July 14, 2007

Turtles, Catfish and Bass all agree - Liver tastes great

So far its been a very dry summer here on the Alley. Very little rain has fallen and the rivers have slowed to a trickle. The weather all week was hot and humid. That usually keeps the fish lying in wait until the evening hours. After doing some Saturday yard work, I decided to head down to the Rocky. I made my way to the pools behind one of the golf courses in the reservation. This section of the river is very popular with steelheaders as it’s one of the deepest sections. During the summer months, the pools are inhabited by carp, channel catfish and smallmouth bass.

As I walked along the river, being mindful of errant golf balls, I noticed it was full of algae. The river was extremely low and I could see the remains of redds dug out by steelhead way back in April. As I walked I could see several carp feeding in very shallow water. The water was probably no more than a few feet deep. As I continued down to the bend, I noticed a very large school of carp mingling in the riffle. There were about 40 fish lazily swimming and holding in the shaded sections. I reached into my bag of carp chum and tossed some out.

I stood at the top of the riffle and placed a couple kernels of corn on the hook. I casted out and let the float drift downstream. Standing on top of the rock I could the carp methodically sifting through the bottom. Due to the easy visibility, I could see the fish taking the bait and quickly set the hook. It wasn’t a large fish, but it made a run for the downed tree. Due its small size, I easily steered it away from it. It was an average sized fish weighting a little more than 6 pounds. I continued to fish the riffle and picked off several more. The remaining fish scattered into the deeper water and it was time to change tactics.

By now it was almost 7:00 P.M and I switched to catfish mode. For catfish, I use the same setup for steelhead. Instead of eggs or shiners, I use chicken livers. Generally, I like to use spawn sac netting for the liver as it easily tears off the hook. But, I didn’t have any netting so I had to make due with placing small pieces on the hooks.

I moved downstream to section with some downed trees as catfish love to hide in lumber. I tossed some liver into the water and waited several minutes to see if I could get anything stirring. It wasn’t catfish that appeared, but soft shelled turtles. Periodically they surface and quickly go back under. All of them were fairly small and I figured sooner or later I would probably hook into one.

I drifted along the trees and didn’t get any hits. I told myself I would give it a few more minutes and head to the larger pool. I watched the float drift along and it went down hard. I set the hook and immediately I could tell it was a turtle. I managed to get to the surface and it was a fairly large one. As a kid, I remember hooking into several snapping turtles and remembered wisely cutting the line. Even though soft shelled turtles were smaller than snappers, they were just as ill tempered.

I managed to get it close to shore, but the turtle wouldn't come out of the water. He dug in his front feet and stubbornly refused to leave the water. I finally dragged him onto the shore only to have him try to head back into the water. I didn’t want to cut the line as I felt I could remove the hook. It was a feat in trying to remove it as I yanked his neck out. It was like trying to remove a hook from a rubber band. The turtle protested by pulling away. After several attempts I managed to get the hook out and watched him quickly return to the water. After that I packed the gear up and headed to the larger pool.

The larger pool was about 100 yards downstream and I walked along the bank. The large trees along the pool blocked out the sunlight. By now it was dusk and I figured the catfish were on the prowl for food. This pool is deep by Rocky River standards with a depth of 4 to 5 feet. I started at the head of the pool and tossed out the float. The current was very slow and I figured this would give the fish more time to find the bait. It took some time to find the fish and I they were holding tight along the undercut of the bank. Just like the carp in the river, the catfish are often small usually weighting a couple of pounds. In the spring, I’ve heard of some lunker cats being taken in the lower section. Due to the lack of depth and forage, there are not many holes for cats to find.

It gradually got cooler and the fish started to get active. As I was reeling in the float, the water's surface exploded. I took me by surprise and I was stunned. Then the line stiffens and it was a decent sized smallmouth bass who mistaken thought a piece of liver was a minnow. The numerous shiners kept this fella plump and healthy. By now, it was gradually getting darker and I had about an hour before it got dark. I caught a couple more dink catfish and then nothing. I was surprised that there should have been more fish. I decided to pack it in and wondered how the fishing would have been after sunset. After dark is when catfishing is at its best, unfortunately park rules don't allow people fishing after 11:00P.M. Hopefully, next week I can head out to the big pond for some perch.

July 5, 2007

Beating the summertime blues

During the summer months, many of my steelheading brothers are out on Lake Erie chasing walleye, perch and smallies. Due to the fact that I don't a boat and I easily get seasick, I’m forced to fish the local rivers to keep me occupied until the steelhead return in the fall. Many of those friends that fish the big lake often dismiss stream fishing as unproductive. They feel that river fish are often too small and the lack of desirable species makes it hardly worth it. They can waste a shitload of gas as they head out nearly 20 miles to chase after a couple of fish. 

