Halftime Adjustments

24 06 2012

I can’t say I have been fishing for a lifetime, it just feels that way when the fish aren’t biting.

(rimshot)

Being a process-minded person, and being new to fishing, I’m starting to learn that sometimes bullheads aren’t only found in the water. If you look hard enough you can see its reflection in the water.

Yes, I’m talking about one of my bad fishing habits: Sticking to my guns.

I didn’t plan on driving up to my latest fishing haunt today, but a “public” lake that has since turned private (unreported by the DNR web site) that was supposed to be stuffed with Northern Pike (it isn’t, according to an area resident I spoke to – he said “carp and weeds”) didn’t pan out and I figured I’d fish somewhere after going to the trouble of loading up the van.

After a bunch of blown would-be fishing opportunities, I ended up at “the new usual” in Burlington, WI. People have been pulling metric tons of fish out of the river just below the Echo Lake dam (I don’t think it’s a state secret, judging by the throng of anglers there) and I have been trying my hand at joining their ranks.

Unfortunately, I seem to have a daily limit of one fish, regardless of how long or how many places I fish in a day. Saturday I caught ONE smallmouth bass in the course of roughly 9 hours of fishing. From shore, when and where I could.

After further ado, I watched some people fishing below the dam and saw that once again, fish were coming on hard and heavy. Bluegills, smallmouth bass, and catfish were all being reeled in from all angles.

I tried fishing near the deck where people like to feed the ducks from, but one too many rude people who kept tossing bread over my line inspired me to move clear to the other side of the river. And there I met a gentleman who was making short casts with a bobber on his line and going BONKERS pulling fish out. I peeked in his bucket and was surprised to see a catfish looking up at me.

I have two rules when rigging my fishing rod:

  1. No bobbers.
  2. No live bait.

For some dumb reason I consider bobbers to be “kid stuff” and have not been interested in learning how and when to use them. Actually I think the reason is that the pros on the various fishing shows don’t use bobbers. On the flip side, they are usually jam-packed with fishfinders and other electronic gizmos which may lessen the need for them.

As for live bait, I don’t believe in using live bait for catch ‘n release fishing. Especially minnows or similar fish. It would be one thing if I was fishing for food, and therefore needed to amp up my odds of success, but for “fun” fishing I figure there is no shortage of lures and smelly plastics.

So we fished a few yards apart, him with nightcrawlers and a bobber, me with lures and stinky plastics (and no bobber).

I think O’Hare airport has fewer planes taking off and landing as this man had fish bee-lining into his bucket. I counted: Every two casts, fish on, like clockwork.

Me, on the other hand, I was sure that if there’s fish enough for him, I’d get some run-off. No. Lesson learned: Fish want what they want, and don’t want what they don’t want.

I asked if live bait was the name of the game, as everyone around me with fishing success was using either worms or minnows. “Pretty much, yeah,” he told me. Makes sense, as the pond across the street from my home is all about the sweet corn, although I have caught fish there using lures. And for that matter, I saw a kid the other day going bonkers catching fish using a lure, but then we’re getting into the hair-splitting about size, color, type, action, and blah blah blah that people seem to circumvent using live bait.

Finally, bucket filled, the man to my right packed up to leave, and left me a few worms out of pity.

Rules be damned. I didn’t have a bobber, but it was time to try a worm.

I got a few bites, but they were staccato jabs that left the hook picked clean and didn’t make for a hook-setting opportunity. Then I examined my setup and found I had the wrong kind of hook for the job. I switched to a finesse hook (wide gap) and ta da, fish on!

Gotcha!

And to my amazement, I too had caught a catfish. And like a bozo, I forgot my needlenose pliers in the van which made for interesting hook removal operations. I heard that catfish can prick you with their spines but thanks to my trusty net I was able to mitigate what the fish could do and got the hook out. Then it was time for pictures, and release.

I didn’t have many worms to work with so I left some for the next struggling soul, “paying it forward” in essence.

Lessons learned:

  • While I felt like a sellout using worms, it was important to be willing to make adjustments to try to catch fish as opposed to using the same old unsuccessful methods and going home thinking “woulda coulda shoulda”. I still refuse to use live minnows as my “stinky” fake ones seem to produce results if that’s really what fish want.
  • Fish want what they want. If you know what that is, and you have it in your arsenal, use it. If you don’t, be prepared to bring it next time.
  • Bobbers are apparently successful in the below-dam conditions in Burlington not merely as bite indicators but because they suspend the bait where the fish are striking. There are lots of places to snag on the river bottom and floating over that stuff sure helps. I am now rigged with a bobber and finesse hook to apply these lessons next time and ideally be the envy of the river bank.

I’m looking forward to my next fishing trip! Save some fish for me, please.

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