Thursday, February 16, 2017

Seems Like Tecumseh Bass Are Fatter

That was the bottom-line conclusion to an email I received this morning from Ron. He was drawing  a comparison of his trip last evening to Albright's with one he took Tuesday evening to Lake Tecumseh.

Specifically, he talked about the fact he caught a 15-inch bass (his only fish) that weighed 1-10 last night in Albright's (see photo above right). And the night before, he caught a 16.25-inch bass in Tecumseh that tipped the scales at 2-8. "A significant difference for just over an inch," he commented.

Ron went on to say that a trip today wasn't looking too favorable, given the predicted temperature and wind. "Friday should be good, though," he said.

Friday, Feb. 17, 2017...As he promised yesterday, Ron headed back to Tecumseh today. He covered 10.2 miles in his kayak between noon and 5:50 p.m., trolling the XTS Minnow.

One factor he had a hard time understanding was the ever-shifting conditions today. It was in the low 50s, with a west wind, when he started. About 1:30, when he caught his first fish, the wind shifted out of the east and picked up, with a subsequent temperature drop. About 3:30, the wind went from dead calm to a stiff southerly breeze, and the bite slowed way down at the same time.

Ron's tally on the day was four bass [two at 2-1, one at 2-4, and one at 3-11 (above right)]. He also caught three chain pickerel (measuring 19, 20 and 22.5 inches (left), respectively. Rounding out the day was a fat 13-inch crappie (bottom right).

All the fish were found in random spots throughout the middle of the lake, around no structure or holes. Ron said he had one double hook-up, thought the left rod was the bigger and fought him, while losing the one on the right. The one he boated (thinking it was bigger) was weed-covered. "Should have stuck with the other one," he said.

Ron concluded tonight's report by saying he won't fish again 'til next Thursday, weather permitting. Seems he plans to take a trip to "play in the snow" for a few days. "I'm going to miss the good stretch of weather this weekend," he said.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"We've Thrown Everything but the Kitchen Sink"

When a young lad said that to his grandpa, with whom he had gone fishing, the grandpa responded, "You're right. Let's try it."

The young lad then sat there watching his grandpa rummage around in his old tacklebox. Shortly, the elderly gent pulled out his "kitchen sink lure (see photo at right)," put it at the end of a pop-gear rig, and 5 minutes later had a fish.

Incidentally, if you're a dummy like me and don't know what a pop-gear rig is, here's an explanation I found online. "Pop gear is known by many names. Among those names are gang trolls, cow bells, and Christmas trees. Pop gear generally consists of a 2- to 4-foot wire leader, with two to six spinner blades of different shapes, sizes and colors, as well as assorted colored beads to attract fish while trolling."

When his grandpa passed away, the boy's dad let him have his choice of one lure from that old tacklebox. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out which lure the young lad took. A few years later, when the boy had grown up, he proudly displayed the "kitchen sink lure" in his office.

"Everything but the kitchen sink" first appeared in the mid-20th Century--during World War II, to be exact--to describe scrap-metal drives. The only item in the kitchen which could not be recycled was the porcelain kitchen sink. Within a year or two after the war ended, the tackle industry exploded, and so did "novelty" lures, including the "kitchen sink lure."

One collector has assembled more than 50 different "kitchen sink lures (see old ad at left)," and several have been granted patents. Records indicate these lures generally sell between $20 and $30 in good condition.

What I found interesting is that the phrase "everything but the kitchen sink" actually grew out of "everything but the kitchen stove," which was a popular phrase in the late 1800s. The advent of indoor plumbing and sinks precipitated the change.

I gotta be honest here. It doesn't much matter to me whether we call it "everything but the kitchen sink," or "everything but the kitchen stove." All I know is that it's extremely frustrating to have one of those days when you make cast after cast, after more casts, and end up having zilch, nada, or you-name-it to show for the effort. Maybe I'll start checking around to see if I can find one of those "kitchen sink lures" for sale.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

You Have a Choice: Whine About "It," or Fight "It" and Probably Win

"The pessimist complains about 'it'; the optimist expects 'it' to change; the realist adjusts the sails."

In case you haven't figured out what the 'it' is in the title and this quote of writer William Arthur Ward, I'll spare you the research. "It" refers to "the wind," which, with another spring coming, is sure to be present in abundance.

Fisheries biologists see wind as a friend, but the average angler? Usually, not so much, especially weekend warriors who have only limited opportunities.

As Don Wirth once wrote in an issue of Bassmaster, "We bass fishermen usually grumble expletives when a stiff breeze blows... . It's a royal pain in the butt to us bassers when our reels are backlashing, and our trolling motors are sucking air."

Wirth went on to note that "BASS pros, on the other hand, know that wind can create some extraordinary fishing opportunities, and they have devised strategies for using it to their advantage."

