Bass

Crappies On the Fly, Catfish, and Hot Dogs

 May 28

There’s an oddly satisfying charm to the simplicity of catfishing. It’s about as far as you can get from the clean elegance and complexity of fly fishing for trout, but for some reason it has captivated me since the moment I first encountered it, probably striking some young boyhood chord rooted deep inside that still likes to play with worms and run around barefoot in the mud. The anticipation of watching a freshly-baited pole is nearly unbearable, and you never quite know what’ll end up eating your bait, which is a large part of the intrigue. Rivers and catfish haunts have a habit of holding all sorts of crazy fish, and, at least when fishing casually, there’s no particular skill or reason involved in hooking big catfish, though landing them can be a different story. It takes a good bit of skill to entice a big brown trout, but it’s just as probable that a ten pound catfish will take your bait as a ten incher will when soaking worms. While fishing worms on the bottom might sound a bit like treason for a die-hard fly fisherman, it’s a good way to kick back and relax on the water, not to mention it’s just plain fun.

But none of us had any idea that we’d get into big cats this weekend.

Noah and I started the weekend at the lake by poking around a few flooded marshes looking for some carp. The fish were spawning and not interested in flies, though we did find one that was happily slurping bugs from the weeds but didn’t like my poor presentation. I’d bet we saw around fifty fish, with an occasional tank that made nearly any other freshwater fish pale in comparison.

I tried a few casts at the river mouth with the fly rod but couldn’t interest any bass. The water was quite a bit higher and dirtier this weekend, adding to the already unstable pattern we’ve had this spring. I’ve never seen the water so brown on the lake, and so far it hasn’t been great for the bass fishing. I’m sure there are a few less obvious variables that are affecting the fishing, but the brown water at the river mouth just hasn’t been producing like it should.

Partly out of curiosity and partly out of boredom, Noah and I set up with a “river rig” (simply a big chunk of worm with a sinker a foot or two up the line) at the mouth of the river just as the sun was dropping behind the trees. It’s a good way to relax after paddling all afternoon, and there’s a good chance you’ll tie into a bigger fish – maybe a bass or carp or the odd walleye that prowls the shallows after dark. The first few fish were potbellied yellow bullheads – a very normal occurrence for night fishing and not terribly exciting. After a half-dozen fish I got a strong thump and set into a good fish. I figured it was a carp, but a good, dirty fight revealed a respectable catfish of 22″!

While I never realistically expected to catch a catfish in the lake, it was never completely out of the picture. A few years ago, the DNR stocked a bunch of channel catfish in a connected lake system a ways downstream. Much to the delight of some anglers and the dismay of others, the cats flourished and moved into nearly all the connected waterways. The lake we’re on is separated by nearly a half-dozen lakes and a few dams upstream from the original stocking site, but somehow the catfish must’ve made their way through on the seasonal spurts of high water. I’m glad they did.noahs catfish

A few more bullheads (and a bit of disappointment at each quiver of the rod that produced one) broke the silence of the darkness before Noah stuck a good 24″ cat. It’s a blast to just hang out in the lantern light and goof around. We stuck it out till around midnight and lost one more big catfish before ending the madness and calling it a night.

May 29

The river mouth was dead again this morning. I tossed the jig fly from Opening weekend and the crankbait but didn’t get a single bite. There wasn’t much else happening, so I tied a few flies before Noah and I hopped in the rowboat to chase some panfish.

For some reason crappies just can't resist pink...

For some reason crappies just can’t resist pink…

The ‘gills and crappies were in the shallows and ravenous. It took a bit of sorting to get to the bigger fish, but we landed a few good ones on the Pink Punch and a Noah’s Minnow variation.

Ice dub veil on the Pink Punch did a nice job imitating the tiny minnows these guys were eating...

Ice dub veil on the Pink Punch did a nice job imitating the tiny minnows these guys were eating…

super noahs minnow crappie

Lots of fun on a four weight

 

I planned to chase some bass in the evening, but there was a league bass tournament and the little 300-acre lake was hopping. It was a good night at the river mouth, though. The odd chorus of skeeters and coons and frogs filled the night air, only broken occasionally by the thrashing of a catfish exploding through the shallows somewhere in the distant darkness.

