Monday, May 18, 2015

Finding the groove

After my last day on the ice, I had a few weeks of downtime to wait for the rivers to open and drop.  It was a good opportunity to replenish my steelhead boxes, along with some big meaty brown streamers for the opening day of trout season.

After monitoring the water levels of a few Champlain tribs, I decided it was worth it to take a quick trip after work to one of them.  The water was high, and off-color.  The temps were nearly below freezing and a light drizzle turned into a whiteout by the time I was back in the car - I loved it.  I knew fish would be out of the main flow and more towards the banks, so I focused on getting a good drift by high-sticking the slower sides of the confluences.  A subtle, "bump" followed by a thrashing fish had proved my point.  He dug down for the first minute before turning and running downstream.  If he went too far down, he was a lost cause because of the high flows.  I put the side pressure on him and pointed his nose to the bank and swooped him up in some shallow water.  A nice heavy-bodied steelie! 

Don't let the water clarity fool you in this picture.  There was only about 7" of visibility.

One other fish later on decided he would gator roll his way off my line.  Still, landing one fish brought me plenty of joy - especially high sticking in high and dirty water.  Having brushed the skunk off, I started to prepare for the trout opener the following weekend.

I decided to chase big browns on opening day and was on the road before light.  While I rarely see anybody fish this particular river, it always pays to be there first regardless of where you go.  I had a box full of big, meaty streamers and a few different sink-tips to go along with them.  The flows were high, and very hard to wade, but the clarity wasn't too bad.  I stuck to fishing some of the, "safer" water and was bummed that I couldn't get to a few honey holes I knew were holding fish.  I managed to cover some water, and it didn't take long for a grab from a hungry, broad shouldered brown.  I had the fish right in front of me, (21-23" fish) and right as I pulled my net off my sling to net him, he rolled a few times and swam away - leaving my streamer on the bank.  Well........OK....

I smiled it off, knowing I was on the right track.  After changing spots via car, I bushwhacked my way into a run and kept at it.  Just a few casts later, I thought I was hung on since I hadn't even started to strip my fly in yet.  Come to find out, my snag was moving away from me!  Wide headshakes and a long run lead to heartache.  He ran me right into a snag in the deep pool.  I could feel my line wrapping around something right before the gut-wrenching feel of a, "weightless" fly line slinging back at me.  Cut me off, that tricky bugger..

I tried hard to get another take for the rest of the day, but couldn't make it happen with what water I could access.  I took a mental note of where these fish were hanging, and already had a game plan for the next time I would visit this river!  It was only a matter of time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hard water 2015

While many fly anglers spend the Winter filling up fly boxes and chasing the elusive Winter trout and salmon, I take advantage of the hard water!  Admittedly, I did hit my local river a few times without anything to show for it. 

After getting a new Ice Armor floating suit and a flasher(LX-7) I was eager to test them on the ice.  The first few trips out on the ice like most trips (for me anyway) didn't yield much of a catch.  A few fish here and there, but nothing to brag about. 

My good friend Drew decided it was time to target fish through the ice the year prior and we targeted early walleye to try to get his Master Class entry.  While we didn't find one 25" or bigger, I did jig up a 20"er that I decided to take home for the dinner table!

A small pike, some jumbo yellows and one walleye later and we decided to call it a night.  He decided a Master Class walleye will be a Spring thing, and we called it quits for eyes through the ice.

While he was searching for the very rare whitefish out on the Lake, he ran into one of my favorite species to target through the ice - white perch!  I was home on a brutally cold Saturday when he shot me a text of a white perch and said he's marking a bunch of them.  I loaded the car and met him on the ice less than 45 minutes later.  They were suspended in DEEP water and my LX-7 came in handy.  For white perch, the fishing was slow, but I managed almost a full bucket of nice sized fish.


The perch were on the move, but my friends and I stuck with them for almost a month.  It wasn't a steady bite like late 2014, but some of the fish were BIG!  They were also super fun reeling up in 40-60' of water.
A hog that was over 14"
We were raking in 1-2 buckets of whites per day when we could get out(the temps were dangerously low on some days along with 20+ MPH winds)  Eventually the bite tapered off, and it was time to covering water elsewhere in search of some big yellows and/or whites. 

