Friday, May 8, 2015

Smallest Fish Doesn't Win Tournaments

In Japan, the best angler is often considered to be the one who can catch the smallest of fish. Tanago fishing is a unique sport with a long history in Japanese sport and lore. The tackle consists of the smallest of rods with the smallest of hooks, and before the advent of nylon lines, a woman’s long hair.
 
Maybe I was born at the wrong time on the wrong side of the world.
 
Let’s go back a few days for the main text of this story. We had a couple of weeks worth of warm weather with rain mixed in periodically. Between the air temperature and the warm rains, the rivers and lakes warmed up rather quickly, finally hitting the mid 60s. The various species of fish had begun their spawn cycles, one after another.
 
And there was a largemouth bass tournament. I had never really fished a true bass tournament, and this was a kayak only tournament, so I decided to give it a go. There would be people I knew competing, and many more I did not know. My only worries were I would not catch anything, finish dead last, and either embarrass myself or the companies I represent.
 
However, I am not one to get caught up in whether people laugh at me or not. In fact, I laugh at myself aplenty. Let’s face it, you have to have thick skin and a sense of humor in just putting your life out in front of thousands of people in these words each week.
 
I watched the weather during the week leading into the tournament and realized it was going to be much more difficult than I originally thought even though we would be fishing on one of the state’s premiere bass fisheries. The weekend was shaping to take a nose dive in temperature, and rain was likely going to set in early as well. Just enough to kill the bite. As if I needed more obstacles than the nearly 100 other competitors to contend with.
 
Having never fished the lake, I put in hour after hour of internet scouting. I read reports from forums dating back several years during the same monthly time periods to see what was used to catch the lunkers as well as what didn’t work. I watched Youtube videos taking note in where they were fishing, how they were fishing, and what time of year they were fishing the lake. I scoured over Google Earth, Yahoo maps, and Navionics trying to determine the best locations for plan A, plan B, plan C, and so forth.
 
I set up four of my Denali rods with different lines and lures, ranging from top water plugs and chatter baits, to worms and plastics, and even my favorite, a Beetle-spin. My thought process was three small bass would likely out do one large one if the fishing become tough. Therefore the Beetle-spin may be my salvation, and I could try and upgrade from there.
 
After getting the launch word that morning, myself and 85 other kayak anglers began paddling to our plan A locations. My first target would be about a mile and a half down the lake and then work my way back towards the check in location throughout the day. I found a small cove that I was able to paddle into and hog from the other competitors and began making casts with a jitterbug. No luck. I switched to a large double spinner, only because I spotted a couple of bass in the cove breaking surface and tailing.
 
Second cast of the double spinner and I had a thump. Then another. Boom! I embedded the hook with a firm set but immediately realized this was a small fish, but one nonetheless. Another angler down the bank from me yelled “fish on!” and I noticed every one of the dozen or so kayakers turn my way to see what I was about to reel in.
 
It was a crappie. He was a nice size, but it was a crappie. One guy yelled over to me “how big?”
 
“It doesn’t matter, it is a crappie. I’m not on the board”
 
And then the rain hit. I fished and fished and just didn’t get a hit. I tried different lures, different techniques, and different depths with no luck. Then, while peppering a rock ledge near a bridge, the same double spinner I used on the crappie felt as though it went flat. I didn’t have the pull of the spinners spinning any longer. As the lure breached the surface of the water I realized why.
 
Fish on! Or maybe it should be more like “fish on?”
 
I proceeded to pull a threadfin shad from his watery home with a hook over half his body length. A clean hook set too, not a snag or foul hook. I am still unsure how the barb of the hook was able to pass into his miniature mouth, but it did.
 
That would prove to be my last fish of the tournament.
 
