Funeral For A Friend

Ok. So the title of this post is quite alarmist. Don’t worry. Nobody I know died. But I did lose a friend. She was a 5 foot 5 inch Berkley Cherrywood light rod paired with a snall Quantum spinning reel. I lost her in the truest sense of the word. I left her behind in a parking lot in my haste to get to work after an unexpectedly late-running fishing trip. I canvased the area the night afterwards, but she was nowhere to be found, which I expected, as it was a high-traffic area. I hope whomever picked her up gives her a good home and treats her well.

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Catch The Ones You Can

A prolonged summer bled right into winter last year, and it feels like winter is only now at the end of April beginning to show itself out. This past winter was a very rough one for me. I came to the realization that I just don’t have tolerance for cold weather anymore. I used to be ok if it was 30 below, as long as it wasn’t snowing. Now, though, I can’t stomach any of it. This past winter I got to experience my first panic attack (not recommended) and my first real taste of depression. Not the “I didn’t get the iPhone I wanted” type of depression, but the actual “I can’t possibly leave this bed” type of depression. The depression that always seemed so dramatic and silly when portrayed in movies and books. I found out it is real and it is horrifying.

But as I said, winter seems to finally be giving way to spring. I can drive with the windows open, I can stow away the snow shovel and the parka, and I can go fishing. Continue reading

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Go Into The Water Part 2

As I mentioned a while back, I have taken a stab at wet-wading. I found another creek near my house, found a DNR study that said it contained smallmouth, and decided to check it out.

I fished it twice this week. Entered at the same point each time, first day I went one direction, next day I went the opposite. This creek is not as deep as the first one I tried out, but it also contains a lot more rocks, timber and holes. The first thing I noticed in the first fishable pool I encountered were carp. I immediately regretted not bringing any bread, but the study I read showed no carp in the location I was fishing. Guess that is what I get for basing my tackle choice on old reconnaissance.

Can you spot the two carp?

Anyway, after a few minutes of trying to trick them into taking a feathered jig, I pressed on, in search of willing dance partners. I had my Cabin Creek 1/32 oz pop eye feather jig tied on. It’s tough to cast with 6lb mono and a 5’6″ rod, but the creek is small, shallow, and since I was wading, distance wasn’t important. I could walk near enough to the spot I wanted to cast to, and either drop it in vertically or flip it out a few feet. It was simple fishing, and it provided plenty of fish for me.

Beautiful orange bottoms on these sunfish.

Smallest mouth.

Big fish in a small pond

I didn’t keep a running tally of how many fish I caught. There were a ton of bluegill and green sunfish, a few creek chugs (big ones) and 3 or 4 smallies, most of them able to fit snugly in the palm of my hand.

Traversing upstream I encountered a lot of obstacles, all of which made me lament not having better equipment for wading. The combination of Crocs and basketball shorts are nice in that they are light, easy to clean and dry quick, but when it comes to climbing over submerged rocks covered in moss, slick tree trunks or climbing up a muddy bank, it can get dicey. If I had hip or chest waders, I could maneuver under a lot of the stuff that I am forced to bypass or climb over.

The traversal was worth it, though. Not because I found a great honeyhole full of giant smallies…but just because I felt miles away from civilization, even though I was not only 5 minutes from I-90, but because I was also only 5 minutes from my home. It is picturesque and quiet, two of the things I value most when I am fishing.

My crap camera doesn’t do this view justice.

One of the lessons I have learned in my limited experience wading is to travel light. For my second trip, I brought the same feather jig and one small bare hook to try and catch a carp. After the carp were ambivalent to my offerings, I headed downstream. There I found a lot more twists and turns, some stronger current, some deeper holes and much more negotiable terrain. Also found the same slew of greenies, gills, chubs and small smallies. Behind some downed timber at the end of an inside bend, out of the current, in deep, stained water, I found this guy.

CONTRAST

All in all, I have really taken a liking to fishing these small creeks. Sure, it would be nice if I could hook up with a keeper every now and then, but with the levels down and being this far upstream the river, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. I still haven’t stepped into the Fox yet. I don’t know if I can/will until I can get out there with someone else more experienced. I also will have to sacrifice an old pair of boots when I do. Clear creeks where I can look at each place I plan to make footfall are sufficient for Crocs, but I’ve lost enough lures in the Fox to know that if I step on a treble hook in Crocs, it can mean a one-way ticket to tetanus town, and that’s not somewhere I want to go.

