Tag Archives: largemouth bass

Go Deep and Sulk, Whiner

I’ve lost all compassion for the fish. Sure, they have a bit of Lactic Acid buildup and a sore lip, but I’m waking up with ailments more painful and more debilitating, while the fish find some hidden refuge to nurse lip and their wounded pride, I have to hobble my way to the coffeepot despite aching back, sore neck, sunburn, barked knuckles, blisters, and strained muscles.

I spent yet another weekend laboring on behalf of the fish and their watery environment, and while humping rocks and timbers into ever increasing mounds and pillars, I thought of past weeks and the rising damage to mine own limbs, and had the temerity to ask myself, “… but is it worth it?”

“Worth it” being less a question than a known constant, but when you have to manually remove your aching fingers from around the coffee cup handle, the metaphysical rumination of the question comes unbidden.

In retrospect, I started working on terraforming a piece of the lake a couple of months ago. As I am limited to about a day a week to work on the project, and while there is little shortage of woody debris and rocks littering the shoreline, it is still a two mile walk to get there, followed by hours of stoop labor carrying rocks, and another two miles back to parking area.

The 100 degree weather commensurate with a drought being merely a bonus.

That first weekend ended with sanded fingertips, what with all the grit and wet rocks slipping from my grasp. The following week it was work gloves to protect those precious fly tying fingers, but something I’d had for breakfast forced me to wobble back to the car dizzy and out of it.

With October came the winter parking area closure, which added an extra two miles to the hike round trip. That weekend ended with me dragging myself back to the car just prior to passing a kidney stone, so all the suffering endured during the ride home was a preamble to the welcome tinkle of stone colliding with porcelain.

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I did manage to complete three 30’ walls of rock, complete with timbers and ancillary connected debris – designed to give bait fish a hidey hole, and allow prowling bass to secret themselves in ambush. The timber and reclaimed Christmas trees I’ve imbedded in the rock work give me the opportunity to collect all manner of free fishing lures, which I consider payment from you fellows for all the sweat equity I put into the area.

Now that we’ve seen the temperatures start lower and have seen our first real rain, most of the lake is fishless. Bass slide deeper as the shallow water cools, and fishing is less of an option.

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Then again, a  1/0 heavily weighted Olive Minnow, can occasionally yield something attempting to pack on the pounds prior to snoring all Winter. This is the biggest bass I’ve landed on a fly this year, somewhere between six and seven pounds.

… and tomorrow at work, when I get up out of my chair and feel every spot of soreness in my pudgy deskbound frame – I’ll know this SOB is sulking with his sore lip,  while I move gazelle-like to the water cooler to add another pound to the re-telling.

Is it worth it? Silly question …

Making Hell a Few Degrees Cooler

No parallel exists in fly fishing, and it’s another of the reasons I’m celebrating the differences between trout and bass and the lore and ritual of each.

Summer doldrums for trout fishing means a brief flurry of activity in the morning, and similar in the evening, with midday spent drinking or womanizing. With reservoir fishing for bass, it’s a bit of activity in the morning, lot’s of physical activity during midday, and a nap come evening.

Terraforming is part of my work for next year’s fishing. Building structure into an area that sees a lot of fish already, that will give them ambush points and cover to linger and become residents. Nothing beats knowing what you’re fishing over, and where the big fish sleep at night…

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I put in two walls after the morning grab, about 25 feet of rocks and timbers about30 inches tall. As I visit this area each time, I’ll add to the walls and add a few additional walls further along the shoreline.

This makes a known fishy area able to retain more fish, gives the bait and the predators more places to hide, allows me to cancel my gym membership (next time bring gloves), and makes the midday hours productive instead of walking around blind casting.

… and it makes me feel a whole lot better than sending a check to an angling organization hoping they don’t spend most of it on the chairman’s salary. Improving fish habitat yourself means I get better fishing next year, and I’m making amends for a lifetime of torment I’ve inflicted on my finned pals.

The idea isn’t mine, there’s evidence of a lot of terraforming going on by bass anglers. Rings of Christmas trees roped together and anchored with concrete, rock and brush piles on the banks, it’s plain that the boating fraternity (and tournament crowd) don’t mind getting their hands dirty for their fishing.

Me, I’m simply hoping the ring of Hell I’m headed for is a few degrees cooler than it might’ve been, nothing noble about it.

Big Water, Bigger Fish, and What I done this Summer

After several decades of piscatorial success, it’s difficult to realize the only certainty is you can catch some fish with regularity, some are the result of good fortune, luck, or happenstance, and the balance can be explained by throwing a Big Mac and hook in front of a lot of foot traffic.

… it’s likely to be stepped on quickly,  scorned by those that have eaten recently, yet eventually consumed by some unfortunate that is either too desperate or in too much of hurry to care much about the marks left by other’s soles …

That notion haunts my summer, as I recognize I’ve veered onto the path less traveled, and found myself  in the deep end treading water.

