Thursday, September 3, 2015

Have New Bunks, Will Travel...

Thus sayeth my buddy with the handlebar mustache. As I learned in a late-night email from him, he had been to West Neck yesterday, stirring the same nasty-looking water I had found on Tuesday. "Had ugly brown crud on both sides of the boat," he noted.

The one noticeable difference was that he didn't encounter any of those dead fish I saw floating around the ramp when I came in Tuesday and evidently didn't smell any of them either, as I did at various spots along the creek.

The one similarity Jim experienced was a lack of cooperation from the fish. "I didn't have a strike or bump until close to 11 o'clock," he said. "Had a total of four fish: two crappie (one keeper), a 15-oz. bass, and a striper that weighed 1 lb. 14 ozs. Also lost a good bass that looked to weigh between 3 and 4 lbs. He snapped my 16-lb. fluorocarbon and hauled butt."

Jim caught both crappie and the striper at the bridge, and the bass that broke his line grabbed a worm. "Tossed a spinnerbait, crankbait, and topwater crank but got nothing," he added.

The water temp at launch time (about 8:30) was 80 degrees, compared to a reading of 87 when Jim quit about 1 o'clock.

He managed to get the boat cleaned up and just had headed out of the marina parking lot when the first shower out Pungo way hit. He saw several stretches of wet road then but encountered no more rain himself until after he arrived home and had gotten the cover on his boat.

Unfortunately, the rain wasn't his only concern. Once he got inside the house, he quickly realized he had some computer problems that required attention. He called his provider and got some help, but not before having to deal with a trying dose of language-barrier difficulties. Like me, Jim wants to know one thing: Why is it these things always happen when you're so tired all you really want to do is sit down in a chair and relax?

Letting the Numbers Do the Talking

Had an email yesterday from my friend and fellow blogger, Charlie, talking about the fact he had had "another miserable day" on the water. He had gone to Straight Creek, where, as he noted, "even the fly rod let me down."

Yesterday's trip marked the second consecutive one that Charlie had planned to skip doing a blog post about until one of his readers urged him to write it up. "We want to see the good, with the bad," she said.

When Charlie had finished the post, he decided to research his bass stats for the past few years. Here is what he found:

2012 (as of Sept. 1) - 514
2013 (as of Sept. 1) - 521
2014 (as of Sept. 1) - 399
2015 (as of Sept. 1) - 286

"At this rate, I'll end 2015 with 429," said Charlie. "Sure hope this current trend doesn't continue into 2016."

Here's how his full-year totals look when combining all species that he caught:

2010 - 553
2011 - 568
2012 - 866
2013 - 799
2014 - 627

"Looks like we were spoiled by the 2012 and 2013 numbers," continued Charlie. "Back in the mid- to late-1990s, I was an 'ultra light with a beetle spin aficionado' and once during that period had more than 1,500 bass, including, of course, a plethora of dinks. Than I switched to much larger baits, and the numbers dropped by more than half, but the quality of bass caught took a big jump.

"My best year for big bass was last year when I recorded 19 fish over 3 pounds. So far this year, I have only 3 in that range. My math tells me I should finish the year with 5, if I'm lucky," Charlie concluded.

There is a certain amount of irony in all of this because, earlier in the day, I had spent some time mulling over the possibility of a blog post along these same lines. It follows several recent conversations I've had with different anglers, some of whom are "pretty good sticks," but who currently are struggling somewhat.

Using the same years as Charlie researched for his bass totals, I checked our tourney stats and came up with the following numbers:

2012 (thru August) - 592 bass weighed, for a total of 1112.60 lbs.
2013 (thru August) - 522 bass weighed, for a total of 1040.89 lbs.
2014 (thru August) - 609 bass weighed, for a total of 1163.46 lbs.
2015 (thru August) - 539 bass weighed, for a total of 968.52 lbs.

Make what you will of these numbers. They're provided for informational purposes only. I'm no numbers analyst, so you won't get any grand predictions. The only personal goal I have for the rest of the year is to get a little bit closer to my 192 total from last year than the 130 bass I've caught to date. With any luck, the frog bite will turn on, and I'll clean up with it--and if you believe that, let me tell you about my oceanfront property for sale in Arizona.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lures Sometimes Need a Little/Lot of Fine-Tuning... Or Not

"Patented in 1923, the Johnson Silver Minnow (like Charlie is removing from this toothy critter) is the 'Original Weedless Warrior.' Comes out clean and weed-free every time! Thirty-five-degree wobble rocks back and forth, but won't roll and twist line."

