Summer Heat, Algae Bloom, where are the bass?

After my offshore trip, I’ve been looking for a chance to do a little early morning bass fishing before school begins. Actually, it has begun for me as I taught 2 days of computer training to incoming freshmen and I’ve had a week of percussion camp. Although camp hours are in the afternoon and evenings, I’ve been too sore or exhausted to get up early enough to catch the morning feeding spree. 

That changed this morning as I crawled out of bed at 5:30. I’m thankful that the days are beginning to get shorter as a month ago, that wouldn’t have been early enough. I snuck quietly out the house so I didn’t wake Duke, my son’s 10-week-old lab, got my gear together, and began the two-block walk to the neighborhood lake.

No sooner had I got on the water, I noticed schools of shad working the banks. The schools weren’t as large as those from earlier this summer. I guess the bass have reduced the population but that’s life in the ecosystem. The surprising thing was, the shad were able to do their thing without any bass chasing them. I found that quite odd. Then all of a sudden, it was like someone flipped a switch. There were explosions along the bank as bass were targeting these schools of baitfish. I didn’t know whether to throw my weedless frog popper or my shad fly.  I did both and I got three blowups on the popper without a hookup.

After about a half hour of futility, I decided that my weedless popper may also be fish-less. Instead of cutting the weed-guards off I just decided to tie on another popper the same size. Immediately, I got my first hookup, a small, but chunky bass. I continued to catch and release and ended up landing 6 bass before 7 AM. 

The largest bass (probably around two-and-a-half pounds) was an interesting catch. I saw a snake chasing some shad around some lilies. I watched as the snake turned its interest to my popper. I teased it and worked it to my kayak so I could see what kind of snake it was. When it got real close to my kayak and about to eat, (I really did NOT want to catch that thing) I moved the frog away from it very quickly. That’s when the bass exploded on it (about two feet from my kayak). I don’t know who was more startled. The snake or me!  Well after several spectacular jumps I landed the bass. 

It was a beautiful, peaceful, and productive morning. In my haste to get out the house, I forgot to bring my camera (sorry no pictures here) or my forceps (glad I didn’t gut-hook any fish).

 

Doc’s Summer Ceviche` Recipe

            1.5
 pounds fresh mild fish, snapper, redfish, or drum

            5
 limes (just under 1 cup of juice)

            1/4
 cup purple onion (or vidalia), chopped

            2 
jalapeño peppers, chopped finely (more or less to taste)

    1
 cup, fresh tomato, chopped into cubes about 1/4″ or a bit bigger

            1
 cups cucumber, chopped into cubes about 1/4″ or a bit bigger

            1
 cup watermelon, chopped into cubes about 1/4″ or a bit bigger (mango may be substituted for watermelon)

            4 
tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

            salt and pepper

 

  1. Cut fish into flattened cubes, roughly 1/4″ on a side. Mix in a bowl (do not use an aluminum bowl) with the limejuice, onion, pepper, and salt (to taste). Transfer fish mixture to a plastic sealable bag and place in refrigerator to cure while you prepare the rest. Total cure time should be about 15 minutes, turning the bag every 5 minutes to make sure all fish pieces are coated with the limejuice.
  2. While the fish cures, combine the tomato, cucumber, watermelon, and cilantro in a bowl. Add some salt and pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly.
  3. After the fish is cured (all outside surfaces should be white and appear “cooked;” the fish should be sushi-quality), transfer it along with the lime mixture to the final serving bowl. Feel free to hold back some of the lime juice, which may seem excessive. If you prefer to be more cautious, you may cure the fish for a longer time in the limejuice in the fridge.

Pour the tomato mixture onto the fish and stir gently but thoroughly to combine well. Serve immediately, with restaurant quality nacho chips (I like the thick ones).

7:12:14 ceviche

Shoulda, woulda, coulda…

The title of this report says it all…well almost. I went down to Forcheon with a good buddy of mine and the plan was to fish out of his big boat in the Gulf for mangrove snapper and maybe some chicken dolphin. I have never caught snapper or dolphin on a fly rod so I was pretty amped up to give it a try. After some great suggestions from renowned author, Pete Cooper, I tied a few flies that looked like some of the baitfish we were going to be using and was ready to catch a new species or two on my fly rod.