My first failing was realizing that trout have occupied a place of great prominence because of their surroundings and the stunning mountainous areas they can be found. As a foe, they are largely predictable –and are are weakened due to a steady influx of federally funded variations that are less wary, climatic conditions that are less conducive to their survival, and the crush of forces present in the wildland-urban interface.

My second failing was thinking that the skills I’d spent so many decades accumulating while fly fishing for trout – would serve me in good stead when fishing in less pristine environments … some of those hard won skills transferred nicely,  many did not.

The science is the same, the reasoning and deduction, the mechanics of casting, the understanding of flora and fauna and their lifecycles are unchanged, but the physics of tackle, water, and how the quarry makes use of terrain and cover all have to be rethought. Most importantly, how to overcome the adversity of large bodies of deep water and their ever-present wind. How to get flies within visual range of an ambush predator …versus throwing exacting imitations at fish that move from safety into the open to feed on the same set of insects at the same time each evening.

Pure Heresy for most trout fishermen, but for those of us that delight in suffering unimaginable tortures, big open water is an area fly fishing has never dallied with  – and with good reason. Our tackle and its physical limitations, our unspoken preferences, and the genteelness of our pastime are ill suited to this environment.

Fly Tackle and its limitations

The weaknesses of fly tackle are well known.  Long limber rods that are magnificent at preserving fine tippets and reducing shock, but cannot punch an 8 inch long, soaked rabbit streamer into  even the slightest breeze. Wet marabou or fur strips combined with lead wire and heavy beads, strung on a heavy gauge 2/0 or 3/0 hook, and even experienced casters begin to blanch in the face of a breeze …

Sink rate is abysmal with fly tackle. The large diameter fly lines sink at a different rate than the monofilament tippet and heavy fly, and with each element of backing, line, leader, tippet, and fly, strange shapes are introduced between rod tip and hook point that add slack. Hook sets have to be exaggerated to move all that sunken line into a straight line capable of pushing a large hook through lip gristle.

Large open water has its own weather system, and an airless morning is promise of a stiff breeze in the afternoon. Casting physics means even the heaviest leader cannot sustain the weight of the large streamers and bulky poppers, and all casts (except those downwind) collapse at the transition from fly line to leader. Big wind resistant poppers work against the caster – as the properties that ensure they float – also guarantees their instability in flight. Big and bulky, guaranteed to puddle leader and prey to every gust of wind – rarely landing much beyond the fly line tip.

Terrestrial anglers are forced to fish in the direction that blows the fly line away from the body, as neither rod nor leader can control the instability of  a large fly buffeted by a stiff breeze. After a few encounters between large hooks driven through larger arse cheeks,  self preservation overcomes one’s lust of fish flesh.

Worse is that none of fly fishing’s quiver of tools can reliably determine depth, the kind and type of bottom substrate, nor cover enough water to prospect a large body of water with thoroughness. Fly anglers rely on a combination of bankside detritus and visual inference to surmise what they’re fishing over, and deep water isn’t always predictable given its opacity, the varied weed types, grasses, and sunken objects that may be present.

Not knowing what you’re fishing over also means you don’t know when to return there during periods of receding water. Disabled shopping carts and old Christmas trees are potential eyesores, but they provide surface area for weed growth and hiding places for minnows and other food, which draw in the big fish to linger.

Snobbery and the Proper Tool for the Proper Job

For large bodies of water the deck is already stacked in favor of the fish, so why handicap yourself by insisting on fly fishing purism? Big open water is perfect for fly anglers, but only after you know enough about the environment and your quarry to make the intersection of fish and fly tackle optimal.

Last year I spent the summer “drop shotting” the western side of Lake Berryessa, from the dam to the Pope Creek arm.  “Drop Shot” fishing is simply constructing a leader containing one large shot and one 4.5” plastic worm, and walking that bait back to you once flung into the lake.

Each time that large split shot touched bottom it told me how deep the water was at the spot. Since most of my time was spent on the points and contours, I quickly learned where the deep water was versus the shallow flats.

My visual inspection of bank and substrate entering the water was enough to clue as to whether the bottom might be sandy or rocky, but adding the drop shot data told me how deep it was and whether there were underwater timbers, weed beds, or rocky boulders and ledges.

What was down below I snagged – and often. When I recovered the tackle it would have weeds from weed beds, or simply break off when snagged on timber. Watching the line pay out while chanting, “one thousand, two thousand, three …” gave me an approximation of depth, and if I caught fish it taught me what was down there, and occasionally by inference, why.

Fly fishing is not part of a triathlon for good reason. All of the rigmarole associated with line management and wading means fly fishing is a slow process for scouting big water. Throwing weighted lures and big plastic top water baits isn’t affected as much by wind,  and an angler can cover a couple of miles of shoreline with an easy gait, where a fly caster has to constantly pause and strip out or reel in all those coils of line necessary to cast and retrieve.