So says, but I--and a lot of other learned fishermen, too--know better than to believe that claim in its entirety. Specifically, don't believe that the Silver Minnow won't roll and twist your line. I also would suggest that you not wholeheartedly swallow the idea that it's next to impossible to hang up one of these lures. I have chalked up as many as three hangups with my Silver Minnow during a single outing.

I only recently restored this lure to regular-use status, following a long hiatus. In that time, I had forgotten about the line-twist problem. I've since restored the "fix" I first found a lot of years ago: using a snap swivel with the bait. While not 100-percent effective, it's far better than tying directly to the lure or only using a snap. And if you happen to be fishing clear water, there are those who would advocate tying the swivel about a foot ahead of the bait and running a leader to the lure.

I'd venture to say the vast majority of anglers have encountered more than their fair share of lures that didn't entirely work as advertised--whether it be directly out of the box or otherwise. For example, I read about this fella who had bought a cheap topwater prop-bait, which had props that wouldn't turn, or the body at times would turn, instead.

He finally got so aggravated he removed the props and turned the lure into a Spook-type bait. Then, by using light line, he found he could make it walk just beneath the surface, somewhat like a Rapala Sub-Walk. "Turned out to be a great lure!" he exclaimed.

This same fella, though, one day met a young boy who invited him along to fish a neighbor's pond. It seems this boy had only one lure--a cheap knockoff crankbait that was so badly out of tune it just spun in tight circles on the retrieve. Before he could offer to tune the bait for the boy, though, he already had caught a nice bass--then another and another.

Noted the fella afterward, "He and that ridiculous plug caught more bass that morning than I did. Needless to say, I didn't 'fix' that problem. However, neither did I de-tune any of my own crankbaits."

As is usually true, there's a flip side to this story. Consider an account I was reading about an angler who was remembering a fishing experience from earlier days. It was one day in late August, and the then-teenage angler just had caught one of the biggest pike he'd ever seen on his favorite little balsa crankbait. In his words, the pike had "hammered my precious little cranker and literally torn it to shreds. To make matters worse, the big fish went absolutely ballistic in the landing net...," causing even more damage.

After retrieving the lure from the net-mesh tangle, he made a short cast to see how it would run. "It didn't," he said. "As soon as I began a retrieve, the lure rolled upside down and popped out of the water. I was done, or so I thought. My prize lure was history. Yet, just for kicks, I took a pair of pliers to the bait... straightening the hook hangers and forcing the wire frame back into place. I also made an effort to repair the facial cosmetics... .

"Admittedly, I was amazed when the badly battered lure resumed its tantalizing wobble. I also was surprised to see it running perfectly true... but would it still catch fish? It didn't take long to find out. A few casts later, I had another largemouth, then another and another... ."

I'm pretty sure I've told you, too, in a previous post about the floater crankbait I once had that developed a pinhole leak after considerable use. When you had fished it for 30 minutes or so, it would sink ever so slowly following a cast, rather than rest on the surface. I was about ready to toss it in the trash until one day, as I was watching it sink, a nice bass inhaled it. From then until the day I snagged it and had to break off, I caught a lot of fish, thanks to the flaw that had developed in the lure.

I feel it's pretty safe to assume the vast majority of fishermen want their lures to run true. However, I also see nothing wrong with trying something oddball on occasion. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." As evidenced here, there's always a few fish that will fall for both the true and the not-so-true. Tight Lines! to one and all.

What's Happened to the Creek?

That's the $64,000 question a couple of friends asked me today while we all were fishing West Neck Creek. I'm not sure what the answer is. However, you easily could get the impression the sun is setting on the creek--in more ways than one, albeit only temporarily, though, I'm sure.  Hence the reason I'm using this nice photo Skip sent me here a few weeks ago.

With the serious cloud cover that existed for most of the day, along with the fact there were abundant signs fish were moving all day, I would have bet you money there would be a topwater bite. I couldn't have been more wrong, though, at least by my results. I threw two different kinds of frogs, a Bang-O-Lure, and a Buzzjet Jr. without ever getting the first strike, and that included different stretches of the main creek, as well as a couple of coves.