7:12:14 offshore flies

We were greeted Saturday morning with a few squalls off of Belle Pass but we headed east and skirted around them. The first rig we hooked up to produced a couple of Spanish Mackerel, a few hardtails, a some very hungry sharks. The water was pretty dirty and thoughts of catching fish on my fly rod quickly faded into the murky water that seemingly contained only very mean, toothy critters that were definitely not going to be on that evening’s dinner menu.

We decided to head ten miles south to another set of rigs that had been productive for my buddy a week earlier. The water was noticeably cleaner when we pulled up to this rig (about 90 feet deep) and one of our guys quickly hooked up on the fish we were targeting, a mangrove snapper. We were using live shrimp at the time and the fish wouldn’t touch any of the cut bait (Spanish sardines) or pogies (menhaden) we were offering. For a while, it was very exciting. If we cast a live shrimp anywhere near a leg of the platform and let the bait drop around 20 feet, we were sure to get a hookup on almost every cast. Pound for pound, I think a mangrove snapper is one of the strongest fighting fish in the sea.

The five of us began loading up the ice chest with some prime table fare. I personally had a lot of big fish break me off on my medium light rod with a Calcutta reel. When a mangrove snapper eats, it usually high tails is back to the rig. If hooked and allowed to do so, it can use the barnacles on the rig to cut your line like a razor blade. So, when you get a hookup, you have to get to the back of the boat quickly to pull the fish away from the rig. Then, you’ve got to get it on the boat before the sharks could eat it. This made for some fun, but challenging fishing.

At around 10 AM, with around 35 fish in the ice chest, DCIM100GOPROI decided to try to catch one on my fly rod. I knew it was going to be a real challenge because the strongest saltwater fly rod I own is an 8 wt, which is too flimsy a rod to be able to horse a mangrove out from under its safety under an oil rig. Be that as it may, I was determined so I tied on a clouser minnow with a bit of weight on it. I was fishing with about a 15-foot leader of 20-pound fluorocarbon when I got my first strike. The fish hit my fly like a freight train and I wasn’t able to horse it back to the boat before it cut my leader like a hot knife through butter.

I tied on another fly and tried again. This time, I got a hookup but I could tell it wasn’t a mangrove. I never saw that fish before it pulled off but I think is was a hardtail and the hardtail got eaten off my line by a shark before I was able to land it.

I wish I could say that I had the patience to continue to fish with my fly rod, but the morning was getting late and hot and the rest of the crew was ready to call it a day with a total of 39 mangrove snapper and one almaco jack.

7:12:14 dock shot

I was OK with that decision because I knew we would be out at the same rig Sunday morning and I would not fish with live shrimp until I had caught one on the fly rod! We had caught a box full of great-eating fish and even had the thrill of catching a few sharks and a huge Jack Crevalle.

DCIM100GOPRO

We got back to the landing and I grabbed the fillet knife. I didn’t let go (kind of like a snapper) until I had filleted all the fish. I was looking forward to making my famous ceviche` with some of the fresh mangrove fillets. :)

7:12:14 ceviche

Well, Sunday morning was a complete wash as we were greeted at 4 AM with a mass of angry thunderstorms, some of which were producing hail. We weren’t about to mess with “Mother Nature” so we cleaned up the camp and left early for Baton Rouge. My goal of catching a snapper on my fly rod will have to wait.

Moral of the story…1) don’t wait to try fishing with the fly rod when given the opportunity to do so. I should have gotten it out when the fish were in a feeding frenzy. 2) get a heavier fly rod. An 8 wt. rod is not match for a mangrove snapper, or any other toothy critter found in our Gulf of Mexico :)

 

Red, White, and Blue Independence Day Fishing

My wife and I joined my cousin and her husband at their camp in Dularge for a weekend of relaxation and fishing. After a late start Friday morning (July 4th) I paddled my kayak to some marsh within 10 minutes of their camp. There were already two boats with fishermen in them anchored in the canal when I arrived. I paddled into the grassy flats where the big boats couldn’t go and was greeted to the explosion of a hungry redfish as it angrily ate my frog popper. This frog popper was patterned especially for this area with its hook facing up, because of its thick vegetation. After a nice sleigh ride, the fish got lodged in a thick chunk of salad and I knew it was going to get off. But, I was lucky and landed a 29-inch redfish.DCIM100GOPRO

Now, normally I would release a fish this big, but the long fight and the time out of the water taken for pictures had the fish entirely spent. Plus, I had brought along all the ingredients to make a ceviche and I knew that this fish was going to easily feed the six of us staying at the camp so into the cooler it went. 

