.

It's interesting that the 17-inch smallmouth was caught maybe 20 yards from the 16-inch fish from last year.  And it's about a quarter mile from the "secret spot" where my first "big" smallmouth came from.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Ten for Fifteen

fifteenmile creek
Use your illusion.
No rain or hurricane remnants were supposed to be passing through the area, so Karen and I went camping at Fifteen Mile Creek Campground along the C&O Canal Trail.  We hadn't been here for more than two years -- I don't remember having much fishing luck then, but it was where I saw my first live muskie!  I actually saw two  right near where the creek runs into the Potomac River.

It started off really slow for me on Saturday afternoon.  I must have gone two hours without catching a fish.  There were a few sunfish nibbles, but I had nothing to show for it.

potomac smallmouth bass
My "big" smallmouth.  Couldn't even keep it in the frame!
The water was really shallow and fast moving.  There were also lots of weeds and moss growing on the rocky bottom, which made fishing difficult because lures came back caked with green stuff.

I kept wading on and finally came to an area that seemed to open up.  There wasn't much green on the bottom, and it had deeper (two to four feet) pools.

Finally success casting a small spinnerbait when I saw a fish come out of nowhere and attack the lure.  Reeling in, it initially felt like the fish wasn't hooked on the other end, but there was still some tension on the line.  It turned out to be small sunfish, which explained why it didn't fight much.

A little bit later, a tiny smallmouth bass got hooked on the spinnerbait.  If the fish was eight inches, I was being generous.

Targeting exposed rocks and slow water along the shore, I ended up with four more smallmouth -- the biggest measuring 11.5 inches -- in this section.  Two were caught on a Z-Man Finesse TRD Worm and two on a Campground Special Teaser Tube.  With the bottom-bouncing plastics, the sunfish would nip-nip at the tail of the lure.  Each smallmouth I caught, the fish grabbed it and headed in another direction.

Sunlight started to fade, but so did the bite.
As soon as the sun ducked below the trees, the action fizzled.  It was like a switch was turned, and I didn't get a single bite after that.

Back at the campground, I went up to the aqueduct spanning Fifteen Mile Creek to see if I could spot "The Muskie" like when we here two years ago.  No muskie but I saw a nice sized smallmouth bass cruising the depths.

Karen came back and said she ended up a couple miles upriver at a dilapidated railroad bridge that crossed the Potomac from Maryland into West Virginia.  She said she caught 14 inches of smallmouth -- three fish that probably totaled 14 inches.

potomac smallmouth
One of Karen's fish.
It got really cold once the sun went down. We burned some stuff and grilled some stuff, not necessarily in that order.

In the morning, it sounded like raindrops were falling, which discouraged me from fishing.  Finally when I got out of the tent, it wasn't raining but there was a lot of condensation, which I think made it sound like rain with the wet buildup dripping from the leaves of overhanging trees.  It was still cold, too, and I didn't feel like getting into wet, leaky waders.

We had to head out early so I packed my fishing gear up.  Karen got up, and we made breakfast of sausage with eggs from a box.  She offered one of her fishing rods for me to go fishing while she started breaking down the camp site, and I took off to the end of the boat ramp.

I kind of explored this area yesterday, and it was chock full o' weeds.  The TRD worm on her rod almost got snagged twice, so I figured a topwater lure might be better to skim across the surface.  I switched to a bullfrog-flavored Heddon Zara Puppy and had a fish (probably a sunfish) peck at the lure.

cold lightning
Sometime in March, 48 degrees will seem warm.
Two casts later, something HIT the lure.  I waited half a second looking for the lure on the top of the fog-encrusted water and didn't see it, so I set the hook.  The fish was hooked but it wasn't very big.  It fought OK, and I reeled it in with no drama -- another dink smallmouth.   That made it six smallmouth and one sunfish for the weekend, and along with Karen's three smallmouth, 10 total fish.

The cold weather last night and this morning was a slap-in-the-face reminder that good fishing is almost over.  The water felt a few degrees cooler than last week downriver at Brunswick, so soon the smallies will have disappeared to their mysterious wintering holes.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tech Tip Tuesday: Holding your rods

Wading for fish definitely has its drawbacks when comparing to fishing from a boat or kayak.  But for now, I'm stuck out of the boat.