Ralph and his son told me they picked up three bass on topwaters this morning in one of the coves but said their bite ended just as abruptly as it began, without either one getting another hit the rest of the day on anything.

When I talked to Bob, he said he had had one good strike in a cove and set the hook on something big but never got to see what it was. "Could have just been a big grindle, as far as I know," he lamented.

I also talked to Rob P. today after he came back to West Neck from Pocaty. His comment as he came alongside for a chat was, "Nothing happening over there, so I decided to see if I could find something here." Don't know how his or Bob's day ultimately turned out. Rob already had departed when I arrived at the ramp this afternoon, and Bob still was out fishing.

I certainly can't brag about my luck because my grand total was one 12-inch bass on a white spinnerbait. Also had one fish follow my Johnson Silver Minnow to the boat. As for my Bomber Square A, let's just say it "bombed out" totally today.

The only time my adrenaline stirred (I actually about jumped out of my hide) during the whole day was when a big bird smacked the water a short ways behind my boat, trying to catch his lunch. He flew away empty-clawed, though.

The best part of my day was the discussions I had on the water with Rob and Ralph about frog fishing--they both had read my earlier blog post about the same fish I missed three times the other day. Rob gave me some tips about the type rod I should be using and when to set the hook, while Ralph shared his philosophy about using only Ribbit-type frogs. He gave me a couple of the ones he routinely uses and wished me luck. Then later this evening, I met Wayne, and he, too, passed along a tip he employs with using hollow-bodied frogs. He also loaned me a "frog rod" to test the next time I'm on the water, which likely will be Friday.

As I indicated in my original post on this topic, I do plan to master this frog fishing, regardless of how long it takes. I just hope when I finally get hold of one, it's about the same size as the one in the picture Rob showed me today. It was a big 'un, and he had swallowed the "whole enchilada." Sends shivers up and down my spine just thinking about how it would feel to get hold of Bubba on a frog.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Fish Were Scattered Today

I had hoped it would be a day in which I could get a frog bite going, so I could practice my hooksetting skills with this bait, but it wasn't to be. I fished a long stretch of shoreline in West Neck first thing this morning without arousing any interest whatsoever.

I subsequently started alternating between a spinnerbait and a crankbait. Collectively, they accounted for one white perch and five bass, including this 1-13, which was my best fish of the day. I also had a 1-1, 1-2, and a 1-4, as well as one dink.

What fish I did manage to catch all seemed to still be relating to wood, but only a select few pieces. More of my fish came off smaller stuff, except for the big fish of the day, which was tucked between a couple of good-sized cypress knees. He really nailed my spinnerbait and then dove into all the gnarly crap, but I just held a tight tension, and he eventually came out of the mess on his own.

Only talked to a couple other bass fishermen on the water today, in the person of my friend, Joe, and his brother, who is visiting from out of state. They had run south this morning and stopped on their way in to let me know they had caught about as many as I had. They indicated the wind had chased them from their spot down south.

Along about 1 o'clock, my friend and outboard mechanic, Wayne, called and asked if I wanted to bring my boat by his place this afternoon to get a job done we had talked about. And given the slow day I was having, I didn't hesitate to wrap things up at 2 o'clock and head in. Don't know when I'll get out again. In large measure, it'll depend on what this tropical storm does and the water level.

A Lot of Things Come With Curves...

But this light pole from the stern of Skip's boat isn't supposed to be one of them.

If my recollection serves me correctly, Skip told me this problem is the result of backing up without realizing some limbs were hanging low. He says it still works as is but plans to straighten it in the near future, unless he instead decides to mount a stern light atop his outboard cover.

New Bunks in Place Now

As noted a few blog posts ago, Jim learned that his old bunks were waterlogged and just about ready to dump his Skeeter in the road.

He wasted no time engaging the help of his son to fix him some new ones and, with the assistance of his brother, installed the bunks today. Now he'll be able to make his September trip to Lake Gaston with peace of mind. Incidentally, my friend, I apologize for using this photo of your old F-150 pickup, but I don't have any yet of your new one.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

D'ya Wanna Know How to Tell You're a Lousy Frog Fisherman?

Let me assure everyone that I knew, long before today, that my skills with a hollow-bodied frog left a lot to be desired. I've caught a few bass with one over the years, but it truly was more a matter of luck, or the fish simply annihilated the frog and hooked himself.

