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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Largemouths and sonar

Yesterday I had a decision to make.  i could turn right and go to work, or i could turn left and go to the lake.  I hear that life is short, so I took a left.

I was on the water by 12:30 with no place to be and nothing to do but focus solely on fishing.  I wanted to really try to figure out where the bass were.  I've been catching a lot of small males on the beds recently and I planned to invest some time in discovering where the bigger fish were.

Ultimately I ended up at the spot below.   Last week I caught a few bass on the middle portion of the southern bank of this cove (north is up).  So I started there again this week.  i worked the area methodically with a carolina rig but I caught nothing.  I pulled back a little deeper and saw some fish hugging the bottom, I worked them methodically and patiently but drew no strikes.

I pulled further back toward the mouth of the cove and my screens lit up.  It looked like the county fair was underway on the point at the south end of the cove.  It was unbelievable how much bait was on the screen.  I could see huge clouds of baitfish with other bigger fish below them…my brain was screaming that this was my spot. I had plenty of time, and i still had an unusual amount of patience left so I decided to stay right there until I figured out how to catch them.

This is on Pickwick so the landscape is big forested hills that fall to the lake and become rocky cliffs and ledges about 10 feet before they hit the water.  It's chunk rock city and sheer ledges underwater in this spot.

A few casts in I caught a 2.5 lb largemouth up near the bank…it was the nicest fish I'd caught all day and it encourage me to stay.  The water here is a really nice clear green and on a beautiful blue-sky day like we had it just turned the water into something special to look at.  Occasionally I'd see some brownish clouds in the water but for the most part it was really clear.

After another 20 minutes or so with no bites I saw another discolored spot in the water between me and the bank 30 yards away.  WHOOOOOOOSSSSSHHHH!!!!!!  About 10,000 shad turned and pushed the water up as the top of the school breached the surface.  O…M…G.  The "brownish" stuff I had been seeing in the water was HUGE schools of shad the length of my hand.  They moved the water with such speed, and the sight and noise was so unexpected that I couldn't have been more surprised if an Orca breached next to the boat.  It was unreal.

It made perfect sense…I'd been watching them get murdered on live sonar for the past half hour…but to see them and hear them and really get some perspective on their size…that was an eye opener.  I could now connect the blips on my screen with the real live critters that made them.

Now I had an idea.  Last summer someone gave me some advice when I was struggling to catch fish with this much bait in the water.  They told me to get UNDER the baitfish…to mimic something that was dying and falling out of the school.

The next time that big school of shad came by I tossed a white/chartruesse spinner bait past the cloud, let it sink, then popped it up and let it fall.  I'd do this the whole way under the school…pop it up and let it fall away from the safety of the bait ball.

On perhaps my third pull I was waiting for the lure to hit the bottom and I got hit so hard that I was disoriented.  I couldn't believe how hard my bait just got hit.  It felt like a log had come downriver at about 40 MPH and slammed my bait.  Most times on a spinner bait there's a pop or a pop-pop that signifies the bait has been hit, then I lower my rod tip, reel up the slack, then set the hook.  Then after I set the hook it takes a second or two for the fight to develop to the point where i can tell if it's a decent fish or not.

There was none of that on this catch.  This catch went straight from relaxed with nothing happening, to red-line, katy-bar-the-door.  It was an IMMEDIATE crushing of the bait that instantly stressed every link in my tackle to the max.  From the nano-second it happened I knew I had a real issue on my hands.

At first I thought it was a catfish because it was so heavy and wouldn't come off the bottom.  Then I started to winching the beast to the surface and with the quick flash I saw I began to think it might be a drum…because it just would not come up.  Then my line drifted right…and I watched as that translucent thread sliced the emerald green water and began to rise…it was going to breach…it's a bass…my brain screamed "brace for impact!"

And breach it did.  It breached and arched and shook violently in a classic display of bass behavior.  It was REALLY pulling hard.  I was now worried about my line.  This is a rocky lake full of flat slabs of sharp edged shale…if you don't retie regularly you WILL get your heart broken on this lake.  I lightened my drag a little and watched as it came up and drifted lazily just under the surface, almost as if it just wanted to get a good look at me before we started Round 2.

This was a nice fish, it was way bigger than anything I'd caught on my last few trips, it had a huge head, broad shoulders, and colors and marks on it that made it look ancient.  About the time I came to the conclusion that this was a really nice bass, I started reaching for the net…I guess that signaled the start of Round 2 because that fish sounded the klaxon and dove hard.  I must have looked like a one man band, fighting a fish with my left hand, holding the net handle with my right, and trying to step on the rim of the net with my right foot so I could get the handle deployed.

Trying to keep pressure on the fish while bending down to get the net was difficult.  At one point I had enough slack in the line that I knew she'd get off…but my error only lasted a fraction of a second…not long enough for my aquatic adversary to exploit...and in the next few moments I had the fish next to the boat, then net going in….and I plucked it from the it's watery kingdom.

Perhaps the funniest part is that it's been so long since I caught a fish that I cared to weigh, that I had no idea where my scale was.  I wanted to get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible so I was rummaging through my box like a madman trying to to find the scale.  The scale showed 4.5 lbs, I took a pic, and released the fish so it could continue it's reign of terror on the shad.

It's not the biggest fish in the world, but it's the biggest fish of my season, and to a large degree I was only able to catch it because:

A - my electronics told me it was a good area, and

B - I had the patience to keep trying different techniques until something worked

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