Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wisconsin Fishing Opener 2017 Part 2

After a rough start to the 2017 Wisconsin fishing season in Part 1 of this story, I was out to redeem myself. My good buddy Chang Lor of suggested we start at a big lake then move to a body of water connecting two large lakes in Western Wisconsin.  A bit sore from the previous day, I'm running late and tell them to launch sans me.  I arrive at the launch on the big lake, go through my rigging exercise, and hit the water.

Eventually I merge with my fellow yakers and we hit a small area of the water.  Chang manages to haul in some bass.  I'm targeting crappie once I see the size of the slabs spawning in the shallows.  To make a long story short, the big crappie won't bite on anything.  They have other things on their mind.  I do eventually landing a few nice ones.  A bit later, we try the big water, but it is fruitless.  We opt to head to the smaller water.  Chang tells us stories of the amazing vegetation there, making it a frog heaven.  

I am closer to the launch, and slower to load up than the others, so I begin the paddle in.  A couple dozen heads of pan fisherman in aluminum boats turn as I paddle by in awe of my Feelfree Lure.  A short time later, I go through the land, load, and go process.  I opt to keep it simple for the next stop using only two rods.

After a short pit-stop for lunch and to fix Chang's brake light, we are at our destination.  On an old gravel road in an area that could have been used to film the movie Deliverance.  Nonetheless, we begin unloading whilst choking down our lunch and the clouds of dust we kicked up.

We launch in a small area.  The launch looks promising, a dirt launch for small craft.  The swamp surrounding smells of dirty diapers left in a gym locker.  Most would be repulsed and leave.  We comment on the stench, but understand this means cover for fish.

We go our separate ways in the open water.  I'm dreaming of topwater, so I'm watching my Garmin Striker's temperature reading like a hawk looking for roadkill.  It is still below 60, so I start with my search bait, a Northland Tackle Reed Runner.  I manage a few weak hits, but overall am fruitless.  Meanwhile, one of our buddies is landing bass non-stop on a rubber worm.  

At a loss in this odd water, I throw on some plastics.  But by this time, his plastic bite slowed and the weather is changing.  Frustrated, I go for broke.  My Garmin reads water temps just above 60.  Good enough for me.

I toss a Whopper Plopper 130 in Perch pattern alongside a few patches of floating vegetation.  The water depth is about 4-5 feet, with thick vegetation below.  The skies clear blue and the sun bright.  Other than the less-than-ideal water temps, a recipe for topwater.  Probably looked like a kid moving their controller while playing Mario Kart as I maneuvered the Whopper Plopper between the floating vegetation patches.  Then it hits!  

First topwater of the year!  Its a dink, about 12", but I celebrate as if I just got my personal best.  First topwater of the year!  I eagerly tie a frog on my other rod.  I only brought two rods.  Luckily one is my frogging rod, but I left my topwater ones in the rod tube.  But I make do with my spinnerbait rod as my Plopper rod.  I continue to work the area of patchy floating vegetation.  I'm getting hits, but they are short and weak.  I drool as the water temps continue to climb.

Getting frustrated with all the short hits, I decide to venture on.  My co-yakkers are long gone.  I spot the Lime Camo of Chang's Feelfree Lure in the distance and head that way.  While en route, I come across a small bay.  The wind is blowing all the floating vegetation into the bay.  I give my frog a toss, again getting short hits.  Though the vegetation is helping the sun heat the water quicker than the other areas.  

I head across to the other shoreline to chat with my buddies.  I let them know of my topwater success, they excitedly tie on topwater lures.  I suggest they follow me to the bay because the water on this side of the lake is still below 60.  They continue working the same shoreline, I head directly for the algae-filled bay with the determination of an Olympian on my face.  I'm going to get a fish via frog before I call it a day.

My efforts start slow.  I miss a few big hits in the brush near the bay.  Growing frustrated, I move within casting distance of the algae.  A short time later, I get my first solid frog hit.  But I was so excited, I set the hook too early and missed it.  But alas, the next cast, I landed my first frog fish of the season!  I excitedly continue tossing my River2Sea Spittin' Wa frog lathered in JBs FishSauce, trying to figure out the retrieval pattern they want today.

After landing another fish shortly thereafter, I find they prefer the slow roll retrieval.  I land a few more fish, but the bite suddenly stops.  I need to change it up, they are onto me.  I tie a Livetarget mouse onto my spinnerbait rod.  I long for my backup frog rod with 50lb braid, but this will do.  I land a few more fish on the mouse until it is stolen by what I assume was a large pike.  I silently curse myself for leaving my topwater rods behind and tie a smaller River2Sea frog on without the popper cup.  The popper is beginning to spook them.  

As I finish tying on the smaller frog, I notice my Garmin reporting a water temperature of 68 degrees!  Yes!  I manage several more bass, a few of them respectable, all of them a blast to catch.  Blue skies, warm temps, floating in my kayak, catching nice fish on frogs, with the smell of muck and algae around me.  I'm in my happy place.