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As a bonus to the data that different types of tackle provide, you’ll catch plenty of large fish, which is the hidden pot of gold of big lakes, they contain much bigger fish than small ponds or streams, and contain more of them as well. Where you catch them is as important as any other data element, given you’re looking to repeat that process with some consistency. Certain depths, or time of day, similar types of cover, anything that patterns where the big fish hold is essential to attempting to find them in other parts of the lake.

The outflow of Lake Berryessa is Putah Creek, which is the closest trout stream to San Francisco and the Bay Area. As such it has both New Zealand Mud Snails and is constantly pounded by an enormous contingent of fly fishing enthusiasts. None of which attempt the lake proper, and I’ve yet to see another fly fisherman plying the bank. I suspect it’s the big water as the source of their trepidation, given how many are wading only several hundred yards distant, yet none have ventured into the lake itself.

Bass aren’t like Trout, they’re moody, aggressive, and stubborn, sometimes all at once

We’ve all heard that Cutthroat’s are “stupid” and by comparison, Rainbow’s and Brown trout are finicky – yet all trout species share a great deal of similarities in their feeding behavior and survival instincts.

Bass species share some traits as well, but each species has unique traits that must be learned  to catch them consistently. In the comparison, we might think bass overly aggressive when contrasted with trout, but the real difference is their infuriating ability to be moody, finicky, sullen, and shy – sometimes all at the same time.

I’ve seen enough bass behavior to be humbled routinely, and have rethought everything I’ve heard about bass, given my experiences in the last couple of years.

Lake Berryessa contains three species of bass and two species of “mule”.  Spotted Bass, Largemouth Bass, and Smallmouth Bass  inhabit the lake, as well as two mule variants of Spotted Largemouth, and Spotted Smallmouth. Each mule resulting from the interbreeding of two of the three species.

Purebred bass can spawn again, but the mule bass cannot reproduce.

Bass decide not to eat and in the blink of an eye the entire lake appears barren. The infuriating part is they do this whenever you decide to go fishing, or when a storm front makes the barometer quiver, or when the Standard station up the highway runs out of Doctor Pepper. Understanding the psyche of this beast is likely to drive the rational angler to drink – and it’s a matter of enduring their fits of pique, versus truly understanding them.

Spotted Bass move around more than the other species, and can be present and absent within minutes. Smallmouth love rocky bottoms and rock outcroppings, and largemouth seem to be comfortable everywhere, except where you’re fishing.

The food chain is different, and you need to own big and blustery

While bass have access to many of the insects that trout covet, and it’s likely they dine on bugs when small, once they get larger their tastes run to fish, frogs, other bass, sunfish, small dogs, and unwary children. Bugs simply don’t provide enough protein to keep a large bass fed.

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Fish like this don’t eat bugs, they eat 6 inch plugs fished noisily, with much commotion

With baitfish being the food staple, suddenly our traditional caddis, midge, mayfly, repertoire is largely useless as we’re pressed into learning threadfin shad behavior, bait balls, and where minnows sleep at night.

Structure and vegetation offer cover for small fish, but so does the muddy water churned off the sandy points by boat wakes, and the milky water resulting from the swells breaking when pushed by wind.

Big bass behave similarly to Stripers or similar ocean predator. They try to gather and bunch minnows against natural structure like bays and points, and then stuff themselves before the ball squeezes past them into open water.  Bait fleeing a big predator are visible as  minnows leap into the air, making the chase as visible as a rising trout.

The amount of surface commotion caused by baits is important. Big deer hair poppers get waterlogged, and chug through the water with less and less disturbance. Sinking flies are heavy as lead due to a combination of weighting, size, and waterlogged materials. Traditional bass flies leave a bit to be desired, as the size ranges they’re available in are too small. Custom ties are needed for big water, and closed cell foam, wine corks, or anything that keeps its noise level is preferred to the hair flies.

There’s little question that noisy flies that burble and pop are among the most consistent producers. The issue is their delivery and the understanding that large fish are often in shallow water based on the prey and their lifecycle.

A Summer of frustration and data gathering

Most of this summer has been spent learning all the details associated with successful bass fishermen, and watching them use conventional tackle designed for big water and bigger fish. The result has been a lot of frustration, a lot of perspiration, and great deal of fun.

Having spent a lot of my youth casting 3/8 ounce and 5/8 ounce plugs at the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club (under the watchful eyes of Jon Ray), I’m finally getting to hone those accuracy skills  in anger – versus GGACC’s static plastic targets.

Certainly the scorched hillsides are less scenic than piney woods,  but they’re only a quarter tank distant, therefore cheaper, there’s a lot more of it, it’s less than an hour away, and I rarely see another angler, all things not found in the Pristine upper elevations.

Summation of a misspent summer:

Developing the tool suite to harvest environmental data is the first requirement of open water.

