Tag Archives: bass

How Misery surely Loves company

With the exception of male models in carefully creased fishing vests hawking angling gear in magazines, I’ve been reluctant to piss on fellow members of the angling brotherhood. Ditto for television and radio personalities, as I’ve assumed them to be reasonably honest versus an avaricious SOB, whose focus is to promote their guide service. Most sins of exaggeration or inaccuracy chalked up to the notion that  angling media are akin to weather people; they mean well, but rarely get the forecast correct.

That’s a nicety I’ll no longer observe.

After six or seven weeks scrimmaging with Lake Berryessa in hopes the “top water bite” would materialize, I’m convinced we won’t have one this year – compliments of the California drought.

This being in sharp contrast to the pundits on the Bob Simm’s radio hour, which insists that anything with fins is climbing the bank begging to be hooked – on dry land even.

Personal observation and discussions with fellow fishermen suggests no one can figure out where the fish are – and that extends to the Kokanee Salmon and anything else plying the waters of that drainage.

Us fly fishermen, ever mindful of Science, have always insisted on the plausible explanation and Latin-tinged theorem, rather than relying on the more mystical,  “… use the Big Red Sumbitch – Let God Sort Them Out” approach popular with bass fishermen everywhere.

While much is known about river dynamics and flowing water, lakes have always proven a bit of enigma for fly fisherman. We look for the same things we see on rivers; bugs, differing currents, weather, and cover, but we’re ill at ease given that lake fishing exposes the soft underbelly of fly fishing – how poorly our tackle sinks and how deep water is our absolute undoing.

2015 Drought

I took the above picture of Berryessa’s banks in June of last year, just before the blast furnace of summer hit the area.

The Grass Belt is the historic fill level of the lake. If the lake is full, that water will rise to that region, about 10-30 feet from the tree line. The Brush Belt is the area exposed during the 2014 drought year. It has had seeds drift into that area from both wind and receding waters, and the growth has been buttressed by what little moisture fell during the 2014 Winter and Spring of 2015. The Just Exposed Belt is the area that has receded during the meager 2015 Spring, and will dry further as the 2015 Summer bakes the area.

By the end of Summer 2015, the loss of water had exposed nearly 200 feet of bank on the steeper canyon areas – which translated into half a mile or more of shallows exposed in the wider portions of the lake.

This Spring we had one superb storm that lifted the lake level at least 30 feet from its 2015 low point. On the shallow ends of the lake those flats exposed were reclaimed by the waters, leaving shore anglers the ability to cast only to the recently reclaimed area, now thinly covered with water.

Clue 1: Those ain’t weeds, those are Stems

In the bays formed by the undulating shoreline, the sudden glut of water had covered the exposed soil in wooden debris and  terrestrial plant stems. No leaves or greenery suggesting they were of recent vintage, rather they were sodden and waterlogged, with enough woody material to lift them to the surface, where the wavelets formed by the boat traffic piled them in heaps at water’s edge.

Looking at the above picture, and remembering the sequence of events – suggested this was the remnants of the Brush Belt. Once lush and green during Spring, now dried and dead from Summer, and forced underwater by the rising lake.

The idle currents near the shore break the stems into pieces, and they have enough pithy material to float ashore. These stems represent the only cover remaining underwater, leaving a featureless dirt embankment with no cover for hiding or ambush.

Clue 2: Where’s the forage?

Any self respecting minnow knows immersion in water teeming with hungry and voracious predators, requires both cover  and shade, things that you can hide among or behind, anything that allows the minnow school to pursue insects and forage suitable for their survival

These schools of bait were visible all of last year. Weed beds and plant growth would die once the water receded and exposed them to the harsh daytime temps, but the schools of forage fish would recede with the water – as the weeds blanketed the lake floor.

Add thirty feet of water delivered over a single week of runoff, and you have many hundreds of feet of dead soil now covered with water, but lack weeds, shade, or cover of any kind.

