Sunday, October 30, 2016

Northwoods Fall Bassin'

I lived in Central Wisconsin for 7 years but never fished it much (I had a first baby, first house, while working full-time, getting certified in my day-job field, and attending college full time).  Kayak fishing is huge in the area.  I've had the privilege to fish with some of the guys in that area, such as The Wisconsin Bass Yaker and other amazing members of the Wisconsin Kayak Fishing Club.  Having been so busy this summer, heading east to my old stompin' grounds was on my 2016 season bucket list.  The opportunity arose when FeelFree HQ contacted me about helping a customer.  I was happy to, and it gave me an opportunity to fish over there.

I reached out to the guys and planned for a 6:30 AM meet at their place (a 4 AM departure required from my house in Western Wisconsin).  The decided to take me to a honey-hole they discovered in the Northwoods (for those of you not familiar with Wisconsin geography, the Northwoods is a place that consists of most of the northern part of Wisconsin with unparalleled beauty - enter Leinenkugels commercial).  We venture about 30 minutes north into the Northwoods and launch our kayaks on this pristine body of water.  I'm honored to learn I'm the first these brothers have taken to this spot.  We eagerly launch in the beautiful fall morning.  The sun tries to burn through the overcast skies.  It succeeds just enough to light the fall colors afire for a short period of time.  Across the lake, where the sun first touched, I can see the heat escaping the water as it prepares to cover itself in ice.

We begin working the brush piles and other structures.  Not too long after launching, I hear "Fish on!".  One of the guys had hooked into a respectable bass.  A promising sign for the day.  Not too many casts after, I toss my spinner bait against a wood dock.  In true fashion of big fall largemouth, I feel a snag and begin cranking it in.  I didn't realize it was a fish until it finally moved, splashing the top of the water.  A respectable 18.75" bass.  The wind picks up and we split up.  I continue my fall spinner bait techniques and get several bites, but the fish are being picky.  

As I work a section of bank, I realize it isn't ideal for holding bass, so I move on.  A large tree down in the water is calling my name.  A beam of light is highlighting its perfection as a bass hideout.  As I paddle closer, I hear the hum of angels (it was probably actually the Jake Brake of a truck on the nearby highway).  I toss my spinner exactly where I want it.  Between a gap in the limbs, near the shore.  I begin rolling it through the limbs and vegetation.  A few short cranks and I see a large silver flash.  A largemouth t-bones the spinner bait and my rod doubles over.  After a short fight (my Ardent Apex Pro and Denny Brauer rod haul in bass with ease), I land a respectable 19.5" largemouth.  A beautiful Northwoods fish.

I share my catch with the guys I was with and they started floating my way.  They were only catching Northern Pike.  A few moments later I hear a lot of yelling from across the lake.  I later learned one of them landed a nice 4lb. largemouth on their way to my side of the lake.

We continued working the lake, getting a lot of bites but finding the fish picky.  One of the guys has what we assume to be a nice Pike snap his line.  Shortly after he lands a beautiful 5lb. bass.   After the early, long day we grow tired and meet up with his brother, who reports having landed many Northern Pike.  

This beautiful day in the Northwoods of Wisconsin was an amazing experience.  I was able to catch some nice fish while experiencing a beautiful lake.  I also made new friends in the process.  We will certainly be fishing together again.  As one of them said "Some of the best people I meet comes with a fishing pole."  I've met so many amazing people this year while kayak fishing.  It is an unparalleled experience of nature, fishing, and people.  I am truly livin' the dream.






Dwindling

This bass season has been one of epic proportions.  When I began kayak fishing, I never imagined the new world it would open up.  I can fish more often, exponentially cheaper, and in areas previously untouchable.  A week prior, my buddy and I had an epic day on the water.  We went back to our fall honey hole in hopes to come close to repeating the events of that historic day in our fishing careers.


Fall in Wisconsin is a bittersweet season.  The trees are afire with their natural colors.  Flocks of geese can be seen and heard overhead, heading south to avoid the frigid northern winter.  The bass bite is amazing as they gain weight to store calories for the hard winter.  However, as the temperatures drop, sounds of geese cease, and trees become bare, we are reminded temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit are soon coming.  The bitterness gets worse when the bass bite begins to dwindle.

The morning started as a beautiful fall morning.  The air crisp, sky clear.  The mirror-like water giving us a double-dose of the fall sunrise and colors.  A scene I'm truly blessed to witness.  We tie on our spinner baits and start covering water.  Not long after launching, I hear loud splashing followed "Wooooo!" (this is our special long distance call for "Bring the camera - I got a big one!").  As I approach my buddy Chang Lor of www.cxfishing.com, he has a beautiful fall bass.  One problem, he realizes he left his KBF tournament identifier in the car.  I clip this 4.6 lb. beauty onto my anchor trolley so it can stay safe in the cool water while I continue fishing.  He returns with his identifier and goes through the ritual involved with the catch-photo-release tournament (snap a photo - verify it is clear - submit to www.tourneyx.com).

The day, though beautiful, doesn't produce the bite we had experienced the week prior.  The bass are small and the bites are frequent.  It is apparent the big bass fall bite is dwindling as they conserve their energy for the long Wisconsin winter.

We had also met another kayak fishing buddy at the lake this morning.  He had set off to the opposite side so we could divide-and-find.  After a slow bite in this part of the lake, we went to the other side where he reported one respectable bass followed by smaller bass and pike.  We decide to get adventurous.