26"

26″

We turned in sometime around midnight, weary yet satisfied with the evening’s fish count.

The bass bite never happened on the last morning, despite a decent effort of pitching and flipping and casting at docks in hopes of finding a “pattern” worthy of the fly rod. One feisty largemouth – the only one of the weekend – spit the tube after going airborne beside a dock. I’m sure there were still a few hungry fish hanging around in the morning sun, but we just couldn’t find them.

June 15

I’m afraid that catfish are becoming somewhat of an addiction. Most fly anglers might not understand the bait-fishing pursuit that has stolen our attention (and a good bit of sleep), but I guess you have to experience it to appreciate it. It’s hard to argue with the thrill of strong, beefy fish in the dead of night.

The weeds have really started to come in. A crankbait was worthless in the shallows of the river mouth. Besides a few casts with the jig fly and the “stupid tube,” there wasn’t much time to bass fish before darkness crept over the water – and the catfish moved into the shallows. I had foolishly left the worms in the garage the week before, so we were in a bit of a predicament for bait. A quick run through the pantry looked grim. A bread crust. Crackers. Butter. Marshmallows(!).

Yeah, we were desperate.

Ended up tossing hot dogs (all-natural, mind you) tipped with marshmallows, which the catfish apparently didn’t mind.Bradens catfish

I rolled out of bed a bit before five the next morning. The sting of the early alarm was eased a bit by coffee and a 17″ bucketmouth. early morning fishing

Got him on a white spinnerbait (with a hand-tied bucktail/feather hook) on the inside of the weedline. Poor fish had a nasty sore on his chest...

Got him on a white spinnerbait (with a hand-tied bucktail/feather hook) on the inside of the weedline. Poor fish had a nasty sore on his chest…

 

***Side note: While Noah was casting a tube for bass just before dark he hooked into a good catfish. Makes you wonder in they’re catchable on a fly rod. Maybe tie a big, heavy conehead with a rattle and plenty of silhouette to imitate a crayfish. Or a hot dog.

 

 

More Monster Largemouth on the Fly – Bass Opener Day 2

May 25, 2014

early morning bassin

I was on the water at five again this morning. Noah decided the sunrise and possibility of a good predawn bite was too much to miss, so he joined me on the water, half awake yet eager to hit the lake. It was still dark and a bit chilly when we starting tossing flies at the river mouth, me armed with a big articulated concoction and Noah with a simple conehead rabbit strip leech in purple. They were about as different as streamers can get, but they both had their charms and did a decent job of catching fish.

Noah hadn’t been fishing for more than three casts when he came tight to a solid fish. I scrambled to grab my camera and the net in the predawn darkness as Noah battled the largemouth. She jumped, and for that moment that seems like eternity when you have a big fish on, both of us held our breaths as we realized just how big she was. Successfully fighting larger fish on a fly rod is by no means an accidental feat (both of us have learned plenty of tricks and have suffered plenty of heartbreaks over the years), but Noah played her perfectly and soon slid the old bass into the net – another fantastic largemouth and a personal best on the fly rod! noahs big fly rod largemouth Twitter

We were pumped. I snapped a few quick pics and popped a couple high-fives before she shot off into the dark waters. She taped around 19″, but she looked far bigger. Looking back, I wish I’d taken the time to grab the scale and get a quick weight. sunrise on the bass lake

 

I’m not exactly sure why, but after that first good largemouth I couldn’t get another bite. The water is quite stained this year compared to last year’s Opener, and I suspect the warmer, brighter weather might have something to do with it as well, but there’s no clear answer. I tried all sorts of flies and baits and retrieves on the fly and spin rods without any action. Nothing. The lake was dead. I even hopped in the old row boat and hit the docks, but the bass just weren’t having it. It was a gorgeous morning on the water, though, and Noah’s one big largemouth was definitely worth the lost sleep.

