Sunday, May 31, 2015

Redemption!!! (and some other awesome stuff)

Recently, I got my hands on some sampling reports from the Millstone River near my home. It said that 200 American Eels had been electrofished from a certain section of river. It sounded like a great place to redeem myself after the tragic incident of last weekend.

I got dropped off at a great spot (thanks, Google Earth!) at 6:30 with heavy cloud cover and began fishing. I only had about one and a half hour, so I was looking for some quick action. Quickly after I arrived, I set up a heavier rod with a 3/0 circle hook and a chunk of threadfin herring. I used my lightest rod with a spinner in hopes of a fallfish or smallmouth bass. After a lull with no action, I turned to my third rod, rigged up a whole nightcrawler and some split shots, and cast it out to await events. '

After only a couple minutes, I noticed a definite tap, and then slack line, I noticed the same thing later, followed by slack line that was quickly moving. I picked it up and set the hook...

Whatever was on my line was not very large and I reeled it in with relative ease. As it neared the shore, I saw a long, greenish-grew wriggling shape at the end of my line...

American Eel!!!!!!

I quickly lifted it up and carried it as far from the bank as possible, and took a few pictures. The whole time all I could say was "american eel, american eel" muttered over and over... This was redemption!!!

Eels are just about the slimiest, squiggliest fish I have ever seen. It took me forever just to get this photo, and my hands were covered in slime! Well, there it is, species #42 and yet another check off the NJ species list!

Like I said, eels are slimy...

It was quite a bit smaller than the eel I had encountered at the Delaware River last week, but it was still an eel, and one of the coolest fish I've ever caught. As I was washing my hands from all the eel slime, I thought of my other rod with cut bait, some 50 yds upstream in a log jam. I had a feeling something was going on...

I sprinted to the other rod to find it doubled over, barely hanging on to the log I had propped it up against. I picked it up and the fight was on! The rod was heavier than the other rods, but still pretty light. Whatever was on the other end was heavy, and not going down without a fight. My rod was seriously bent as the fish peeled drag. The fish almost got me in a logjam, But I managed to turn it at the last moment into more open water. The fight took at least three minutes (or it felt like it), with the fish bulldogging the entire time. As it neared the bank, I see a huge channel catfish! According to the sampling report (2014), they only found 1 channel catfish here...

Now came the problem of landing it. I didn't bring a net, and I simply couldn't lift the fish up the steep bank and onto the log I was standing on. I realized what I had to do. I gave the fish some line, and maneuvered the rod around the gnarled roots. In doing so, I fell and got pretty badly scraped, but my first channel catfish was on shore, and not a tiddler, especially for here and a river that isn't stocked!

While it was on the bank, the fish spit the hook. I immediately put a death grip on its lower jaw and sprinted back to where all my stuff was. I took some pictures...

And then let the big guy go. He weighed 6 lbs on the dot on my digital scale. There's species #43 and yet another species of the NJ list. 2 epic lifers back to back!

After this awesome catch, I decided to call it a day and relax by the river bank.

Where I caught the eel

The rod saving log. My reel was right under that ridge along the log, and those are the roots I had to climb over to land the catfish.

The logjam

Sorry for the blurry pictures, the lighting was horrible and I was using an ipad. What kinda sucks is that it is May 31st, just a couple hours more and I could put them in the June species contest... Can't be too greedy though. :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Pudgy Dace or Two

Being the last day of the long weekend, I decided to head out again today to maybe give the sore lip to a sucker. Alas, I miscalculated, and all the suckers were under the bridge in a location which I could not see due to the sun's position. Sight fishing was necessary due to the hordes of ninja sunnies which would immediately protect the creek from an evil worm.

Still I stuck to it, and ended the expedition with nothing but a couple bluegills, redbreasts, and one little yellow bullhead that I sight fished.

The sun was high, and it was 90 degrees, so I headed back to get a drink. 

After a while, I made the decision to go back out, this time to my favorite creek, to go microfishing and perhaps, just perhaps, nab a lifer. 