Nevertheless, I had an occasion come up this morning, while sitting down in Milldam, that forced me to get out a frog and see what would happen. It was early, before the wind came up, and I was alternating between tossing a spinnerbait and a Johnson Silver Minnow when the opposite shoreline suddenly came alive with a bass chasing a live frog. The frog finally escaped with his hide intact but not before the bass had given him a real workout.

As I watched this episode unfolding, I knew I just had to get out one of my frogs (I chose the one in this photo) and give it a try, but I waited until the show had ended to make my move. Once all was quiet again, I grabbed my frog, tied it on my spinning rod, and tossed it up to where the action had unfolded. A couple of twitches later, the water erupted with spray as the bass jumped all over my bait. I waited until I felt the fish, set the hook, and started working him toward the boat. Just as I was feeling a bit of pride, though, the fish came unbuttoned.

I figured I had nothing to lose by trying the same spot again, so I tossed the frog to the same spot a second time, and after only three or four twitches, the water blew up again. And just like the first time, I waited until I felt the fish, set the hook, and started it toward the boat. But, alas, he came loose just as before.

Figuring a third time would be the charm, I made another toss to the same spot, and sure enough, the bass again grabbed my frog. When I felt his weight, I set the hook and started him toward the boat--but with the same final results as the first two times.

At that point, I reckon he had had all the fun he wanted for one day, because he started ignoring everything I threw at him, including a worm. And that, my friends, is how you know you're a lousy frog fisherman.

Will I now just throw my frog back in my tacklebox and forget about it for a spell? Not likely. I whet my appetite with today's experience and won't be satisfied until I've put at least one bass in the boat with my frog.

I only managed to catch a big white perch and a small grindle in Milldam before heading back to West Neck about 12:15 today. Once there, I tied on a crankbait and succeeded in boating three bass. The biggest was this 1-8.

The other two were dinks, but I also lost a nice one on the same crankbait. I had hung the crankbait on a submerged limb or something and kept jerking until it came loose. As it tore free, "big boy" slammed the bait, and I tried to cross his eyeballs but evidently didn't quite get the job done.

Don't know at the moment if I'll get out again on Friday but plan to try. I'm a man on a mission with a frog now and won't be happy until I have a bass hang on long enough for me to get him in the boat.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Repeat of Last Winter--Really?

That's what they--the folks at Farmers' Almanac--are saying. As if things haven't been bad enough since Ol' Man Winter's extended stay last winter, I've learned that it looks like we're in for a repeat of those miserable conditions again this year.

The outlook calls for "unseasonably cold conditions over the Atlantic Seaboard, eastern portions of the Great Lakes, and the lower peninsula of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, most of the Tennessee and Mississippi Valley, as well as much of the Gulf Coast. New Englanders will once again experience a very frigid winter.

"Much of the central United States will see near-normal winter temperatures. This includes the western and central Great Lakes, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and most of the Great Plains. In these areas, Mother Nature will mix intervals of unseasonably mild temperatures with occasional shots of bitter cold; average it out, and it comes out--average.

"Texas and the other South Central States will see a cool to cold winter but nothing too extreme.

"Farther west, over the Rockies, the Colorado Plateau, Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest States, milder-than-normal temperatures are expected.

"Precipitation-wise, if you like snow, then you should head out to the northern and central Great Plains (most of the North Central States), the Great Lakes, New England, and parts of the Ohio Valley where snowier-than-normal conditions are forecast.

"Over the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, the winter will be stormy, with a good amount of snow. We are 'red-flagging' the second week of January and the second week of February for possible heavy winter weather, with a long, drawn-out spell of stormy weather extending through much of the first half of March... .

"An active storm track will bring above-normal precipitation to the Southeast States, as well as the Mississippi Valley, Southern Great Plains, the Gulf Coast, and along the Atlantic Seaboard.

"Another area of above-normal precipitation (thanks to incoming storms from the Pacific) will cover much of the Pacific Northwest.

"Near-to-below normal winter precipitation will cover the rest of the country, which includes much of the drought-stricken areas in the Southwest."

I only can speak for myself, but this report is not what I wanted to hear. Reckon all I can do now is to hope the folks at Farmers' Almanac aren't any more reliable than the local TV weather forecasters.