I caught two more that morning and had another beast of a redfish break my tippet. All the other reds were caught while sight fishing with my gold spoon fly. Oh, and I caught a small marsh bass on the popper too. 

Three redfish that morning…Red

Now for the White…Did I mention I brought limes, an onion, jalapeños, cilantro, a cucumber, tomato, watermelon, and chips for ceviche? Well, after the redfish cured in the acid (lime juice) it produced a beautiful, fresh, white meat that was delicious with the chips. Everyone enjoyed that ceviche as an appetizer for supper Friday night and there was enough left over for for lunch on Saturday.

Now, the blue…I went back out to my spot Sunday morning and I skunked :( I actually enjoyed my morning as I saw various marsh birds, gallinues, bass, a huge marsh turtle, numerous garfish, sheepshead, alligators, AND REDFISH! I must have spooked a dozen redfish in two hours of push-poling my way through the flats. I was being extremely stealthy but the minute I would raise my rod tip to cast, the redfish would high tail it out of there! 

On a good note, my son joined my cousin, her husband, and their 20-year-old son on an excursion to Lake Mechant Sunday morning and came home with 9 nice redfish and three flounder. My son’s flounder must have weighed close to 4 pounds! Oh, and the chinquapin bite that has been going on over here…well it’s ended. I did manage to catch and release 4 this morning in a new spot in the lower lake. Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 3.25.45 PM

 

 

I’m a Believer (in the Hare’s Ear Nymph)

I had one of those kind of mornings. I got on the water later that I wanted to, I forgot my camera (ran back to the house though to get it), and I forgot my reading glasses. I realized I had left my glasses after I got on the water. I well, I had to have faith that I wasn’t going to break off and have to retie today. 

The weather was hot, humid, completely calm. The calm was a problem because there were all sorts of biting insects (gnats mostly) that gave me the devil of a time. I would have gone in and given up had I not started catching some of the biggest chinquapin that I’ve caught on a fly rod…ever! The largest measured a tad bit over 11 inches. I am now a firm believer in the hare’s ear nymph!Image
That’s an 11-inch bream in my hand. It hardly even fit, which made getting my hand around the fish to remove the fly a problem. Oh, how I long for those kind of problems :)

I didn’t catch the numbers today as I caught last week. I probably threw back a dozen at most. I ended up keeping 11 for the frying pan.

Image
 
So when I got back home I measured these fish. Of the 11 fish I kept, 2 measured in at 11 inches or better. Five were 10 or better and the remainder were all over 9 inches with the exception of one teeny little 8 inch. Toward the end of my morning adventure, I was fishing a bank that I haven’t worked yet this summer. The wind had picked up and I was standing in my kayak to stretch my back a bit. I cast my fly toward a promising bank. A breeze picked up and started moving my kayak. I grabbed my paddle to adjust my position along the bank. When I went to pick my fly up, I had a huge bass on! Naturally I didn’t set the hook because I was just trying to reposition the fly. That thing looked to be over 20 inches!  

Well, Dustin and I are going to be eating fried fish fillets tonight!

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It Was a Bream Morning :)

This is just a short entry just to document conditions that were good this morning. I also use this blog as a fishing journal in an attempt to duplicate good trips and avoid skunks. This morning’s outing to my neighborhood lake was one of those good trips. I hit the lower lake this morning and fished for bass early on. I had two misses on a large frog popper. At about 7 am, I had a couple of bream hit that large popper. I switched to my 3 wt and caught a few small bluegill in the 5 – 6 inch range. I decided to switch to a hare’s ear nymph and found some bull bream and chinquapin. 

I probably caught over 30 this morning but I only kept the 10 largest which were in the 7 – 10 inch range. Most were in the 8 – 9 inch. I was able to fill a quart-sized freezer band with fillets!