P.S. Is anyone else freaked the fuck out by how quickly crawfish can swim?

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“It’s weird to think that women just used to wear dresses around the house.”

These are the most difficult days for me. A Monday morning at the beginning of the month after a busy, fun weekend. I’ve spent the bulk of my morning at work draining the battery on my phone almost to 0. Playing Router Aqua. Bullshitting on Twitter and Facebook. I went out to my car and cleaned/organized my tacklebox and did some reel maintenance. We have had almost absolutely no work come back to us and what orders we have seen have been small and easy. Days like today, when I could barely drag myself out of bed and then could barely drag myself off the couch to get here are the worst because I know at home I have a beautiful daughter, wife, dog and cat presumably going about their business, having a nice day. They will probably take the dog for a nice long walk and then go swimming, where they will have a nice poolside lunch in the shade. Then they will come home and play with the now-riled up dog, perhaps watch a movie together, play games, do some art project…the point is, they can do whatever they like at home. Meanwhile, I am stuck here at work, away from them, for what feels like no good reason because I literally have nothing to do but sit around and hope we get orders at some point.

Days like today, when the dog woke my wife up at 6 am and she elected to take her out, letting me get a full extra hour of sleep because I have to go to work. My daughter doesn’t get up until after I am at work. I have to get up either way. She could have easily just kicked me in the dick, told me to take out the dog and go to work so she could sleep in. But she didn’t.

Then, when I finally shamble downstairs, she has not only fed the dog out and taken her out for her morning poop and done her usual morning “chores” of dishes and cleaning catboxes, she is kind enough to wait until I come down to make coffee so I can have a fresh cup. She is kind enough to bring it to me with a slice of pound cake as I sit on the couch and fight off dog licks while she remains in the kitchen, cleaning up the French press and coffee grinder.

Then, after a full day of caring for and entertaining the dog and our rambunctious 5 year old daughter while I am at work, she will find the energy and patience to cook dinner so when I get home and reassume my position on the couch, I will have a hot, delicious meal. This is the only time on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays where I get to spend a precious hour or two with the whole family, because when I come back late at night, my daughter is already in bed (hopefully) sleeping.

After I leave again for job number 2, she will do more dog walking, more picking up dog poo, more games and arts and crafts with the 5 year old. The cat will probably puke at some point and she will clean it. The daughter will get a bath and then want to play for another hour or two before bed.

A million things will transpire at home while I am at work lifting boxes or scrubbing toilets, and my wife will take care of all of them. Yet she still somehow finds time to make me coffee in the morning and dinner at night, even though I explicitly tell her she doesn’t have to do such things. It’s 2012. I don’t want her to feel like I expect her to be Laura Petrie or June Cleaver, because I don’t, but I also want her to know that, when she does those Laura Petrie and June Cleaver things, that they don’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Waking up to coffee, coming home to a clean house and a hot meal…these are not things I have ever asked for, but I get them. I am thankful and I am lucky.

So, thank you babe. You’re one in a million.

P.S. What’s for dinner?

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Fishin’ With CB

The internet and me…we have an odd relationship. I will forgo the “WebTV genesis” of my internet life and just quickly come to the point that I have made a lot of friends over the internet, many of whom I have become close friends with IRL, not just via Twitter and/or messageboards.

Last night, I had the pleasure to meet and fish with someone whom I befriended on the internet. Chris Beckstrom, the man behind CB Fishes, shared with me his secret pond (a honeyhole so hole-like I actually drove right by it and had to turn around). We shared some conversation, we caught some bass and had a nice little time.

And, just now, as I hopped over to his blog to copy the link to insert it in the intro above, I noticed he has already written much of what I was going to write. And since I forgot to upload the pictures I took to WordPress and/or Dropbox last night and can’t access them from work, I will just drop another link to his post here┬áso you can see the photographic evidence and read his much more measured, considered words.

It is obvious that the same time and effort Chris puts into his blog also goes into fishing, too. We talked about our experiences learning the ropes, the evolution of our attitudes, approaches and theories in this relatively short time we have been serious about the sport.

Most importantly for me, though, was seeing Chris catch fish on one of his homemade crankbaits. I started carving baits out of scrap pine I found laying at work, but aside from giving one a bitching firetiger paint job, I have yet to get one in the water. Witnessing his lures being taken by nice pond bass is enough motivation for me to get off my ass and not only get my baits wet, but get cracking on some new designs.