One pro who certainly subscribes to that philosophy is Jimmy Houston. "Too many times," he said, "fishermen go to the lake and find it covered in rolling waves, or at least a strong wind that makes it uncomfortable to be on the water. They subsequently pack up their gear and head back home to watch fishing shows on TV...and grumble all day long.

"This is really ridiculous," Houston continued. "They are walking away from some very good fishing--I mean, some really GOOD fishing."

You also have some anglers who, while not ready to pack up and go home, really struggle with a windy day. They're ever so sorely tempted just to drift back into the calmer coves and creek arms, where boat control and casting are much easier.

I even read about one angler who admitted to frequently giving in to this temptation. Sometimes in doing so, as he explained, "I stumble onto a new spot I've never fished before...that actually has some fish. That's all well and good," he acknowledged. "However, the better fishing, I know, is always on the windward side of the lake or reservoir."

Here's how Bassmaster Elite Series pro Dustin Wilks explained the "friendship" factor between you and the wind. Incidentally, he has a college degree in fisheries biology. In his words, "The wind sets up a food-chain scenario that's triggered by reduced solar penetration.

"Phytoplankton, or microscopic plant-like organisms in the water, as they're known," said Wilks, "need sunlight for photosynthesis. When the wind creates waves, solar penetration is reduced, causing these microscopic organisms to rise closer to the surface. Zooplankton, or microscopic invertebrate animals, in turn rise to feed on the phytoplankton. Soon baitfish move in to eat the plankton, which attracts top-line predators, including bass. This is a major reason for fishing a bank, point or other structure that the wind is hitting."

Wind also is your friend in that it hides imperfections in your lures and presentations. One thing it doesn't do, though, as Wilks emphasized, is blow baitfish around. "This is one of the most prevalent misconceptions in bass fishing," he said.

Added Bassmaster Open pro Chris Noffsinger, "The wind brings bass that were holding deep into shallower areas, where they're much easier to catch. It also oxygenates the water, which energizes the fish."

Both Wilks and Noffsinger know it takes a seaworthy boat and a powerful trolling motor to handle strong winds. That's why Wilks fishes from a 20-foot Skeeter, and Noffsinger from a 21-foot Tracker Tundra walleye boat. Both pros' rigs are equipped with a 36-volt Minn Kota trolling motor that puts out 101 pounds of thrust. In addition, Wilks' trolling motor has a 50-inch shaft, while Noffsinger's is a whopping 60 inches long (to handle the big waves in Lake Michigan, where he guides).

Neither Wilks, nor Noffsinger, use a traditional lead anchor in deep water, but both occasionally employ drift socks to slow their boats in high winds. "I use drift socks," said Wilks, "when fishing big, weedy flats on windblown Florida lakes. Otherwise, I'd have to keep my trolling motor on high 36 to control my drift, which would put every bass in the area on red alert."

One other piece of equipment used by some bass pros to control the wind is what's called a Power-Pole drift paddle.

This accessory, according to FLW Tour pro Kurt Dove, "works great, is easy to install, and can be adjusted on the fly to slow your drift in current. Just the Power-Poles alone can help a deploying them part or all the way."

Dove went on to note that if you don't have Power-Poles or the drift paddle, and the current's not too strong, you can use your outboard to slow your drift and even adjust the direction of your drift somewhat. "Just trim the motor down--the stronger the wind, the more motor you want in the water--and turn your steering wheel to alter the direction you are being pushed," he said. "If you turn hard to the right, your boat will be pushed a little to the left, and vice versa."

A couple final pieces of advice for fishing windy days: Drop your rod tip, and use baits that stay in contact with the bottom.

"Remember," concluded Dove, "the wind is your least, most of the time. Just make sure you use it properly and adjust to the opportunities it presents. And if the wind gets to be too much, get off the water--right away!"

Maybe--Just Maybe--Hat and Gloves Are a Prerequisite

That's the song Ron was singing in his email to me tonight.

Launched at Tecumseh about 4 p.m., trolled the XTS Minnow, and found three bass, a nice chain pickerel, and two decent crappie. The three bass weighed in at 1-13, 2-4, and 2-8 (right)

Meanwhile, the chain pickerel (below) was a 24.5-inch Virginia length citation (weighing 3-6), and the two crappie came in at 12.5 (bottom right) and 11 inches, respectively.

There also was a fourth bass, caught while trolling a beetlespin on an ultralight rig. "He was a blast," said Ron. That fish tipped the scales at 1-12. "A pretty good evening," concluded Ron, "but a bit chilly." He noted that when the wind picked up toward dark, his toes got cold.

Compared to his trip to upper West Neck Creek on Sunday, today was, far and away, the best outing. Having launched at Indian River Road about noon Sunday, Ron headed south. He wasn't surprised by the amount of traffic he ran into but said he could have done without the jet-skiers. (For that matter, who couldn't?)