Grandpa casting for bass

Grandpa casting for bass

A front moved in later in the afternoon, followed by some better fishing. I got a decent 14 incher on a fly I tied to imitate the “stupid tube” that produced so well last year. A jig hook, conehead, double rabbit strip tail, some flash, a bit of estaz, and some llama fur in front turned out pretty nicely and did a good job replicating the erratic dragging action of the tube. The fish seemed to like it well enough, and that’s all that really matters.

There was about an hour of daylight left when I hit the water again. By this time the lack of sleep from two early mornings on the water was starting to take its toll. I was in one of those stupors induced by too little sleep and too much caffeine, and I nearly didn’t fish. But the calm lake looked too good to pass up, so I grabbed the fly rod rigged with the jig fly from earlier and hit the river mouth. I’m glad I did.

On the second cast I nailed a good fish. A bass. A real nice largemouth.

She peeled some line off at first, but honestly it wasn’t that dramatic. A few of those flops that bucketmouths do when they’re too fat to make it out of the water, a few hard tugs, and she was in the net.big bucketmouth fly rod

It was another great bass and my biggest on the fly, a fat female that stretched around 19 inches with a big, gaping jaw.

I pounded the river mouth for another half hour without another bite to show for it. I should’ve ended on a high note, but like most anglers, the hope of catching another fish was just too much to bear.

The next morning was rather uneventful. I set out in the rowboat hoping to catch a few bass on the fly. I poked one good largemouth that quickly came unbuttoned, which ended up being the only bass action I had all morning. The panfish were thick and ravenous, though, and I also happened upon a few carp with bellies the size of watermelons. They completely ignored my hybrid worm fly. It was the first time in a long while I found my knees shaking while fly fishing.

Bass Opener 2014

I don’t think there’s a more highly anticipated day in our fishing season than the bass Opener, though this year it nearly didn’t happen. The plan was to hit the North Shore in hopes of catching the early stages of the steelhead run, but, like any event in nature, it’s a fickle phenomena that depends on a dizzying number of variables that even the best of anglers still don’t quite understand. The fish hadn’t yet entered the rivers, so we ended up calling off the trip with no small amount of anguish. It was a bittersweet decision, but it meant that we got to hit the lake for bass Opener, which isn’t exactly a horrible consequence if you ask me.

I learned long ago to not form any serious expectations around fishing trips. Having a well-formed plan and high expectations (not to be confused with optimism, which is an entirely different and necessary animal) is as good a recipe for disappointment as I know, and the only way around it is to expect the unexpected, or just not care what happens, which in the the end is nearly the same thing anyways. Happiness is relative, and in some form or another, most people have the ability to at least partly enjoy themselves on a fishing trip.

Last spring was the best bass fishing we’ve ever experienced, and I honestly didn’t expect this year’s Opener to come anywhere close, though I was still quite optimistic. Bass Opener can be a lot like the first day of duck season – you fish it because it’s “Opening Day,” and not much else. Sometimes you might strike it lucky and a cold front will push some ducks down or the bass will still be prespawn and hungry, but most of the the time the action is only fair, although something usually happens.

There was still plenty of time left to chase some panfish when we rolled in to the cabin on Friday night. The crappies, still fat with eggs and still quite hungry before their spawning rituals began, were holding at the mouth of the river and feeding on tiny minnows. I coaxed a few to grab a small woolly bugger before switching to a #12 Pink Punch. That was a bit more to their liking, and I landed about a dozen nice fish in the nine inch range before calling it a night. I think the veil created by the ice dub did a nice job imitating the transparency of the little minnows the crappies were eating, though crappies just seem to have a hard time resisting anything pink.

