Going Fishin'

Going Fishin'
Red Sunset

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Magic Number

Since water temperature of the Allegheny River in the Oil City/Franklin area dropped into the 30s much earlier than normal this fall, I've struggled to catch more than one smallmouth bass on each trip to the river. Years of river fishing experience has taught me that the best fall smallmouth bite is with temperatures between 55 and 40 degrees. Once the temp dips below 40 degrees, the bites become few and far between. Normally, the river reaches the low 50s about November 1, and continues to drop slowly to 32 degrees by January 1. This year, with an incredible snow storm the first part of November sent river temps in a downward spiral from which it cannot recover. The last three trips to the river, the water temp has been 32, 38 and 37. Each time I could only manage one smallmouth. Each time, I keep thinking this is my last smallmouth for 2015. Yesterday, Gene Winger and I hit the river for four hours with water temp at 37 degrees. I caught a 15" smallmouth right off the bat on a small tube jig, and handed it to Gene so I could get a quick picture - thinking this would NOT be my last fish of the day. But it was. Gene caught one walleye on one of his favorite cold water jigs. But that was it. I'm thinking it is time to switch species for the balance of open water season, Maybe walleye, trout or steelhead - a species which likes colder temps. I don't see the smallmouth magic number of 40 degrees returning until March.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Last Smallmouth Bass of 2015?

Last smallmouth of 2015?
On November 12 in NW PA, winter arrived way too early with unexpected ferocity. With a blanket of snow on the ground and below freezing temps, lakes were skimming with ice and the rivers/creeks were icy slush. When it climbed into the 40 on Sunday Nov 23, Dale Black and I decided to hit the Allegheny for what we thought might be our lasting smallmouth bass outing of the year. We arrived to view large sheets of ice floating down river and water temperature at 32 degrees. Undaunted we fished hard, crawling small critter jigs, tubes and hair jigs over shallow flats, down slopes and into deep winter holes to no avail. We did witness a walleye angler fishing live bait catch a very large fish. After 3.5 hours, we were going to call it, but Dale had one more winter hole to hit which required an upriver ride through a wild rapid. I had just tied on a chartreuse Jimmy D River Bug hair jig after loosing my six jig of the day. On my second cast, I felt mushy resistance and set the hook on the only bite I had all day. That single smallmouth was a great boost to our spirits. Was this going to be my last PA bass of 2015? Remains to be seen. Moderation in the temperature should keep the river open through next week.
12 pound walleye taken on live bait

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rend Lake Crappie Camp

Sunrise on docks
Sunset on docks
Last Friday was spent on the road to Rend Lake, Illinois for a media Crappie Camp organized by crappie tournament angler and Rend Lake guide Kyle Schoenherr. Gamma Line owner Dale Black and I arrived at Rend Lake Resort just as the sun was setting, giving us just enough time to catch a few crappies from the dock - a very productive fall pattern if you do not have a boat. In the morning morning, there were anglers on the docks right at first light! Over the next two days my time was spent touring the lake with professional crappie anglers, sampling the fishing and shooting a lot of photos. As a first-time visitor to the lake, I found the various types of water and fishing styles of the anglers most interesting. In addition to fishing with Kyle, I had the opportunity to fish with pros Dan Dannenmuller, Kevin Jones and Team Bunting (Travis & Charlie). In addition to several other writers with whom I've worked with in the past, I finally had the chance to meet longtime writer Don Gasaway in person as well as being introduced to Josh Gowan. Rend Lake Resort caters to anglers, offering all the amenities including launching, docking, lodging choices and restaurant. If you are looking for a some place new for your next crappie fishing vacation, check out Rend Lake and Kyle Schoenherr at allseasonsguide@yahoo.com.

Team Bunting
Kyle and Dale pushing minnows

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lucky Hat?

Old cap works!
New cap has no experience at catching 
When Marilyn and I fish for smallmouth bass on area waters, she in the habit of wearing my favorite red G. Loomis cap during our spring, summer and fall outings. For good reason. Since she started wearing it a few years back, she always outfishes me by catching either the largest smallmouth or the greater number of smallmouths. We jokingly refer to it as our bronzeback good luck cap. However in early October while she was attending a heritage conference, she picked up a colorful cap which she thought would look good in photos. On our outing this past weekend to Conneaut Lake for big fall smallies, she wore her new multi-color cap while I wore the Loomis hat.  I caught a 4-pound smallmouth at the very first spot we fished. However, by early afternoon she had not caught bass. I suggested her new cap may not be so lucky after all, and offered her G. Loomis cap. She paused for a moment, then made the switch. On her very next cast, she caught a beautiful smallmouth on a jig. The red Loomis cap was responsible for the other lunker smallie that day too. Moral of the story: you cannot "name" a new cap as a good luck hat. That title has to be earned over time!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Marilyn Rules on Woodcock

Here in NW PA, we have been impacted by a considerable number of thunderstorms since mid-May, dumping higher than normal amount of rain. Even going into July, all our lakes and reservoirs remain high and dirty. The Allegheny River and French Creek have been blown out several times, and both remain higher than usual for mid-summer and chocolate in color. Due to the unstable weather and other pressing matters, Marilyn and I have not been fishing nearly as often as we would like. The other night Marilyn called from work saying she really needed a fishing break when she got home. With the full moon rising, I knew exactly where we should go: Woodcock Creek Lake for smallmouth bass.

