Friday, September 9, 2016

Feelin' low

As much as I like casting topwater flies for bass, sometimes I just gotta try something under the surface. The reason could be as simple as what works in certain situations, though I wonder if the bass are taking poppers wouldn’t they as readily take a streamer? I mean, when the guys and I are drifting a river we almost always start out with floating bass bugs and if those aren’t working someone will likely tie on a streamer and put up with the inevitable remarks about giving up and going to the lowly bait fly. But if the fish suddenly start taking subsurface it’s hard not to make the switch.

Another reason is that streamers are fun to tie and like all flies when we make that final whip finish we sit back with anticipation and think “now this thing will catch fish!” So we use ‘em.

Personal reasons had me traveling to Duluth recently, but somehow managing to leave home early enough to spend just a little time at the Cloquet River near where it runs under the highway. It was on purpose that I spent “just a little time” on the river, allowing myself about an hour to fish. That would keep me close to the vehicle – any more than that and I’d probably find myself well down the river and the hike back would make me late for meeting who I was supposed to meet.

The Cloquet is rocky thing and wading gets pretty taxing on a lot of it. Round slippery boulders and a good current keep most anglers on shore or in boats. Floating is the way to go, actually, as you don’t have to go far from the bridges to get in some scenically remote county that’s largely under-fished. It’s a diverse river, also, and one can catch walleyes, crappies, catfish, and the occasional brown trout, as well as the smallmouth bass that I was after. I’ve never caught or seen a pike below Island Lake, but little hammer-handle pike have been hooked in the upper Cloquet when I was trying for brook trout.  

I drove through a rain storm and was ahead of it when I pulled onto the gravel frontage road and parked at a familiar little opening off the road. A few drops of rain were falling by the time my waders were pulled on and I stepped into the river. I had an almost new sink-tip line on my reel that was used only once to catch a couple of Montana rainbows. I figured this would be a good time to swing one of my hairball leeches across and down. I’d tied those hair leeches in pink and chartreuse for last year’s Alaskan salmon and the chartreuse looks like a bass taker to me. I’m not so sure about the pink.

The wind was picking up and the storm was on its way. I worked my way downstream casting out and up and letting current swing the fly in an arc until it was straight downriver. The wading was slow and careful through the rocks, some too large to step over so I’d short step around them. The plan worked and in the hour fished I landed five smallies and lost a couple more. No, they weren’t trophy size, but bent the rod nicely and were a lot of fun. And that’s what it’s all about. The storm hit just as I got in the car. Nice.

A couple of days later I had the boat on the big lake north of here. The early morning calm found me casting deerhair bugs in a weedy bay where a few decent largemouth provided the excitement. By the time I got out to the points and humps I wanted to check for muskie and smallmouths the wind was really kicking up. The trolling motor was a pain to use out in the open and it took both anchors to hold in position. Anyone close enough to see would have wondered if I was trying to cast or attempting to lasso myself. It was hopeless in that wind and whitecaps, so I ducked behind an island and found a rock reef to cast to. A white streamer along the lines of a Murdoch minnow worked for a couple of smallmouth.

Still on the streamer kick, I got to a little lake early one morning and paddled my canoe into the back bay where I’ve had luck on bass and bluegills. It was a beauty of a morning, calm and cool. The shoreline was choked with weeds and lily pads as it would be this late in the summer, so I eased the canoe out from the edges of the weeds, anchoring now and then to fan cast an area. A conehead chartreuse bugger was working when the strangest thing happened. I made a cast to edge of the pads and let the fly sink for a few seconds. Then I made one strip and the line broke! The fly line – clean in two. Almost as if snipped with a scissors. I grabbed the loose end before it disappeared up the guides and pulled it in before the fly snagged the bottom. Then I looked at the line and wondered. That line was a good one made by a known company and expensive. And I supposed it’s been abused. I used that line on big fish in Alaska, took a couple of muskies and all kinds of bass. It’s also been wrapped around all kinds of boat equipment and stepped on, sometimes with studded boots. The funny thing is I clean my lines a couple of times a season and never saw or felt a knick or cut. I’d caught a number of fish with that line in the previous weeks and a couple that morning. It finally snapped when I gave it a strip, a simple strip with no weight on it and it just parted. Man, I gotta take care of this stuff.

So I tied a little blood knot in it and caught a nice bass two casts later.

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