Knowing the foibles, weaknesses, and strong suites of  your quarry is the second requirement of open water.

Knowing where the fish are and why they’re there is the third rule of open water.

Insects are not a factor, learn minnow behavior and observe them in the quiet coves to learn their swimming motion, their feeding preferences, and where the hide (when you throw a pebble).

Don’t use a screwdriver to hammer nails. Adapt and incorporate fly fishing only in those areas where it’s able to perform optimally is the culmination of the all the above, and the desired end game for us aficionados.

The Toast of the Dawn Patrol

I heard more than a couple snickers from the “Dawn Patrol”,  those fellows brave enough to shatter the pre-dawn stillness with a couple hundred horses compliments of Mister Evinrude …

… of late they’ve shown a keen interest in the same “head and shoulders” bay-peninsula I’ve chosen for my latest bright idea. I call it the “fly-spin” rig, but rather than some all-in-one aberration I’ve merely opted to carry twice the gear.

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The above depicts the calm part of morning, where I offload both fly and spin from the vehicle, then take a brisk mile-and-a-half hike to the fishing area – lugging all my provisions and drinking water with me. As I opt for the shoreline route instead of tromping through the low scrub, known for both ticks and rattlers, I have to parade past all the buzz baiters, the jig n’ pig types, the crank-baiters, the top water fiends, all of which are unawares their comments can carry a quarter mile or more .

Fly Rawd, what’see gonna do with that?”

As my mentor has been showing me how to find, seduce, and land, large bass with regularity, I’ve opted to translate all the plug and lure knowledge into fly tactics.

Every time we’ve managed to lure large fish to the surface I’ve glanced over at the electronics to eyeball the depth. As we ease past the shoreline of those areas I can reach by foot, I’ve noted which points and bays contain the 13’ –16’ of water that seems to be the sweet spot for big fish and surface baits. Anything deeper doesn’t appear to draw fish from the bottom.

This is no different from my San Francisco Bay saltwater days. Despite fishing for shark or perch, I always carried a few Pencil Poppers in case the Stripers pushed a bait ball into my area.

Lake Berryessa is the same type of fishery.  Big balls of shad are pushed into coves and anything within eyeball range starts hopping out of the water chasing 4” fish.

As these occurrences are both regular and fast moving, you want to have a big baitfish imitation loaded on the fly rod,  as the fish herd the bait against the shoreline – within an easy cast by fly despite the omnipresent breeze.

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I’ve got a few 5” minnow imitations tied on rubber worm hooks, size 4/0. These hooks offer a nice “keel” effect that ensures the bait is presented uniformly and offers a jigging motion that accents all that marabou hung off the back.

I walk the entire “head and shoulders” shoreline carrying both rods. I can prospect much quicker with the spinning rod and a big Heddon Super Spook, and deploy the fly rod when the bait shows. The beauty of it is that the big 5” plug will cause the shad to go airborne when it nears the school, allowing you to find the bait regularly – then position yourself with the fly rod if they get close.

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I managed a few fish on my initial outing, most were caught prospecting, and I managed a few grabs when one school made shore nearby … it was brief, intense, and made me want more.

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I have some modifications that will assist the flies to perform better in the wind, and I’ll need to fashion a custom leader that will be about 3 feet long, with about two additional feet of 20lb tippet.

Fishing of this kind with all the breezes that crop up, the large flies and big hooks, means you need a set of pliers to remove anything that imbeds itself due to bad luck.

That’s a long walk back if you’re bleeding out due to the unforeseen flight characteristics of a multi-ought black nickel projectile.

Lulled into Complacency by Fly Fishing’s Genteel Side

celoxNext time my pal gives me a “wave off” and tells me, “don’t grab it,” I’ll back away rather than be my normal, helpful, fishing -buddy self.

Us fly fishermen have the luxury (unless they live in Norway or Scotland) of assuming there’s only one hook in production and the fish has ate most of that …

Bass anglers have nine points in production and an overly large, aggressive fish may have ate one – but the remaining eight are about to insert themselves into  helpful human fingers (and palm) like Buttah …

“Chemically sharpened” is no longer an asset when they’re doing a “through and through” on your index finger, or based on a fish flop, suddenly under a fingernail like a bamboo sliver.

… leaving one helpful SOB wishing he was less so, now that he’s attached to something about five pounds that insists on violently flopping around the deck … towing all those precious fly tying fingers with it  …

Naturally the only way to extricate yourself involves pliers and you  donating whatever flesh is necessary. Then again, it’s massive man card points when you grit your teeth, yank the SOB out of your flesh then reach for the rod as the bite is still on …

Water cooler chest thump.  Goddamn Priceless.

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I think this was the offending largemouth that I danced with earlier, in the grip of Leroy Bertolero, former B.A.S.S Champion. Leroy has been teaching me some of the intricacies of smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass, and his having won numerous BASS tournaments in California,  I am attempting to soak up his knowledge like a sponge.