Armed with Gulp! worms, my tanago hooks, and trusty micro rod, I set out. I was immediately swarmed by common shiners and creek chubs, but I noticed some other small, skinny, black-striped fish near the bottom in far less quantities. I didn't pay much attention to them and proceeded to catch more of the aforementioned fish. I was aimlessly jiggling my bait when I felt a tiny tap, and set the hook. The moment when I brought it up, I knew it was a lifer. 

Behold! The savage, enormous Blacknose Dace, species #41!

This one was quite a bit pudgy...

In the water...     

      And a release shot.

I managed to catch one more. Another check off the NJ species list, and another mark on my lifelist!

Monday, May 25, 2015

My Dramatic Event with an American Eel...

On Memorial Day, my friend Eric and I took a trip to the Delaware River, with hopes of lifers like channel catfish and american eel.

It was a gorgeous day, with clear water and sunny skies. Although it was pretty, there seemed to be a lack of fish and action for a long time, so I'll just cut right to the good stuff.

I was fishing in a deep hole behind a boulder, drifting a live crayfish, when I felt a vicious strike. I reeled in only to find half a crayfish left. I drifted the half for a long time, until I felt another strike, this time taking away my other half. I decided to use a cut creek chub, with more weight to let it sit and await events.

Lo and behold, I got another strike, but it escaped with my chub. Darn circle hooks!

Rigging up with a fresh creek chub head, I let my bait sit again. I was just cutting up some bait for Eric's little brother Branden when I hear him say, "Your rod, your rod!!!"

I turn around to see my rod bent in half, line peeling from the reel. I grab it, tighten, and fight the fish. The fish was very heavy and strong, and pure muscle during the fight. Consistent, heavy, thumping. I was thinking big channel catfish the entire time. But when I saw a pointy nose come out of the water with a green-grey snake body, I knew it was an eel. I failed to bring a net (I'm so dumb), so I had to drag the eel up onto the gravelly shoreline.

I got it onto the bank, and lifted it up with the hook still attached to show Eric's dad. The eel was huge, more than 3 feet long and at least 3 inches thick.

It was at that moment when disaster struck.

The eel freaked out thrashing as I struggled to get a grip on it. It snapped my 15 lb test braid, falling onto the ground. It was madness trying to get it, with Branden and I trying to get the eel, which was snaking at an incredible pace towards the water. I even had it in both my hands at one point, but those darn things are just about the slipperiest, slimiest creatures on Earth. As it entered the water, Branden dove forward to grab it, but missed, and got soaked in the process. It swam off so fast it was out of sight before I knew it in the crystal-clear water.

And then it was gone.

After a long moment of frustration, I sat down to re-rig and review the things I did wrong. I didn't bring a net, I should've been quicker in getting a grip on the eel, etc. Well, now I know for next time. At least I caught one.

I will redeem myself, though...

A Tale of Three Tessellated Darters

I had a fishing trip coming up soon, so I decided to wade the local creeks in search of some crawfish and creek chubs, armed with  little jig and a chunk of beef. On the way to a pool, I happened to notice some tiny fish swimming around in a really small eddy, about 9 inches deep at its deepest point. A closer look revealed to me that they were some sort of darter, with some brilliantly colored males.

After I had collected enough bait, I went home and grabbed my tanago hooks, my Gulp! Worms, and went out to catch the darters, with about an hour to fish.

I returned to the little eddy to find the darters still there. I noticed a colorful spawning minnow there as well, and spent a little time trying to catch it. Unfortunately, it wanted nothing to do with the bait I had presented to it. So I shifted my attention to a darter. Those darters are really well camouflaged!

I learned that a darter usually wouldn't bite until the bait was placed right in front of it, then it would twitch forward, and decisively consume the entire hook and bait.


Lifer #40 (and my first darter) was on the line!

I caught 2 more, before it was time to leave. At home, I confirmed that these were tessellated darters with ease, as there are only 3 darter species in NJ. I really should explore my home waters more...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nice Bass and Sunnies on the Golf Course

Today was hot and humid, perfect fishing weather if you ask me! The golf course was waiting, and I wanted to catch some more big 'gills. Even though the bluegill spawn was heading to a close (prime time is when surface water temps are 70 degrees, and little ponds heat fast), I wanted to get in some more nice gills, and maybe some big bullheads and bass.