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Grand Isle – Feast or Famine

I joined fellow teacher and colleague, Coach Neil Borel, down in Grand Isle for a couple of days worth of fishing. I heard the water had been beautiful last week and the fishing was good in the surf on the island. Well, of course, that would all change if I went down there :)

I got a somewhat late start (left Baton Rouge at 5 AM) but was on the water in my kayak a bit north of Grand Isle in a new area that I wasn’t familiar with. The water was high and still rising but disturbing to me was the visibility was not very good – maybe 6 – 8 inches at best because I couldn’t see the tip of my bright yellow paddle in the water. The marsh was full of bait (mostly mullet) as I stood up and push poled my way through what looked like very “fishy” water.  After about 20 minutes I spooked something along the bank that was not a mullet. The huge torpedo-like wake was a telltale sign of what was to follow for the next 30 minutes or so. A short distance later and the morning stillness was shattered by the sound of something big crashing bait up against the bank. I spotted the redfish and noticed that it was moving parallel to the marsh grass. I quietly paddled in an effort to intercept its path but I lost the darned thing. Not a problem, because about 70 feet ahead of me was another larger commotion on the edge of the marsh. This time the reds were heading toward me. I think there were about three of them in a pod which seemed to be nosing themselves in the marsh grass, which would send shrimp scurrying out into the open where they would be picked off by the hungry redfish.

I made a well-placed cast of one of my gold and pink spoon-flies and bam, I fish on! While I was fighting the 24-inch leopard red (it had 10 spots), I noticed that the pod kept going down that stretch of marsh, so I took a mental snapshot of the direction they were heading while I took a snapshot of the pretty redfish I had just landed.

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After I iced my first fish down, I was quickly on another redfish. It measured in at 16 inches but I was still noticing several larger-sized fish working the area. So, I quickly put a tag in it, released it and continued my stealthy search for the other reds. That’s when I noticed that the area suddenly went quiet. It was like someone turned a switch on…or off in my case. I push-poled my way further down this little stretch of marsh and noticed that it was a dead end canal that got very shallow and there was grass in it. Remember, the visibility was still quite bad but in this ultra shallow water I was mesmerized by the sight of a large stingray. I curiously cast my spoon-fly in front of the stingray to see if it was interested. I definitely didn’t want to hook it…only see if it was interested in the fly. Well it wasn’t but what else came curiously by was another nice redfish. It passed me up and didn’t see me. After a couple of excited, bad casts, I was able to get the fly in the classic two feet ahead and two feet above eating zone and watched the bronzed beauty flare its gills and inhale the fly.

Now this is where I usually have to report on my fishing report about how I set the hook too hard and the fish broke off…no, NOT this time! I’ve learned to be patient, to make a short strip set, and then let the fish take off before really sending the hook-point “home.” Five minutes later and I had another 24-inch redfish in the box.

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The morning bite stopped and I think I saw only one more redfish or two (both were spooked and I didn’t even get to cast a fly at them). I did notice some gulls diving quite a bit away from me in a large bay so I decided to make that paddle over to them. I tried a topwater popper on them but not takers. I noticed that the gulls were eating small shrimp, so I switched flies to a chartreuse Charlie under a VOSI. On my third cast something big annihilated my strike indicator!  Two seconds later and I had a big fish on. I never saw the fish but when I got my fly back to me, I saw the tell-tale fish slime that meant I had had an encounter with a sail cat. I caught and released 6 undersized speckled trout before deciding to head in.

Neil and I decided to fish the Gulf side of the island by the rocks the next morning. After waiting out a rain shower we got an unusually  late start. Neil fished with live shrimp and I brought my bait caster and a fly rod. It wasn’t until around 11 AM before I got my first fish, an undersized trout on the Charlie. I continued to catch a few specs here and there and a frustrated Neil decided to call it a morning after catching a dozen nasty hardheads. I was contemplating a good lunch and an air-conditioned camper when my strike indicator (VOSI) went down. This time, I could tell that it wasn’t a “dink” trout and I was right. The trout circled my kayak before I netted it. It was a 16 inch fish and it was an upgrade to my Massey’s CPR Tournament. Image

I couldn’t catch another speckled trout over 12 inches so I decided to call it a morning a little after noon. I went out later that afternoon to make an evening trip but I got “skunked.”

I can’t complain though, because I had a wonderful time on the island with a good friend. It seems that every weekend is a “rodeo” weekend and this weekend was the Creole Classic Fishing Rodeo. There were plenty people around, plenty of food, drink, music…and, well you get the picture. I wasn’t going to be able to make the three-hour drive back home Friday night. :) I got up early Saturday morning and made the trip home, making a brief visit with my mom and dad for coffee and conversation. Perfect!Image