Do Fish Count?

I came across a question from a fellow fishing board member:

How many fish do you catch in a year?

I really don’t know because I don’t count fish for the year. I might keep a count if I have a good day and even then, it’s unofficial. I mean, I don’t know if I’m having a good day until I’m part way into having the good day. At that point I have to estimate how many fish I got to the boat before deciding to keep a count. Even then, I don’t write it down; I keep it in my head, which is not very accurate.

Do you count only the species you were targeting that day? Do you only count the fish that would be legal to keep or the dinks, too? Last year my partner and I were chasing largemouth bass one day on a nearby lake and we couldn’t buy a largemouth, but between us we caught about 100 chunky rock bass.  Soft plastics, in-line spinners, crankbaits, it didn’t make any difference. We couldn’t keep then off the hook. Do they “count?”

I’ve developed a basic non-numerical system for keeping count of fish caught that works very well for me.

1. Skunked            No fish caught
2. Tough                One fish
3. A couple            Two, after the standard definition for two.
4. A few                  My mother said few was three or more.
5. Some                  More than a few.
6. Good                  More than some.
7. A bunch            A lot more than good.
8. A boatload       A whole lot more than a bunch.
9. A buttload       A whole lot more than a boatload, a unbelievable number.

 For last year, I caught somewhere between a boatload and a buttload. And that’s an exact count.

Hope to do a little better this year.

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A Guide To Guides

I’ve fished with five fishing guides. On average about once every few years. Four of the five were pretty good to excellent. I’ll leave the not so good guide for another time.

Why hire a fishing guide? They can be expensive, especially if you are not splitting the cost with a fishing partner. I don’t hire a guide just to have a new fishing partner for a day. That costs money that would be better spent elsewhere.   I found three reasons to for hiring a fishing guide and consider money well spent.

First, if you are new to a body of water that you will be fishing for the first time and fishing for consecutive days, such as a week at resort. You want to get on the pulse of the lake or river as soon as possible. The guide, if he’s good, will take you to places where the fish are have been active and will show you similar places to drop a line. Some guides will tell you why you are fishing in certain places If he doesn’t tell you why, ask him why we are “here” and not over “there.”  I’ve asked guides to mark up my lake map with other areas that produce the time of year I’m out and for during other seasons as well. I always let him know I’m not asking for all of his spots – not that he would give them to me. It’s just a courtesy thing. 

The second reason to hire a guide is to take you out on one of your local lakes that you fish regularly. Even if it’s a lake that you’ve done  fairly well on, a guide can give you ideas on new places, point out features on his electronics that you didn’t know existed and suggest a new presentation. found over the past few days or week and possibly in a neutral to positive mood. He or she may tell you why you are there and what to look for in other parts of the lake. 

Anglers overlook my third reason for hiring a guide: Teaching you a specific fishing presentation.  Four years ago, my wife and kids got me the gift a guided day of fishing with fishing educator Spence Petros on Lake Geneva in southeast Wisconsin . He was specifically teaching drop-shoting for bass that year. That’s the only presentation we used for 8 hours. Doing one presentation for a whole day forces you to concentrate. I did not do well. He out fished me something like 18 to 4, but that was not the point. I learned what rod to use, line, terminal tackle, type and color of soft plastic worms. Why, where and how. Even to an older guy like me, Spence was very encouraging. I kept up with the drop-shotting presentation and have done extremely  well since, with my best day being 36 largemouth bass in my boat in five hours of fishing. 

Two years ago, my bass fishing partner Kenn and I were on Lake Delavan, just west of Geneva, with Spence to learn the where, when, why’s and how’s of wacky rigging for bass.  Again it was one technique for 8 hours. I was “Best In Boat” that day with 14 largemouth bass, Spence with 10 or so and Kenn with 6. Most of them three to five pounders. All day we had 14 to 16 boats fishing the same area and to my knowledge, no one noticed the fish we caught.  No one moved in on us, and no one waved or gave us the “thumbs up.” We saw a few guys bring a fish to hand but not like we were. Spence has a special technique for hauling bass out of the water with no one around noticing.  It’s satisfying to say the least bringing in nice bass when there are  boats all around are catching few of any fish. 