One fish that is found in large numbers during the summer months in the local rivers is the common carp. Growing up in Northern Ontario, I never saw a carp. Only until I went to college in Southern Ontario did I encounter them. My first impression was of being awestruck by the massive size of them. Looking like a goldfish on steroids, I would watch 40 pounders feeding along the breakwalls in Lake Ontario. From what I gathered anglers either loved them or hated them. The diehard carpers respected them as a wily adversary and claimed that they were smartest freshwater fish alive. The others regarded them as nothing more then trash fish that should be exterminated.

Only until I moved to Ohio, did I start fishing for carp. My favorite spots to fish were sections of the river that have a slow to moderate flow with a depth of 2’ to 3’ deep. Many of these spots are some my favorite steelhead haunts in the winter. In the Rocky, carp could be found throughout the river. But, they usually prefer to hang out in the deeper pools. Due the high algae and silt in the streams during the summer, the water is usually runs slightly stain even when the water is low. With polarized sunglasses, the fish can be spotted easily in the shallows. In deeper water, I look for mud plumes. Mud plumes are the result of carp sucking up the bottom looking for food. In some pools plumes are very evident due to many carp feeding at the same time.

The day before fishing, I’ll make up a batch of chum. My chum recipe is pretty simple - cornmeal, crunchy peanut butter and vanilla. I add the ingredients into a bowl and mix it. Then I’ll put the chum into a zip-loc bag and place it in the fridge to harden. I’ll find a selected pool to fish and take a handful of chum and toss it into the current. The oils in the peanut butter and the vanilla provide the scent that gets carp into a feeding mood. For bait, I like to use sweet corn or pinto beans. Usually carp have a hankering for corn and rarely turn it down.

Carp found in the Rocky River are usually smaller than the lake dwelling behemoths that I see at the power plant. They range from 2 to 10 pounds and can be easily caught on light tackle. For river carp, I use my steelhead float rod and centerpin. The long rod is very effective as it allows better float manipulation and the use of lighter lines. One of my favorite floats is the Drennan 5X4 Avon with the wire stem. I use a 6’ 10 pound leader and for the tippet it depends on what type of water I’m fishing. If I’m fishing a pool with little lumber, I’ll use a 6 pound tippet. If I’m fishing near a lot of lumber, I’ll use an 8 pound tippet. For both situations, I like to use an abrasion resistant limp tippet. Most of the spots I fish have a very slow current, therefore I don’t use split shots. If I’m fishing still water, then I’ll use a single large split shot to keep the bait at the bottom. Since the float has a wire stem, it will balance on its own. The weight of the hook is enough to get the bait down. For hooks, I like to use the ones for spawn sacs. I also like to have my hooks the same size as the kernels, so the #10 hooks are my favorite.

Once the fish have begun feeding, I’ll cast out and let the float move downstream. Carp are notorious for spitting the hook before the angler gets a chance to set the hook. The reason is the fish detect the line against their lips. To get around that, I employ using a hair rig. Hair rigs are extremely effective as the bait is the first thing that enters a carp’s mouth. Once the fish detects the hook in its mouth, it will blow it out. Since the sharp end of the hook is facing outward, the fish will end up hooking itself.

For my hair rigs, I use dacron as it’s very limp and strong. The first thing, I do is tie a loop. The loop is where the bait is placed. To hold it on the hook, I’ll thread the line through the eye of the hook. Then I’ll wrap it around the entire length of the shank. I’ll then cut a piece of silicon tubing and slide it on the hook. This will hold the line in place. For bait, I’ll use a couple kernels of corn or single pinto bean. I’ll use a metal sewing hook to thread the loop through the bait. Then I’ll use a small piece of a leaf’s stem and stick through the loop. This will prevent the bait from sliding off. As the float drifts, I look for any movement. In still water, the float will usually pop up. This is the result of the fish lifting the sinker off the bottom. When the float is drifting, I look for any movement. Most of the time it will go down hard, as the fish panics when hooking itself.

Unlike the acrobatic feats of a steelhead, carp are all brute strength. They may look obese and lazily swim about, but they can unleash a charge that would make a bonefish proud. I’ve had some large carp rip off almost a 100’ of line with little effort. When fishing near lumber, the largest carp will always head for it. Whenever, I set the hook I’ll immediately try to confuse the fish. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Once they finished with initial run, they are relatively easy to land.

I find carp are a worthy adversary and I give them a great deal of respect. They are challenge to fish for regardless of what method is used. Carp have saved me from a long summer of boredom and I always find them a thrill to fish for.