There is a slough beyond the main sloughs of this particular lake.  After some physical and Google Earth reconnaissance, we determine the only way to it is via a small creek that connects the two bodies of water.  Once the duck hunter in his canoe abandons his post in the slough, we decide to go for it.  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME

The creek is small, the width of my kayak in some spots.  A foot deep at the most.  The creek zig-zags in various areas through thick reeds and grass.  It is diverted at a few points by started-but-not-finished beaver dams.  My buddy Chang decides to lead the way since he has the lightest kayak.  He splits his paddle and uses it as two push poles as he heads down the creek.  He yells back to us, reporting on the creek and obstacles.  I decide it sounds reasonable enough to attempt myself.  However, I quickly realize I've got many pounds on him (in body, kayak, and cargo).  
Photo by: Chang Lor of www.cxfishing.com
I find myself hung up, out of the water, on the beaver dam.  Normally in the summer we would get out and drag.  However, the water temperatures are in the low 50s, and it isn't an easy trek back to the safety of our vehicles.  With hypothermia on our minds, we make due while staying dry.  I stand on the front of my FeelFree Lure's deck and rock it forward until I'm off the dam and floating again (it probably looked similar to Robin Williams in the movie RV if you've seen it).  Finally, we cross the 3 small dams and find ourselves in the slough.  It is a beautiful area.  The water is crystal clear, thick vegetation lies beneath.  We see the "v" of fish swimming quickly in the shelter of the vegetation.  

My buddy Chang and I are topwater nuts, but the topwater bite is tough-to-non-existent this time of year in this area.  However, he decides to try a buzzbait.  The thick vegetation in shallow water is difficult to fish with other lures.  A few tosses in, he has a nice Northern Pike on, but loses it.  Our buddy had just made his way into the slough and is prepared to fish.  I see him standing in his kayak, adjusting his clothing.  The next few moments happened in slow motion.

I watch him lose his balance and fall into the water.  It takes me a moment to realize what happened, then we paddle towards him to help.  Entering 50 degree water is no matter to take lightly, hypothermia can set in quickly.  Luckily, he is able to re-enter his kayak from the 3-5 foot water (I have never seen anyone re-enter a kayak so quickly).  He quickly sheds his sweatshirts.  Luckily the sun is shining the air temps are in the 60s.  He is able to fish on without danger of hypothermia.

After some time in the slough, we decide it is a place better suited for the summer when the frog bite is on.  We head back up the creek, which is exponentially more challenging than our trip down.  Battling the current and the beaver dams proves difficult but we finally make it out.

The dink bite continues.  I grow weary from the effort required to get back up the creek.  As I'm about to call it a day, I hear Chang let out another "Wooooo!".  I paddle over to find him landing a respectable Northern Pike.  A nice fish to end our adventurous day on the water. 

Chang Lor of www.cxfishing.com







Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Are you fishing fall correctly?

Well guys it's happened...probably THE WORST time of the year! I had to break out the pants for fishing this past week.  After flirting with some questionable weather with shorts and rain pants, I finally had to bite the bullet and I'm not happy about it...on another brighter note FALL FISHING IS HERE or has been here depending on your latitude.  Now I know that everyone has their personal preferences on what they have confidence in throwing during all seasons of the year, this is especially true during the fall.  Hopefully my yakbackwards way of thinking can help you try something that maybe you aren't so keen on throwing in an attempt to put more fish into your small craft!

Now one thing I really dislike in articles is vague descriptions of many critical aspects such as what to look for in a spot, water temp, and other critical details.  So I will do my best to include all of these, but if you have more questions feel free to comment below! Now onto the fun stuff!

So fall fishing for me begins when the water cools to around 75 degrees and continues until the mid to low 60's before I begin to change up tactics again.  When approaching a lake with these water temperatures, a good place to start is the highways to and from the shallow spawning grounds.  These fish will follow these highways in the reverse pattern from post spawn, meaning they will move from these summer deep water havens to the shallow flats both on the main lake and creek coves.  Now let me say that some fish can still be found out deep in many of the same deep water cranking spots you fished all summer, but being more of a shallow water fan I follow the migration shallow.  Now a lot of people will flood back to these creeks, but one of my favorite spots to catch large numbers of bigger fish is on shallow flats that extend off primary points.  These spots are less of a migratory commitment and require less energy. Also it can hold large populations of bigger bait fish often creating a hotbed of activity for the more mature fish.  The main forage of this time will be baitfish/shad.  Many times you will see large blow ups from these bait balls being attacked by bass.  Also I have found that smaller bait balls seem to be more productive.  I believe this is largely due to bass having their pick in large bait balls and simply not wanting your bait. Also don't forget that many lakes are now being drawn down for the winter. Those spots that use to be 5 foot during the spring and summer could now be 2-3 foot, so make sure you check the water pool level. It might end up saving you a long paddle! Now on what baits to throw!


Now in a kayak a lot of us don't have room for 15 rods all rigged with different baits like a bass boat would...if you can have 15 rods on a kayak then I am seriously impressed! So I have narrowed down my top 3 fall baits for you!  The first and my personal favorite is the squarebill.  I love these things! They deflect of just about anything, can be fished over/ripped through grass, and have an awesome hookup ratio.  I prefer these to spinnerbaits because I personally think they look more natural in the water and you can get some aggressive strikes on the pause when it floats back towards the surface.  My go to squarebill is the Berkley Pitbull 5.5. The second favorite fall bait is the Zoom Fluke, which is great for cold fronts when the fish are eating shad but won't touch the quick reaction baits. You can also add a nail weight for those extra windy days. These things have an awesome action that closely mimics a dying shad. At times allnyiu have to do is cast it into a school and let it sink. My last absolute go to is a shaky head paired with a Missile Baits Fuse 4.4 craw.  This thing gives fish a different look than the 50 shades of shad (did ya get it? Lol) crankbait they will see this fall.  It also allows you to work the bottom and middle of the water column as you can shake it on the bottom or even retrieve it with a swimming motion.

