Back to Basics

Being disconnected from the world via technology is an odd thing.  The day prior, I had lost my phone in the Mississippi River, you can read about it in my article "Mississippi River: Kleptomaniac".  I found myself reaching for, and attempting to check, my phone a scary number of times.  Like I was an amputee that still had sensations as if my appendage was still attached.  After I came to this realization, I found the situation freeing.  Just silence, like when I was a kid.  No connections, just life.  Though, I'll admit, driving home the night before in the dark of rural Wisconsin was a bit tense.  Should I hit a deer, I could go without seeing another car for hours.

Don't get me wrong, I love what technology has brought to our lives.  Especially what it does for the fishing community.  It allows me to connect, communicate, and compete with anglers all over the world.  Social media allows the communication and connections.  The app Drophook allows like-minded anglers to share their fishing pictures and log their catches.  TourneyX allows for fair real-time tournaments both in-person and across the country.  That said, it was nice to be disconnected for a small while on my home body of water, one of my favorite places on earth.  Though disconnected, I was still competing in several online tournaments and documenting my shenanigans for you.  Both of which I love to do, and am able to do thanks to technology.  I carried with my old 8" tablet (no cell connection) for capturing pictures for both uses.

This trip started with a discussion the night prior with some friends.  One had personal obligations and couldn't make it.  Another was tentative, having wanted to see my home water and give it a try.  My wife and I also decide its best to stay local.  Travelling to rural Wisconsin lakes without a phone is something that makes us uneasy (she is out of town for the weekend so I can't borrow her phone).

My only hesitation fishing my home water is the frustration.  During the spawn there was a re-freeze, the snow melted slower than usual, increased fishing pressure, and several floods.  All contributed to a complete change in the fishing here.  It has been a tough bite on this body of water, slower than usual. My wife reminded me that I need to slow things down and re-learn the lake.  Just like I did a few years ago when we moved to the area.  I formulate a plan to take it back to basics.  

Today's market is flooded with various lures with the latest technologies.  Some even have electronics inside requiring charging.  I believe some are designed to catch the fishermen/fisherwomen more so than fish.  I'm guilty of this.  "Ooooo....that looks cool.  And if it is $15 it has to work.  Sold!"  Don't get me wrong, these innovations are shaping the sport of fishing.  However, I find myself feeling obligated to use some of these lures I've spent (probably too much) money on.  If I don't get results quickly, I get frustrated.  I usually learn new waters with basic lures, time tested: spinner bait, buzz bait, and frogs.  My plan was to tie on my favorites, a Northland Tackle buzzbait and spinner to re-learn my home waters.  I also vowed not to turn on my sonar.  It is an essential tool in my fishing.  However, in my home water, it distracts me.  I know every depth and feature of the lake.  When I spot big arches in open water, I get distracted and spend my time trying to coax this unknown fish with unfamiliar techniques.

The next morning, I have every intention of leaving at dawn.  Reality hits when I wake up.  I'm having difficulty moving from a 13 hour day on the water in a challenging wind.  I take my time, take care of things around the house, drink some coffee, and watch a bit of the MLF event on TV.  I notify my friends via Facebook that I am running a bit late, letting some pain meds kick in before I head to the lake.

I finally roll into the lot around 7:30 AM and begin my unload-and-rig routine (noticeably slower than usual).  Finally done, I roll my FeelFree Lure towards the water.  As I approach the ramp, one of my friends pulls up, ready to join me on the water.  As he unloads we catch up on recent events.  We haven't fished together in a couple weeks.  Ready to go, we launch into the water, smooth as glass.  I suggest we work the rock bank first.  Fish like to suspend there when temperatures are changing.  The bank also becomes difficult to fish when the wind picks up.

We get a few hits along the rocks but don't land anything.  My friend continues to work the bank ahead of me and lands a bass along some reeds.  He has a good distance on me.  I'm working the banks as slow as possible, taking time to work every angle with my spinner and buzzbait.  As I finish the rock bank, the wind picks up strong.  Whitecaps start rolling across the lake.  I hug the bank, sheltered by the dam and woods surrounding the lake.