All in all, it was really cool to meet another internet friend in person. Being able to chat online and meeting up to fish removes a the huge, awkward “introduction” conversation barrier which has always prevented me from making friends the way most people do. Even though it was the first time I was able to shake his hand, we were able to launch right into conversations like we had known each other a long time.

Thanks for showing off your secret spot, CB. I will keep it under wraps. Hope we can fish it again soon…maybe with one of my homemade cranks.

Seems like it is going to be another slow day at work…where’d I leave that boxcutter I’ve been whittling with…

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Go Into The Water

I don’t know what officially, meteorologically or scientifically defines a drought. My definition has always been “when I hear white suburban men complaining about watering their lawns, it is a drought.” Since I have begun fishing, though, water levels of my local fisheries has become the best indicator, and both my local pond and my usual spots on the Fox River are definitely at the lowest levels I have seen over the past few years.

Now, I still haven’t figured out what that means for the river. True, I am starting to see that lower levels pushes the fish from the slack to the current, but I have years of data to acquire and compile before anything becomes second nature to me on the river.

The pond, which I had been neglecting through this extensive rainless period, started to intrigue me. I knew that if the water level had dropped as much as it had on the river, that meant the water temperature would also be going up and, in turn, might mean more active largemouth. The spawn is over, we have had 4 or 5 straight days of 90 degree weather with cloudless skies and I guessed there would be a lot more exposed shoreline and a lot more underwater vegetation, and I hoped this meant hungry, aggressive bass.

So I decided to head to the pond on my lunchbreak yesterday. 12:30 PM. Bright sun directly overhead. Few clouds. Wind gusting between 20 and 30 MPH. You know…ideal fishing conditions. I was certainly correct on the shore. Standing on a now dried out bed where I was catching bluegill a couple of moths ago was a bit weird, but also gave me a new angle at some of the known largemouth hangouts.

I’ve mostly been using the baitcaster lately, simply just to get the hang of using it. The thing is cheap and not in great condition, but, my hope is that someday when I have the money to buy a nice one, I won’t have any problems learning to use it. I tied on one of my largemouth wormhooks. I have been crimping down the barbs on a lot of these hooks I have been using at the pond. Aside from them being obviously better for the fish and much easier to unhook, my hope is that it will also help me to learn better hooksetting and how to play a fish better. I have definitely lost a few fish and senkos this way, but it also makes each fight a little more of a valuable learning experience. Plus, I am only using these hooks at the local pond where, until yesterday, I assumed any bass I lost was worth losing. Not only because I assumed they’re all cookie cutter carbon copies of the same clean, 12 inch bass I always seem to catch there, but because I know I would be back to catch it another day.

I threw on a green pumpkin Strike King Shim-E-Stick and begun casting. Had one, lost it on a jump. Had another, pulled the hook out of it’s mouth and lost the worm. Reaching for another one of the same plastic worm, I decided, for fun, to throw on the bubblegum pink senko that had been given to me by a coworker. I had caught a fish or two on this color before, and given how aggressive the bite had been in the first 15 minutes, I figured it was worth a shot.

First cast went down at the edge of the submerged weeds that marks the barrier between a shallow bay and the deeper part of the pond. I quickly felt two small taps followed by a hard slam. I did my best Bill Dance impression and made a big, theatrical hookset. I began to retrieve. As soon as I got that fish out of the weeds and into open water, she began to pull in such a way that I actually verbalized “holy shit!” to my audience of nobody. I briefly thought it might be a big carp, as I doubted any bass in this pond could pull that hard, but I also have not seen a single carp in there and also had my doubts as to whether a carp could get it’s mouth around a big 3/0 hook.

Rod tip doubled over pretty well, I tensed up, realizing this was not the ordinary bass. I suddenly got very nervous about that crimped barb. I got very nervous about the weeds I knew she would dive into when I got her close to shore. As expected, she buried in deep in the weeds and I pulled up a clump of vegetation that looked so big that I thought I had lost her. Once I pulled some of the weeds back, though, it became apparent that it was, in fact, mostly fish on the end of my line, not weeds. I knew immediately this was my personal best largemouth. A big fatty that I guessed to be around 16 inches. It was not until I hoisted it up that I felt the weight of what was easily a 3lb fish. It was not until I lipped her and got almost my entire fist into her mouth that I took a better look. This fish was pushing 18 inches long. This was a real, proper lunker. And she wasn’t caught by happenstance while trolling a crankbait in a stocked lake. This was earned, and it felt great. After a few photo-ops and a whole lot of whoopin’ and hollerin’ I returned her back, hoping we could dance again some other day.