I took my brother Nate out for a day on the weekend in search of jumbo whites and yellows in some water that produced early last year.  We seemed to have covered almost 2 miles of water before eventually finding fish.  Most of the fish were decent sized yellows with some whites mixed in. Nate was hooting and hollering after pulling up a hog of a yellow that was just over 13"

We didn't quite fill our buckets, but the action was steady and it was a blast!  We ended up leaving that spot with a few hours of daylight left to try to find bigger schools, but we struck out.  Overall, an awesome day out with my brother.

 The next day I decided would be a good day to check out my local river for some steelhead action.  Little did I know, the ice was covering much more water than I thought.

Still, I fished what water I could and enjoyed being on my favorite river.

I got a text from Drew saying he'd been whacking lakers through the ice for a week straight and I immediately wanted in.  Catching lakers through the ice is something I've always wanted to do but never put any effort into learning for some reason.   We headed out that following weekend and he showed me where he'd been getting them, how and on what.  Having a flasher made things 100 times easier, and I was addicted after reeling up the first laker.

It was such a blast reeling up the fish on 4 lb line and a light rod.  Watching it flail around 15' below the clear, black ice was unforgettable!  Drew and I both got into more fish, but the first one was the biggest of the day.

Over the next few weekends, I got the OK from Drew to take my girlfriend and a few others out for lakers to enjoy the fun.

Katlyn and I took a day off of work and were joined by Chris for some laker action.  We walked out to the area we'd been getting them and after showing Katlyn what to do, I started to drill a bunch of holes in the area.  After finishing the second hole, I could hear Katlyn yelling - holding the rod high in the air and reeling.  She was already hooked up! After a lengthy fight, I pulled the laker out through the ice and we all celebrated.  I was so happy for her!

A 28" laker that she decided was going on the dinner plate, hence the blood
The action continued throughout the day, being mostly sporadic.  We were marking a bunch of fish, but only a few would eventually hit.  Chris had his limit by the end of the day, and all of them were over 25"  Katlyn and I had to leave early and I'd only landed a few smaller ones before then.  Still, even the 20" lakers put up a great fight in deep water.  We all had a blast, and I had given Chris the laker bug. 

The following week I took a day off of work again was joined by Chris and Nate.  It was a beautiful day, and the action was HOT!  Nate started the day off right by landing his first laker through the ice, ever!

The action stayed hot throughout the day, and we all ended up using the same lure and presentation for the rest of the day (even for the rest of the year!)

Chris had landed the biggest fish, which were around 30".  We even had some fish that were whacking our jigs right below the ice in 70' of water....we couldn't believe it!  We ended up icing 9 out of about 18 lakers we hooked into while jigging.  I set up half a dozen tipups very close to where we were jigging and didn't get a single flag all day - go figure!

Chris wanted his friend Erik to get a laker through the ice, and since I didn't want to keep blowing up a spot that wasn't mine to begin with, I did some research and looked at navionics on Champlain for a while.  Eventually, I had a spot picked out that looked like it would be a great place for lakers to hang.  The only problem was that access to the ice was very difficult and required a LONG walk......We all met up and dragged our sleds almost 2 miles on the ice to the spot.  After pinpointing where I wanted to be on my Navionics, I drilled a few holes.  After finishing the 5th hole I dropped my jig down the first and all of a sudden had 3 fish show up on my screen, wow!  I started jigging and got hit immediately but missed the hookset.  Two of the fish took off but the one left wasn't going to leave my jig alone.  He chased it up and down for about 10 seconds before whacking it.  We'd been there less than 3 minutes and I was already reeling up a fish, we were mind blown!