As I work my way into a bay, I'm now on a side of the lake I rarely fish due to lack of prior success.  But, I am learning this "new" lake.  I make noise in the shallow water around some vegetation with my buzzbait.  If you have watched my videos, you'll notice I'm constantly looking around.  This is partially due to my inability to sit still, a trait inherited from genetics.  The other reason is I am always looking around, observing the water, structures, other people fishing, the wind, and the sun.  My constant looking paid off.  Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a large swirl near a patch of vegetation.  Based on the pattern, most likely a bass chasing a meal.  I toss my buzzbait past the patch and work it through a thin part.  The bass blows up on the buzzbait as I haul it in.

I'm laughing with joy, like a kid who caught his first bass.  The fish is 17", not massive, but has a nice weight to it.  I throw it on my hawg trough, adjust my TourneyTag, and snap a picture.  This is when I miss my phone.  Holding a highly active bass with one hand while trying to snap a picture with an 8" tablet in the other is no easy task.  However, I manage to get the required picture for later upload.  With a big smile on my face, I paddle on.

Still sore from yesterday's long day on the water, I head deep into a shallow bay.  There the thick vegetation will hold me in place.  I carefully work the bay.  I use a frog in the thick areas and a buzzbait in the breaks.  I manage to coax several massive hits, but no hookups.  Just like the pike at the end of the day prior, there seems to be a lack of commitment from the fish.  As I float the bay, I do some sight fishing from my kayak.  The dense vegetation acts as a natural filter.  The water is crystal-clear in this lake normally the color of cappuccino.  I spot several bass swimming through the vegetation, chasing the various bluegill minnows hiding within.  The bass run the vegetation like a deer does trails through the woods.  Unfortunately, they didn't have any interest in any topwater.  I wanted to try some punching into the vegetation, but don't do it often.  I chose not to deviate from my plan of using my go-to lures.  My time would be better spent covering large amounts of water to find the active fish.

We make our way to another shoreline.  My friend was interested in fishing for crappie, so I put him on a crappie crib I frequent in the spring when bass season is closed in Wisconsin.  Once he is setup and lands a crappie, I start working the bank.  I am alternating my buzzbait and spinner bait, breaking down every angle of every structure I can.  I had broke my vow to leave my sonar off to help my friend get on the crib.  I still had it on and noticed fish around 6 feet below me.  Thus, I deviate from my plan slightly and toss on a shallow crank (though it is becoming one of my go-to seeker lures I'm still gaining confidence with it).  I'm unsuccessful after working the section of bank and realize what I've done.  I shut of my sonar and put my spinner back on.  Just as I finish tying on my spinner, my observations pay off again.  Another large swirl under a tree next to the bank.  

Spinner Bass
Photo by: John Brandt
I quickly sidearm my spinner under the low branch with a slight "bloop" as it hits the water.  Perfect.  I few rotations of my Ardent Tournament handle and my rod bends.  Mission accomplished.  As I pull the bass towards the kayak, my eyes widen.  Again at 17" fish, but it has a nice weight to it and put up a respectable fight.  My friend comes to look at my catch while I work on snapping a picture with my tablet.  This time was harder than last as this fish had more spunk than the other.  I manage to get the picture without losing my tablet or the fish and my friend snaps a picture from his phone.

I continue working the bank as he works for crappie.  Both of us come up empty handed.  The bite slowed, the lake now nearly empty due to a Green Bay Packer game.  We are both tired and growing hungry.  My family should be home soon from their weekend trip out of town.

I had a great weekend of fishing with great friends.  I spent a total of 23 hours on the water between the two days and had some great experiences.  Had I been fishing with lesser equipment: the ultra-comfortable and stable FeelFree Lure kayak, the insanely light and efficient Bending Branches Angler Pro paddle, the reliable Garmin Striker 4DV sonar, and the incredibly smooth and powerful Ardent Apex Tournament reel, I would have never survived this long of a fishing marathon in these high winds.

Everyone has different passions.  Some people think those who fish, hunt, camp, hike, etc. are crazy.  Why do you put yourself through that?  Dealing with heat, cold, rain, sweat, blood, bugs, and numerous dangers.  Because we love it.  If you slow down and don't think, just be, there is a certain beauty and challenge that comes with these activities.  And in the end, you are tired, dirty, and smelly.  As you load up you look forward to a shower followed by a hot meal and relaxation with friends and family.  I arrived home to my family who had smiles on their faces.  I was hit with a realization of a new level of exhaustion like I'd never felt.  Even so, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.