Thursday, November 13, 2014

Moving...

This will likely be my last post typed in Minnesota for a good long while. Saturday morning, mom and I are going to finish loading the trucks and we’ll be off to The Bluegrass State, God’s Country, and the home of FLW’s Operations branch. I’m gonna keep working for FLW (because it rocks), but I’ll be a lot further south and a lot more country, which is definitely my preferred non-Vermont locale. My role has honestly not been fully defined, but I have a baller job description and I’ll still be writing a lot and talking a lot and doing a bunch of social stuff, all things that are mostly up my alley. I also plan to be fishing a lot more. I’ll be living about five minutes from the launch, so I plan to put some serious hours on the boat in 2015.

Anyhow, I thought I’d send you off with a tale that is uniquely Minnesotan:  Muskie on Minnetonka.

Saturday morning, Jason Aleshire and I set out onto mighty Minnetonka to try and sucker a few muskies into biting. We were semi-successful. We had two legit muskie takes and landed one.

First things first, how we hunted them:  Jason had a bunch of key areas in mind, from the outside edges of flats and humps to little holes near channel mouths or the channels themselves. He was looking for areas with bait, areas with depth, or places that muskie might move though or be attracted to because of current. He had a pretty solid game plan and we definitely were around fish, as we marked several that didn’t bite and had a few takes that could have been toothy critters, as well as a few pretty panicked suckers.

The rig we were using was pretty sweet. In retrospect, I wish I had been a bit more thorough in studying it. It was basically a slip bobber, a flouro leader, weight, and a wire harness with two or three treble hooks. Jason had a particular way he hooked the suckers, but a lot of the magic was in how he planned to go about hooking the muskie, something that went well against my instincts. Hooking a muskie on a 15-inch sucker takes some waiting, not because the fish can’t get the bait right away, but because they seem to have a knack for taking it without getting the hooks. It might also have something to do with the physics of the rig – a typical bait had basically a direct pull line on the fish, and having multiple wires all distributing the force of the hookset, combined with a big sucker in the way, could put a cap on the hookup percentage you can get with a bass approach.

Los suckers
Anyhow, back to the story. Our first really good chance came in a channel, when I spotted a muskie as she swam past the boat. Jason navigated the boat in the direction that it went, spotted the fish, and with the boat almost in the bushes she bit. The fish bit basically under the outboard and I watched it slowly chomp at the bait and meander away and argued with Jason that it was time to set the hook. Jason wasn’t so sure, but my insistence that the bait was in its mouth might have won him over. I’m honestly not sure what exactly happened, but I set the hook and leaned back on the fish.

All hell broke loose as soon as I started cranking. Some lady on the shore started freaking out about the size of the fish as it came to the surface and I hauled it toward the boat. Jason had the presence of mind to realize that it was actually not hooked, and just stuck on the sucker, and he netted it quickly and deftly. It was over in a blink. It was like when you flip a 3-pounder into the boat, no prolonged struggle at all, just a brief period of furious action and then a result.

I held the net and grabbed a pair of gloves and changed my hat as Jason readied the camera. Then I looked down and the fish was gone and there was a corresponding hole in the net. I was shocked. Jason had instructed me to keep her head up, and I had definitely not understood the full seriousness of his order. The aged net was the one weak spot, and ye olde muskie had diligently exploited it to escape documentation.

In reality, it all happened so fast and I was so excited that I have no idea how big the fish was. I can’t estimate anything besides a bass anyhow. That said, Jason assured me that it was 47 inches, and I’d be a fool not to believe him. One of the hallmarks of an expert is being able to process information at a high rate, and Jason blew me out of the water in that respect – at least when it comes to muskie fishing.

Waiting
Our next opportunity came late in the day, sun going down, and the stiff breeze beginning to fail. We had a tremendous take – it set the clicker off right away and yanked the bobber far below the surface. We idled on top of the bobber, and I set the hook, probably too soon and too hard. It was on for a second and then off. I never saw the fish.