We hit the lake about 7 PM. It was high and dirty as expected. But the ramp was busy with anglers launching and retrieving boats. However among those we conversed with, no one had caught a bass all day.

Our plan was simple, forget about the usual offshore structure. Instead, stay within casting distance of the shore and throw some loud, visible baits. I started out with a Hubs Chub topwater that my buddy Steve had been catching bass on at the lake a week ago. But the topwater failed to draw a strike in the first 100 yards.

Meanwhile, Marilyn struck first with a dark colored Chatterbait. The fish hit so hard she almost had the rod ripped from her hands. It stayed down even though the water depth was only 4 feet, pulling drag in a dogfight as it made for deep water. With water so discolored, we could not clearly identify the fish until she worked it to the net. It was a smallmouth bass approximately 16/17 inches in length.

Offering me the rod with the Chatterbait (a custom we do when one of us catches the first fish), Marilyn picked up a G.Loomis NRX casting rod with a Terminator Swim Jig tied to it - the bait she had done so well with on Woodcock last year one evening. As we approached an obscure point with a stump sitting in about three feet of water, Marilyn scored twin 15 inch smallmouths on back to back casts.

Me? I lost a 12-inch bass and missed another hit on the same point. It wasn't my night.

Interesting all the smallmouths were fat from eating well. They also lack the typical bar markings and dark shading typical of smallmouths in this normally clear-water impoundment.

We fished another another hour without a hit and headed back to the ramp as darkness set it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Harbinger of Spring

Jim with Pymie slab black crappies
Pymatuning ice April 1
This has been an incredibly long winter in northwestern Pennsylvania. As of April 1, Pymatuning Lake still had large sheets of ice, preventing safe boating up and down the lake. However by April 3, the ice was gone and I heard the first report of crappies being taken in open water. Many Pennsylvanians look to the sound of spring peepers as the first sign of spring. But for me, the first open-water crappie of year is the true harbringer. An old school mate, Jim McClave, headed to Pymatuning on Sunday, April 6. My 20 horsepower motor started on the first pull of the rope - a real shocker! Then again, it had been properly winterized. We motored a short distance from the ramp to a shallow flat near the main lake point of the boat lunch bay. Casting a bobber with a live minnow, we probed a beaver lodge, a large submerged tree trunk and some spotty brush. No takers. Knowing friends across the lake had been catching crappies in old pad beds, we moved to back of the bay where I knew a large bed existed. Several boats were already anchored. I situated our boat on the north side of the hidden pad bed and dropped the anchor. It took several minutes to figure out that crappies were holding a very long cast from the boat in the heart of the pad bed. A Thill Slip Float with 1/32-ounce Pro Crappie Jighead sporting a skinny 2-inch white worm tipped with a Rosey Red fathead minnow produced the most fish through the afternoon. Jim wasn't accustomed to casting so such a distance with a bobber but but eventually mastered the slip float and began catching crappies. These were some of the largest black crappies I have ever encountered immediately after ice-out on Pymatuning. Jim took home approximately 20 to clean, with all others released.. I can now officially declared that spring has come to Northwest Pennsylvania! Watch for future reports as fishing continues to heat up through April and May.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Erie Ice Camp

When Ice Force pro-staffer Dave Lefebre planned an ice fishing media even for mid-January in Northwest Pennsylvania, he expected the odds to be in his favor for safe ice on area lakes. However, with the strange freeze-thaw cycle this winter, the event seemed to be in peril up to about a week before...then the big Polar Front blew across PA and sealed the deal.

While recognized for his tournament bass fishing skills, this was Lefebre's opportunity to show his extensive fishing skills and to demonstrate new ice fishing equipment from Rapala, VMC, Trigger X, MarCum, Otter and Strikemaster. Attending the Erie Ice Camp were outdoor writers Jeff Samsel (Atlanta, GA), Steve Chaconas (Alexandria, VA), Jon Storm (Buffalo, NY) and myself. Although referred to as a camp, we were very appreciative that Dave didn't have us sleeping in tents!

I was only able to attend two of the three days. During my first day, we fished Presque Isle Bay for crappies, bluegills and perch - filling a five gallon bucket with panfish. However, returning the next day to Misery Bay, we found the water level in PIB had come up overnight due to a strong Northeast wind on the main lake (which was still open). Ice cover had separated from the shoreline, so Dave's Plan B kicked in. We head inland to Lake Pleasant - a small natural lake with panfish and trout. Although I had never fished Pleasant, I was very impressed by the size of the yellow perch, rainbow trout and brook trout which the crew caught on a variety of ice jigs with plastic trailers while watching strikes happen on MarCum sonar and underwater camera.