More to Fishing Than Just Fish

The fish are the obvious part, but it’s often the bits and pieces on the periphery that make the lasting memories. The otters on the ice at the beginning of a nearly fishless day, or the coyote pups resting on the mud flat while I stalked carp – these are the mental trophies that have stood the test of time. Fishing was just the vehicle that put me in position to see those things.

This is an encounter from last week that I will remember for a long time.

And a few more memorable moments:

Maybe bear tracks are not as exciting as seeing the whole bear, but still cool nonetheless.

Watching a gosling hatch overshaddowed the fishing on this day.
I fondly remember the pickerel frog that jumped into the boat at the ramp. Equally curious is how he stealthily disappeared after a couple hours onboard.
Many months after this trip, the brilliant red and orange sunrise is the memorable part of the day. The rest of the day was just fishing.
Watching an anole in the pine straw rivaled the reward of casting to spotted bass in the rip rap – for a little while anyway.
Sometimes you have your cake and eat it too. I’ve been summer smallmouth fishing with my longest tenured fishing partner for over 35 years. Those trips included mink, fossils, and accidental dunkings. We also caught a lot of fish along the way.

Bulking Up “The List” with Sunfish

A trip to a small local river added a few species to “The 2018 Fly Fishing List”.

The species in the pic above is one of my favorites. As a kid, I incorrectly referred to these as longear sunfish. Looking at the opercular flap, you can see why. It is, of course, the redbreast sunfish. This colorful, willing biter is quite common in this river and many others in the east.

This redbreast, and many of his neighbors, ate a fuzzy nymph with a brass bead head. The tail of this specimen is worth mentioning. I would assume that he wore that down digging a spawning bed. The wound looked fully healed and he seemed none the worse for wear.

#15 Rock bass – Ambloplites rupestris

A couple small rock bass came next using the same generic bead head. There’s not much to say about a rock bass. They have lots of bite, but not much fight –  especially at this size.

#16 Green sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus

The green sunfish was the final species of the day. This little guy was the only one of his kind that I found that day. A switch to a glass bead head nymph lead to his capture.

 

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva
  12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  13. Common Shiner – Luxilus cornutus
  14. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
  15. Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris
  16. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus

Picking the Carcass Clean

To close out May, I made a quick stop at a stream I have been frequenting for the past few months. I only knew this stream to hold three species for certain, but suspected more. With a change of seasons and a little flexibility in tactics, I discovered three additional species dwell here.

The day started like my previous visits, with rainbow trout in fast water. Creek chubs and sunfish filled the middle by probing deep slow pools. A sprinkling of brown trout fell evenly throughout. The grand finale was a new fly rod species for 2018 – the Common Shiner (Luxilus cornutus).

The outing spanned just a couple hours and less than a mile of stream bed. Although the fish were diminutive, the variety and numbers of each were excellent. From a multi-species angler’s perspective, I picked it clean.

The male Common Shiner (Luxilus cornutus) is anything but common in appearance. Large mirror-like scales, red tipped fins, and tubercles on the head for spawning season. Notice the dark patches. Those are color variations, not missing scales – kind of like the sides of a barracuda.
One of the more subtle characteristics is somewhat visible in this pic. The light colored line down the side appears iridescent gold in person. It is only visible at certain angles to the sun.
Wild rainbows are not the flashiest trout in my area, but still a worthy catch.
The venerable creek chub is a favorite of mine. This dusky specimen is starting to show some of the pink tones of the spawn.
I am just beginning to learn the ins and outs of this creek. Finding bluegills in the slower pools was a surprise to me.
A fancier surprise was this pumpkinseed.
This wild brown was the lunker of the day, stretching the tape to 32 cm.

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva
  12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  13. Common Shiner – Luxilus cornutus

Speaking of Colorful…

…I give you the Pumpkinseed. I am not going to try to describe it. Just look at the picture. This sunfish has to be near the top of the list of most colorful American fish. It is also #12 on my 2018 Fly Fishing List.

And, the release.

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva
  12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus

 

 

The Unheralded Beauty of the Swamp

With nicknames like mudfish and dogfish, the bowfin gets short changed in the PR department. They are strong fighters. They can grow to an impressive size. They are receptive to a variety of presentations. What is often overlooked is an attractive, actually colorful appearance.

This small male Bowfin (Amia calva) came to my Northkill net as #11 on the 2018 Fly Fishing List.

Considered a handsome fish year round by some, the beauty of the bowfin peaks during the spring spawning season.

The fins of the male bowfin take on a deep jade color that almost looks artificial.
Green highlights appear on the tail, and the orange rim of the ocellus glows like a beacon.
To compliment those bright colors, the reticulated pattern intensifies down the sides, tail, and dorsal fin. That’s a good looking fish!
A side benefit to bowfin fishing is the frequent bycatch of largemouth bass.

 

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva

Mix It Up For a Spring Mixed Bag

Sometimes we can slip into a rut and just keep casting the same lure or fly despite changing conditions. I catch myself doing this all too often. A little success can reduce your total productivity by reducing your willingness to change up offerings or tactics at appropriate times.

A weightless and weedless fly was productive for Chain Pickerel in shallow cover.

Don’t be a victim of your own success. If conditions dictate a change in size, color, or depth of presentation – make it. Think of your flybox or tacklebox as a toolbox. Choose the right tool for the job at hand.