When all was said and done, Ron had lost three small bass, landed three dinks to 12 inches, found a small white perch, and caught a 17-inch chain pickerel. He grew tired of fighting the wind and called it quits about 1500.  "Suspect the bite would have improved toward dark," he noted in closing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dream About Spring

An angler's blood usually gets to pumping just thinking about it. I'm talking, of course, about one of those mystic, early mornings, with steam rolling off the glass-calm water. The wake of your favorite topwater bait pierces through the surface, and then it happens--the moment that kept you awake last night, tossing and turning in bed, is nigh at hand. "Will this finally be the day I realize my dream?" you wonder. "Will I at long last lay claim to that prized fish of a lifetime?"

You do a double-take as you see that massive wake surging toward your bait. You speed up your cadence, then give it a quick pause. And WHOOSH! Suddenly, it's as though Sasquatch has tossed a Volkswagen on top of your bait. Chaos ensues, and time stands still as you wrestle the behemoth in his element. It's one of those magical moments that drives all of us anglers.

Without a doubt, topwaters are the most exciting way to catch a giant bass. Nothing compares to that huge toilet-flushing sound of a big bass inhaling a topwater lure, followed, of course, by some tail-walking that gets your heart to beating faster than a hummingbird can flap its little wings.

Now that I hopefully have gotten your adrenaline flowing, check out this video of the top 10 bass blow-ups of 2016--and dream about spring. Just click on this link:

Here's an added bonus for you:

Maybe I Really Am "A Little Off in the Upper Story"

I'm convinced my dear mom used to think so at times when I was a teenager. I'll never forget one scolding I got from her.

It was a snowy winter weekend in Kansas, along about 1960, and I was bent on getting dual exhausts installed on my old car. Several inches of snow covered the ground, as I lay on my back, working underneath "my wheels" all weekend long.

After watching me come in the house both days, wet and nearly frozen to the bones, my ever-so-wise mom predicted that I was going to come down with "a death of cold" as a result of my bull-headedness, and you know what? She was right. A few days later, I was so sick I hardly could hold up my head. It was a couple weeks later before I finally was well enough to take my car to my best friend's dad (a mechanic) and let him finish what I had started.

Thank God, I've lost a lot of that tenacity over the years, but there's still enough left to make me want to sneak in some fishing trips over the winter months of December, January and February. And, I'm not the only one who feels that way.

A lot of folks would prefer to don an extra layer or two of clothing and head to the river, rather than sit on their duffs all weekend watching TV sports...and only wishing they had gone to the water. As one fella remarked, "Nothing compares to braving the elements for a few hours of solitude and winter-fishing bliss. Personally, I'd rather fish in winter than the middle of summer. There are fewer pleasure boaters, skiers and jet-skiers, and also fewer bass fishermen."

"What can be more simple, calming and refreshing than spending a brisk day on the water in the deep of winter?" lamented another angler.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that winter is the time of year when the way you dress for a fishing trip is as important as any other part of the planning process. A T-shirt, shorts and sandals may be OK for the summer, but you need to layer up for any winter fishing.

Make sure you don't overlook some nice socks and headgear. For warmth purposes, "jeep caps," like "Radar" O'Reilly wore in the MASH hit TV series, are hard to beat. As for gloves, some love 'em, and some hate 'em. For me, a pair of warm, fingerless gloves are a "must have" item; otherwise, I'm dogged with arthritic pain all day. I also wear a good ankle-high, waterproof pair of boots, along with the usual year-round pair of polarized sunglasses.

Once you're properly dressed for the pursuit, the next thing you need to concentrate on is the timing of your trip. The best time to go in winter, by most accounts, is during the middle of a warm front. For at least some I read about, they prefer days when the air temps range from the low 40s into the 50s. Personally, I like the 50s, but if cabin fever is getting me down, I will consider a day in the 40s, especially if low winds are predicted. Incidentally, you always should check the wind forecast before planning a cold-weather fishing trip. Winter wind is brutal and really can mess up a day on the water.

Some people won't hesitate to go, even in freezing temps, but then you have to deal with annoyances like ice freezing in your rod guides, and that ruins it for me. I would do that when I was younger--but that was before I decided to turn the switch "on" in the upper story.

In researching the Internet on this topic, I found one guy who characterized winter fishing as "nothing more than an excuse to drive a long distance on terrible roads to the middle of nowhere, whereupon you will find very few other sensible creatures, besides maybe a few birds and hopefully some fish." Another admitted that his wife is right: His winter-fishing habits "border on insane."

I don't feel like I fall into either one of those categories. I occasionally just like to wrap up, grab a thermos of coffee, and go spend a few hours of the day communing with nature, as I simultaneously try to catch a few fish. If that makes me borderline crazy or insane, then so be it. I'll keep doing it for as long as my health allows.