A smaller laker, but a very good sign!
 After landing that fish, we were all giddy.  We cut holes zealously and couldn't wait to start jigging.  It didn't take long for us to ice about 7 fish in a few hours with many follows and many others getting off the hook.  The action was the best we'd seen so far all year, but it seemed to have died off by Noon.  We struggled to stay on the fish, and were forced to spread out to hook up.  The fish definitely moved out somewhere, we just didn't know where.  We all walked off the ice with smiles on our faces that day.  We'd hooked into about 15 lakers and iced 7 or 8.  It was a great feeling after picking the spot myself and then doing a 2-mile walk without knowing what was in store for us.  We all took a chance and it paid off big time!

Chris and Erik went back the next day in some crazy wind, but managed to catch some nice lakers, one being over 30" in just a few hours.  They were blown off the lake quickly, but they still had fun.

I decided I would take a drive on the ice to a honey hole for late season yellows.  My buddy Wes and I had fished it a few weeks prior and almost filled out buckets with some nice yellows and a few whites.  They all group up during pre-spawn in deeper water in the bays that time of the year.  The wind was brutal and the cold was just as bad.  Even with my full suit on with handwarmers, I fished out of the side of my car with the heat on almost the entire time - limiting my ability to cover much water.  Still, I found some nice yellows.

Some of the bigger yellows.  13.5", 13.25" and a 13" were the biggest.  Plenty of 12"ers!

I topped off my bucket with jumbos and decided to call it a day.  I was freezing and the wind was relentless.  Never thought I'd be, "glad" to leave a hot hole of yellows.....but the weather was just THAT bad. 

I'd planned on returning to the yellows the following weekend, but I got a text from Wes saying the white perch had moved into the same spot they were in last year.  He took the day off from work and pounded them for an entire day.  A few pictures later, and we were making plans to hit it together for the weekend.  The fish were in 12-18' of water and were constantly on the move with big schools sometimes staying under us for hours.  We sat in his shanty with the heat blaring - living the good life.  The action only slowed a few times throughout the day, and we were filling bucket after bucket...

Chris and his friends joined us later in the day and decided to take a walk over to the even shallower water to see if they were in there as well.  Wes had to call it a day a few hours before sunset, so I decided to haul everything over to see what they were up to.  Erik and his girlfriend Kelly were just leaving.  Chris and his friends were hammering the whites pretty steadily - and they were BIG!  I decided I couldn't pass up the hot action and started fishing with them.  The fish were not only bigger than where I'd come from, but way more aggressive.  I'd filled two buckets up in less than an hour.  I even had to borrow an extra bucket from Chris by the end of the day!  I was packed full....I had no more room for fish!  I walked off the ice, dragging over 150 lbs of fish with a big smile on my face.

Chris and I went back the following weekend after meeting up with someone who'd driven over 7 hours to get into these huge schools of whites we'd been hitting.  The bite was slower and the fish had moved quite a ways but we did end up finding them.  At the end of the day, I had about 4 buckets worth.

The sun was doing quite a number on the ice, and the shores were starting to flood with water.  6" holes were turning into 10" by the end of the day, and my time on the ice was almost over.  Wes took a weekday off a few days later and got his biggest haul ever - over 270 lbs by himself!  I couldn't believe it and took the day off to hit it the next day as my final day on the ice.  I took as many buckets as I possibly could - along with my old Jet Sled Jr in case things got sketchy getting off the ice. 

The action was the hottest I'd ever seen.  I only changed holes half a dozen times until I left.  I had to leave by 2 PM because I was COMPLETELY full!  Every bucket I had was packed full, even the Jet Sled Jr was full of fish.  I was in disbelief.  Definitely the most fish I've ever caught through the ice in one day.  I ended up losing count of fish that were over 12".  They were in 9-11' of water, throughout the entire water column.  At one point I was sight-fishing them 1' under the ice, picking only the biggest.  I didn't even have a need for the flasher because the fish were in so thick. 

I'd filled another bucket after taking this before before being completely packed full. 

Couldn't have had a better last day on the was truly amazing and I loved every second of it.  I'd caught over 250 lbs of fish from 7:30 AM to 2 PM!  While I could have gone out a few more times, I decided not to take a chance and packed away all of my ice gear and prepared my river gear.  2015 will be one of my favorite years on the ice for so many reasons!