I learned “Nine Fingers of Blinding Pain” Kung Fu this trip. Never to be repeated in this lifetime.

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He taught me a bit on spinner baits on the Delta, now it was top water plugs and poppers at Berryessa. With a day of complete overcast and some gusty winds, I learned that inclement conditions can be a boon – drawing some of the larger fish out of the depths and into our laps.

… and yes, that is a finely crafted sub-one hundred dollar spinning rod at my feet …Bass Pro’s understand the best tackle is fit and finished with duct tape – and will not buy anything costing more than about $60 bucks, reel included.

My kind of folks.

Next step is to translate the lure selection and retrieve into flies, as the two are linked based on conditions. Windy days yield fish feeding in the lake’s “surf” off shoreline points, and overcast prolongs the top water bite indefinitely, which is music to any fly fisherman’s ears …

… but that’s assuming they don’t bury a 3/0 Clouser in their arse, without the pliers necessary to remove such a monstrosity.

See you in the Celox aisle …

A Colonoscopy is Better than Fly Fishing

ColonI was shocked by the violence of the outburst. How us “fly fishing guys were NUTS”, and how the speaker – a largemouth Bass devotee – would rather submit to a colonoscopy before EVER learning to fly fish.

I’m staring at an extended digit, which I assume to be the exclamation point for some hideous crime dealt by some pompous flyfisher …and the victims, the aforementioned gear-wielding bass fiends, being horribly traumatized as a result.

I could understand the vitriol if my fate was the company of fellows I didn’t care for – or the required fly fishing livery and mandatory smoking jacket were unsavory, but as I’m unsure what the source of the angst is – and whether the conversation will end in blows,  I’m  struggling  to envision what horrid crime would anger a fellow fisherman to the point of apoplexy.

I understand it better now.

As a reward for spending the weekend waist deep in cold water with not even a single bite, I was coaxed into a pilgrimage to “Mecca”, a.k.a. the Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World Boating and Tackle Megamall.

To suggest I was intimidated would be an understatement. No sooner had I broke the plane of the entry than I was hailed by a “Walmart Greeter” in store livery, and promptly herded past the acres of checkout aisles, test kitchen tidbits hawked by sweaty fat guys, and into the throng of people headed for the Big Aquarium of Tapped Glass – which was home to numerous large (and sonically deaf) fish whose fate it was to endure children banging on the glass – hoping to startle a resident into activity.

While I’m slowing to take it all in, I realize I’m that Old Lady blocking the soup aisle while poring over the sodium levels of Bean & Bacon versus the Chicken and Rice.  I am blocking the path to the Test Kitchen and the free samples of “Gut Shot Elk Butt” being foisted on the unwary. Those same folks that wrinkle their nose at laying a lip on fish from the Wild, now squealing in pleasure as Mother Nature dipped in sugar and deep fried makes the sumbitch tastes like a Twinkie ..

I managed to find refuge in an side aisle featuring a mixture of “my organ is bigger because I kill stuff” fluorescent tees, (which all the kids were in a tizzy over) mixed with the more staid earth tones of Sherpa gear that just came off the Matterhorn, whose drab sophistication Mom and Pop found enchanting.

I found a side eddy that took me past more glittering silver and gold spinner-baits than King Croesus’s treasury, and as I slow I begin to see price tags and comprehend where I am. I’m in “SevenDollarLand” where everything large or small, glittery or drab, wiggly or inflexible – cost seven dollars each.

Like Walmart, bins of merchandise dominated by sale banners and bold typefaces ensuring us old guys don’t have to squint before pantomiming our displeasure. Suddenly that tasteful bit of tackle we’re fondling is the “dipped toe” into many hundred’s of dollars in liability, and we find ourselves cornered by an angry spouse with no path to the hordes of squeezables in the Rubber Worm Garden.

I’m a fish out of water – uncomfortable in what should have been a religious experience. Organ music and choir warble gives way to announcements of lost children, debtor’s prison, and the screams of kids no longer interested in Dad’s pending decision between Deep Fuggin Craw and Yum Yum Yello Crankbait.

I’m cheek to jowl with many thousands of folks who have no interest in any of this other than the spectacle.

The fly fishing section was framed in dark wood and dim lighting, a welcome contrast to the bustle and garish colors of the Crankbait aisle.  Large price stickers announced the fly tying section as “Threedollarland”  – where spools of tying thread were $3.19, as were the tiny bits of duck’s arse, deer fetlock, and turkey down.

I hadn’t  thought the price tag mounted on the rear of a glassine envelope to be the fly fishing equivalent of “demure”, but I understand better now.

The shock of how much a new fly tier pays for materials  caused my eyes to water. Hackle has never recovered from the heady days of hair inserts, and the White River shop brand for Bass Pro was a small (and useless) handful of neck hackle reminiscent of India capes. At $13.00 per packet, a fellow could go broke tying a dozen dries.