Actually fishing for muskie with someone who knows what they are doing was a pleasure. They are certainly intriguing fish and I can absolutely see why people get so eaten up by them. In fact, I have half a mind to make an effort for a few of them sometime down in Kentucky… 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Exploring Pool 3 of the Mississippi River

I'm in the midst of recovering from a cold that forced me to skip out on a day and a half of work and perform at a subpar level all week. That said, I did a little flipping on Waconia today, listened to my Hokies lose badly and made it home before tiring myself out too much to watch the Sox play against a Kansas City team that appears to be headed to the playoffs.

Anyhow, somewhat recently I've spent a little time on Pool 3 of the Mississippi. It is a fascinating place that is a huge pain to fish out of a 20 foot boat with a broken jack plate. I've launched exclusively out of a small ramp in one of the bigger backwaters. While it has the advantage of being close to one of the premier largemouth spots in the pool, it is also a long and uncharted way from the main channel.

The first day I slipped the boat in was frighteningly windy. I idled out of the ramp and directly over to what looked like it could be a decent pocket off the main backwater. I quickly learned that because of the way the backwater lay out, assuming you can't get to stuff was a very safe assumption. I cut the Mercury off and jacked up my trolling motor and attempted to ease to the bank and some beautiful looking pads and wood that sat in about 2-inches of water. I quit pretty quickly and turned around to idle a little further and find some slightly deeper water.



Next stop was a sort of backwater-delta where an offshoot of the main river flowed in. Behind that was probably the biggest and deepest sub-backwater in the area. I eased in and started throwing a ChatterBait not far from where the water dropped off the hardpan of the delta and into the mud of the backwater. I quickly got a bite and then another. Neither hooked up and I swapped to a swimjig in hopes of getting something in the boat. And boom! The next one was in. I edged my way down the break, missed a few more and paused to rig up a light Texas rig. First up was a worm. A few misses later and I swapped to a craw and started putting them in the boat.

I ended up staying in basically one area all day and crushing them in the process. By the end of the day I'd zeroed in on a swimjig configuration that would put them in the boat and my thumb was sore and bloody. First I keyed on a log on the edge of the bank, then just the current, then a nearby patch of pads, then another. I was prepared for the presence of current to be important, but I was not at all prepared for the distinction between completely dead water and water that was stacked with fish. The adage about 90 percent of the fish being in 10 percent of the lake seems to be even truer in rivers.  






The next time I went involved the legendary Kyle Wood. We went back to the glory hole and pretty quickly found that it wasn't the same. We fished around a bit, chucked a variety of baits and left with some nice fish but nothing like I'd seen the first time. A later trip would prove somewhat conclusively that I had burned out a prime area. That said, I still suspect I would return there with a Senko and catch them again. Or perhaps even now, (a few weeks later), with a swimjig.

Anyhow, after giving my largemouth area a decent chance to produce we left it with a few fish biting and cautiously worked our way out to the primary inflow of the backwater. We sampled a few more unproductive or inaccessible areas on the way out and then settled down to fish a completely different kind of current.

We started fishing our way along an island that had current flowing past both sides and slipped into a gap in it and found the fish. The current was flowing off a shallow area with stumps and a particular section, that was perhaps the size of three bass boats, was loaded with smallmouth. We caught them on swimjigs and they absolutely smashed topwaters. The joy and excitement that a smallmouth repeatedly striking a walking bait stirs in me is one of the best pleasures in the world.

We left the area to explore more, not because it was entirely played out, and though we found other fish, we never found a spot with comparable numbers of fish. We did find a few areas that looked like they should have worked, but for whatever reason they didn't.


The third time out, (with Joe this time), I elaborated on the end of the second outing. After a few quick and fairly successful stops at some of my old favorites I again began picking apart some main-river areas and some of the deeper and swifter bits of water flowing into the backwater below the main inflow. I was never able to find the motherlode as I did in earlier trips, but I was able to catch some solid smallmouth and really get a feel for how tight and precise my presentation needed to be when the fish weren't actively chomping.

I'll definitely be back for more. When lightening strikes on the river it can be pretty dang fun. Plus, the river is just a cool place to be even when you aren't catching. The variety of boats going by, playing the current, the potential navigational difficulties and the sheer newness, (to me), of it all makes for a lovely time.