Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Bass Buggin'

 I didn’t get to the lake until three o’clock that afternoon. It’s a lake that sort of fell off my radar, though I don’t know why. I ‘ve enjoyed good fishing in the past but I guess when there’s plenty of water to fish some of the places get lost or forgotten in the shuffle. It’s one of a group of four lakes, all with the same name followed by the unimaginative designation of a number. I pushed my boat into Number Three to cast a half-mile of the rocky south shoreline.   

No need to go far from the dock to start fishing. I took my position up front and dropped the trolling motor in place.  I started with a yellow/red deer hair diver-type fly that looked good to me. A halfhearted hit from a small fish on the third cast seemed like a good sign, and fifteen minutes later I was fighting a good smallmouth that didn’t want to give up. I like fish photos as well as anyone and it was the kind of fish you’d like to have a photo of, but I didn’t have the camera set up like I do for those pics when I’m fishing solo.

Despite the early action, things came to a standstill after that. Moving slowly out from the shore I couldn’t raise another fish. Time to try something else, I lowered the anchor to change flies. You can sit and gaze into a fly box at rows of deer hair, foam, and rubber legs for quite a while, trying to decide what the bass may hunger for. I picked a Dahlberg Diver and was just lifting the anchor when I heard the sound of an approaching outboard motor. 


This is a good-sized lake, over a thousand acres and the west and northern shorelines are heavily developed. I fish the shallow bays and islands around the south end, in the unpopulated boundary of the state park – around Big Toe Island, Ruthies Island, and through the shallow narrows towards Bear Bay. Most anglers head out into the main lake for walleyes and I had to wonder what the heck a boat was doing coming right at me. As the distance closed I recognized the boat and uniform of the conservation officer. He pulled up next to me and introduced himself before asking for my license. Then I showed the PFD I wasn't wearing before he asked about a throwable floatation device. I remembered the boat cushion that's been resting for years at the bottom of the compartment under the rear seat. I opened the lid and pulled out another life jacket and my rainsuit, all the time hoping that cushion was still there. It was and the C.O. informed me that it needed to be out and easily accessible.  

The lawman was friendly and I’m sure he’s heard it all, but I couldn’t resist pointing out that I was alone and if I fell out of the boat, I’d have to climb back in to toss the cushion and then jump back into the lake to use it. He politely chuckled but like I said, he’s heard it before. Then he was interested in my fly-fishing gear and we enjoyed a nice visit before he was off to patrol the rest of the lake.  

It was nearing suppertime, and I was working my way back when the bass exploded on a green foam sort of diver I started tying last year. The fly has no official name – I just call it my guide fly because it’s easy to tie with minimal material. “Bearded Bass Bug” has been suggested. We’ll see.   

Suddenly, I was into them. Smallmouth fight like the dickens, and when they’re enough to fill the net you know you have something. I don’t know how many were landed, but I lost a couple I wish I hadn’t. 

The weather has been stormy and fishing in wind, rain, and lightning is not for me, but the fishing was too good to ignore so I was back a few days later. It started slow with a couple of half-hearted hits from small fish, before a slashing strike from a small pike had me glad for wire bite guards. Most of the hits came when I let the fly land and sit for agonizingly long minutes. An hour or so later I stopped for a coffee break and to change flies. After casting the area, I left the fly on the water while pulling the anchor. I kind of chuckled to myself at the thought of a strike when gripping a handful of anchor rope. Sure enough, a bass hit the fly and spit it out before I could grab my rod. Glad no one saw that! 


Saturday, May 25, 2024

Fishing again...

  I had my knit hat stretched down tight and the hood of my lined sweatshirt pulled up over that. I’d just motored away from the dock and was already wishing for my heavy coat. The water temperature read 49 degrees and the stiff north breeze wasn’t helping. But fishing season was open, and I had some winter-tied bass bugs I couldn’t wait to use. I should have known, considering the weather, what it would be like. A couple of days earlier I’d enjoyed some good luck out of my little jon boat catching pike on a small river. And in my eagerness, along with those new deer-hair bass bugs, thought I could beat the odds. 

There’s something about coming over the hill and spotting the water through the trees that gets the heart pumping. Though it was a beautiful sunny day, the temperature was only 37 degrees when I left my driveway. Twenty minutes later it had risen to forty when I pushed the boat into the lake.  

During the previous weeks I’d spent my time with the chainsaw and brush cutter keeping the home place at least a little bit civilized and checking my trail cameras. There’s plenty of wildlife around here and it’s entertaining to see the deer, fox, coyotes, pine marten, and wolves that pass by. Add the returning variety of songbirds and drumming grouse makes it easy to forget the world’s woes and appreciate life.


