bass opener

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.

 

 

Day 1 – Bucketmouths and a surprise on a fly

May 25, 2013

Bass Opener is to fisherman what Christmas Day is to little kids. It’s one of the most highly anticipated days of our fishing year. To those who don’t have closed seasons or “Opening Day”, it might seem odd that you can’t just go out and fish whenever you want and why one day of fishing is such a big deal, but for those in states like Minnesota that has managed seasons, Opening Day becomes like a sort of sacred holiday. Opener has a way of generating incredible excitement. Weeks before Opener, we decide what flies or lures we’ll toss that morning, muse on what the weather might be like, and wonder if the big ones will be shallow. Flies and jigs are tied, leaders are checked, and strategies are made and revised for the big day.

Bass are hands down my favorite warm-water fish, so when Opener rolls around near the last weekend of May, I naturally start to get pretty excited. Largemouths hit a fly with passion, and usually put up a good fight complete with acrobatic, gill rattling jumps. Typically, the bass have already spawned out, but are still hanging around the shallows in good numbers, making them particularly vulnerable to a fly rod.

The bass were still shallow this weekend for the Opener. The crazy late spring (which we practically never had here in Minnesota) pushed back the spawn, so the big females were still right up in a foot or two of water, fat with eggs, and ready to nail a well presented bait.

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Morning came quick with a five o’clock alarm. I rolled out of bed and stumbled half-awake into the pre-dawn darkness. The crisp spring morning air and the prospect of catching some unmolested bass quickly woke me up. I rigged up a small crankbait on the spin rod and the trusty brown Meat Whistle on the fly rod. I figured I’d try for the aggressive fish with the crank and go back later with the fly for the finicky ones. Second cast and a bass choked it. I forgot my bass net at home, so I ended up thumbing her after a somewhat lazy battle, a solid 17 incher. With only a slight feeling of guilt about catching her on a spin rod, I cradled the bass in the shallows before she shot off, leaving my arm soaked. I kept tossing the crank into the calm shallows, eventually switching to a fly. I caught two more smaller bass, one on the Meat Whistle, and another on the crank. The weather was perfect for a day of bass fishing, one of those soft, sleepy days where the clouds hung low and the lake was calm, the ripples only occasionally interrupted by the ker-sploosh of a jumping bass. Fisherman develop a kind of sense for these days, where somehow it just feels right for fishing, an urge inside you, pulling you to the water. I kept working the opposite shoreline with the Meat Whistle, but the fishing slowed, so I stopped for a much needed coffee break.

I rigged up a “stupid tube” with a 3.5″ brown tube and had a few bites on the spin rod, but nothing stuck.

Braden and I were deep in a heated wiffle ball game when I heard Noah half-excitedly, half-trembling, yell for the net. I booked it over there to find Noah’s rod deeply bent with a good fish on the other end. At this point, my poor little trout net just wasn’t going to get the job done. The fish jumped, which was more like a lazy flop due to the fact of its pure fatness not allowing it to get more than halfway out of the water. After a few tries, I managed to get a thumb in her lower lip and landed the big bass, a fat female that taped to 18″, his personal best largemouth!

The fish really started hitting, and Noah and I had fast action for another half-hour. I grabbed the fly rod and a Meat Whistle and caught a bunch, including a nice 16 incher. Later in the afternoon, we pulled out the rowboat and hit the docks, tossing plastic worms and tubes in every likely spot, but ended with only a few small fish to show for it.

Largemouths love the Meat Whistle

Hungry little guy

The great weather held through the afternoon, and so did the fishing. Noah kept tossing the stupid tube, and hooked up with another beast. After a few heart-pounding jumps, he landed a monster 20″ bass that tipped the scale at just over five pounds!

20″, five pounds!

Evening found the three of us still working the river mouth, Noah and Braden with the tube, me with my six weight and a Meat Whistle. It wasn’t long before Noah’s rod was deeply bent, a good fish thrashing at the end of his line. This one was just shorter than the five pounder, but one of the fattest fish I’ve ever seen. Another great bass!

The action stayed pretty consistent, with plenty of smaller “pounders” to keep us busy. Braden hooked and landed a nice seventeen incher on the tube, his best bass of the day. The biggest fish of the day came late in the evening. Almost a half hour after sunset I was hopping my Meat Whistle along the shallows when my fly got hit hard. As soon as I set the hook I knew it wasn’t a bass, no deep headshakes or bulldogging, but an excited, nervous tug tug flowing into a quick run toward deeper water. The purr of fly line coming off the real cut through the stillness of the night, a good fish at the other end. My first thought was pike, but it wasn’t quite quick enough for that. Not knowing what I had on, I slowly eased the fish toward shore, Noah waiting with the net. He scooped, but came up empty, a flash of fish rolling on the dark surface. The second try proved to be the end of the battle. A second later, I had my first walleye on the fly! I was stoked. Catching a walleye on a fly rod has always been one of my crazy ambitions, but I never dreamed I’d actually land one! The fact that it was a solid 23″ inches was a bonus. Braden snapped a quick pic before I got it back in the water, its golden sides illuminated by my headlamp before it disappeared into the darkness.

First walleye on the fly!

Knowing I really couldn’t top that fish, I called it a night. Today was just amazing. All of us caught some solid fish. Noah nailed some huge bass, and the walleye was icing on the cake. Tomorrow should be another great day on the water chasing bass.

Tight Lines,

Conner

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