I strung up a few rods – both fly rods armed with the trusty Meat Whistle and a Murdich Minnow and spin rods rigged with a crankbait and llama fur jig – in the dim light of the lamp with a good dose of excitement for the morning. Insomnia is a very real concern on the nights before big fishing trips, but fortunately I dozed off in time to get a solid five hours of sleep before my 5:00 alarm hit.opening day sunrise

The sun hadn’t yet reached the tips of the giant old oak trees on the opposite shore when I started casting my Meat Whistle. There was a touch of crimson in the sky, and every so often the eerie cry of a loon would echo over the lake. The only trouble was that the fish weren’t biting, though it was a gorgeous, picturesque scene, and it almost seemed greedy to expect to catch a fish in addition to the grace I’d already been given. I probed the mouth of the murky river for a few minutes before I tail-hooked a big carp (unintentionally, of course). I first thought I’d hooked a big bass, but after a minute or two of surging runs and hard bulldogging on the bottom it was evident that I’d gotten myself into a much tougher fight. He put a good bend in the six weight, and the hook popped free just after I realized he was pinned in the tail.morning on the bass lake

Prime predawn fishing time doesn’t last long, and the sun was just starting to peek over the trees, so I grabbed the spincasting rod rigged with the same crankbait that got my first largemouth on last year’s Opener (tradition, I guess). I’m no “fly or die” purist when it comes to bass fishing (I actually really enjoy gear fishing), and I guess I just like to catch fish, making a gear rod a fun and beautiful tool for efficiently covering water and finding the bass. But, like most anglers I know, I’ll almost always take them on a fly whenever I can get them.

I figured the crank would perform nicely in the murky water, and I was right. I stuck a feisty largemouth around one pound for the first bass of the season – not a monster, but a good start.

The obligatory picture of the first largemouth of the season.

The obligatory “first fish of the season” pic

I got one more bass before taking a hint from the bold, aggressive action of the crankbait and switching to a bigger articulated streamer that created a bit more commotion than the Meat Whistle. The bolder presentation and meatier profile turned out to be key in the dirty water, and I soon landed my first fly-rod bucketmouth of the season.

Bucketmouth on the fly rod

Bucketmouth on the fly rod

 

I stopped for a coffee break and Grandpa came out and got his first largemouth of the year on the crankbait. Noah and I fished for a few more hours and picked up a small bass here and there, but the morning bite never really materialized. I’m not sure if it was the weather or unstable water conditions, but something just wasn’t quite right.

Grandpa's first of the year

Grandpa’s first of the year

 

Braden was sidelined for most of the day with a baseball injury and a cast that couldn’t get wet (he managed to fracture his wrist in the outfield and ended up getting it cast – hardly a good combination for a solid day of bass fishing). It was nearly a very tragic misfortune, but after much searching he found a giant green rubber glove that protected his arm from the water. And it’s a good thing he did, because within his first few (fly) casts of the evening he hooked a monster largemouth…

8wt and an olive/brown rabbit conehead

8wt and an olive/brown rabbit conehead

It was a gorgeous fish, real fat and nearly over 20″, and it turned out to be Braden’s personal best largemouth on a fly rod. Not a bad start to his bass season (quite awesome, actually), though it makes you wonder how he caught it on his third cast when you’ve dutifully put in your time and tossed flies for hours on end. Fishing has an odd way of keeping score.

The rest of the evening slipped by quite uneventfully, though Grandpa hit a good crankbait bite and put half a dozen fish in the net in very short order. Noah and I got a few more small bass, but nothing worth mentioning. I felt a hint of disappointment as the sun slipped behind the trees and another bass Opener came to a close.

I spent quite a while thinking about the Opener and wondering what was different. Yes, the fishing wasn’t nearly as good as last year’s Opener, but there was no real reason to be disappointed. The fly rods produced some fish, the weather was beautiful, and Braden landed a spectacular fish (if you don’t get excited for a bass like that one you clearly don’t have any business fishing) that’ll likely be one of the best of the year. We caught some great fish and had a good time on the water, and for that I’m extremely grateful. But something was still missing, though after a while I realized it wasn’t the fishing at all.

I guess I just haven’t mastered the fine art of managing expectations.