All that said, the number of fish in the boat is not the measure of a good guide. In Canada, we were out with a guide on a lake that I’d fished several times before. We didn’t get many fish in the boat that day. Air temps dropped drastically the day before and the hard wind shifted 180 degrees.  He worked hard to get us on active fish in a variety of locations, depth, and structure. I had a good time. I saw “new” water, explored places that I hadn’t been before, and filed away locations to try the remainder of the week and return trips.

To increase you chances of getting  a good guide try these suggestions:

1. Carefully review the guides webpage or written material. Don’t fall in love with the pictures and be sure to recognize the hype. Read the site to decide his fishing approach, what species he or she may specialize. He could specilaize in big trophy fish. That could mean you may not get many fish, but what you hook might belarger than average. He’s looking got the big ones. Or the guide maybe be a numbers guy, which means your may catch a good number of fish but they could be more of an average size. If you think his style and species matches your goal,  call the guide and explain what you are looking for, the type(s) of fishing you want or don’t want to do. Ask if for the bodies of water he covers. Listen to what he says. Most guides are friends and share information with other guides in the area and will may recommend a another if you are looking for a certain species.

2. Check availability. I like to hire a guide on the first full day of a long trip, with no later than the second day if possible. If your first choice is not available ask him for another name or go to the second name on your list.

3. If you have friends that have used a guide, ask about their experience. What did they like? Did they have any problems? Don’t judge a guide by the number of fish boated. It’s fishing, not catching. Word of mouth is the best advertising and often is the source of great recommendations.

4. If you are staying at a resort or camp, the owner can supply you with names of reputable guides. Camp owners want you to have a memorable week of fishing, and want you to return. They know who are the better guides and can supply you with contact information.

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Still Have The Memories, But Not Enough Memory

2011 was a bad year for my brain. Way too much on my mind with the crummy economy.  No one wanted to want to hire an  experienced architect.  What jobs were out there were going to the new grads who worked for half of what I might we worth.  I did find a job in a semi-related field but I was a stretch for me. It wasn’t working out very well. My brain was overloaded. The more I tried the worse it got. If there a stronger word than distracted, that’s what I was. 

I started to misplace things. The most expensive item was a pair of prescription no-line bi-focal glasses. We tore apart our cars and much of the house looking for them. I waited for three weeks thinking they would show. I was holding off trying the If I buy a new pair of glasses the new ones will appear. But they never did (still haven’t to this day).  Misplacing items I just had in my hands is a sure symptom I have too much on my mind.

Labor Day weekend of ’11 found me speeding my way north with my bass fishing partner Kenn to spend a quiet week at Camp Narrows, Rainy Lake, Ontario. We had a good week fishing. Much hotter than normal. We checked out many places on the water where I hadn’t been on previous trips.

Kenn didn’t bring a camera. Not sure why but it didn’t matter too much as I had a good pocket-size camera to record the weeks catch and scenery. If I remember right, I took something over 150 pictures for the week. That’s the nice thing about digital cameras; you don’t have to think “is this scene / fish / event worthy of film and processing?.”

I kept the camera charging on the counter near the front door of our knotty pine cabin the week.  That way I would see it when we would leave.  The morning we were leaving I made sure I had the camera AND the charger. Sure didn’t want to have to buy a special charger.

The day after getting home, I went to get the camera so I could load all the files on the computer and burn a disc for Kenn.  I looked in every bag, in every tackle box, in every pocket. I took everything out of every compartment in the boat. I called Kenn to have him check his vehicle. Nothing. No camera anywhere.