A switch to a weighted fly on a deep water edge yielded Black crappie…
… as well as this big, bonus Bluegill.
A return to shallow cover and a switch back to weedless & weightless was rewarded with more foot long Black Crappie.

Halfway to the goal! “The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus

Spring Bounty On The Fly

The warming waters of spring bring many species of gamefish near shore to feed and prepare to spawn. This concentrates the fish both laterally and vertically. That concentration sets the stage for outstanding fishing, especially flyfishing. One of the stars of spring’s shallow water venue is the northern pike.

Violent strikes, lunging battles, and just a cool appearance make pike one of the most exciting flyrod species available in freshwater. Check your local regulations first to be sure pike angling is currently “in season”. Some jurisdictions are open year round; others not. Even if the season is open, practice catch and release or selective harvest to preserve the resource during this vulnerable time.

Esox lucius, the Northern Pike is #6 on my flyrod fish list.

One of the earliest spawners, pike are quite active even before the ice leaves the lakes. Ice fishermen will attest to that. Despite their cold tolerance, look for the warmest water to find the most active pike. All things are relative after all.

A white bunny fly was quite productive on this day.

Flies in the 5 to 7 inch range have been most productive for me. Streamers fish a lot like soft plastic jerkbaits. When constructed of the right materials, they will outdo plastics with more inherent, subtle action.

Even small pike are fun on fly tackle.

They are not as powerful as northern pike, but fat, wallowing largemouth bass are still lots of fun. They are numerous, willing biters that can save the day, or just add a little variety. Best of all, they will take the same flies and presentations in the same habitat as the pike, so you can fish for both species simultaneously. If the Alabama Rig taught us anything, it’s that hungry bass are not leader shy.

In much of the pike’s range, these are a common bycatch. Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) is #7 on my flyrod list.

Best of all, this is a fishery available to anyone. Walking or wading a shoreline can be just as productive as fishing by boat. Put in your time methodically, and you will find success.

Fat, prespawn bass are prime flyrod targets. Be sure to release them quickly to assure a productive spawn.

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides

The Venerable Creek Chub…

…is number five on the list, and the first incidental addition. This particular fish took a nymph intended for wild trout. The creek chub often shares waters with more commonly targeted species such as trout, bass, or panfish. In some of those waters it is an occassional bycatch or a forage fish. In others it is the dominant species and a top predator. I spent many summer days in my youth on the banks of a brook loaded with creek chubs.

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus

#4 Landlocked Atlantic Salmon

Winter does not want to loosen its grip just yet. This ice-out limbo is a good time to target cold water species. Fishing among the slush-bergs, fly fishing species #4 slid into my new, prototype boat net.

The Landlocked Atlantic Salmon is a formidable opponent on light tackle. Despite their athleticism, they are a delicate fish. Minimize the time you keep them out of the water. Keep Landlocks in the net in the water to recuperate while getting pliers or preparing to take a picture. Although not an issue now, warm water kills. In the southern part of their range, leave them alone for the summer.

Enjoy this brief montage video.

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar

 

Chasing Rainbows…

…and Finding Brook Trout

Hoping to follow up on my recent rainbow trout success with more of the same, I headed off to a different stretch of the same river. It seemed like a great plan. The plan was solid. It was the execution that went to shit.

Upon arrival, I found that I had packed my chest waders, but not my wading shoes. Damn! A limited time frame did not allow for a round trip to pick up my shoes. High water and treelined banks would have made flyfishing from dry land ineffective. Double damn!

What was Plan B? I had no plan B. I was hoping to check the ice status of a nearby lake, if time allowed. Maybe this was plan B. This lake has good fishing for mixed species and fair shoreline access. I could make this work. Well despite recent warm spells with temperatures that surged into the 60’s and 70’s, the lake was still fully covered with slushy ice. Balls!

Racking my brain for options, I decided to hit a roadside spot that I had never tried before. It had a reputation for holding numerous brook trout. Sounds good. The pool did not hold the numbers of fish that I had heard and hoped, but it did have one nice brookie that immediately grabbed my fly. As I swung it to hand, he shook the hook and dropped back into the water. That was the end of that spot. Half a damn or maybe one ball!

Off to the next spot. This was one I have fished a time or two. Open shoreline on a small river with smallmouth, mixed panfish species, and a remote shot at a trout. Well, I may as well have faced the other way and cast into the grassy field. I realized quickly these fish weren’t buying what I was selling. I was growing comfortable with failure now.

Running out of time and patience, I had one spot left. A small mountain stream closer to home with a reputation for native brook trout. Remember now, this was a wading trip without wading shoes. I did not have proper shoes for anything but driving. I was wearing Crocs – the worst shoe ever created for physical activity. This was going to be like bouldering in bedroom slippers. Oh well, no choice and no time.

Well, brook trout I sought and brook trout I found. Every pool held at least one, and often more. I didn’t count, but I caught enough to make my earlier failures laughable. One by one and a couple times two by two they came to net and hand. I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. What they lacked in size they more than made up for with their cooperative spirit. Success at last!

Here a brief recap video showing a few of the fish:

What’s the moral of the story? I don’t know. Don’t give up? Stay positive? Be flexible? Pack more carefully? Maybe it’s just go fishing and you’ll feel better.