I was more fortunate, given it was Shad season. I picked up a few fetching colors of pink and chartreuse tinsel, a packet of pink beads, a couple 10lb tippet spools (mono not flouro) and two spools of heavy white thread – and I was out the door at $31.00.

Nine flies later I wasn’t so impressed at my acumen …

Pricing a Royal Wulff was an eye opener. $14.00 for a packet of brown hackle, $5 for the calf tail, $4.79 for the Peacock, another $3.19 for red floss, and $3.19 for the thread, closely followed by $7 for a 25 pack of hooks, meant I was into the fly about $38 by the time I had everything.

Considering the hackle as the delimiter, maybe I could tie 9 good flies .. making the cost per fly about Four Dollars Each. As Bass Pro sells the damn flies for $12/dozen, we’re not likely to see the fly tying ranks swell much …

Ditto for the Thousand Dollar Fly Rod. As Momma and the kids stroll past the fly fishing section (with prices visible from the closest three aisles) we’re sending a powerful message to our recruit pool.

Tying flies as a means of defraying the cost of buying store-bought has always been one of the reasons for fly shop visitation and our continued support even during non fishing season. Like tippet, it’s one of the most common reasons for us to visit and toy with that new rod, or try on those new zipper front waders.

One megamall does not a trend make … but as our numbers are dwindling quite rapidly, and these “foreign” venues present our craft to thousands of potential recruits, far in excess of anything our small stores can muster, I was a bit surprised at my own reaction …

… and was an eloquent depiction of why my hardware mongering bass pals won’t even consider the long rod. A lesson punctuated by airborne spittle and much finger pointing.

50 Shades of Tepid Reflexes

With fishermen as superstitious as sailors and baseball players, I recognize my poor showing this year is manifesting itself as a burgeoning streak of good Karma. While never sure whether it’ll take the form of hundreds of fish caught, a single hundred pound fish, or simply finding a Ben Franklin crumpled next to the curb, the only absolute is my knowledge it’s coming …

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That’s because all of the hiking along the lake, all of the careful monitoring of wildflowers, bass and spawning beds, the sneaking over hummocks hoping for top water action befitting fly gear, have been pipe dreams.

Four trips up to the lake were too cold, too blustery, or too off color to even see fish activity in the shallows, so I kept thinking next week, or the week following. Now it’s the week following that – and I’ve returned fishless yet again, but things are starting to stir – a few spawning bass are visible, a few scoured spots suggesting mating activity, and a few more warms days offer a chance to cash in on that Karmic debt.

I’m learning as much about lake ecology as I’ve learned about streams so there is a silver lining. Drought really muck things up for years, both due to their arid nature – and what it does to terraform exposed bank that challenges fishing once the lakes refill.

All that weed growth evaporates as the lake lowers and each bed is extincted once it reaches the surface. Foot and animal traffic powders the newly exposed rubble and dead weed bloom, and fine dust replaces the aggregate washed clean while submerged. When the lake refills the bank is akin to Mars, completely dead and featureless. Weeds take months to sprout and all that windblown dust that spread itself last year leaches out into the water with the slightest surface activity.

That’s a fancy way of saying, fish early before boat traffic.

All the forage fish that used weeds for cover are absent, likely using what remaining beds that remain submerged despite last summer’s relentless baking. As the lake has come up nearly 25-30 feet, that’s a lot of dead zone that’s absent forage and therefore fish.

Which makes fly fishing, with it’s inability to sink quickly, a real disadvantage.

Fortunately Mother Nature drives bass to spawn in the shallows, so despite obvious problems from drought and rapid refill, once the fish move inshore with a vengeance, there’s plenty of sport for all manner of tackle.

But that appears to be next week … or the week after …

I did get a welcome respite from blustery and fishless bank wandering to fish the California Delta via bass boat. It’s the first time I’ve fished in the matrix of canals and waterways that feed San Francisco Bay via the Sacramento River, and as all of them were still swollen with runoff and tides – it was cold and off color.

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… some of that murk can be seen under this gleaming , carbon spewing Steed of Angling Awesomeness. While wandering lakes is invigorating  to both life and limb, I figured I’d earned the carbon credits to have my arse skipping above the waves without feeling like I’d squandered all them decayed Pterodactyls …

With a stiff North wind for competition I learned the mysteries of flinging 5/8 ounce Spinner baits to an elusive audience. Elusive, due to my hook skidded off of lips, tongues, gill plates, and anything else in the path of lure inhalation, leaving me cursing and untangling gear from the knot of tules that should have been massive hungry bass …

bertolero6pounder

.., like the beast pictured above. This is my gracious host, Leroy Bertolero, showing me how to use a sharp hook as it was intended.

With each fish giving me the Finger, and as I tuned tackle and checked hooks for sharpness, I was still content. That reservoir of Karma that I’d built with all those fishless miles of lake, I knew was growing ever deeper.