I waited thinking it would surface in time, but like the glasses, the camera didn’t show up. While I was still sure I packed the camera, I sent an email off to Tom at camp to see if anyone found it in our cabin. By now camp was closed for the season but I knew Tom comes and goes to the lodge , driving his truck on 3′ or more of ice.  A few hours later Tom responded that, yes someone found one. I couldn’t believe it! I thought I packed it but with so much on the mind, coming back to a job and civilization, and not wanting to forget anything, well, I must have really forgot it. I sent a note back to Tom asking him to keep it until out annual visit in 2012.

Son Jeff and I had  nice ride up in mid-September of 2012. As soon as we got picked out our bunks -Jeff somehow always get the better one – and got things settled in our cabin, I hustled over the wood plank path to the lodge to get the camera. Kenn and I really put the hurt on the smallmouth bass in ’11, mostly with shallow to medium diving crankbaits.  I wanted to show Jeff what we caught.

Turns out, Tom and I had a bit of miscommunication. Someone just left a camera bag. And it wasn’t even my camera bag.

While fishermen are known to stretch the truth, I have generally found  them honest. At a remote location like at Camp Narrows, most everyone leaves hundreds if not thousands of dollars of fishing gear and electronics lying in their boats. There is respect that is rare in the everyday world. No one bothers anything.  You see everyone in the lodge, share refreshments. and make acquaintances and see people you haven’t seen for a year. Tom said he was sure if I’d left the camera, his crew or the next cabin occupants would have turned it in. Liars we may be, but we’re honest liars.

Every so often I look around in my stuff for the camera. It might turn up somewhere.

I think I still have the memories…

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To Spinnerbait Or Not

IMG_0524I don’t use spinnerbaits as much as I used to. Some years ago a local high school offered a Saturday morning class in February and March where you could build you own spinnerbaits and other assorted lures. Carefully pouring lead into molds, painting bodies, selecting blade types and skirt colors was a great way to spend the tough weeks before the soft water fishing season. And still is.  Listening to my classmates brag about past outings was very funny. Many of them were the greatest angler to walk the earth, or at least the mid-west, if you believed the stories.

When the school no longer offered the class, I assume due to concerns about liability and lead, I bought my own pre-molded bodies, painted them with nail polish, and developed something unique. It takes about 10 minutes to put one together, no counting the time for the parts to arrive in the mail, of course. One may save a few cents making your own lure of any kind, but I must say there is an added bit of satisfaction catching a fish on a lure of your own design.

My son is a big fan of spinnerbaits. The first year Jeff and I ventured to Eagle Lake in Ontario we had a few of these homemade foolers with us. A couple of them worked OK, but there was one that the pike could not seem to resist. It had a yellow 3/8 ounce body, chartreuse skirt, a small Colorado blade and a large – #5 size willow leaf blade with some holographic tape.  I don’t think there was anything special about it except it was large and flashy. And northerns love large and flashy.

For our next trip I made a maybe a half-dozen identical models of what I dubbed the “Pike-O-Matic.”  They worked just as well as on the first trip.  So I continue to make them for our trips north. Sometimes the fish would destroy all the six or eight we have in the boat over the course of a week. This year I took spare skirts and blades. The pike were active on them – Jeff’s personal best 35″ pike came on one this year. But they all came back for the most part in tact. You just never know.

Jeff really likes the spinnerbait’s versatility. High, low, or in-between in the water; slow it down, speed it up, you just have to wait for the fish to tell you what they want for a munch. Comes through weeds without much problem. Besides his big pike, Jeff also used it to catch smallmouth bass and walleye with the Pike-O-Matic.

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Warmth By The Fire

Door County My wife is not an outdoors person at all. Not one to have patience with any insect, inclement weather, or the odor from non-flush facilities, she had no desire to camp. None whatsoever.