If I existed in ancient and not-so-ancient Japan, I would likely have been sitting atop my kayak in wanderment, instead of wonderment. At least I would have been a great angler at some point in history.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Take a Kid Fishing


Many years ago people of my generation and older would regularly watch a television show called The Southern Sportsman. Franc White was the host, and the format was pretty simple and consistent. He would show some footage of fishing or hunting trip, go to the kitchen and show you how to cook whatever he caught or killed, and then finish the footage.
He would venture throughout North and South Carolina and go anywhere from the mountains to coast and all places in between. White was easily identified by his zebra striped boat and airplane. Even the commercials that played during his show became synonymous with both the outdoors and himself, such as the line “choose Happy Jack, your dog would.” It was part of the show each weekend.
But probably the most recognizable and memorable part of the show was Franc White’s closing line. Each and every show ended with “Do yourself a favor, take a kid fishing.”
Now there are many lines that people use everyday, including “give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat forever.” Well, take a kid fishing, and he will love the outdoors forever.

And that brings me to this. A social media ‘friend’, Samantha Gay, has come up with a field trip for two classes at the school where she works. It would probably be best if I shared her exact words:
“As we all know, exposure to the nature is very important to children’s development, intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically. If children are raised with little or no connection to nature, they may miss out on the many benefits that being outdoors offers. Research shows that outdoor experiences help reduce negative stress and protect psychological well-being, especially in children undergoing stressful life events. It also suggests that children involved in outdoor educational settings show improvement in self-esteem, problem solving and motivation to learn!
By encouraging children to get out and enjoy the simplicity of nature while doing something so rewarding as fishing, they are able to obtain knowledge and skills that can be applied to all areas of their lives. Knowing how to fish instills confidence, as it builds independence and self-worth. It also teaches children the wonders of the great outdoors, while developing an appreciation and respect for nature. Learning a skill, such as fishing, also teaches patience, good morals and ethics, while promoting healthier lifestyles, as well. Unfortunately, in the technological age we live in, people, especially children, spend less time playing outdoors than any other generation. Children are spending more time indoors, glued to a television set and/or video games, becoming less active, which also has profound effects on their health.”
Samantha is raising funds and donations to assist in the field trip, and in doing so, is hoping to be able to leave each of the kids with a rod and reel to keep for themselves.
Imagine if your teacher announced to your class in fourth grade that you would be going on a field trip fishing, and get to keep a rod and reel so you can go fishing anytime you wanted afterwards. It is easy to understand why these kids are so excited.
In the process, many donors have stepped up, including the likes of Zebco, Plano, Flambeau, Rat-L-Trap, Strike King, Gary Yamamoto, and many more. But there is still more needed. The field trip is coming up on May 6th.
If you would be interested in donating money, you can do so at http://www.gofundme.com/gethookedonfishing. Or you can contact Samantha directly at samanthagayfishing@gmail.com to volunteer, or assist in other ways.
You never know what will be the one thing that influences someone’s life, and something like this has the potential to do so.
And to modify the late Franc White’s encouraging closing line, do yourself a favor and help take a kid fishing.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Unpredictable Tom


They say when the dogwoods begin to bloom, the bass start biting. It brings about another sign as well, and it has nothing to do with fish.

It is the middle of April. This is when that one hunting season that is off on its own, comes around. Yes, this particular hunting season is similar to the outer planets of the solar system. While dove season leads to deer season, which in turn leads to fox and squirrel and raccoon and duck seasons, turkey season becomes our primary focus. Of course, the focus includes the anguish that goes along with turkey hunting.

Do not get me wrong, turkey season does not burden the hunter with such things as breaking through inches of ice just to get to a blind in the middle of a swamp so you can get the opportunity to try and determine what kind of bird is flying at supersonic speeds at the break of dawn in the fog. No, turkey season brings along the burden of trying not to step on a snake, while setting up a blind on the edge of a field beside a swamp land of hardwoods just so you can get the opportunity to try and imitate a hen and listen to a tom gobble mere feet away from you yet never see him.

Oh, and while you do pick up your decoys in both cases afterwards, duck hunting may require tossing dozens in the back of a boat while turkey hunting only consists of two or three decoys. But turkey hunting makes up for the slack time as you pick off the hundreds of ticks that have found refuge in your camouflage wardrobe while you were sitting with your back against a tree in a perfectly still position.

Like the saying goes, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

The problem with that is on public land, it may seem like everyone is doing it. Some are doing it right. Some are doing it wrong. The ones doing it wrong likely sit within a few yards of you not even realizing you are there. Or they continuously over-call thinking your Jake decoy is a tom on the other side of the field from them. Hey, we all have to learn though, right?