Happy with that outcome, I headed back to work to finish out the day. Knowing it was unlikely to top the feat I had already managed at the pond, I decided to make a trip to a small creek that I have been meaning to explore on my way to my second job later that evening. A 2002 DNR electrofishing study of this creek revealed alarmingly high numbers of smallmouth at one particular location. I had stopped at this spot last week sometime, landing a smallmouth on my first cast. Recon showed that hitting that spot from shore was going to be extremely difficult, though, so I decided I would put on the knee-high galoshes I commandeered from my dad and walk through the shallows along the shore instead of fighting the thick forest of trees and thorny bushes that comprise the land surrounding the water.

This would be a first for me. I have been trying to get myself a pair of waders for a long time, but so far the appropriate funding has escaped me. Things keep coming up that postpone the purchase. As the postponements have worn on, I have seen more and more people “wet-wading” in the Fox. That is, wading without the aid of hip or chest waders. It seems simple enough, albeit perhaps unnerving and messy. But, since this is a relatively small creek and I know the water to be shallow and clear, I thought it would be a decent place to get my feet wet, so to speak.

It was within about my 10 first tentative steps when I became aware of the fact that “hey these galoshes clearly have holes in them because they have already filled up with water.” Now that I was pot-committed, I figured I would just try my best to keep the water below the bottom of my shorts, as I was going directly from the creek to work and, of course, was not smart enough to bring a change of clothes. That, of course, did not work so well either, but I was able to stay mostly dry. Certainly dry enough to get through work.

I caught some fish. A few smallmouth, sunfish and creek chubs. But this adventure wasn’t really about catching the fish as much as it was about my first time wading. In an effort to cut down on increasing verbosity, I’ll bullet point some of the things I feel like I learned, as well as the highlights.

  • Be deliberate. I am an oaf. I trip and fall a lot and dry land, so I knew I would have to move slow and pay attention or else I would end up quite wet. The galoshes were big and clumsy and, as clear as the water was, looking down through water distorts depth perception quite a bit, so I made sure to secure each foot before moving the next one. It paid off, as I didn’t fall once.
  • Be patient. Walking through a muddy, silty, rocky creek disturbs the terrain, obviously, and it is important to find the spot I want to cast from, stand still as possible and let everything settle again. The fish, surprisingly, weren’t frightened off by my presence as long as I wasn’t clodding about.
  • Be observant. It isn’t just as simple as getting in the water and casting to the places I couldn’t cast to from shore. Once in the water, the viewing angle changes in such a way that I noticed spots I didn’t even see from shore. This is not just limited to deeper pools, but things like undercut banks and submerged structure creating current disturbances below the surface. Also, seeing the fish swimming around, often within feet of me, gave me some insight as to where they position themselves in relation to current and structure, which will have an impact on how I approach fishing from the water in subsequent trips.
It was an interesting experience, one I hope to do a lot more of. Yes, I still would rather have waders, I think, but until such time that I can afford a pair, I think I will explore more water without them. Maybe even the Fox River this weekend. With the current and levels so low, it would probably be a good time for an inexperienced and ill-equipped person like myself.

NOTE: This was started earlier in the week and written over the course of a few days, so days that refer to “yesterday” are actually referring to Monday or Tuesday. I don’t even remember, man. I am too lazy to go change it all.

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Vacation.

Generally, I like to start out all my posts with an insane amount of background details as a means of setting the stage for the meager happenings that I like to pass off as interesting. In this case, I absolutely could do just that, but, if I begin down that road, I will likely never reach the conclusion I intend to set up, and every bit of distant past I conjure up in my costs me valuable bits of the information I just stored on my brain hard drive from this weekend, and it is this weekend I intend to document, so here is the Cliffs Notes version:

My whole family has never gone on a vacation together before.

I haven’t been on a vacation of any kind since my honeymoon.

My wife has never been to (nor really ever wanted to be in) the south.

My daughter has never been on a road trip.

Read on if you want the unabridged version.

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