 

 

2013 Year In Review

2013 was an awesome year for us, and looking back I think we can say it has been our best year of fishing yet. The bass fishing was on fire this spring up at the cabin, and each of us added personal bests for multiple species. We fished quite a bit with both fly and spin gear, and were truly blessed to have the opportunity to catch some great fish in awesome places. A huge thanks to everyone who reads our adventures and tight lines in 2014! Here are a few of the highlights, in no specific order…

Driftless Trout

We didn’t make it down to the Driftless many times this year, but we did bushwack into an awesome creek deep in the remote “backcountry”.

Rugged country in the Driftless "backcountry"

Rugged country in the Driftless “backcountry”

Driftless brown trout on a frenchie ptn

A small spring that gurgled out from the bluffs

A small spring that gurgled out from the bluffs

September found us on the South Branch of the Root river for our annual Driftless fall camping trip. This trip is one of our favorites, and this year we hit a good trico hatch and caught plenty of wild browns.

South Branch Root River wild brown with some great colors

South Branch Root River wild brown with some great colors

Another wild brown Braden got on the MTMN

Another wild brown Braden got on the Trout Snatcher

Braden got this Driftless brown on a micro tubing mayfly nymph

Colorado

I caught my first few trout on a fly in Colorado, so I was excited to go back in 2013. High, cold water and snow made things a little tough, but we managed to scrape out a few fish, including some fat rainbows, a cutthroat, and a grayling

mountain lake in coloradobraden's colorado rainbow troutcutthroatSAMSUNG

Mountain Whitefish! Noah stuck this whitey on a midge that he tied while fishing the Elk River.

Mountain Whitefish! Noah stuck this whitey on a midge that he tied while fishing the Elk River.

Florida

In January I added a few new species to my list and reached a big goal in my fly fishing ventures, catching a fish in saltwater on a fly rod! I caught a few little seatrout on Sanibel Island on a Schminnow while wading a grassy flat. They weren’t monsters, but they were fish! Braden also hooked a few, but they unfortunately popped off before he could land them.

Small spotted seatrout that ate Norm's Crystal Schminnow

First fish in the salt!!

Sanibel Island spotted seatrout on the fly

A pod of three dolphins swam over and checked us out while boating in a bay.

A pod of three dolphins swam over and checked us out while boating in a bay.

sunset on the GulfOne of the more memorable (and crazy) catches of the year also came in Florida on a small citrus grove pond, where we got chased out by a gator!

Don't harass the gatorsgator staring us down in FLIMG_3765

Bass Opener

2013 was easily the best year of bass fishing we’ve ever had. With the late spring and colder, cloudy weather, Opening Weekend here in Minnesota was just awesome. The fish were in the shallows and hungry, still fat with eggs. Noah put three fish over 4.5 lbs on the board in the first afternoon of fishing, beating his personal best on almost three consecutive fish! The fishing was amazing, and we caught lots of fish on both fly and spin tackle.

Noah stuck this nice 18 incher on a "Stupid Tube" rig

Noah stuck this nice 18 incher on a “Stupid Tube” rig

Five pounder

Five pounder

Another pig!

Another pig!

Hungry little guy

Hungry little guy

3 pounds 11 ounce bass on a fly rod in Minnesota on meat whistleBraden's bass up at the lakesunrise on the bass lake 3

 

The walleyes were also in the shallows searching for a meal around low light. I landed my first walleye on a fly rod and my personal best, a 23 incher that hit a Meat Whistle right after dark….

First walleye on the fly! A nice 23 " fish that slammed a Meat Whistle up in the shallows.

First walleye on the fly! A nice 23 ” fish that slammed a Meat Whistle up in the shallows.

We also did some trolling in deeper water and Noah launched floating Rapalas on a shallow flat after dark. Both methods produced some gold...

