Monday, January 24, 2011

Ice-Fishing Big Creek Lake, 1/22/2011

My buddy Jay called me up on Saturday, asked if I wanted to go ice-fishing.  He had hurt his back the previous week drilling holes in the ice with his hand auger.  I have a hand-auger too...and if I went, I would need to drill a few holes for him.  If you haven't tried it, drilling holes in the ice with a hand auger is hard work when the ice gets over 8" thick.  Plus, its motions you don't normally use, so your body doesn't know how to do them properly without hurting itself.  That being said, we've been doing it for years, be we certainly aren't in our 20's anymore!
Jay wanted to go to Big Creek, an 800+ acre lake about 20 minutes away.  Although I have had some good days ice-fishing there over the years...the past 2 years have NOT been kind to me there, so I hadn't planned to go there anytime soon.  Jay likes Big Creek, though, and he knows some places to go that sometimes produce well.  I say "sometimes produce", because Big Creek is notorious for "good one day, nothing the next".
Since I'm writing a report, obviously I said "yes"!
We got to the lake around 2:15pm I think, parked, unloaded, and pulled our sleds/shacks across the snow-covered ice to the far side of the lake.  We had barely left the near shore when I spotted a couple deer up bank of a steep ravine on the far side of the lake.  I watched them as we walked nearer, and soon they couldn't take it anymore and took off.  There must have been over a dozen there that I hadn't been able to see until they moved!
Jay had his handheld GPS out, and zeroed in on his saved waypoints.  He cleared snow from a couple spots and said, "Drill here and here."  While I drilled, he located a couple other spots and had me drill there as well.  These 2nd pair of spots seemed to be what he was looking for, and we we marked fish, so we set up and started fishing.
Jay quickly caught 2 bluegills and a small walleye.  He lost the first fish up at the hole.  He claimed it was a bluegill that was too big to fit up the 6" diameter hole I'd drilled.  NICE FISH!
I switched to a jigging spoon tipped with a waxworm, and soon I started catching fish too.  We eventually made short moves of about 4' each, trying to zero in on the "spot on the spot".
It was really fun, I caught about a dozen nice bluegills up to 9", most averaged around 8-8.5"...and I also landed 3 small walleyes.
Later in the afternoon, I was getting a lot of good hits, but kept missing them.  I counted at least 12 strikes in a row that I missed!  I don't know if they were striking short, were small fish that couldn't get the hook in their mouth, or my reflexes weren't firing when they should.
We fished until about 5:15, then packed up and headed back for the car.  Pulling our sleds up the steep grade towards the parking lot was KILLER, at least to me.  Apparently I could use some physical conditioning!

Anyway, here's some of the fish I caught:

And here's one of the little 10" walleyes.  I suspect these were stocked by the DNR earlier this Fall.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fishing for “Under-utilized fish” Species in 2010.

Have you ever caught fish during a fishing outing that you usually leave out of the conversation when your friends ask you about what you caught?  Some fish just have a bad rap.  Some words used to describe them are "rough fish", "trash fish", "junk fish", "nuisance species".  More recent politically-correct verbage is "under-utilized fish".
I like this terminology better. It is certainly more accurate. The reason for something being underutilized is usually that people don't have an accurate or adequate understanding of something. This is often the case with many of these fish species.

Sometimes I catch these underutilized fish species while targeting other fish, or while using non-species specific techniques.  But sometimes I target them intentionally.  This can be VERY fun and often quite challenging.

Here's some of these species that I was fortunate to tangle with in 2010:

Freshwater Drum will hit bait and lures, and often put up an excellent but usually short-lived fight. 

Channel Catfish aren’t completely underutilized. Baitfishing for them is very popular, but not many specifically target these predators with lures and flies. Very stong fighters once hooked!

Grass Carp…I’ve only caught them on fly-fishing gear, which is challenge and often frustrating. I haven’t tried baitfishing for them yet. Excellent fighters once hooked, they don’t give up.

Common Carp are another excellent challenge on flies and lures, but they can be caught without bait or snagging!

Shortnose Gar are aggressive predators, but their bony jaws are difficult to penetrate with a hook. Fly-fishing gear with “nylon rope flies” is an excellent way to catch these fish, and sightfishing for them can be very exciting.

Yellow Bass are often considered an “undesirable species”, since they can quickly become overpopulated in lakes and reservoirs. There are many ways to catch these fish.

River Carpsucker…this one was accidentally foul-hooked, not uncommon when fishing with lures near the bottom.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 - Lessons Learned in Warmwater Fly Fishing

In reviewing the ups and downs relating to my warmwater fly-fishing adventures of 2010, here are some things I learned...and wanted to post here so I don't FORGET.