No cover means no bait, and that means no fish other than the occasional cruising bass.

Clue 3: Where are the beds?

Bass spawn in shallow water, leaving scarred whitish areas that the female sweeps clean with her tail. Often she stays on the bed, which is part of the allure of the Spring top water bite … big fish, shallow water, and the desire to kill anything approaching the nest.

Bass anglers have always taken advantage of this phenomenon with great glee, as there’s nothing more exciting then the visual element associated with casting at visible fish. The notion of “cradle robbing” apparently is suspended for the duration of the festivities …

This year I have seen only a single bed – covered by a solitary fish. It was in a back bay whose bottom had lots of algae and cover, suggesting bass also look for cover and shade to offer protection from predators.

The clean dirt areas are devoid of life. No beds visible, almost no foliage or weed growth, and few fish prowling for food.

deadZone

The above photo shows a “dead zone” bank. All dirt, no foliage of any kind as it was dried and desiccated by 2015’s summer sun. Note the pithy debris at water’s edge – mostly dried stems and dried thistle clumps (also shown in the water).

This lack of foliage means the dust in the soil leeches into the water as soon as boat wakes bathe the area. This thick band of dirty water provides the only cover for many hundreds of feet, and I always keep a weather eye out for signs of baitfish. So far, nothing.

Conclusion: Boat fishermen are better off

With no cover available to harbor baitfish, and with the water depth denying us that area of the lake that still has cover, my dismal conclusion is that the fish, their beds, and the minnow forage, are all too far from shore for bank fishermen to take part.

Six trips, in as many weeks, has yielded no fish activity of any kind.

I’ve not seen a boat angler catch a fish either – as many are fishing in close to the bank – consistent with a traditional wet year. I’m thinking that deeper water still retaining weeds and cover are where the fish are and the typical mobile bass angler is motoring  past them enroute to joining me in the Dead Zone.

Like Misery I surely loves the company, but I wish they would heed my “wave off.”

Seduction of the Innocent

WARNING: There are no dripping fish depicted below

It’s every Poppa’s fervent wish, and every Significant Other’s deepest desire, to instill the love of the Out of Doors in their spouse or children.

Unfortunately, we are in such a rush to do so we tend to be heavy handed, insensitive, and miserable about instruction, as we’re so heavily invested in the outcome that we have no patience for anything less than superlatives.

I know,  as  I was asked (and often paid) by both parents and boyfriends to assist in training their latest “squeeze” or grandchild to shrug off mosquitoes, ignore thousand pound bovines blocking trail, sharp hooks, balky loops and unforgiving breezes, and how to bask in the afterglow of a harsh sunburn … All those Badges of Courage that mature the initiate into the hardened angler.

For me, it was akin to curing Cancer,  the Impossible Task, yet the lure of certain defeat was always a goad to try different approaches with each new candidate, hoping to find that singular lure that would draw them into the sport just as we had been.

The “Father-Son Bonding Trip” was always the easiest, as any gathering of Maleness begat competition. Once the kid had six or seven more fish than Dad, they were pliable and giggling … as, “I whipped Poppa” tales were great things to relate to Ma upon their return.

Gals – on the other hand – have always been a tough sale. Bug repellant smells like hydraulic fluid (and stains clothing), and the lack of a bathroom (with all necessary locks,  shutters, and blinds) never truly warmed the participants to the outdoorsy venue.

Girls are sturdy and can put up with all manner of hardships, but most don’t care for suffering like guys do. Steel wadded through fish lips as well as their own discomfort (icy cold, blistering heat, blood sucking insects, etc.) does not motivate them to relay these tales with pounding of chest – something male members of the species relish as proof of courage.

The “Red Breasted Warbling Splatterer” option always resonated. Where the guide takes the client’s minds off their own misery and points out Mother Nature’s finest visual spectacles. Flowers and songbirds are as big a hit as air conditioning and white wine – and I never missed an opportunity to trot out all four … often simultaneously.