After a while, and a few more fish, I have a problem.  Albeit a good one, disappointing nonetheless.  After a full day fishing the day prior, a full day today with a move between, and the number of fish landed this evening, I'm exhausted.  I miss several fish.  I try to blame the bite, but realize it is my inability to set the hook.  My hands and forearms are aching.  I take a moment to look around, enjoy the beautiful day, and decide to call it a day.

After taking a moment to enjoy the beautiful view of my kayak covered in algae and muck (a sign of a great day froggin'), I put away my rods, clean up my deck filled with lure candidates, lower my seat, and casually begin paddling in Chang's assumed direction.
I hadn't wandered terribly far from the swampy launch, so I take my time paddling.  Enjoying the the scenery of this small body of water connecting two large lakes, I appreciate the day.  A beautiful day, filled with great scenery, with good friends, ends with catching fish to the point of exhaustion.  This is what it is all about.

Chang and I rendezvous and chat as we paddle towards the stinking swamp launch awaiting us.  We both agree it was an amazing day on the water, no matter our level of success.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wisconsin Opener 2017 Part 1

It has been a long Wisconsin spring.  We had a wide range of weather and temperatures.  Anything from 20 degrees to 80, sunshine to snowfall.  This has made the bite difficult to lock down.  Early in the season the pike bite was hot on spinners during their spawn.  The temps rose and I was able to boat over 40 bass and a nice 4.5lb bass in one day on PowerTeam Lures Grubs and the James Gang Fishing Lovertail2 both covered in JBs Fishsauce.  The two weeks following were slow when the water temperatures dropped back into the 40s with the cold temps.  I was able to coax a few bites, but not the hot pre-spawn bite while temps were on the rise.  The first weekend in May, Wisconsin Fishing Opener, a sacred day to some (myself included), was no different.

I'm still in winter sleep mode, my mind still sleeping late to avoid the bitter cold mornings from the Wisconsin winter.  To avoid side affects (severe irritability) I ease into my summer up-and-at-em-for-fishing sleep schedule by waking up at dawn.  This allows me time to get up, gather my things, get to my home reservoir, and get on the water before sunrise.  This also allows me to beat most to the water.  This opening morning, my brother-in-law is also joining me for his first time kayak fishing.  He is now using the first boat that started my Small Craft adventures, his dad's 12 foot flat bottom jon boat with an old MinnKota.  A fine fishing machine, but no Feelfree Lure.

We arrive at the reservoir, unload his mighty steed, a Feelfree Lure 11.5.  Instead of a MinnKota older than he, his boat will be propelled with a Bending Branches Angler Ace.  An efficient, light, paddle to make his adventure easier.  It also has a lure retriever built into the blade, which is a key feature for someone I've previously called "The Snagmaster".  We finish our rigging and start rolling the kayaks towards the water.

A short time later we are paddling towards the dam.  We always target the areas accessible by larger boats first.  Once they begin to flock after sunup and warmer air temperatures, we retreat to the shallows where they can't go.  I watch the temperature on my Garmin Striker like a hawk, hoping for that magical number, 60.  Typically topwater starts working when temps raise above that magical number.

While paddling to our destination, we are spooking several panfish.  Unsure of the bass bite this early in the reservoir, we brought our ultralight gear as a backup.  We toss small Rooster Tails out and my brother-in-law quickly starts pulling them in.  Though not massive, still fun and immediately gets the skunk off of the trip.

A short time later, we carry on to our planned location.  Our efforts using various spinners along the dam are futile.  We opt to try the other side of the lake.  The sun hits it first, and the wind is starting to pick up, perhaps the water temps and shelter from the wind will help.

We arrive at our destination, deciding to toss the Rooster Tails again we begin hauling in several panfish, both Bluegill and Crappie.  We catch two nice "eater" Bluegill and I toss them in my Lure 13.5's cooler.  The panfish bite slowly dwindles, so we try our hand at the shallows without success.

At this point, we both caught bass.  The biggest approximately 4".  We are glad to have been successful with panfish, but we know the caliber bass in this reservoir.  We are disappointed not to have been able to snag into some, so we mix it up and move to a bay on the opposite side of the lake.
At this point, it is 10 AM.  The sun is up, causing us to have already shed some layers previously worn to abate the chill of 38 degree morning.  To make a long story short, we were nearly skunked on good bass until my brother-in-law managed to pull out a nice largemouth.  His first on a Feelfree Lure, or any kayak for that matter.  His smile said it all.

The stability, comfort, portability, and other features of the Lure made him like it.  Catching a nice bass in the kayak made him fall in love.  The sport of kayak fishing is exploding because of this.  There is nothing like being one with the water, your gear, your "home" in the seat and on the deck of a kayak.  Then you feel that first tug of a large fish.  But this time it is different.  This time, your vessel is smaller.  It tilts ever so slightly during the bite, rocks gently during the hookset, and starts moving towards the fish during the fight.  There is nothing like it, and that is why we love it.  That is why I do it, why I share these experiences with you, and why I started a business to bring people this joy in the sport.