DeltaStriper

I did manage to land one of my tormentors. Apparently Striped Bass lack the armor of their freshwater cousins,  and the hook found purchase. It is one of the beauties of fishing the Delta’s brackish water, as both fresh and saltwater fish inhabit the same environment.

As I’d proven useless as an angler – by “unbuttoning” all my earlier fish, it was timely that the 250HP carbon guzzling beast refused to lift itself into plane on the way back. Needing BALLAST in the bow, my host looked about for any Useless Weight and by mutual agreement I perched on the nose on the way home.

BowBallast

An interesting perspective to be sure, but it was still thrilling to be so mobile when you’re used to pedestrian speeds. Then again, given my inability to stick anything solidly, it was an exercise in my finding new ways to swear – while “long lining” everything I touched.

Putah is on the wragg, and I wander in Bathwater

Took a pre-dawn run up to Berryessa again this week, just to fiddle with a few things and survey the damage from the Wragg Fire.  This area is fairly important to the San Francisco Bay area, as it contains Putah Creek , the closest trout stream to the hordes of anglers living in the City.

I don’t fish it much as the Lake has my full attention, and the mile or two of creek open to the public is overrun with anglers even on weekdays. As it is home to New Zealand Mud Snails, I cut a wide berth just to avoid inadvertently tracking the little pests into the pristine unclean of my local watershed.

Putah_Creek_Wragg2

The Wragg Fire burnt everything west of Putah Creek and Lake Berryessa proper. Those of you familiar with the area probably remember the Butts Fire (2014) burnt everything east of the creek, so the entire watershed has now been mown clean.

The picture above shows the creek just below the Canyon Creek Resort stretch. All the visible slopes have been burnt over, and the foliage is turning color as the trees die from the fire that swept through their understory enroute to the crest.

Dense timber typically burns quite a bit hotter and vaporizes both grass and trees, some of that can be seen down near the creek as well as the ridges above – like the dark patch on the ridgeline to the right, above.

Winter rains coupled with little remaining vegetation can push a significant amount of sediment into the creek, as there’s nothing to hold it in place on the slopes above. With both sides burnt over, and the rumor of a drought breaking El Nino effect possible this winter, the creek may be in for a slug of sediment.

Warm as Bathwater

Lake Berryessa proper is as warm as bath water. This being the tail end of August and the temperatures running fairly constant 90’s, any bite on the lake is short lived, but the lure picking has made up for the lack of fish, and each trip yields a pocket full of treasures.

lure_eating_log

This is typical of what I’m stumbling across. Hip boots give me an edge over the beer drinking bank crowd, as their eyes start to defocus after 10AM, and us sober types can edge them out with our ninja-like dumpster diving skills.

It’s akin to swiping golf balls off the golf course, instinctively you’re tensing up waiting to hear some fellow claim, “I just lost that, it’s mine!”

Despite the warm water and sputtering bite, pre-dawn is always worth a few fish. I am still fishing 20-30 foot deep, as the fish are preferring the colder temperatures that come with depth rather than panting in tepid near the surface.

berryessa_largemouth

I have been working on an amalgamation of fishing types to score consistently, something I’ll reveal once I get a few patterns refined better than they are now. Note the low light of the above picture, as most of the fish are coming between 6AM – 8AM, and when the light is on the water, the bite dies promptly.

I did manage to find a model forage fish for me to duplicate. A bit worse for wear, but it looks like a Shad (Threadfin?) of some type. Most the surface activity tends to be on the Northern side of points extending into the lake, and to stand and watch will reveal schools of bait and bass taking advantage of their density.

Berryessa_Shad

Once full daylight is on the water and the party barges and ski boats launch, the waves from their wakes will raise plumes of mud in the water off these selfsame points of land. The bait head for the discolored water as the predators can no longer see them distinctly. It’s akin to fighter planes using clouds for cover.

While streams and their ecology seem easier to catalog, I find the same skills in observation and the frequency of visitation are just as useful teasing the lifecycles of larger water. Come Spring, when the bite lasts all morning, it’ll be important to note those cloudy plumes hold the forage fish, and pulling a marabou streamer out of the dirty water and into view … should yield big benefits.

… and if it doesn’t, we’ll continue to add to our lure collection …

A bit over half a mile and an unknown depth

I suppose a few would describe themselves as “lunker hunters” … thrill seekers who curl their lip at everyday fishing, whose passion is hunting fish that ignore the cholesterol content of Chironomids and groan as they break the surface for a dry fly.

fatkidbass640

Not my cup of tea precisely, but as my shortcomings are legion, I shan’t sully their sport.

Paying eight hundred dollars for the location of a world record fish, is another thing entirely …

On the one hand, it’s well documented that anglers are incapable of estimating length and girth, and no matter how many times they cross themselves and insist on “being struck dead,” five pounders are two pounders, and nothing “South of the Mason-Dixon” is anywhere near twelve inches…

… and while we admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the advertisement, we are forced to rely on the owner’s questionable judgment, failing eyesight, and sobriety level when he saw his Moby Dick.