Grandpa's walleye

walleye after dark on a Minnesota lake tossing floating rapalas100_4779

Toothy critter

Toothy critter

Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the MN/Canada border is one of the best fisheries in the Midwest. We trekked up there at the end of July for a week of canoeing, camping, and fishing in the rugged wilderness. To put it lightly, the weather was less than ideal, with record low temps approaching freezing, heavy wind up to 20 mph, and a constant cold drizzle all week. Whitecaps hammered the lake we were on, leaving us shorebound for most of the trip. We toughed it out, however, and caught some awesome fish. Noah landed a MONSTER of a 36 inch pike that will probably go down as the best fish of 2013….Noah's monster Boundary Waters pikeNoah's 36 inch pike on Basswood LakePike!

Boundary Waters bronzeback on the fly

Boundary Waters bronzeback on the fly

Lake Fishin’

We fished up at the cabin a few times this summer…

27 incher

27 incher

 

Nailed this largemouth on a chartruese meat whistle at the culvert

Nailed this largemouth on a chartruese meat whistle at the culvert

 

Grandpa caught this nice crappie while trolling for walleyes

Grandpa caught this nice crappie while trolling for walleyes

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

Braden stuck this huge 20" largemouth right up in the shallows! Definitely one of the best fish of the year and his personal best bucketmouth.

Braden stuck this huge 20″ largemouth right up in the shallows! Definitely one of the best fish of the year and his personal best bucketmouth!

 

Lake Pepin

In the spring we made the trip down to Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River to chase some walleyes. It was a great day of fishing, and we boated lots of fish, including some white bass, plenty of walleye and sauger, and a few smallmouth…

100_4913100_4906100_4918

Hunting

We did quite a bit of duck hunting this year. Braden and I also got into bowhunting and hunted a few times this fall….morning in the duck blindoctober goose mn

Ice Fishing

We ended the year with some hardwater fishing on the “crappie hole”, a small local lake that has produced some slabs for us in the past…

bluegill and crappie dinner icefishing sunset on the ice bass through the ice

Fooled this crappie with a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike ice fly

Fooled this crappie with a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike ice fly

bradens crappie in the dark

On the fly tying side of things, our flies are now available on Fishinggear.com. We’re offering hand-tied flies and ice flies including some signature patterns that we tie and fish.

2013 was a great year for us. We all learned lots as anglers and spent plenty of time in God’s awesome outdoors. A few personal records were broken, and we caught some great fish. Thanks for the support and tight lines in 2014!

3 Brothers Flies

Bluegills, Bucketmouths, and Bowfin on the Fly

We hit the lake last weekend for a couple days of chasing some bass and panfish. The fish have moved into their summer patterns but there were still a few bass to be had in the shallows.

fighting a largemouth bass on the flyI caught this bowfin on a variation of Rich Strolis’ Hog Snare just before dark in the canoe. He put up a great fight on the fly rod.

One mean-looking fish

One mean-looking fish

I caught a good sunrise–but not much else– early the next morning. The mist and the super calm lake made a very picturesque morning.101_5099

101_5104 Braden and I got out in the rowboat and fished docks for bass with spin rods later in the morning. He thought he snagged a log on his Rattle Trap, but then it started moving….he managed to land this beast of a 20″ bass after a good battle in the weeds.

20" bucketmouth right up in the shallows

20″ bucketmouth right up in the shallows

We paddled up the creek a few times to the outlet of another small lake searching for some bluegills and bass. Moving water always seems to attract fish, and despite the crazy pressure from the local bait fisherman, the little hole below the culvert produced lots of ‘gills on the fly and a few bass. The bluegills were thick and ravenous. Braden rigged up a homemade tenkara rod with a stick and hammered the fish. He got some curious looks from the locals :)

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

101_5133

Nailed this 17″ largemouth on a chartruese meat whistle at the culvert

fly-caught largemouth

Grandpa caught this nice crappie while trolling for walleyes

27 incher

27 incher

The Bite:

Largemouths have started to move to deeper summertime haunts, but there were still plenty of fish in the shallows on the docks and shorelines, especially in low light. Fish jigs slowly crawled along the bottom in clear water or crankbaits in the murky water

Crappies were in the weeds in 3-8 feet of water

Water Surface Temp was 74

 

Tight Lines,

Conner

 

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