… and in all those outings I realized that one day it would be my slack-jawed offspring that I’d be instructing – or my gal that I’d have to introduce to the Woods – and how would I do so differently?

I call it “Seduction of the Innocent”  – named after the great Comic Book trial of the 1950’s, wherein the angler introduces his hobby in a non-threatening manner, hopefully linked with something known and friendly …

Actual gripping a rod or fishing comes many trips later – once they’ve been lured close to the rocks by the Siren’s sweet song …

Bassflower1

In this case the subject has a consuming passion for wildflowers and breakfast – that she doesn’t have to cook herself.

Note that she is warmly dressed and waterproofed (with my new Columbia rain jacket), shows no signs of suffering whatsoever, and the vehicle is within spitting distance should she need rescue …

Bassflower2

Now the panorama expands to show the fishing angle. There are no rods or tackle visible, as she’s being treated to flowers and food absent any agenda on my part  … (blush). This hour of absolute awesomeness is solely for her, as her pleasure is the main event and the proximity to water is merely chance.

There is no mud on her clothing, no ice chests spilling ice and beer, no overly loud Rap music to compete with the calls of Quail, Goose, or Pheasant … nothing to interrupt the Majesty of Nature.

… and yes, for a few short moments I have to duck into the brush and bite on my forefinger – knowing that I am missing out on some spectacular fishing – all for the promise of future blessings and possible companionship …

bassflower3

While I understand the flowers look stunning, yet so would a massive swirl engulfing my deer hair popper. In this careful rehersal I recognize it is our impatience that is our undoing, and this brief gesture will go a long way to many more hours afield.

Impatience is the Enemy.

Us guys are always in such a hurry to hook our quarry within a single weekend that we lose sight of the endgame. Keep her fed, dry, and within shower distance … admire a few posies and gasp in admiration at the perennials – promising to till the backyard accordingly, and then lie in wait in the center of the web until she suggests, “it wasn’t so bad…”

Dances With SODDEN TENNIS Balls

I keep telling myself that learning a lake in mid drought is akin to building sand castles in the surf; just about the time you mark the downed timber and rock piles – some unseasonable storm erases all traces of beaches and islands, and you’re left poring over photos to see what topography remains within casting distance.

Then again, us fishermen have always kept wisdom and logic at arm’s length, enlisting its aid only when it suits us. Standing in a downpour in icy water doesn’t suggest we’ve engaged our frontal lobe with much sincerity, given our reliance on superstition and the occasional hunch to tell us when fishing is especially good …

… and as my partner in crime was four legged and in need of exercise, meant that the unseasonable temperatures be damned, and 109 was just as fishy as 92, and unless I emptied the pooch in someone else’s backyard, I’d find his IED’s in my grass.

ABoyAndHisDog

In September and October we covered about 55 miles of shoreline – 25 miles of unique shore and the balance retracing our steps back to the vehicle. We found four different colors of tennis balls, three sizes of Frisbee, eight full bottles of beer, six colors of discarded brassieres, sinkers, weights, plugs, and lures, 3 pound iron balls, trolling planes, flashers, dive weights, broken rods, boat parts, folding lawn chairs, shopping carts, and unveiled numerous angling misdeeds … all the while avoiding snakes, quicksand, bog mud, and over zealous Bureau of Reclamation rangers – intent on shackling my pal on the end of a tether.

dawn_oakshore

The trick was to get clear of the pavement before dawn, allowing us unfettered access to all those miles of newly exposed lakebed. Soupy ground and ample mud coupled with the distance to open water kept the casual vacationers close to the car, with the rangers alternating the application of bandages or lectures, depending upon the infraction.

While short-lived, the early bite often produced some nice fish – as it was too early for the boating crowd and the noise and wake action that followed.