The biggest advantage to fishing from a watercraft -- other than being able to cover more water -- is having multiple rods and more gear.  Earlier this year I somewhat satisfied the dilemma of multiple rods with a rod holder that can be strapped around the waist.

A holster for your weapons.
Before this, I had been bringing two rods with me anyway whenever I went fishing basically since I started fishing for smallmouth bass a few years ago.  One rod would be rigged for finesse lures working the bottom (jigs and tubes), and the other rod would be for basically everything else (jerkbaits, swimbaits, topwater, spinnerbaits, etc).  But usually -- especially with the case of wading on the Upper Potomac -- I would leave one rod on shore.  So if I wanted to switch presentations, I would have to wade back to the shore and switch rods.

So if I found a hot spot and just wanted to switch things up, I'd have to go to shore and get the other rod.  Or waste time tying on another lure.

Earlier this year, I found Kim's Rod Holders on Etsy and purchased one of his dual rod holders for around the cost of a Megabass Vision jerkbait.  It's basically a piece of rugged foam with two plastic rod holders riveted on, and the ensemble can be strapped around the waist.

I haven't used it on the Little/Middle Patuxents since I'm basically fishing from shore or on a sandbar in most spots, but it has been a valuable tool on the Potomac.  I don't feel like I'm chained to one location since I have to keep an eye on the rod on shore.  Plus, more importantly, I can switch rods within a few seconds.

The best example of this was just yesterday when I was using a bottom bouncing jig in one section and not getting much action.  Then I switched to a spinnerbait and had two fish and one miss within a handful of casts.

Heck you can even be daring and carry three rods wading in the river of your choice.  Two secured on your back, one in hand, then juggling one out for the other.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Bummer Brunswick

Karen and I went to the Brunswick section of the Upper Potomac.  It was my first time there and it will probably be my last.  There must have been 20 watercraft that passed me while I was wading in the river.  They didn't do the typical thing and encroach on my fishing, but it was just too much traffic.  I guess a lot of people put in at the ramp here and floated down to Lander or Point of Rocks?

If I would have caught a ton of fish or some bigger ones, I would probably be back, but that wasn't the case.  I ended up with three dink smallmouth and a small sunfish.

I caught the first smallmouth on one of my first casts with a Z-Man TRD Finesse Worm, but it was tough going after that.  There was some topwater activity downriver, so I tied on a Hubs Chubs.  There were a few swipes at it, but I think they were sunfish.

potomac spinnerbait
This spinnerbait was working until the blade disappeared.
Down river past a current break, I switched to a small spinnerbait and caught two smallmouth within a handful of casts.  In between those two fish, I had one on the hook that took the lure as soon as it hit the water.  But after landing the last smallmouth, I noticed the blade on the spinnerbait disappeared!  Just gone.

This is the second time this has happened with this same spinnerbait.  The last time was a couple weeks ago when I bounced it off a rock on the Middle Patuxent.  I assumed at that time the blade cracked.  No idea what caused it this time.

Switching to a bigger spinnerbait didn't produce any results, so I switched to a buzzbait and a fish on the first cast, but that was it.  I got to thinking that I haven't caught a fish on a buzzbait in about 30 years.  But they sure are fun to churn across the surface.  Other people swear by them for river smallmouth.

On my other rod, I tied on a campground tube and hooked what looked like a 12-inch smallmouth (that was very angry) but the fish got off.

Karen went up the C&O Canal Trail but wasn't having much luck except for finding asshats who, despite the broadness of the river, think they are entitled to other people's space.

At least the weather was nice, and the river was flowing really clear.

Friday, September 1, 2017

When a cloud obscures the sunfish

A nice redbreast sunfish.
The original secret spot on the Little Patuxent.  It was still there, but access to the trail was hindered by a fallen tree.  The only way to the river was muddling through marshy areas or find another trail.  Or make my own.

Which is what I did -- make my own trail.  Through the brush and thorns and along the fence of a storage facility, and I finally made it to the river.

The action was pretty good as soon as I hit the water.  I tried a Hubs Chub and had several rises, but nothing managed to snag the two treble hooks on the lure.  It looked like sunfish pecking at the lure, but you never know what lies beneath.

After no hookups on the topwater, I switched to a Z-Man TRD Finesse Worm, and the frenzy was on.  At least for the sunfish.  Within about 15 minutes, I caught three redbreast sunfish and a little smallmouth bass.  One of the sunfish was bigger than the normal ones I always catch -- hand sized.