So I set up my rods, 2 with live and dead chubs, one with a little crankbait, and proceed to get fishin'.
Action was hot in the beginning, with some smaller gills and some nice pumpkinseeds. Pumpkinseeds were absolutely gorgeous, as always.

Nothin better than some colorful 'seeds!

A while later, a spunky little bass decided to strike right at my feet. Almost gave me a heart attack, he struck so hard!

 A little while after, while I'm still fishing the crank, I see one of my rods bouncing, a I run to it and grab it. Lo and behold, there was another snapping turtle on the line! (I had caught one the other day, but today I didn't get a picture. Don't want to risk it. Them darn things can take off my finger.)

Here's the one from the other day; Will took the picture. 

Then some thing unthinkable happened. 

As I'm dealing with this one, my other rod starts bouncing. I put my rod wedged in the fencing and I run over to prevent my other rod from swimming. I reel in yet ANOTHER giant snapping turtle. Both their shells were well over 20 inches. I ended up just cutting the line to avoid loss of any appendages. I feel kinda disappointed, though. The snappers found my bait really fast. When it comes to pests I usually think of runt bluegills, not big snappers. This makes me afraid to do any more catfishing. 

What I end up doing is taking my bigger rod and putting on a carolina rig with a 7 inch black and chartreuse ribbontail worm. After a little while, I traveled to a little muddy flat  on the other side of the pond. 

I felt a vicious strike, set the hook, and felt a strong fight on the other end. Unfortunately, that feeling was over soon. I pitched another cast to the same spot, another strike, and another fight. The fish didn't fight as hard as the lost one (don't they always?), but still a very respectable fish, especially for NJ. 

There's a reason they're called bucketmouths... and look at that belly!!! (the fish I mean :P   )

 I went to a gravel-rocky shallow area, and I tied into another respectable fish, again with a big gut. The water in which I was fishing was so shallow, I saw the wake the bass made as it rushed over to my worm!

The big worm provided no more action other than one small fish, probably 12 inches, that took a worm more than half its length. Hehe. Aggressive little guy.

A bluegill rounded out the day, and I headed back home. I am going to make a point to fish bigger baits for bigger bass this year, hopefully I can get an NJ bass finally over 4 lbs! (my PB NJ largemouth is 3 lbs, 15 ounces, but my PB largemouth anywhere is 6 lbs)

Another perfect day gone, and I'm wishing for many more in the summer!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hitting the 'Gill Spawn a Little Late (ft. Eric & Will)

The plan was for me and a couple of my buddies to slam some big bluegills today. Didn't get as much as we wanted, but still a fun day overall.

It was a beautiful day, sunny, in the 80's, but a little humid. The golf course was just calling to me.

Me and Will arrived at the golf course first, and I immediately tied into some nice 'gills and pumpkinseeds.

First bluegill was 9 inches, a NJ Skillful Angler award qualifier!

Pumpkinseeds were beauts today. 

Will with only his second bass. (Will is new to fishing; try getting a vegan to fish!)

Will caught some big bluegills, too.

Eric arrived a little later, but just catches big bluegill after bluegill. He also caught his first largemouth bass today (not that he's inexperienced, he's used to smallmouth and pike at his lake in Canada). This was my first time fishing with Eric - I recently got him into a more accepting angler, and he started a lifelist!

Eric catches the biggest 'gill of the day: a beastly almost-10 incher. My biggest is 12, though, so ha! (I'm definitely not competitive.)

We all caught big dark bulls today, some of which were leaking milt. No females full of eggs, though. I noticed that today's fish were a lot less colorful than my usual spawning bulls. I remember a day last year when I timed my fishing just right, caught fish on almost every cast, and they were positively glowing!

Some more big bluegills and bass rounded out the day... Can't wait to fish with them again!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Epic Day with Suckaaaa!!!