BigSpot

The low water conditions exposed a great deal of clandestine terraforming on the part of the bass boat crowd. Long chains of Christmas trees anchored with cinder blocks and rope had been dropped in many of the coves around the Oak Shores area of the lake. Stacked rocks and piles of tree limbs had been sewn into strategic areas only reachable via boat. My assumption was the numerous tournaments hosted by the lake were the root cause of all this carefully constructed structure. Once sank and marked on a GPS, it would make for a nice advantage over visiting anglers less industrious.

Bug activity was minimal and provided only food for the resident Threadfin Shad. While I’ve identified the Hexagenia Limbata on the east side of the lake, and due to its size is likely to be forage for prowling bass, the more accessible west shore shows no traces of the big mayflies, nor was there any surface activity other than leaping carp in either morning or evenings.

smallmouth.oakshores

Only a solitary white caddis fly appeared on the east side, and while it daubed its way across the weed beds ovipositing, only small shad attempted an intercept.

whitecaddis

The lack of winged insect life confirmed that Lake Berryessa is primarily a baitfish style fishery, where anything resembling the silvery threadfin shad is fair game. Outside of midge swarms, I encountered none of the traditional winged lake fare. No damselflies, mayflies, or dragonflies, only the solitary olive bodied white caddis (shown above) that was available in fair numbers, but without any fish keying on them to make their imitation viable .

4" Threadfin Shad washes ashore

Above is a sample threadfin shad that had floated ashore. This sample was about 4” long, and looked like it had been mouthed by something larger. Most of the shad I find are between 2” –4” long, and account for the morning feed – as large bass chase schools of shad into and out of coves and weed beds. It may also explain why the 1/4 and 3/8 ounce silver Kastmaster was the most numerous lure decorating all the exposed tree stumps.

KastMaster is the most numerous found lure

Of late the fishing has died completely. The weather grows a bit cooler and the change in season is likely causing everything to shift around again. I’ve taken to “prospecting” weed beds and drop offs with a big top water plug. It allows me to move briskly along the shoreline while occasionally drumming up large fish.

… more importantly, it leaves one hand free to fling muddy tennis balls down field, keeping the pooch amused between meals of unidentifiable decaying things.

Drought exposed bank is not a nice linear hike.  At distance the bank looks like an unbroken line, but when rounding the edge of an island, immense bays can be hidden that must be circumvented to proceed further down the shoreline. By the same token the return hike is often “as the Crow flies” – which is considerably shorter than the morning walk outbound.

As we got our first light dusting of rain yesterday, I’m keeping the fingers crossed that this Winter might erase much of my earlier work cataloging shoreline and the physical features of the lake. More importantly, if El Nino delivers on its promise, I may have a few other spots to fish next season.

The fire ravaged area at the dam gives pause to my optimism given even dry years result in the slopes above the highway slipping down onto the pavement below. Without vegetation to hold back all that loose rock I may need to find another locale that can be accessed should Winter spill water abundantly.

A Man in Search of a Verb

The only crime in fishing worse than being caught with live earthworms in your vest by your pals, is telling a fishing story poorly.

The formula is fairly simple. There must be some hardship introduced by the environment, there must be some inadequacy of your tackle overcome, and the fish must be large enough to predate unwary children or small pets, and only your unflinching heroics saves the day.

Which is why I’m in such a quandary, as I lack a proper verb.

fish_stories

Sunrise was just illuminating the lake when the hound and I stopped at an area known for morning bait activity.  The precipitous angle of the bank and depth of water made fly fishing uncertain, so I pitched a drop shot rig into the deep water and was rewarded with the unmistakable thump of a bass.

It was small bass to be sure – no more than nine or ten inches, but  it rocketed from twenty feet deep to the surface in a single frantic burst of energy. As I reeled to take up the slack, I thought it odd that a fish known for fighting the angler for every inch was suddenly a foot and a half in the air, and appeared to want to stay that way …

… re-entering the water, the bass skittered toward me and then vanished in a bathtub sized swirl.  Having had the same once-in-a-lifetime experience in saltwater, I flipped the bail open and started the methodical … One Mississippi, Two Mississippi …

…anyone that’s fished for Stripers knows that bait with spiny fins or sharp gill plates are typically swallowed head first, and the squeal of the drag is them taking the bait and mashing it into submission, before swapping ends and swallowing the result.