Now for the backup baits.  These are the baits that if I have the spare rods on board I will keep tied on during the fall. The Zara Spook is awesome for the when bass are visible blowing up on schools of baitfish. My favorite color is either chrome or bone white. I prefer either a spook or popper instead of a buzzbait as the treble hooks give me better hookups, also include the whopper plopper even though I can't catch a dang fish on it.  Next up is the jig, usually black n blue this time of year, this works great for when the shad bite slows down and fish get lethargic.  Probably one of my favorite baits, the wacky rig can be fished in/near any cover and is awesome to skip under docks into the lairs of bass ready to ambush. This is a great bait on those days when you can't buy a bite! A lot of times this will even be a goto on new bodies of water...but that's an article for next week! Lastly, the lipless crankbait is an awesome tool. It can be burned through the water column, yo-yo'ed in deeped water, and ripped through grass.  It can produce some vicious reaction strikes and catch some fall weather toads. The tight shimmy is what makes this lure amazing. That tight shimmy is better for colder water bass. My favorite colors include any shad pattern, gold/brown bluegill pattern, and red/brown crawfish colors. All of these can be heavy producers in the fall. Also don't be afraid to throw these things into some thick cover! They are the ATV of crankbaits and come through anything!

These are some of my favorite techniques to use this time of the year.  Fall fishing is great, but don't be afraid to pull out some of the lures that worked all summer long.  This time of year a lot of people retie with nothing but shad imitation baits, but go out on a limb and give them a look they haven't seen in a few weeks.  It can help put more and better fish into your boat!

If you want to see my latest fall bass excursion you can check it out here












Friday, October 21, 2016

Moving Water Fun

Hello there everyone! I would like to thank you for going through the several clicks needed to take a look at my first blog post as a part of Small Craft Fisherman.  Needless to say, I am very, very excited and honored to be a new addition to this blog.  I hope I can educate and entertain you through the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences I somehow always manage to have on my kayak.

So my recent experience was a first for me.  After getting let outta work early, I found a few hours on my hands.  Now at this point I was beyond fed up with bank fishing and NEEDED to get out on the yak, plus I really wanted to try out my new micro power pole that I had just installed on the Jackson Kilroy LT.  Unfortunately for me, my go to fishing spot is 40 minutes away and with only 5 hours till I had to be at work for my part time job, I was left searching for some new territory.  I thought about braving out onto the dreaded Lake Decatur (seriously if you don't believe me look up the electrofishing numbers...not good), but my pride got the best of me.  Instead I decided to brave the Sangamon river.  A river less than 3 miles from my house that I had never fished, to be honest no one fishes it except for catfish.  So this is where my adventure begins, taking my kayak onto a river that looks like chocolate milk with no reports of any bass ever being caught from it...sounds promising right?

Upon arriving below the dam, which has been known for its gang activity, I loaded up the kayak.  I was rushing around the car and furiously throwing things in all the usual nooks and crannies.  After getting loaded up I began the awful trek down a path covered with boulders and roots. My kayak slipped off my ctug cart at least 10 times, causing me to become even more impatient.  Finally, I arrived on the water, where I tried to understand how to fish this fancy flowing water stuff. I managed to hook into about a 2 pound hybrid striper on a chart/black squarebill crankbait, where I quickly realized I had forgot my net...already off to a great start. I managed to shake him off without hooking any part of my body, always a plus.

As I made my way down the river, I continued fishing but made sure to take in all the scenery of this new found treasure.  As I floated down the river, I reached a bridge that had a few small eddies underneath it made by some giant boulders.  Of course I managed to wedge my kayak perfectly onto one.  After a minute or two of holding my breath and furiously paddling to free myself, I manage to continue my adventure down river, without going for a swim thankfully!  Upon reaching this bridge that I drive over every single day, I noticed some fishy looking eddies swirling on the down-River side of where I just go stuck. This is where the fishing ramped up! I began flipping a black n blue jig on my  Kistler KLX 7'3 Heavy frog/jig/creature rod with 18lb fluorocarbon.  As the current pushed me past the spot I was fishing, until I was fishing straight behind me. That's when I noticed that subtle tug that we all know too well.  I cracked a hookset and the fight was on.  After battling both the fish and the current, my first river fish was in hand. A nice, chunky largemouth at 17.25 inches long,  I would continue to fish for the next hour or so until I had to paddle my way back upstream to my launch site.  I managed to catch 3 more largemouths with the smallest at 16.5 inches and the biggest at 17.5 inches, no dinks here! I also managed to go for a sleigh ride by hauling in a 24.5 inch Hybrid Striper.

It was an amazing day out on the water, even with the limited amount of time I had to throw a trip together. I even managed to catch some fish, which really surprised me for this new area.  Don't be afraid to try new spots and new types of water.  You never know what they have to offer! JUST REMEMBER TO BE SAFE ON THESE UNFAMILIAR WATERS!

If you want to see my full adventure on video, check it out!


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Epic

It is well known the bass are larger in the south.  They grow and feed all year.  In the northern states, there are lunkers out there.  However, they are more of a rarity.  Typically I land one 20" bass in a season.  The rest are respectable, fat, fish, but not the "lunker" length.  This year has been different.

Sure, I've spent exponentially more time on the water this year than in the past.  I have also spent more time refining my techniques.  Both have contributed to increased success in my season.  I attribute both to kayak fishing.  My FeelFree Lure allows me to explore and dissect waters I had never considered before, even in my john boat.  Since I can't fire up my gas motor and cruise to a new spot, I am forced to increase my attention to detail.  This includes careful planning of launch sites, keen observation of structure, and refinement of my fishing techniques.  The kayak forces you slow down and fish.  I've even pulled several respectable fish out of water just fished by bass boats.  Just like I did with a trolling motor, they tend to fish areas too quickly.

In Wisconsin the leaves are falling as is the temperature.  This is a magical time of year for the bass bite in the north.  Bass are loading up on calories to fatten up in preparation for the winter.  An amazing time to load up on tank bass with the right lures and techniques.  My favorite fishing is topwater frog, but fall is the season for my second-favorite method - spinner baits.