-Springbrook Wunder: Dale, a local fellow fly angler (and friend) with knowledge, personality, and fly-tying skills I very much admire, has been showing me this pattern for a few years as being good for crappies. I had tried it on occasion, but not very often. Well, I finally DID give it a solid effort this Fall, and the results were absolutely excellent! Depending on the depth and aggressiveness of the crappies, I used this both with and without a strike detector (Thingamabobber).  This pattern has worked very well for me in a number of color combinations, including (body/tail colors) red/chartreuse, chartruese/white, pink/white, all chartreuse, and gold/natural grizzly.  I used 1/80th and 1/100th oz jigheads.  Both worked equally well.  I think for the various uses of this pattern, I will probably stick with the 1/80th oz heads once my micro jighead supplies run out.

-Strike Detectors: Finally actually tried using these, and had definite success. I feel this is a worthwhile addition to my repertoire. I like the 2 smallest sizes of Thingamabobbers. I plan to try these in a few more situations in the coming open-water season.

-Fishing deeper: Due to improved water clarity in some places I fish, I experienced more difficulty in catching fish on my favorite shallow-water presentations this year. For crappies especially, fly patterns that dropped deeper in the water column helped a great deal, and I plan to use these more in the coming year. Specific patterns that did really well for me were “microjig” fly patterns such as the Springbrook Wunder, small Clouser Deep Minnows tied with craft fur, and Crappie Candy.

One thing I want to explore more for 2011 is using sink-tip lines for fishing a local good-sized river. I expect it will be a steep learning curve for me, and I expect to lose a good number of flies to the bottom of the river, but it will be wonderful to find some success with those fish. Hopefully it will allow me to add some of the species to my “Fly Fishing Life List” that I’ve been thinking about lately.

-White Bass: I didn’t use fly gear very often on the local reservoir, but when I did, the fly pattern that worked best for me this year was a Deceiver.

In a previous year, I tried Deceivers with NO success, and found Clousers to work best. The obvious point is to try different things until you find what the FISH want. Patterns you have confidence in certainly help you catch fish much of the time…but not always!

I also had plenty of White Bass strikes on foam topwaters such as Blados’ Crease Fly, but for some reason hook-ups were difficult. White bass often strike at the head of the fly, so I feel they were just missing the hook. At any rate, White Bass are super-aggressive hitters and excellent fighters….a perfect match for fly gear when they are in shallow waters.

-Crappies: I caught more crappies this year than ever before, and was by far the species I caught most often in 2010. One public pond that produced well the previous 2 years did NOT produce well for me this year. Fortunately a 2nd local public pond that I had been ignoring came through with some excellent crappie action late in the season.  Although I tipped Ben on the location, his RESULTS are what encouraged me visit this pond this Fall.

-Largemouth Bass: Most of my biggest bass were caught in the first month after ice-out, which was from about mid-March to mid-April. After that, the smaller bass got more active.

-Shortnose Gar: Caught a few of these this year. Rope flies worked really well to entice them to bite. The jury is still out on how long to wait to try to entangle their teeth in the nylon, and whether singing the ends of the loose strands so they melt together improves catch rates or not.  BIG kudos to my friend Ben, who made all the difference between my thinking about flyfishing for gar, and actually getting on the water and making it happen this year!

This is sight-fishing for sure…more like hunting. You don’t cast until you see the fish and get into position. In contrast, much of my bass, bluegill and crappie fishing is completely blind fishing…just casting into likely areas and watching the line during the retrieves for strikes.

-Carp: Fished under a ripe mulberry tree and caught a few carp, missed several others. This is really fun and I hope I manage to time it right again this coming year. I want to try some new “mulberry fly patterns”.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Warmwater fly-fishing around Central Iowa

I love to catch fish. Iowa isn't exactly the Fishing Capital of the World for any species, and certainly not any of the "glamour" species like Salmon, Steelhead, and the like. But there IS species diversity hereabouts. The NE corner of the state has some very good trout streams. Its too hard for me to drive past hundreds of miles of other good fishing water to get to that, though, so its still on my wish-list.

Here in the middle of the state, we have warmwater rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. I think its probably true that most of us satisfy our fishing urges by utilizing whatever fish species are close to home.'s a sampling of what is available local to me. These are all fish I caught with fly-fishing gear in 2010:

Largemouth Bass:

Common Carp on a boa yarn "mulberry" fly!

There are 2-3 ponds within 30-minute drive that are stocked seasonally with Rainbow Trout:

Hybrid Sunfish:

Channel Catfish will hit a variety of fly patterns, especially after dark:

Shortnose Gar...more like hunting, really, but very fun!


White Bass:


Grass Carp:
Green Sunfish:

There are others, of course. There's Redear Sunfish in the lower 1/3 of the state, Smallmouth Bass in a few streams nearby, hybrid "Wipers"... I just didn't get any of those this year. Once I figure out how to catch some other species on fly gear, I'll add them too!