Archive for largemouth bass

Ole bucketmouth saves the day

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on April 25, 2019 by stflyfisher

It was an auspicious start. The first day of the annual spring vacation in Destin was too windy and stormy for fishing the surf or bay, so an evening visit to the lake just steps off our deck was in order.

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Just steps off the deck…

As the sun began to drop, I sight-fished the shoreline for largemouth bass and after some careful stalking took a personal best fish that jumped like a largemouth should and fought like they normally don’t (as in hard). As Kirk Klingensmith once said during an excellent presentation on fly fishing for bass, “for largemouth its all about the explosive take” (he relegated to smallmouth their rightful place as the harder fighter and no less a jumper). This largemouth bass must not have heard Kirk’s presentation.

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A personal best Florida largemouth…

What made that catch even more ego-stroking was the crowd that gathered as I landed it. Adults staying in townhouses adjacent to where I did battle were on their decks for cocktail hour. Before long I had a group of them hooting and hollering and giving praise. I felt righteous, indeed. After a quick picture, I released the fish, and headed back to my own place with a definite skip in my step.

But sometimes a little good luck is a bad thing, at least in the fishing world. I headed off the next day, eager to conquer the salt, full of optimistic visions from my last spring trip to Destin. Surely this year’s pompano run would afford me some great action, and unlike last year, I was eager to actually keep a few of these silver bullets of the surf. Pompano are, according to many in Florida, phenomenal table fare. Their flesh is light, fair, and firm to the point where they can be grilled with the skin on.

So off I went in the morning to the surf, high hopes and 8 weight in hand. I walked out across the dunes and there it was – disappointment immediately smacking me in the face. The typically clear emerald waters were dirty and rough. A few bait fishermen using sand fleas for bait – a favorite of pompano – had caught nothing. I walked the beach, cast for a little while into some deep sloughs between the beach and the first bar, and returned home with a big skunk on my back. Hero to zero…

I fished the bay, also turbid and seemingly void of fish. A conversation with the local Orvis fly shop’s fishing manager confirmed that the bay was off due to the rain and that I’d be best off to fish the surf. So with renewed hope, I returned to the surf again. The water was colder than last year and previous high winds from the south kept the surf on the rougher side, but clarity was improving and the wave heights were dropping with each passing day. I visited the beach a total of 4 times, and though each subsequent trip saw better conditions, my casts went unanswered. A conversation with a local fisherman confirmed that unusually cold weather had kept ocean temperatures in the low 60’s, whereas normally they’d be approaching 70. This would push back the fishing to later weeks in April or even early May.

Another frontal storm hit Destin on our second and last weekend there. High winds, rain, and cool weather prevailed. On our last day, Monday, the skies cleared bright blue, the sun warmed the air, and the winds abated. The beach had rip-tide warnings posted and the surf was still high, so I returned to fish the lake. We had a late afternoon flight that gave me enough time to get out one last time.

The bass were still around, though in most cases the spawning beds were empty. In some cases fingerlings could be seen in tight schools flitting about the empty beds. I sight cast to fish I saw and enjoyed the challenge of making precision casts. The smaller males guarded a few nests while the larger females hung back in the shadows of the adjacent depths. Both were cautious and spooky and not at all aggressive as they might be early in the spawn. But I did manage to get a few eats, missed a few, and landed a couple more.

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One of a few to wrap up our spring trip to Destin…

One never knows what may be in store when travelling to distant places, fly rod in hand. Weather can change and conditions can deteriorate, or conditions can be great and the fish just don’t show up. The great days, the ones that make a fly fisher thank his lucky stars or kiss his good luck charm can both bless and haunt. In the end it is really all a matter of doing thorough preparation and research, damping expectations, and arming one self with confidence and a bit of optimism. Once “in country”, one must try to recon conditions, use weather forecasts and river gauging, and visit local fly shops and talk to fishermen, including the spin guys, the bait guys, and even the commercial guys. All of these sources can help one steer towards a successful trip. Obviously, a fishing destination that is characterized by one “pattern”, as in one river system or one type of fish, carries more risk of the skunk in comparison to areas where there are multiple opportunities, such as in Destin, and our own Southern Tier. I never knew it, but Destin has turned out to be a terrific fishing destination. Most times I’ll always aim first for the salt, but now more than ever, I know ole bucketmouth is always there to save the day.

 

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Grippen Pond – back to life…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on May 23, 2018 by stflyfisher

Grippen Pond sits a mere 50 yards off my back deck and is, at last, reborn. I thought about making that call last year, after hooking and losing a nice bass and following that with a 15″ rainbow trout (a first ever for me in the pond and most likely a holdover from a neighbor’s stocking), but for the rest of the year, the pond just didn’t fish like it used to, especially in summer and fall. My first saunter back to it on an early evening this year convinced me otherwise and left me grinning and looking forward to times like the good old days.