Then we’d have to assume that if we drained a large lake of water, we wouldn’t find anything bigger than the current record, making this fish truly “one in a million” Awesomeness.

Smart fish can get big without any contact with humans. They can live a long life, die, and once their bloated remains sink to the bottom, vanish entirely.

Any beast of size in the ocean is either ate by us or a pack of something smaller. I’d suspect every truly large lake has one or more fish at world record weight, most are fileted by the propeller of some drunken water-skier and never make our radar.

On rare occasion they swallow a toddler in the shallows or wash up dead on some beach and give the locals bragging rights.

Then there’s the “catching” part.

Any fisherman worth his salt will likely admit to catching more than most, but none of us have much experience in catching a specific fish.

“The most recent studies tend to indicate higher rates of dispersal and homing behavior.  At Lake Rideau, Canada (1996-1998), fish were displaced from 1 to 10 miles.  After 2 weeks, average dispersal distance of bass was only 440 yards.  However, 37% of fish eventually returned to their original capture site (all were displaced less than 5 miles).  A study at Chesapeake Bay, Maryland (2000) indicated that 64% of largemouth bass had moved at least 0.3 miles within a week.  The average final dispersal distance of bass was 6 miles from release sites and 95% were at least 0.3 miles away.  Even though fish were displaced 9 to 13 miles from capture areas, 30 to 40% of bass returned to initial capture areas.  At Lake Martin, Alabama (2005), bass moved an average of 5 miles from the release site after 10 weeks.  After 2 months, no fish were in close proximity to the release site, and all fish tracked over 3 months returned to within the same general area of capture.”

Todd Driscoll, Texas Fisheries and Wildlife

Assuming that bass move as described, and we “should’ve been there last week,”  we’re searching a radius of 0.6 miles of lake for some couch-bound fat kid that wakes around noon …

I’m thinking I’d troll a trot line and hope for snaggage .. and hide the hole that 6/0 treble made with mascara …

Fatty Eats frog meat

It was the prudent thing to do. Prior to scaring hell out of everything by sky lining myself hop-skipping across all that erosion inhibiting rock, I flung that big weedless frog past the debris field of dumped roadbed just where the boulders disappeared into deep water.

Naturally there was something big and mean waiting for something small to do just that, and my morning was shattered by an aerial display worthy of a steelhead.

FattyBass600

I figured it was one of two options; either he’s given up on rain and was learning to gulp air, or was intent on all those bikini clad college girls drinking and screaming from mid channel.

While the college gals were friendly enough to make me suck in my gut, I figured the return voyage would feature a lot less sweaty and “Gone Wild” – and more sunburnt and heaving … over the side.

The Sheriff thought so too, and his boat followed the flotilla at a discrete “binocular” distance. He was “fishing” too … kind of like the shadowy edge between rock and a hard place …

berry62715

As this is peak irrigation season – and were in the grips of drought, I have been curious how the local impoundments are being drained for water deliveries to farms.

They’re already talking about Folsom Lake going dry by September, and both Berryessa and Oroville are reeling due to drought, so each trip I eyeball the banks to get a feel for releases. The above photo shows the more than 200 foot distance between underbrush and current lake levels, and the encroaching brush that covers the exposed banks as the water recedes.

It’s our fate that “fly eating” foliage pops up to cover anything older than a couple of months, and fly fishing is limited to the points of coves where a back cast can parallel the bank. While far from ideal, we’re spared the shredded flesh and indignity of a Blackberry thicket.

GeorgeSpotted

This is “Meathead” from work with a nice Spotted Bass, who graciously instructed me in the finer points of “drop-shotting” bass. I gave him the “frog” and insisted he dump his inexpensive and highly functional tackle for something that costs ten times more and can’t sink very fast.

Neither side had a convincing argument yet both had moments.

Most of our fish came from 20-25 foot of water (as measured by casting gear), and outside of the “Fatty” going for a top water offering, most were eating on the slopes of points close to the bottom.

I returned the following day with both fly rod and drop shot rig, and tossed large minnow imitations when the water depth was friendly, and practiced drop-shotting when perched over deep water.

We’d seen balls of Shad and bass giving chase, but those eruptions are temporal and never sustained. Just about the time you change your fly both predator and prey are gone.

I’ve got a few ideas on how to better imitate the fish, but I’m puzzling over the notion of a drop-shot bait being used on a fly rod – and whether I can dress something with a similar action.

KikiSpotted640

I got one Spotted Bass on Sunday. I figure he collided with one of those Party Barges that were parading past – and got disoriented enough to want to eat.

I wasn’t complaining much at the sudden attention – and it was nice to see fat healthy fish in their element, rather than gasping Carp in a mud bucket.