 On the water I went straight for a favored rocky bay that's proven itself fine smallmouth bass habitat. I hoped the sun-bathed shoreline warmed the water a little and was hopeful for the yellow-bellied Dahlberg diver I’d tied. I was casting well and enjoying working the fly about every way I could think of – let it sit for long seconds, twitch it, pop it, walk it, strip it into a dive – but after literally pounding the shallows with no hits I should have known the bass weren’t up yet. Smallmouth like water over fifty degrees and 65 is much better. Of course it was too cold, but I wasn’t completely unprepared, so grabbing the other rod and casting to deeper edges with a weighted streamer on sinking line was plan B. Same results. I tried a couple more places that will only get better as warmer weather approaches before I steered the boat into a back bay where a creek empties into it. Rocks and wood in the water looked right and my cast next to the downed tree paid off.  

The bass struck with a splash and a good fight was on. Playing the fish on the rod and turning the boat with the foot-controlled trolling motor has become standard procedure ‘cause I often fish alone. A decent fish can pull the boat where I don’t want it, so pay attention.  

I thought the fish was bigger than it was, early season anticipation I suppose, but still a nice smallmouth that measured a bit under 20 inches. It was the first of the season and I wouldn’t complain to land many more like it. 

I motored into the mouth of the creek and made a cast to the grassy bank. Again, a fish attacked the deerhair with a splash and suddenly things were looking up. When I saw it was a pike, I netted it quickly before it cut my leader. I didn’t want to lose my fly and was glad the fluoro leader held. I often use a wire bite guard but for some reason I shunned it that day.  

My bass bug was working, and my early season casting was fine. After replacing the fluorocarbon tippet I eased along to another target. I wasn’t so lucky when the next pike hit – a short heavy tug and the line went limp. My fly was gone, bit off in a nano-second. A lesson I’ve been taught many times, but obviously haven’t quite learned. 


Thursday, January 11, 2024


 It was the end of Autunm and winter was on the way, but it still took a while to get things put away. The effort was made to keep fly fishing for as long as possible with a late season outing for muskie, and an even later steelhead trip. But finally the rods were slid into their tubes, the boats stored under cover, motors winterized with the thought of staying ahead of the cold and snow; and the shotgun was uncased.

I turns out there was really no hurry. Winter didn’t come. Well, that is, not at its usual time. By Christmas we’d only received a couple of short-lived dustings of snow, and we’d enjoyed one of the longest, and warmest snow-free grouse hunting seasons I’ve ever experienced. And the grouse numbers were up, way up. Social media was bombed with dead grouse proudly lined up on tailgates by about anyone who could lift a shotgun. 

Back in 1970 F. Phillips Williamson put together an anthology for Amwell Press, mostly about duck hunting. Introducing one of the chapters he wrote about guns, “... the one gun still being manufactured that will operate, day in day out, in rain, sleet, snow, dust and salt is the Browning Auto 5, known for years as the Browning Automatic. The Remington Model 11, now long since discontinued, was the only autoloading shotgun that could match it for reliability.” Of course, since then a lot of newer tech and systems have been built into newer autoloaders, but if they are really better is an arguable statement. For some time I sort of snubbed the automatic loading shotgun, except for waterfowl, where shooting heavy loads from the Auto 5 produced little recoil thanks to its operating system.  

A little over a year ago Grandpa’s old Remington Model 11 was dug out and brought out to the gun club. I’ve talked about this gun before, and how I could feel the good vibes shooting this old gun that’s been in the family since 1940. These days I’m mostly a grouse and woodcock hunter and that old 16 gauge is far from the classic grouse gun, but I had choke tubes installed in the full chokebore barrel, and it suddenly became a versatile upland shooter. This past season it’s the only gun I used hunting.  

It's not unusual to see other wildlife when we're out in the woods. One interesting afternoon I was moving down an old trail and came face to face with a moose. In the seconds that followed I tried to remember how close it was to the rutting season, and considered this moose might be looking for trouble. Fortunately, I got a hold of Gabbi before she saw it and snapped a quick photo as we retreated. 

I’m not a young man and I don’t hunt from light to dawn anymore. My setter, Gabbi, isn’t so young either, so though we hunted many days, our hunting consisted of basically working a cover or two with a break in between. This past fall, it seemed enough. I love eating ruffed grouse and I can’t think of any wild game that’s better, but I don’t hunt for food. If I did, I’d likely hunt differently. Besides, we get our groceries at the store and so far, we’ve never gone hungry. Still, those tender grouse breasts, grilled quickly over coals make my mouth water just thinking about them. Our last hunt was a day before the season ended, December 30. Gabbi and I took a short walk through some woods near home. We moved six grouse, four she pointed and two wild flushes in just over an hour. I was offered three reasonable shots, and I was satisfied. 

The snow did come, finally. It started four days ago with a light, drizzly falling that made roads and walkways slippery. It hasn’t stopped yet but last night the temps dropped and we woke to six inches of the fluffy stuff. When I go out to plow the driveway it’ll be a foot deep. If it stops now. Tomorrow is predicted to be below zero temperatures. It was bound to come – I guess winter has arrived.