My good buddy Chang Lor of www.cxfishing.com and I planned a trip to a local small lake.  We know large fish lurk within, but they were ultra-rare during the summer.  We decide to try our hand at the fall bite to see if we can locate the big ones.

On this particular fall day, the stars were aligned perfectly for fall bassin'.  The barometer was dropping, the skies overcast, the air temperature slightly mild for October, a light drizzle falling, and water temps in the low 50s.  All was right with the world.  We just didn't know how right it would be.

We start out the morning before light.  We go through our rigging routines and are off.  We start working the dark glass water.  Other than the migrating waterfowl, we have the lake to ourselves.  The wind is strong, and we let it carry us towards the main body of water while I run my Northland Tackle spinner bait through the vegetation, which is slowly disappearing due to the heavy rains and cold nights.  A perfect density for running a spinner above the monsters laying in the weeds, waiting for an opportunity ambush.

I toss my spinner slightly past a dying patch of lily pads, a promising source of cover and begin my retrieve.  As the lure nears my kayak, it stops abruptly.  Snags are inevitable when working large weed beds.  I usually leverage the power of my Ardent Apex Pro and Denny Brauer rod with 50lb braid to yank and burn the spinner through the patch of weeds.  This maneuver proved fruitless, so I began pulling in the heavy vegetation.  A couple of cranks in, the vegetation shook and moved.  Fish on!

Photo By: Chang Lor
www.cxfishing.com
Like a cowboy in the old west, I quick draw my net from my crate and sling the tank into it.  A beautiful largemouth measuring 20".  An unbelievable first fish of the day.  And my second 20"+ fish in under a month!  I was elated as I snapped the pictures and submitted them to TourneyX for my regional Kayak Bass Fishing monthly tournament.  I usually catch one 20" fish a season, so I expected the rest of the day to consist of typical Wisconsin fish (17" - 18"), which I would have been happy with.  I never expected what was to come.

Seeking refuge from the strong winds, we paddle upwind and into a slough connected to the lake.  I'm able to land several small bass, including one smaller than my spinner bait (a highly confident little fella that should make a nice bass someday).  Floating out of the bay, I pull a few pieces of garbage from the water and land a small Northern Pike.

Chang and I float deeper into the slough, an area he found success in the last week.  I toss my spinner bait and almost immediately I feel a bite.  I set the hook and begin reeling.  At first, the power of my setup makes the fight easy.  Then my rod doubles over.  I have my drag at max tightness since I am running 50lb braid, but the fish manages to take a bit out.  This has to be one of the 30"+ Northern Pike known to roam this lake.  The only bass that has managed this feat was the 22" river smallmouth I caught last year.  A lake largemouth surely cannot replicate such an action.  I was wrong.

Photo by: Chang Lor
www.cxfishing.com
A short battle later, I see the flash of the side of a fish.  Except this flash is shorter and fatter than expected.  It is a tank bass!  The tank is so heavy, I can barely perform my usual flip into my net, which is quite difficult to hold filled with this beautiful aquatic beast.

I remove my spinner from its mouth, noticing my entire fist fits in its mouth!  I'm in awe with this beast, my longest and heaviest fish of the year.  It weighed just under 6.5 lbs and measured in at 21.25".  The large Northern Pike have done a number on this beast over the years.  It is scarred and missing the top of its tail.  This fish was a beautiful warrior.

After measuring and snapping the pictures, I carefully release it back to the murky depths from which it came.  Smiling as I seen it gracefully swim away, understanding it needed to conserve its energy for the next victim, hopefully without a human connected to it.

While doing my photo-catch-release followed by a submission to TourneyX.com, Chang had begun working the remaining parts of the bay.  I always have several spares of the main Northland Tackle spinner bait colors.  I use them so much, and they catch so many fish, I end up snagging them up or breaking them at some point.  I grab a spare and head towards Chang.  Handing him one, I insist he tie it on.

We manage to land a couple small Northern Pike in the remainder of the bay.  I spook several large fish out of a shallow area with weed mats.  My addiction to frogging kicks in and I tie on my popper frog.  I finally put the frog away for the remainder of the season after working the entire area of mats without success.  The rain picks up, I have my Frogg Togg rain suit on, but it is a good opportunity for a lunch break.  We head to the bridge that crosses the lake and take a few moments to eat and relax on the shore under the bridge.

While I'm enjoying delicious Wisconsin cheese and beef, Chang ties on a different lure and gives it a toss, getting bites nearly every cast.  He eventually lands a small bass.  His eventual snagging of the lure is our sign to re-enter the kayaks.  He un-snags his lure while I finish the last few pieces of food.  After spending some time fishing the deep water under the bridge without success, Chang puts on a poncho and we head out into the rain, allowing the wind to carry us back towards the main body of the lake.

Chang and I work opposite sides of the lake, the "divide and conquer" technique we typically use to locate the fish.  I pull a small Northern Pike off some structure but find myself pulling in nothing but the thick weeds thereafter.  After we have worked our way about halfway down the length of the lake, I hear the international long distance call for "Fish On!".  Chang yells "Wooooooo!", my cue to head his way.

I traverse the lake, wondering if he lost the fish.  He is battling the wind with his paddle and the fish with his rod and reel.  He has to carefully switch between the two as I see splashing and thrashing next to his kayak.  The wind carries his voice as I hear him yell, "Huge Pike!".  I arrive at his kayak and he has a nice sized Northern Pike in his fish grip.  A beautiful fish that put up an amazing battle.  We opt not to measure or weigh it.  The pike is smaller than one he caught recently, so he opts to let it go.  It is surely tired after the long fight and needs to get back in the water quickly to recover.

