Do you love big bluegill?
September 20, 2014
Took the Mad River Adventure 14 'yakkanoe' out again. As I mentioned before, it takes 21 days to make a habit stick. That said, more trips are definitely needed!
My Secret Fishing Trousers - Try cotton sleep pants for fair weather fishing togs! These are the lounge pants everyone has in their drawer. They are breathable and super comfy. These aint the flannel, warm-and-cozy type… save those for winter. For the nice weather, get the cotton ones.
They keep the sun off your legs – less sunblock needed. They can be splashed with a little water to aid in cooling. They have slash pockets for sticking random things into. Did I mention they are comfortable? I added a pair of suspenders and voila! Perfection.
Mine were $1.50 at the thrift store. I’ll be looking for more. Their one downside – they look funky. But I don’t really care about that. This is about comfort! It's a no-brainer.
Take the Middle Seat - The best place to sit and fish in the Mad River 14 is the middle. The obvious, and traditional, pilots seat for any edcanoes is the rear. And the Adventure has a cushy, backrest seat back there. It’s a nice butt bucket.
Until you get underway. The problem is, sitting back there raises the bow in the air and cuts WAY down on stability. The wind grabs that raised nose and really sails it around; you expend as much effort fighting the breeze as making way. And as with all canoes, the more of the hull that is out of the water, the less surface area there is IN it. You definitely wobble and wiggle more when paddling solo from the rear. Both of these problems - sailing on the nose and rear seated instability are found with all canoes. It’s one of their few drawbacks.
Fortunately, there is a cure: sit in the MIDDLE seat.
You are almost unaffected by wind when piloting from the center position and stability is as good as it gets with this hybrid – and that’s pretty good. I did a few lean tests, really honking over to one side. I felt the roll, but the hull has a multi-chine cross section and a bottom that's more flat than rounded. All this translates into decent secondary roll stability. Its not dead stable; you can fall out if you work at it. But that's the point - you gotta work at it. It's not as squirrelly as your average canoe. I felt no fear fly casting from it and even voyaging in a stiff wind, the center seat is rock stable.
Unfortunately, the center position is also the least comfortable. It has a butt-shaped seat, but it is unpadded and there is NO backrest. In fairness, it was intended for a passenger to just take up space. It isn’t a working seat. It is drastically better than the usual kneeling stance one is forced to adopt when paddling amidships in a canoe. But it can be improved.
The aim going forward will be to modify the center position into a “fishing cockpit” with these things:
Down the line I can see adding an anchoring system and maybe some outrigger amas. Maybe.
Perilous Boarding and Disembarking – I figured out it’s too risky getting in or out from the ends. When I was young I could do it. But today, trying to perch on prow or stern and lithely scamper into position is a dream. I look stupid doing it, I FEEL ridiculous, and it’s too easy to slip and crash to the shore, and, well… that’s enough.
Instead, it is much easier if you just park the Adventure 14 in shin-deep water, and roll right in to a seating position in the middle. Lift your legs, swing right or left over the gunwales, and you’re in. To get out, reverse this, roll forward and stand up. That secondary hull stability kicks in when you do this and you’re good to go. If you do this in deep water, however, well… you better not.
Regardless, I’m gonna have to bite the bullet on this and get my feet in the water. No more whining about wet tootsies. Most certainly, the long term solution is to go with hip waders, or rubber boots. What I did today was slog around in an old pair of boots getting in and out, then dry my feet and slip on some beach shoes. It works, that’s all I can say.
Pare Down the Tackle - I got my “possibles” down to one tote bag. That can rest behind me in the rear seat foot well. Ditto for a soft side cooler bag, for the occasional fish I harvest. But I still want to bring every rod, lure, hook, sinker and spool of line I own. And I haven't even gotten in a net, yet! Owning a lot of tackle is both a curse and a blessing.
I’m now pondering a smallish, behind the seat milk crate stash, like I had when I was in a ‘yak. I could strap some extra, ready-rigged rods on the thing and keep my possibles in there. But the tackle box is needed with me, center front. It needs to shrink. There just isn’t room for non-essentials in the cockpit.
Location: Lake Murray, SC, Barstow Bay
Weather: Clear, post front (1 day) Barometer: U/K
Moon Phase: U/K
Air Temp: Cool early to warm Wind: Light to moderate, W, NW
Water conditions: stained olive, 2 ft viz., normal level, surface calm to light chop
Time of year: Late, Late Summer (day before Fall begins)
Time of day: Morning, 7A-12P
Bluegill Missing – I talked to Don Schmotzer yesterday. That guy is a local waters "guru"; he’s forgotten more about our lake than I’ll learn. He told me where and how deep I should find fish. All charged and ready to go, I took off – and ended up with a Bonafide Big Bluegill Bustaroo. One dinky little 5” sunfish fell to a slip floated worm, in the branches of a downed tree. But aside from that puny grunt – nuttin. Even the reliable DNR Fish Attractor was a strike out. There are a gazillion mini-gills ripping around the shallows, but they waste precious bait and time. Where were the big bluegill? Off to parts yet unknown, it seems
Small Bass Like Worms – Fortunately, 6-8” basslets still seem to enjoy a juicy red worm. I found a rip-rap bank with full morning sun, with the wind pushing water head on to it. A small slip sinker rig tossed near that bank would get a basslet on most casts, resulting in an itsy-bitsy tussle. It’s not the Elemental Battle with Nature I’d hoped for, but it passed the time.