… so I continued to count as I watched the line move deeper into the lake.

Reaching sixty-five, I re-engaged the bail and hoped for the best. The rod doubled over and the line started making those wonderful harp chords that greet a peel with the drag set properly. I assumed the fish was larger than the 10lb mono my spool was crammed with – but with ample light tackle experience and luck, and patience, I had a slim chance to bring this cannibalistic leviathan to hand.

Six minutes later I had the fish turned and I wasn’t losing any more line, but we’d only fought to an uneasy draw. The fish showed no signs of tiring as it attempted to wrap me around anything nearby, alternating with simply sounding and sulking.

My heroics were short lived, as the line suddenly went limp and I assumed I’d been heavy handed at an inopportune moment and It had broken me off. Instead, I reeled in a 10 inch bass much the worse off for the fun had at its expense.

… and so lies my conundrum. I never put steel to the fish so I can’t claim to have hooked a 10 lb bass, played sounds weak and will beg the follow on question, fought is technically correct but is akin to starting a story in the middle – rather than the beginning, and dallied with sounds vaguely feminine and has little place in such a outdoorsy epic …

A great tale without an active verb is merely a whimper. I’ll think on it more before attempting to enthrall coworkers with the retelling  …

139 Yards of shattered glass

It was one of those rare opportune moments where a simple resupply of “frog” yarn revealed something really useful at a compelling price … even better …ample tonnage remaining to satisfy any fly tier’s ambition to lay in a goodly supply.

Bernat Boa is a synthetic polyester ribbon yarn that’s strong enough to use as hackle, has enough structural integrity to use as streamer wings, can be wound closely to make 3D shaped minnows, and can be knotted and teased into any number of fish killing uses.

I use it consistently in Shad flies, bass flies, and anything requiring saddle hackles, because the edge binding the polyester fibers is thin enough to wind, and can be tied off securely without inducing weakness due to bulk.

As each skein has three or four colors, it becomes really cost effective due to the additional colors that can be harvested from its “camouflage” coloration.

Yarns that are in consistent demand typically introduce new colors (and retire older non performers), and as I refilled my dwindling supply of Shad “pink”, I noticed new colors that made the material doubly compelling.

Bernat_Holidays_Label

Apparently for Christmas 2014, Bernat introduced a series called, “Bernat Boa Holidays”, that added three additional festive solid colors;  Santa Suit (red), Holly Green, and Blizzard (white).

The white caught my eye immediately as I was tying some minnow patterns that needed a light colored body, and something about the original photograph suggested these filaments might be a form of Antron.

After I took delivery I was pleasantly surprised. This is a much softer and finer tri-lobal filament that has the “shattered glass” brilliance of Antron, but can be dubbed onto a dry fly.

Bernat_Holidays1

Where this material truly shines is when it is clipped from the yarn base and mixed into a natural fur blend to offer a sparkle akin to  baby seal. This “shattered glass” effect is great for a medium (trout) sized fur blend, and given polyester dyes readily, additional colors can be made from the white to suit more “earthy” sparkle effects.

Bernat_HolidayGrass

Holiday yarns tend to be limited release but I’ve not seen any mention of these being pulled post holiday season.

Do not buy these colors on eBay as they tend to range in the $6-$8 range per skein. Instead get them from YarnSupply.com or Knitting Warehouse – which has Blizzard on sale for $3.69 per skein.

These are often found in KMART stores as well, but holiday colors are typically swapped quickly to seasonal favorites shortly after the festivities are over.

139 yards per skein makes an awful lot of streamers or dubbing blends, I think you’ll find a multitude of uses quickly.