This side of the lake has been historically more productive for us, so we float the same side, targeting different weed beds.  Shortly thereafter, I hear another "Woooo!".  This time, upon arrival, Chang pulls a tank largemouth out of the water.  An amazing fall fat bass measuring in at 20" and over 5lbs.  A beautiful fish in its extra large fall forage form.  We cannot believe what the lake and day have produced.  I've never caught more than one 20" bass in a season, let alone two in a day, three in a month.  This is an amazing fall season after a tough spring/summer bite.  Allowing the wind to carry us the remaining length of the lake, we pull in a few small bass and pike.  We point our bows into the wind and paddle back upwind to float the same stretch again.

This time, I hear an even louder "Wooo!" from Chang.  This time his rod is bent further and his kayak moving faster from the power of the fish.  He has a massive pike on, one strong enough to take out his drag, not an easy feat with his braid and tight drag setting.  Unfortunately, the bony mouth of the giant did not allow for a good hookset.  The beast slips free just as Chang gets it to the kayak.  After working the area a short while longer, we opt to head back to the slough as the wind has again gained strength.

We encounter a fellow fishing buddy we fished with this summer.  Our big fish inspired him to hit the water on this rainy day.  He is fishing deep, us shallow, so we wish him well and continue into the slough.

We are able to land a couple smaller bass and Chang another large pike.  As the bite slows, I become increasingly self-aware.  I'm now less focused on the water and fish.  My arms ache and my hands are swollen and throbbing.  I still haven't fully recovered from the tournament push in September.  The large fish and strong winds of the day have made my aches and pains return.  We do our "last cast" (about another 30 minutes of fishing), and call it (one hell of) a day.

We leave exhausted, with huge smiles on our faces.  My battle wounds include epic bass thumb and a thumb gashed open from a mishap from a Northern Pike.  This was certainly an epic day I will always remember.  The best fishing of my life with a good friend.  This is why we kayak fish.















Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Next Chapter

When I started this blog adventure in April, I never expected such warm and positive response.  And never did I expect to cross the 30,000 hit mark in 6 months (I was expecting a few reads a month).  Thank you again for all of your support, kind words, and taking time out of your life to allow me to share my journeys with you.

I love sharing my adventures, but I wanted to do more.  I wanted to use the platform I've been working hard to grow and take it further. This will give my readers a greater variety of styles, stories, and content.  I also wanted to give someone the opportunity to share their stories with my established platform.  The natural next step was expansion by adding a writer to the team.

With that, I am excited to welcome the first staff writer for Small Craft Fisherman, Patrick "Pooti" Tharp.  Pooti has a unique style of writing that I enjoy.  His writing puts you in his tankwell, watching over his shoulder.  Please take a moment to check out our team bio page to learn more about Pooti.  Stay tuned for his first story coming soon!



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Frozen

After spending some time recovering from my tournament push that started in my article "I'm Back - The Saga Begins", I was ready to hit the water again.  I had already washed and polished my FeelFree Lure, it was looking like new.  My gear was loaded up and ready to go.  I had spent the last few days seeing my Facebook feed filled with kayak anglers catching toads as the fall bite was ramping up.  I was ready for a piece of that action.  When I was in "tournament mode", I had left my Garmin VIRB action cam at home.  I was looking forward to again documenting my adventure.

I woke up before light to frost surrounding my house.  The thermometer read 27 degrees.  Having anticipated these conditions, I had prepared my winter fat biking gear (Under Armour cold gear, athletic pants, and a performance sweatshirt.  Upon arriving at the lake, I covered my pants in my rain gear pants to deflect any paddle splash.

The lake was covered in a thick fog, a normalcy this time of year as the frigid nights pull heat from the water.  Fall colors are at their peak, some of which matching my FeelFree Lure's camo orange beautifully.  After going through my unload-and-rig routine, I launch next to a nice guy with a beautiful Ranger boat.  We exchange dock talk, he asks questions about my kayak, we wish each other good luck, and I paddle on.

I start with my fall go-to, a Northland Tackle spinner bait.  A few casts and that classic spinner bait hookup feeling is in my hands.  The tick of the blades coming back through my line and down the rod abruptly stop as the pole dips and the line darts in another direction.  I set the hook and am greeted by a beautiful, fat, 17.75" largemouth bass emerging from the water.  I take a brief moment to admire this beautiful fish, then capture the photos for upload to TourneyX.com before releasing it back into the murky water.

I make a few paddle strokes east and give another cast.  I get the same sensation, except this time is different.  Usually my Ardent reels spooled with 50lb. braid effortlessly pull bass in.  This one was putting up a fight, diving hard.  It took some effort to get it within net range.  Once landed, I was in disbelief.  This fish was a healthy fall forager, measuring 19.75".  A very nice fish by Wisconsin standards that I weigh at 4.5 lbs.  I again took a moment to admire the beautiful fish before releasing it.

Luckily, this all happened while the fog still thick so the other fishing boats didn't see.  I continue working the bank and continue to be greeted by a variety of fish.  Even the smaller fish are building a healthy girth in preparation for the inevitable harsh Wisconsin winter.  A 16.5" fish puts me in 2nd place in the October regional tournament within an hour.  I'm in awe.  This is how this fishery used to be.

The bite slows as the sun rises, burning the fog away.  Time to switch spinner bait colors.  It was a good call, because I immediately land an 18.75" largemouth.  A beautiful, large fish.  I'm now tied for 2nd place within 90 minutes!  Unbelievable......

I continue working the key areas, able to land a few small bass.  But the larger ones have turned off, likely heading for deeper water to seek shelter from the sunlight in the now weedless fall water.  As a last hoorah, I try doing some cranking but am also unsuccessful.  I decide to head in and spend the afternoon with the family, the most successful day I've had in a while in the books.