Chocolate milk tastes great, but fish don't think so.
Then the cloud came.  Not a fluffy white cloud in the sky but a cloud of chocolate milk flowing down river.  The water in this section isn't really clear but it was actually the clearest I have ever seen it.  Two feet of clarity at least.  But then this muddy water just ... appeared.  It's not like it was raining and stirring up the muck.  I was standing in water just below my knees when I noticed it. As soon as the chocolate milk water flowed past, the bite stopped.  Nothing.

The water kept on flowing like this with no end in sight.  Soon, the whole river was a cloudy mess.
Instead of two or three feet of clarity, it became zero feet.
After I left, I drove over a couple bridges spanning the Little Patuxent upriver, and the water looked normal.  I have no idea what caused this.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

When the going gets tough, it's time to go somewhere else

monocacy aqueduct
Monocacy Aqueduct viewing from the middle of the
Potomac River.
Karen and I started off the morning fishing on the Potomac at Point of Rocks.  I had only fished here twice and not yet this year, so I figured it might be nice to try something different.

Because of the nice weather, the parking lot was almost full by the time we showed up around 8 a.m.  Mostly bikers, hikers and non-fishing kayakers.

I found a spot below the Route 15 bridge that looked rather fishy with a dam of rocks stretching almost the entire river.  The only fish here were sunfish, though.  I caught two redbreast sunfish and had numerous pesky nibbles on a Z-Man Finesse TRD Worm.  Nothing on a Whopper Plopper, swimbait or spinnerbait.

Karen had moved somewhere upriver, and about 20 minutes after she left, the creepers showed up.  Creepers are other fishermen who creep into your fishing space.  One of them started fishing from shore, and his buddy went upriver about equally as far away from me.  Then downriver creeper started making his way into the water.  A little while later, he was easily within casting distance.  I couldn't go further out into the river because it looked to be too deep, and I couldn't wade upriver because creeper buddy was holding station.

I don't understand this shit.  Gigantic river and you start fishing where somebody else is already.

It was time to move on.  I waded back to shore and got up to the C&O Canal Trail to, um, empty my waders after a, um, swimming incident caused by a slippery rock.

Karen texted me and said she as about done because she couldn't find a good place to fish from shore.

It as only around 11 a.m., so since the weather was nice, I wanted to continue fishing.  Since I picked Point of Rocks, she had to choose the next spot.  She picked the Monocacy Aqueduct, and we were off in the back roads of Maryland farm country.

Thankfully when we got to the Monocacy, nobody else was fishing.  Just a few boats in the distance.

This was the same area I fished in early June where I caught eight fish near downed trees along shore.  As luck would have it, that tree formation was still there, so I headed in that direction.

the smallmouth bass tree
The smallmouth trees as they appeared last time I was
here.  It looked really similar today, just not as
many leaves.
After three casts, I had three smallmouth bass on a Z-Man worm.  Nothing big, though, but they were behaving like typical river smallmouth -- fighting above their weight class.

I decided to scale up the lure to a spinnerbait -- you know, maybe get a bigger fish?  Of course the first fish to clamp on was another redbreast sunfish.  So much for sizing up. 

After that, the bite slowed way down.  Switching between the Z-Man worm and spinnerbait for the next couple hours, I caught three more smallmouth and two more sunfish.  One smallmouth measured just a tick above 12 inches.

The fish weren't found as close to the trees as they were in June, but it appears they use the trees as ... I don't know, maybe just a point of reference?  My opinion is river smallmouth cruise between hot spots looking for food, especially a bigger river like the Potomac.

And as have been doing lately, I had a fish that probably would have been the biggest of the day unhook itself.  Wading out to a large rock formation protruding from the water in the middle of the river, I cast a TRD worm up against the rock.  Felt a hit and set the hook -- fish on!  Trying to keep the fish from jumping and trying to keep it from burrowing down in the shallow, rock-laden bottom as a struggle.  Finally the fish jumped, and it looked like an easy 12-inch smallmouth.  Probably a little bigger.  But the hook flew out of the fish's mouth at the peak of the jump.

Karen caught a smallmouth and two sunfish that she figured were actually the same fish.  So it was nice to salvage the day after not having much luck at Point of Rocks.

Sorry, no fish pictures.  I tried to take a couple but the fish were having none of it.