And that sunny rock bank might be a “hot spot” later this fall and next Spring.
Surface School Feeding Rumble – After toying with the basslets, it was time to voyage across the inlet from the rock bank and start back home. I dug in, the paddle bit water, and the passage was begun. While flogging along about halfway across (400-500 yds. from shore), I found myself surrounded by a school of fish feeding at the surface. This was out in the middle, with no obvious shelter or cover. What with the stiff breeze, I wasn’t sure if it was waves or fish. Once established they were fish, I still couldn’t really make them out. They didn't come close enough. All I got was a big roll here, or a hefty splash there. I was certain of one thing: something sizeable was feeding on something else, and I was right in the middle of it.
Being enterprising (if not handsome), I did the only logical thing: I HASTILY RERIGGED! I tied on a baitfish mimic, hoping to tempt whatever it was to take a bite. In this case, I put on a trusty, “Little Cleo” wobbling spoon. Then I cast out and started paddling, thinking to troll my spoon in and around the feeding frenzy. A little voice in my head suggested I might regret this; all I had were whippy rods and 6#, lightweight bluegill tackle. But, hey - it seemed like a good idea.
Less than a minute into this venture and I hooked a fish in the melee….
So what was it? Well, it was a small striper. Only about 8" long, it was kinda cute. Not hardly the leviathan I had expected, though, and hardly a legal keeper. This smelly little thing was causing all the commotion?
No, really, it stunk to high heaven. At one point I dropped the thing to the deck and had to feel around for it. Man, let me tell you, that little fish reeked!
Then it hit me - the whole school smelled of fish. You know how it is, you’re out on the water alone and you become part of things you'd never experience from the safety of the couch. It’s the joy of Being Out There, right? Well, this stench was one of those moments; I’ve heard of smelly, fishy smells on the water, and this was my first.
Meanwhile, the BIG fish were still at it. By this time I’d figured out what was happening. A large pod of gar were herding these small stripers. The predatory gar had them surrounded, I guess, and were keeping them near the top. Every once in a while, one or another of the gar would shoot up through the school to grab a striper dinner, then go back down. I’ve always thought of gar as solitary lurkers, hanging around the shallows waiting for easy meals to blunder by. But these gar were pushing and working that school. Not what I expected.
About then I wondered, "Uh oh, what kind of fish preys on 8" stripers?"
Which is when my spoon was taken. It wasn’t a rip-the-gunwales-off charge; rather, my pole just started to bend and then double over.
“Oh crap!” I shouted.
I lunged for the reel and started backing off the drag. I didn’t know what I was faced with and I wanted to get the drag tension backed down. Once it was squealing with line stripping off, I started dialing the tension back into the system. The fish wanted to take line, but I finally I got it set where I could at least pump the fish and attempt to turn it.
And so it stayed like that for a few minutes. The fish didn’t want to come, so it would take some line. Then, it would slow and let me move it. Take some more line, and then head back to the boat. I had to be very careful – remember, I had an undersized, buggy-whip rod and 6# line… and a leader of only 4# TEST FLUORO at the end. Yes, I had a 4# leader on the end. Would that blood knot hold? I wasn’t going to stress it and find out. This was gonna have to play out s-l-o-w and e-a-s-y.
After a good bit of see-saw action, I got the fish to head my way. I prayed a million prayers, begging every kind of favor you could want from the Fishing Gods. And they smiled on me. The gar, for that’s what it was, finally came along side. About 2 1/2 feet long, it peered at me with its steely eye and swam back and forth alongside my canoe.
It lunged several times into the depths, forcing me to give line or run the rod beneath the water to follow it's plunge.
“Oh crap!” I said again. Maybe I said it twice - I'm not sure.
In time, the beast relaxed and just loafed along the gunwale. Once, it stuck its toothy nose over the side to look around the interior of my boat.
Then it hit me: How was I going to unhook the thing? I had no gloves, no fish gripper. If you don’t know much about gar, suffice it to say every part of them is sharp. Their long snout is full of needle teeth, their gill plates are honed to a carbon edge, each scale a razor in itself… these prehistoric monsters are designed to shred your flesh. They’re the velociraptor’s of fresh water.
Still praying to the God’s, I hurriedly snapped a few pics as the gar lumbered around.
Too tuckered to put up a fight, I guess. On its final pass, I reached down with my too-small multi tool and got hold of the treble hook. The pliers were dwarfed by the fish, but its long, slender snout was positioned just where I could grab the hook. A quick twist and a pull – and it was off! The gar backed away from me, sulking. It turned, almost lazily, and sunk beneath the water for good.
I looked at the hook, still held tight in my little pliers. The trebles were bent and misshapen. But, it had held together, and the battle was won. I’ve since managed to bend the hook back into shape, and this ‘Little Cleo’ is now held in that high esteem reserved for killing baits. It is, and forever, A Lure That Has Caught a Fish.
What did I learn from all this?
Somewhere down in the depth's, I feel a large catfish waiting.