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The first bass of 2018…

Followers of this blog will remember posts I made years back. After moving my family into a bigger house in 1998, I did a recon of the pond on which we had frontage and deeded recreational access and found it teeming with small sunfish and frogs. Weedy and mucky, the pond looked old. Locals claimed it was once a place where kids swam and dairy cows drank cool spring water…

Ponds, like us fishermen, grow old and eventually die. The life of any pond will pass through 3 phases: 1) Oligotrophic, 2) Mesotrophic, and finally, 3) Eutrophic. County Soil & Water Conservation surveyed the pond years back and confirmed it was old and dying. The only way to rejuvenate it effectively would be to drain it and excavate. Early on (we’re talking pre-1900), the pond was quite possibly Oligotrophic: deep and clear and having a low concentration of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Over time, keeping in mind it was on land that became a dairy farm, the pond transitioned to the Mesotrophic stage: having more nutrients and, therefore, more plant and algae growth. As a result of the plant and algae growth, the bottom of the pond began to fill in with organic material. The substrate that was once rock, sand, or gravel, now would have consisted of mud on top of the rocks. Gradually, Grippen Pond became Eutrophic as it is today – extremely well nourished with nitrogen and phosphorus, leading to an abundance of aquatic plant growth. The bottom of the pond is now filled with organic sediment and mud – I’ve waded in areas were I sank in up to my knees. In the heat of summer, vast mats of aquatic weeds and duckweed give the bass a shady hiding place, safe from the herons that hunt the pond’s shallows. The depth of the pond at its deepest point is over 10 feet but I am sure it continues to fill in as all of that aquatic vegetation dies each year. As the pond or lake fills in and weed growth accelerates, the total open water area will shrink. Eventually, Grippen Pond is destined to be a swamp or wetland without intervention.

In 1998 it was evident that Grippen Pond lacked a population of bass to control the sunfish population and I decided to attempt to balance out the situation by playing bucket biologist, stocking some bass from a coworker’s pond.

Scroll forward a few years and the bass were alive and growing…

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Years back, a bright, beautifully marked, largemouth bass

Unbeknownst to me, however, my neighbor on the other side of the pond and owner of the pond, was doing his own stocking. Fathead minnows, crappie, largemouth bass, and rainbow trout were apparently planted almost every year. He had good intentions, but the rainbow trout certainly wouldn’t survive the warm water of the pond, especially through summer, though I now know at least one did. Quite possibly, the deep part of the pond has cold springs that allowing a few to survive. I’ve never caught crappie, but I have caught some supersized sunfish that took bass-sized poppers and wooly buggers with mouths big enough to lip.

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Big enough to take a bass popper…

The big male pumpkinseed sunfish in the picture above eventually met a far worse fate than being caught and released by yours truly. The winter of 2014 – 2015 was not kind to Grippen Pond as the Southern Tier of NY was hit with incredibly cold weather. On the way to work one morning I measured a low temperature of -27 degrees F! The arctic environment sealed the pond shut with a thick layer of ice that lasted well into April. And on top of the ice, the winter’s snow layered up into a very heavy coat.

These conditions can set up ponds, especially shallow ones, for “winter kills”. A winter kill occurs when the ice cover cuts off oxygenation of the water and then snow cover on the ice cuts out sunlight to aquatic plants, causing them to die. The dead plants, in turn, use even more oxygen as they decompose: a deadly downward spiral for all aquatic life.

And so that spring of 2015 was a rough one. I remember scanning the shoreline from my kayak, finding hundreds of sunfish, good numbers of bass, and a few very large grass carp, all dead. Spring turned to summer and the pond was unusually quiet. Gone were the sounds of bass crashing bait in the shallows in the evening. Gone too were the toilet bowl flush swirls at any popper tossed close to a weed edge.

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A very large grass carp that took, of all things, a chartreuse bass popper! I caught this monster in May of 2014 – the spring before the winter kill. It towed me around the pond in my kayak for quite a while…

After a disappointing 2015, I once again patrolled the pond in the spring of 2016, hoping to see signs of a comeback. Paddling about in my kayak, the pond’s owner, a friendly, elderly neighbor, came out of his house to talk to me one evening. I told him the 2015 winter kill had eliminated the bass and large sunfish and that the pond was overrun by small sunfish and frogs. Tadpoles that spring overwhelmed the shallows.

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My kayak ready for duty. The pond owner’s house is in the background. Grippen Pond is a good 1.5 acres in size in the shape of a distorted kidney bean.

My neighbor listened intently to my suggestion that we re-stock some bass and acted on it that year, adding a bunch of decent-size bass from another pond.

As a result of this re-establishment of the bass population, sunfish appear to be under control. And the tadpole population also seems to be thinning. I think I know just where most of those have been going…

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Another 2018 dandy from Grippen Pond…