What would you do in a nice afternoon with a couple hours to spare? I knew what was planning to do...

And thus I brought out another expedition for the elusive, uncatchable small stream NJ white suckers. 

The stream I fish is less than 3 feet deep at its deepest, and is gin clear, except for when it rains. I fish a little pool under a bridge, where there is a year round school of white suckers. Most are smaller sized, but there are some that definitely pushing 3-4 lbs. I know this because I can see their every move in the shallow creek... So far I have only caught one white sucker, and it was probably a fluke. 

But every sucker is special, so off I went to catch the uncatchable fish to fuel my addiction that is fishing. 

I had hopes that there weren't many sunfish yet, but unfortunately, the creek was stuffed with them. These sunfish are born experts at stealing worms when a white sucker is supposed to eat it. I guess the hot weather has brought them here.

Instead of on top of the bridge, my usual spot, I took a long loop and got on a very, very muddy shoreline. Looking into the water, I saw them. The Uncatchables were here! Quickly setting up, I wasted no time in flicking out a worm. Sadly, the Bait-Molesters got to it first... Can't complain though, the first couple were absolute gems!

Ain't that a pretty redbreast!

Pumpkinseeds weren't ugly either.

But after a ton of runt bluegills, it was clear that I just couldn't position my bait close enough to the suckers from my location. So I moved back to my usual spot above the bridge, where it was easier to position the bait but also easier to spook the fish.

From this spot I could see a lot of suckers, some of which were monsters. However, most of them, including the big ones, were suspending 1/3 of the way from the bottom. I figured out that they were uncatchable in this position. I lowered a worm down, and it settled near a small sucker. It looked at my bait, and promptly sucked it up with a cloud of sediment. Setting the hook, I saw the fish flash and turn, and felt the fight on my rod.

Sadly, that feeling was over quickly.

This fish came unbuttoned. Dang it!!!!! The hardest part is getting them to take the bait... Not easily put down, I set the worm back down. More sunfish came up, but these weren't tiny. In fact, I landed 2 NJ Skillful Angler Award size sunfish! Both were just past 9 inches- a bluegill and a rock bass.

Funny thing is, I landed my second and third rock bass ever in NJ today! Compared to the other sunfish species, they aren't too common.

Now for the interesting part... Of course no one is going to enjoy the tale of how I placed baits in front of suckers' noses for an hour, so I'll get right to the good stuff.

After fruitless attempts at enticing suckers, I spotted a lone one sitting on a silt flat a little ways from me, just sitting on the bottom, as opposed to the suspending ones. The water was less than a foot deep. It presented a good target. The first cast was slightly off. I cast, and reeled in to position my bait about 2 inches from its snout, and waited...

Not good enough. 

I reeled in and recast. This time it was perfect, and I adjusted my bait ever so slightly. It was DIRECTLY under the sucker's lips, perfectly positioned where I could still see it. Seconds seemed like years as I waited. Then, ever so quickly, a white flash, a twitch of the fins, and a puffball of sediment. I watched my bait disappear, then set the hook. 

The sucker was not small, and I was using ultralight gear with 4 lb test mono. I made a quick prayer to the fish gods, hoping that nothing would go wrong. The beast was bucking and thrashing as I strained to control it. The fight was spectacular, with what could be described as a tailwalk. The scales glimmered in the water as it fought to release itself from the metal hidden in a delectable-looking piece of food.

My adrenaline was building up as the sucker neared the shoreline. I climbed down the side of the bridge to land it. It made one final run, one final blaze of glory.

Then it was mine. 

The fish was beautiful beyond words, encased in a golden suit of armor. I had worked for this fish and I couldn't help feeling proud of myself, yelling loud enough to stir the entire neighborhood. :)

This picture turned out amazing!

Can't catch a sucker without a lip photo...

Anyone want a kiss?

I feel I may have overdid it with the photos, but I wanted really good documentation of the fish. I released it, and watching the round, elusive fish swim away was one of the best feelings in my life. 

Not wanting to push my luck, I headed home, satisfied and happy.