Friday, October 14, 2016

The Saga Ends

The final chapter of my tournament marathon picks up where I left off in "The Saga Continues".  Instead of grinding the water after work like in the previous week, I take a few days to rest by body and mind.  I also perform some basic maintenance and cleaning on my gear.  I have the final two days of the tournament off work to cover as much water as possible.

The first day is a beautiful morning, but it was not a great day for fishing.  I did my usual seeking with a spinnerbait.  It produced, but nothing of size.  I tried cranking, but it produced the same.  By the afternoon, I had worked the entire reservoir without locating the big ones.  I sat slumped in my kayak asking myself, "What now?".

The Wisconsin fall was moving in.  We were reaching 40 degrees at night and 70 during the day.  This weather pattern makes for difficult fishing.  Water temperatures are in the mid 50s in the morning, rising to the upper 50s by the evening.  At this point, I need to make a big move.  I stare at my tackle trays in my crate.  I come up with a crazy idea.  I may have done the Dr. Evil pinkie look.

Expecting the fall bite to continue, I had sadly put my frogs and other topwater lures away for the season.  Luckily, I had brought my topwater tray.  I grab my topwater tray like it were Excaliber and my crate the stone.  I draw it ceremoniously into the air and lay it in my lap.  I grab a poppin' frog and cannot wipe the smile off my face the entire time I tie it on.  I head to the few remaining weeds in the shallows.

Shortly upon arriving in shallows, I get a huge blowup on my frog.  Honestly, I wasn't expecting it and let the fish take it longer than usual before the hookset.  At that point, the fish was deep in the weeds, which deflected the hookset.  As I reel in 10lbs of weeds, I immediately start looking around the area for other key frogging spots.  I'm able to land several small bass on the frog.  Froggin' is my favorite.  For a moment I was so excited for a (potentially) last topwater bite this season, I completely forgot I was targeting larger fish.

Once I come out of my froggin' buzz, I tie a buzzbait on my spinning reel (not ideal but I am curious if buzzbait will produce in these conditions).  It does.  Multiple times.  Three huge blowups were followed by the fish ripping line off the reel.  Even the drag of the 4000 size reel couldn't take the fight.  The soft tip on my old spinning rod (I lost my good one in the Mississippi this year) didn't allow for a good hookset.  I lost them all.  Frustrated and tired, I decide to call it a day.  However, I did learn a valuable lesson for tomorrow, my last day.  Topwater is still an option.

The final day of the tournament I am again on the water before light.  The air temperature is 40 degrees and the water temp is 55 degrees.  The fog is so thick I can't see more than a few feet in front of my bow.  Luckily, this is an electric-only lake so I don't have to worry about a fast-moving boat colliding with me.  If you are not an experienced paddler with proper equipment, do not kayak in these conditions!!!!!  

Paddling in the dark, in thick fog is a surreal feeling.  The water is like glass, the air calm.  I have my sonar screen brightness turned down to preserve my night vision.  Every few seconds, a local bat swoops past my head to rid the air of more mosquitoes.  The air isn't moving, surrounded by a cloud of fog on either side.  The only sound is the lapping of my paddle waking the water from its slumber.  I can feel the kayak gliding on the water, but the still fog causes my eyes to question my brain's understanding of my movement.  A dizzying feeling I found takes more concentration than usual.

I start the morning trying a buzzbait in the shallows I hit the night before.  It is still dark, my buzzbait now the only sound on the reservoir.  Its squeaky, lapping, buzz echoes in the valley.  Nothing.  As suspected, the water is too cold this early.  I tie on my spinner bait and head back to the rock bank.  The rocks, holding more consistent temperatures, are a good bet to start the day.

As I approach my destination, the sun rises above the bluff surrounding the side of the reservoir.  The thick fog causes it to shoot rays above the trees, a great photo op that perfectly fit my Bending Branches Angler Pro.

At this point, you may be thinking I'm crazy.  I'm trying to win a tournament, why am I stopping to enjoy the scenery and take pictures?  Well, because.  Because I spent the last two weeks fishing harder than I ever have before.  It started with landing a tank of a bass.  Since then, it was a grind.  My body hurt, I lost another rod/reel, and I've been plagued with dinks.  I didn't like the feeling that I "had to" fish.  Prior to this push, I always "wanted to" fish.  My wife reminded me during the week that it can't become "work".  Don't get me wrong, this tournament stuff is fun.  But I started taking it too seriously, but I digress.

The morning and early afternoon are a repeat of my recent trips.  I land over a dozen fish, but none bigger than my smallest in my TourneyX online bag.  I make a pit stop on the beach for a lunch of champions (a pizza Lunchable and gas station pre-packed sandwich with mystery ingredients).  In between bites, I make a few casts (I've landed some nice bass shore fishing on the beach in the past).  My stomach full and my shore fishing unsuccessful, I assess the conditions.  The wind is picking up, the temperature is warm, the sun bright.  Perfect conditions for topwater in the shallows.  I eagerly tie on my frog and head for the calm waters in the shallows.

Upon arrival, I get several hits, but they were half-hearted and I couldn't get a hookup.  After working the mats, I take notice at the open water gaps between the mats.  The cold weather, winds, and rain have further broken up the mats.  I tie on a buzzbait and begin leaning like Michael Jackson to reel it carefully between the mats.  Again, a few hits but nothing landed.

At this point I'm completely physically and mentally exhausted.  I haven't been this exhausted since two-a-days when I played soccer in high school while working a full-time summer job landscaping.  I can't give up.  This is my last shot, and it may be my last topwater action of the year.  I head to the edge of the weed mats, which I know border a ledge.  The day growing late and the water warmer, I expect bass to be making their way up the ledge to feast on the shad taking shelter in the shallows.  My expectation is confirmed by a massive blowup.