The birds have a mind of their own, and just like a teenager hitting puberty, you never know where their mind may be. Too many times I have had the perfect hunt ruined by a bird with the brain of, well, a bird.

I have worked them to within 100 yards after being nearly a half mile away, only for them to hen-up. I have packed my things after not even getting one response from a call after hours and hours of hunting, and on my return trip from the truck to get the last few things such as the blind and stool, run a tom off that was within feet of the blind.

I have been sitting in preparation for a tom coming around the back side of the blind at ten yards, finger shaking nervously on the trigger release of my bow, to see the beard drag the ground as he flew by the window of the blind. Yes, the beating of the wings startled me as much as anything, well, except for the 400 pound bear that followed the tom by the window at ten yards distance.

A friend of mine, one of the people that got me interested in hunting with a bow and hunting turkeys, once left his blind after five hours of hunting with complete silence around him. He was taking a smoke break. Just after he lit his cigarette, three hens landed in front of him from a roost behind him, with a tom in tow. He had his shotgun with him and he was as shocked as the tom was. That bird is now mounted in his den.

It is funny that a bird with the head of a vulture can be so beautiful. But maybe it is only beautiful for the chase. Tom seems to be the one that keeps telling me no, which makes me obsess over him more and more. One day Tom. One day the anguish will end.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Can Invasive Species Become Welcome Guests?


I was sitting in front of the computer looking over some stories and maps of a future fishing trip. It was a species I have targeted before, but from a different means. I traveled to the Potomac River just south of Washington, D.C. to hunt the northern snakehead with bow and arrow by means of bowfishing equipment. I have since been enamored with the ‘Frankenfish,’ as it is sometimes called.

This coming trip, I wanted to bring it in with hook and line from the top of a kayak.

Each year, the Maryland fisheries division holds a snakehead tournament over a weekend in May. Prizes are given to teams which bring in the greatest total weight of the exotic fish. Chefs are on hand at the weigh-ins t show both the anglers, bowfishers, and spectators how to prepare what is likely to be one of the best fish plates one could ever taste.

The tournament started as a way to try and control the population as the snakehead has grown exponentially since its first discovery just a decade ago in a small feeder creek to the Potomac. The quick population explosion is what worried both biologists and sportsmen, as the fear of overtaking existing species such as shad, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and striped bass was more than they could stand.

While reading one report on the snakehead, there was mention about another invader of the Potomac; the largemouth bass. The story went on to tell of how the largemouth was first introduced in the 1800’s. That is where I became a little confused.

Snakehead from the Potomac River a few years ago.
You see, the largemouth bass was actually introduced. They were not brought to the area by mistake, hence, they cannot be a so-called invasive species. The northern snakehead on the other hand, was dumped into the waters of the area not as a way to add sport, control existing resources, or farm. It was dumped there as a way to get rid of the fish when it became too large for an aquarium. (Or so the story goes.)

Many times, we use carp as an example of invasive species. Indeed, in the upper Mississippi River they are. They have taken over the river and grown uncontrollably. They threaten to breach dams below the Great Lakes and the fear there is one of ecological horror. However carp in most lakes and ponds in the Carolinas are not due to their invasion of a territory. In fact, they were introduced as a manner to control certain underwater plants. There was a plan in place in their introduction. Most of these same areas went as far as to have carp that were sterile and unable to breed.

Sometimes, these same species can prove to be something else other than invasive as well. No one knew how detrimental the snakehead would be to the Potomac River. They could only go on a short range of data. But a decade later, with the snakehead as common as a bass, catfish, or carp, there has not been any proof as of yet that the other species’ populations have decreased. The snakehead may have found its balancing point, or at least be near it.

The snakehead has also offered a potentially beneficial means of funds for the conservation and preservation of other species and the overall environment of the Potomac River. There are guides that make their livelihood off of showing anglers where and how to fish for the alien creature. The wildlife and fishery divisions of both Maryland and Virginia surely gain sales of licenses from those such as myself that wish to chase such a unique and strange fish that are not found in their part of the world, but are illegal to possess alive.

In the somewhat words of a line in the movie Jurassic Park, nature finds a way. And many times, nature knows how to eventually reach the equilibrium of her species.