My dad had the same philosophy, and I unfortunately had to witness how making what he knew was going to be his "last cast" affected him. There's no doubt in my mind I, too, will experience the same emptiness. Just knowing I one day will have to accept the reality of there not being a "next time" is more than I can fully comprehend at the moment. At the very least, it's a truly sobering thought.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Only 2 Fish, But Both Nice Ones

Even though it was a bit chilly, Ron decided to launch at 4 p.m. yesterday and troll around Tecumseh to see what he could find. Twenty-five minutes later, he scored a 2-4 (below), followed about 5 minutes later with a 3-2 (right). He then lost two before finishing at 5:50 without another fish.

All of yesterday's fish came while trolling the XTS Minnow about 100 to 150 feet off the shoreline. "Gotta love that lure," he said, adding, "it has become my go-to." He also had two beetlespins out, but they just got ignored.

The day's colder temperatures left Ron with no choice but to once again don his hat and gloves. The only surprise of the evening was that he didn't find any chain pickerel or panfish.

Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017...Just received another email from Ron saying he fished Tecumseh again today from 1 to 6 p.m. "Covered nine miles," he said, "but didn't catch a single fish."

Ron went on to say he knows the fish were there, because a buddy of his caught a 2-11 and a 2-0, as well as two chain pickerel. "I just couldn't find 'em," he admitted.

"Sure was a nice day, though a bit windy," he explained. "Sunset was dead calm, beautiful."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Butt-Less? Tail-Less? It's All Pretty Much the Same

Mind you, I have lots of flaws, one of which my wife ascribed unto me shortly after our first meeting. She said then and, for that matter, still says today that I have absolutely no butt, and I reckon, compared to some I see on other people, she's absolutely right. However, I can live with that shortcoming--and evidently, so can some fish, as evidenced by a few photos I stumbled across here recently.

These fish, for all intents and purposes, appear healthy, other than for their tails, of which they have none. They appear to swim, eat and do all the other things fish normally do. (FYI: The photo at left was included in the latest issue of BassBlaster. If you're interested, check out the short video of the last fish shown here at the following link:

My online research really didn't turn up a lot of information about this phenomenon, but I'll gladly share what little I did learn.

The first thing I found was a fish camp up in Canada, where anglers one year started finding some big pike (the kind my kayaker buddy, Charlie, likes to catch) with large portions of their tails missing. If you looked closely, it was nearly as though the tail pieces had been surgically removed, so everyone went on high alert for the fiendish devil, or maybe a whole gang of 'em, who might be "playing" with these pike anglers' livelihood. This saga continued into the next year, when a conservation fella accidentally stumbled onto the answer. The big pike simply were losing their tails to a run-of-the-mill fin rot.

Whether something that simple accounts for any of the missing tails in the accompanying photos is anyone's guess. It could be the fish got caught with their tail between a rock and a hard place, zigged when they should have zagged (while being chased by a bigger fish), spent a little too much time on the spawning bed, or maybe they're just like me--born without a hind part, so to speak. Truth be known, the possibilities are endless.

This much I do know, thanks to some Duke Medical Center research I discovered: Most fish have the ability to regenerate lost tissue, as long as they don't have any complications from infections, and optimal environmental conditions exist. As we all know, bass often wear a portion of their tail fin away while fanning the nest during spawning season. Within four to six weeks, though, the tail usually is back to normal.

"And when I say normal," explained a research expert, "I mean an exact replica of the original tail, including bony growth, blood vessels, nerves, and even the exact skin pigmentation. It's a pretty fascinating process," he continued. "Even more interesting is that, regardless if 40 percent or just 20 percent of the tissue is lost, the regeneration time is the same. And furthermore," he said, "fish also regenerate new mouth tissue around hook wounds."

I can't speak for everyone, but that's information I never had heard before. The Duke research dude, however, didn't stop there. He went on to describe some other ongoing studies in which they've learned that animals like salamanders can regenerate entire limbs.

And did you know that humans have limited capacity to regenerate tissue? "This is most evident in a human's ability to regenerate blood or liver tissue," said the expert, "but young children even can regenerate fingertips."

So, where is the the line drawn between our abilities and the abilities of animals like bass? Researchers are in the process of finding out. According to the Duke expert, "There is ongoing research in regenerative medicine that could lead to new therapies for humans who have lost limbs, suffered a heart attack, or for those who have had cancerous tissue removed."

Take it from this but-less expert at nothing, I feel sure there's a reasonable explanation for why all the fish in the accompanying photos have no tails. Don't know about any of the rest of you, but I take great consolation in knowing that at least some of them probably have regrown the missing appendages you see here. In my case, however, what you see (or more aptly, what you don't see) is all you get. If it hasn't improved in more than 73 years, I reckon it ain't gonna happen.