This is a picture-perfect blowup.  Bucketmouth emerging from the water, white spray everwhere, a slight hesitation followed by a hookset, and vigorous winding of the reel.  Except the hookset wasn't picture-perfect and I lost it.  I'm unsure of the size, but it was enough to take out drag (I have my drag tightened to the max with 50lb. braid).  Eager to land a big one, I toss the buzzbait near the same spot.  Another massive blowup, but I completely miss the hookset.  My adrenaline is pumping so I'm completely oblivious to why my hooksets are failing.  Topwater is my go-to.  I rarely miss a hookset, and I rarely lose a fish while reeling it in on a buzzbait.  I press on.

The next cast, I have a hit.  This one not as epic, but welcome.  A respectable fish, but not big enough to add to my overall length in the tournament.  The smaller fish allows my body to metabolize the adrenaline.  I then become overtly aware of my hookup issues.  My hands are in swollen, sore, and throbbing in pain.  My IT day job coupled with the countless hours on the water have done a number on them.  I push the pain away with denial and continue working the bay.  I finally realize my tournament push is over when I get another hit and am physically unable to set the hook, nearly dropping my rod.

I hang my head and take a moment to reflect upon this entire experience.  This tournament push has had its ups and downs.  The surge of adrenaline you get when landing a bigger fish than the last is amazing.  But I hated the disappointment, stress, and pressure.  I felt like I "had to" fish.  I also had several trips on the water that would have been great by normal standards, having landed a dozen or more respectable fish each time out.  I hated that feeling of disappointment just because I didn't catch a "big enough" fish.

I realized I prefer "wanting to" fish.  I enjoy taking time to appreciate the scenery.  When I leave the water having landed several fish, especially this quantity, I need to leave with a smile on my face, not a look of disappointment.

Don't get me wrong, I have been tournament fishing all year and absolutely love it.  I especially love the online format made possible by the technology of TourneyX.com.  However, everyone must assess what they want out of the sport, like anything in life.  Some people are highly competitive and thrive on hardcore tournament fishing.  I prefer to use the tournament fishing as a platform to hone my fishing skills.  The online tournament allows me to track my performance against other anglers and naturally makes me think of ways to better myself as an angler.  Of course, I will continue my tournament efforts.  However, I am going to approach it like I did up until this point.  Enjoying fishing, honing my skills, and seeing where it takes me.

This also confirmed what I truly love about the sport of fishing.  Spending time close to nature on my kayak.  Sometimes with good friends to share the memories, sometimes alone to clear my head.  I enjoy the adventures it brings, and I love sharing my experience with you, my readers.  I thank you for your kind words, support, and patience.  I'm back, and looking forward to sharing more shenanigans with you.

In the end, I missed a Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship spot by .75" to a deserving person.  It was a good run, fun, I bettered my fishing skills, built some muscle, and learned a lot about what I want out of the sport.  A fellow member of the Wisconsin Kayak Fishing group on Facebook shared with me a quote that made me smile, as it was appropriate for my journey.

"Winning, there are alot of misconceptions about winning. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to be on top but do the best that you possibly can."
--Walter Payton






Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Saga Continues

The saga of my absence from blogging picks up where I left off in "I'm Back - The Saga Begins".  I had just caught a tank bass, putting me in the running to qualify for the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship.  Getting the privilege to fish south of the Mason-Dixon, via kayak, with the best kayak anglers in the country has been a pipe dream since I got into the tournament fishing this year.  Never did I think I had a chance.  Sure, I put in a lot of time on the water but never considered myself a tournament angler.  I decided this was a great opportunity to make a push to make "the cut".  The spinner bait seems to be the magic lure, so I make a restock trip to my local Mills Fleet Farm and stock up on Northland Tackle spinners.  My spinner box now full, I'm ready to hit it hard.

My kayak stays permanently at the ready on my trailer.  Tackle, PFD, net, hawg trough, and my Kayak Bass Fishing identifier nestled in my TourneyTag are in the vehicle ready for action.  I had also anticipated the fall rains and need for some kind of rain protection.  With my fishing budget drained from a restock of lures, I opted for the affordable Frog Togs.  Leveraging my Amazon Prime membership, they were to arrive in 2 days.

The first day I hook up the trailer and head to the lake immediately after my day job.  It was reasonable weather, so no rain gear needed.  I start working my spinnerbait along the rock banks, through grass, around submerged wood.  I'm landing several bass, but they are either dinks or smaller than my smallest in my online bag.  This pattern continues until dark when I load up and head home.  I hit the lake the next night after work with the same results.  My body is feeling the hurt of paddling in the fall windy conditions every day.  I decide to take two days of rest to allow the lake and my body to rest.  I took Friday off of work to fish, I will pick things back up then.

By Friday, my rain gear has arrived.  I load it in my kayak as showers are expected and hit the water.  I use my spinner baits, as per usual, to locate where the bass are holding in the lake.  Having landed only dinks, I decide to try a lipless crank on my backup baitcaster.  I manage to pull in a few bass on the crank, but nothing large enough to up my bag.  I've spent a significant amount of time on the water recently, and my grip isn't what it used to be.  This baitcaster is my backup because it was wearing out on me and took a lot of effort to keep it from backlashing.  Growing weary, I cast hard into deep water, targeting the bass holding a bit deeper.  The buzz of my braid leaving the spool abruptly stops.  Between my exhaustion, heavy weight of the old baitcaster, and force of the sudden stop, the baitcaster leaves my hands and lands in the water.  I yell a few choice words, panic, and make an attempt to rescue it.  The old friend slowly sinks into the murky water like Jack at the end of the movie Titanic.  Instead of whispering, "Never let go", I yell a few more choice words.

At this point, the day is a wash.  I'm tired and beyond upset.  I've donated two poles, a phone, and countless lures to Donny Jones (he is Davy Jones's cousin who watches fresh water).  Knowing I have a long push the last two weeks of the tournament, I decide to call it a day, lick my wounds, and drown my sorrows.