Compromise is the glue that holds many a marriage together. After numerous discussions she agreed to try being outdoorsy. For many years my wife and I would spend most of an October week in Door County, Wisconsin, for the fall colors and just to be somewhere else. We would split the week in two, with the first few nights camping in Peninsula State Park, near the town of Fish Creek, and the rest of the week in a nice lodge.

On one trip, we just finished setting up the tent as darkness came to our wooded, secluded site. I got the fire started with my usual one match efficiency. We sat by the fire watching the flames grow to a decent size so we could roast our kosher hot dogs. As I sharpened the ends of our roasting stick, she organized the picnic table with the second and third courses to our dinner.

Finishing the point on the second stick, I looked up immobilized in horror! My brain nearly exploded as thoughts screamed from one side to the other. Directly next to my dear wife’s foot sniffed a skunk, in all his or her black and white glory.

The skunk didn’t seem to mind being in camp with us. I didn’t mind too much as I knew it would move along on its own. But if my wife moved even an inch to her right, it would all be over. And “it” in this case included our marriage. We survived raising three children but no way would we survive her getting sprayed by a skunk.

As quietly as I could I whispered:

Moana… 

She looked up from slicing a tomato.

Don’t get excited… 

She looked confused.

Just stay still. I don’t want you to move… 

Now she really was confused.

Don’t make any noise. There’s a skunk next to your right foot…  

Instantly she froze. Somehow she managed to look down to the ground only using the muscles that controlled her eyes. I would swear even her neck muscles didn’t move, as she gazed at the creature feeding on crumbs next to her foot. Moana looked back at me, with eyes wide enough I could easily see he reflection of the campfire.

We stood there for another five minutes as our visitor checked out the rest of our camp site then quietly wandered off into the brush to scare another couple who thinks being outdoorsy is a great idea.

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The Local Pond and The Internet

Retention ponds dot my hometown and the surrounding area. They store water during a hard rain then release the water slowly over time so the storm sewers don’t back up. The ponds range in size from about one to 5 acres and are usually surrounded by a public park, so they are decorative and functional. All of them hold fish, mostly bluegills, pumpkinseed, carp, and a few crappies and largemouth bass.  Except for the carp, there’s not much size to the fish, but they are entertaining when you need some fresh air and a fishing fix that lasts about an hour.

One of tese ponds is about 3/4 mile from my home. I go there with a pocket-size tackle box, a container of wax worms,  an ultralight fishing rod, and hope I can find a place to sit on the that isn’t covered with goose poop. I have the company of a few others drowning a worm , most often kids with parents.  The kids can’t stay in one place long and the adults have a hard time keeping up. They all seem to have a good time, no matter the size of the catch.

For awhile, there was a change in the group at the pond. I started to see ‘hard-core pond fishermen’. You can find  the hard-core pond fisherman when you see someone with a specialized fishing tackle backpack, and carrying two or more fishing rods. The backpack is a very handy system, which in the past I’ve seen on guys on some out-of-the-way gravel or strip mine pits, where you have to hike in to get to the water’s edge and where you there is the possibility of getting bass up around 5 pounds.  The biggest bass I pulled out of this retention pond was maybe 12″.

OK, it was more like 10″.

For the next few weeks, when I would drive by the pond in the evening, or when I would stop to fish, there would be one or more hard-core pond fishermen working the water into a foam with a spinnerbait or crankbait. I start thinking what do they know that I don’t? What am I missing? Now I never saw the hard-core pond guys pull anything out of this retention pond, but I wondered what was going on. Why ‘all of a sudden’ did they start to work over my local pond?

About two months later I was looking for some information on a local fishing website. I noticed they had a ‘ponds’ board and checked it out. There I found the answer to the hard-core pond fisherman at my local retention pond. Someone posted a message saying there was great bass fishing at Derda Park.  I don’t know if someone posted the message in jest or perhaps by someone who doesn’t know what is great bass fishing. Perhaps by to mis-direct others?

They can’t put any on the Internet that isn’t true. I read that somewhere.

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