warmwater 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.

 

 

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

 

2012 Year In Review

2012 was probably the best year we’ve had as fly fishermen. It was our first full season fly fishing southeastern Minnesota’s Driftless Area. We fished a ton, camped, and caught some great trout. Here are a few pics and highlights from the season.

Driftless Trout

80 degrees and wet wading in mid-March!

 

Noah with a nice brown trout

 

We found a great new brookie hole...

Fat brookie that crushed Braden's hopper

Another trout on the hopper

Camped on this awesome creek during the fall C&R season

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Smoky Mountains were amazing. We fished Great Smoky Mountains National Park for almost a week in late October. Endless miles of beautiful, trout-filled streams cascaded through the park. While the weather didn’t cooperate on the first few days, we still got some awesome small stream fishing. I landed a 17 ” rainbow, the biggest I’ve caught on the fly.

Lake Taneycomo

Warmwater

The warmwater fishing was great this year. We started throwing big, heavy flies for bass and it payed big. I caught my first pike on the fly, and Braden and I also caught our first smallmouth on a fly rod. Noah terrorized the local panfish population with his glass rod and some Noah’s Minnows. Highlights include a camping trip to the St. Croix River, lots of fishing at the cabin, and finding some small, quiet rivers loaded with fish.

First pike on the fly

Bucketmouth that slammed a big yellow deer hair bug way back in the weeds

Braden caught this smallmouth on his Braden's Crayfish fly

Braden's first smallmouth.

Bass-filled granite quarry

Early morning mist on the St. Croix River

Hunting

We duck hunted a few times in central MN with our cousin Andrew. It was a blast…

Ice Fishing

We brought in the new year with some hardwater fishing on Gull Lake.


Tight Lines in 2013 and thanks for reading!

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