The next day I hit the water early, eager to make my latest equipment loss worth it.  After working different areas for several hours, I decide to tie on a new color spinner bait.  It is black and white with silver flakes in the skirt.  Though smaller than I prefer, I figure the color will work in the bright sun and murky water.  A few short casts and my suspicion is confirmed.

I'm allowing the wind to carry me along a shoreline of cattails and grass.  This area always has baitfish hiding the shallow grass near a deep part of the lake, a spot sure to be holding bass if timed properly.  I slowly drift past the grass near a down tree trunk in the water.  As I'm about to pull the spinner out of the water, I see a huge flash of silver and my pole doubles over.  It took me by surprise, but was able to get a proper hookset and land the 18.75" bass.  Beyond happy to add inches to my total, I continue working the spinner bait.  A few casts later, it produces again the same way.  As I'm about to pull it from the water, a another large flash makes my pole double over and I land a respectable 17.5" largemouth.  After that, the bite abruptly stopped and I decided to spend the afternoon with my family, allowing my body to recover.

The following morning, I hit the water bright and early.  At this point, the water is clearing up a bit from several days of no rain.  This made me nervous as the bite in this water is better after a rain.  The murky water is perfect for the spinnerbait and the fish are more active.  Either way, I need to spend time on the water if I want a chance at the national qualifying spot.

To make a long story short, my efforts are relatively fruitless.  Though I landed many fish, none were larger than my smallest in my TourneyX online bag.  Even a "karma stop" to collect more than a shopping bag's worth of garbage didn't help.  But I left the lake cleaner than it was before I arrived.  At this point, my body and mind are feeling the affects of 13 hour weekend days and 4-5 hours after work on the water.  I have Thursday and Friday the following week off for a final push, and they are calling for rain, which should turn the bite back on.  I decide to take a few days to rest in preparation for the long final two days of the tournament.

Stay tuned for the final chapter in my final push.








Saturday, October 1, 2016

I'm Back - The Saga Begins

First of all, I'd like to apologize to my regular readers for going mostly silent recently.  I try to give my regular readers something to read every weekend.  That said, this is the reason I've been only posting pictures to my Facebook page and Instagram accounts:

Photo By: Chang Lor
www.cxfishing.com
In my last installment of shenanigans, I was resetting my fishing.  Going back to my basics with my time-tested tactics.  I also opted to stay local, though my home water has challenged me since the late freeze during the spawn.  All fish patterns from years' past had changed and I became frustrated.  My amazing wife reminded me that I learned my home water patterns quickly.  I needed to reset and do it again.  With success using my time-tested tactics, I regained confidence in my knowledge of the water and opted to continue fishing local.

This long adventure begins the weekend after "Back to Basics".  I hit my local waters again, where I'm met by my friend Chang Lor of www.cxfishing.com (check out his web page and Instagram - he is the photographer for several of my amazing photos).  I'm out before first light working the banks with my fall go-to lure, Northland Tackle spinnerbaits.  So far unsuccessful, I spot a boil of water out of the corner of my eye.  This is why you won't see me on the water listening to music or anything else.  I stay observant to any sight or sound that may tip me off.  I toss my spinner up against some brush where the boil originated.  In the process, I manage to tangle my line around the end of my rod and need to take a moment to unwrap.  Naturally, as soon as I start the retrieve, I'm snagged from sitting in the brush.  But the snag moved.

Realizing what is happening, I half-set the hook in disbelief.  As I pull the bass from the depths with ease thanks to my Ardent Apex Tournament reel and 50lb. braid, I get a glimpse of the beast.  Stricken with Bass Fever, the next minute or so is a blur.  I actually had to ask Chang after if I had used my net or not.  This thing was a tank that I managed to pull out without a net.  The next thing I remember is staring at this beautiful beast of a fish.  My trembling grows as the adrenaline surges through my body.  Then the fish slips my grip (my grip isn't what it used to be and this thing is huge).  Another surge of adrenaline rushes through my veins as it flops under my seat.  I haven't watched the video yet, but I imagine my moves to attempt to keep it from flopping into the water is somewhere between Neo from the Matrix and the Hokey Pokey.

I manage to get the fish under control and grab my fish grips to ensure a secure hold on this beast.  I need to give myself a minute to calm down.  The excitement of catching this tank, and almost losing it, has caused a huge adrenaline rush only to be trumped by a near-death situation.  Eager to get this big fish swimming again, I pull out my hawg trough, and extend my TourneyTag out beyond the 22" mark (that was my length guesstimate when Chang and I guessed lengths).  I watch the tail slide past 20" as I laid it on the board.  I'm setting this powerful bass on the board slowly, carefully, as if disarming a bomb ready to go off with the wrong move.  Slowly I release the fish grips.  My heart jumps as he begins to flop.  Worried about losing the fish and/or snapping my only hawg trough, I let it calm down and quickly snap the pictures required.  The official measurement is 21".



After I release it back into the murky waters, I'm still shaking uncontrollably.  The cool Wisconsin fall morning coupled with the extended adrenaline rush wearing off has made me cold.  I throw on a sweater, still in disbelief of what happened.  Those who fish regularly in California or the southern states will agree this is a nice fish.  However, up here in the frozen tundra, a fish this large isn't a nice fish.  It is a rarity only snagged by the lucky or those who spend a significant amount of time hunting for it.  Much larger than this would be considered a "mounter" up here.  We continue our trip and I get a few bites, but am unable to land additional fish.  However, I am satisfied with today's results.

I arrive home and recall as much of the event as possible to my wife (I have yet to watch, edit, and upload the video).  She realizes that I'm going to capitalize on this catch best I can as it put me in the running to qualify for a Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship spot.  Stay tuned as the saga continues in my pursuit for the KBF NC spot.