Well, my family and I survived “snowmageddon 2012″ over the weekend. From the looks of the snow laying flat on my roof and in my yard, I am calling it a foot of heavy wet snow. There were a bunch of trees and tree limbs that came crashing down in our neighborhood, but thank goodness none in our yard. We did however spend most of the day Saturday without electricity. So, we all spent some time reading and entertaining ourselves while being snowed in, and one thing I did was spend some time looking back through my fishing log for last year.
I have been keeping notes of every fishing trip I have made since I was a kid; a long, long time ago. I have numbers and statistics and data like you would not believe. I am not going to share all of those stats and data right now because that would be boring, and well, some of that “intelligence” is mine (hey, I’m the one who has spent all that time over the years writing all of that stuff down and then going back to summarize and analyze it, grin). What I am going to do here is share some stories and pictures about some of the notable fish of 2011, you know, those fish that bring back warm memories while you are snowed-in for a February weekend.
I will start with the ice fishing season which in my book started in December of 2010 with ice-up. Last year’s ice fishing season was excellent for me and my partners. We had lots of ice and caught a lot of fish. We were able to fish a variety of waters across Nebraska and caught a variety of species. The biggest fish to come through an ice hole last year was a 34-inch pike caught on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in December of 2010. Now I have caught bigger pike, but this one was one of the biggest I have caught while ice-fishing. Honestly, I spend little time targeting pike while I am ice-fishing anymore. I have all the tip-ups and pike fishing gear, but my partners and I usually target big panfish and then catch some large predators like pike, largemouth bass, channel catfish and walleyes right along with the panfish. I like to fish small jigging spoons through the ice (e.g. Swedish Pimples) because I believe those baits select for larger panfish, especially if they are in a positive feeding mood, and that strategy produces the occasional bonus pike, bass, catfish, walleye or other large predator fish. The disadvantage of this strategy is at times a large predator fish will manage to escape because we cannot keep them hooked or the line breaks. So, fortunately when this pike ate my jigging spoon I was fishing in water where I could take my time and play the fish, and fortunately she did not break off before I landed her. The hook was right in the tip of her jaw, perfect!
White River Brown Trout
In July we spent some time with my wife’s family out at Ft. Robinson. When I did not have family obligations or activities, I snuck away to do some fishing and in the Pine Ridge area of the state there are a bunch of small streams to explore for trout. My son and I spent one afternoon wading the White River southwest of Ft. Robinson and found a bunch of trout there. The fish were very selective in what they wanted to eat and they wanted grasshoppers. Now, I am not above catching ‘hoppers and using them for bait, but at some point a person spends more time catching bait than fishing. And besides, the trout liked some of my ugly hand-tied ‘hoppers as well as they liked the real thing. My son and I discovered that on stretches of the stream with nice grassy banks we could flush a bunch of hoppers into the water and then watch for the trout to start rising. Once we had a good-sized brown or two spotted, we would slip ‘em a “Mickey”. It is a darned lot of fun watching your ‘hopper pattern drift down to the spot where you know a trout is holding; the suspense will make you jumpy.
One evening we were exploring a new section of stream when we came around a corner and saw a beautiful run with grassy banks on each side. A few ‘hoppers jumped in for us and sure enough a couple of trout started rising. I made a cast and let my ‘hopper drift down to the fish farthest downstream, and slurp, it got ate! I set the hook and a 16-inch brown came rocketing out of the water like an ICBM! That fish jumped way higher than the banks and came down on a bed of watercress. That was the end of that fight; the fish had beached itself in the watercress so I walked down, got in the water and grabbed it out of the watercress, removed the hook and released it. I will never forget watching that fish explode out of the water.
Foggy morning walleye
I spent some time last August at Calamus Reservoir. The white bass fishing at Calamus was phenomenal last year and literally thousands of white bass were harvested. I got in on some of that, but got a little bigger surprise early one morning. What made that early morning special was it was one of those thick, foggy mornings when you believe you are the only person up and fishing. It was quiet, it was peaceful, it was beautiful. A beaver showed up to keep me company that morning and spent a long time swimming around in front of me. And then something thumped my Red Fin and I caught a nice walleye. After taking pictures and releasing the fish, across the reservoir a turkey gobbled. A person does not hear a turkey gobble very often in August, and I was not sure that I heard what I thought I heard. But then he gobbled again. The Lakota would say “Hoka Hey“–it was a very good day.
Right after my last trip to Calamus I was down to North Platte to help my folks celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. My sister, her husband and family were down from Montana and we had a good time with them for a few days. My niece graduated from high school last spring and her fly-fishing-guide brother got her a pink fly-rod as a graduation gift. Holly wanted to catch a Nebraska trout on her pink fly-rod while they were here, and “Uncle Daryl” got to take her on that quest. That day was a great day because beside myself and my niece, Dad, my daughter Emily, son Daniel and nephew Caleb all went fishing. If you have read my blog at all in the past year you know the trout fishing at Lake Ogallala and associated waters has been as good in the past year as the trout fishing that can be found anywhere, so naturally that is where we headed for a Nebraska, pink fly-rod trout.
Holly fished hard all day long. She hooked and lost a couple, three trout on the pink fly-rod. Her cousin Daniel let her use his spinning rod so she at least could say she caught a trout. Then we were already late for supper, and there was time for just one more try. I tied a new section of tippet onto the end Holly’s leader and strongly suggested she pick one of those small beadhead nymphs out of her fly box, one that looked like a midge larvae . We put a shot on her line and I set her “thingamabobber” strike indicator at about the right depth for the water we were fishing. I told her she had about 20 minutes–make it happen! She waded out and started fishing, I waded out beside her. About 5 minutes later Holly squeals as she sets the hook on a fish. I hurried over with the net–that trout was not going to get away!
We all have our favorite baits and techniques. We all have our strengths and confidence baits. But, I try to be versatile and I try to keep using new baits and learning new presentations. To be consistently successful catching fish, one must be versatile. Near the end of August I got to spend some time out at Swanson Reservoir. Our Game & Parks commissioners had a meeting in McCook at that time and while they were out there, several of us assisted in showing them some of the fishing Swanson had to offer. Steve Lytle guides on the southwest reservoirs, http://www.stevelytle.com/ , and Steve and a bunch of local anglers also helped the commissioners do some fishing. After lunch Steve and I got to talking, we both had other things we could be doing, but we decided to go back on the reservoir and fish some more! Steve is one of the best anglers I know, one of the hardest-working anglers, and is also a great person to share a boat with. I have had the privilege of fishing with Steve a couple of times and jumped at the chance to go again. Recently, Steve has been experimenting with flutter spoons, not jigging spoons that are jigged vertically below the boat, but spoons that are cast and fished in a more horizontal fashion.
So, Steve wanted to teach me a little flutter-spooning. We ventured onto a couple of spots on Swanson and caught a bunch of big white bass. That was fun, but both Steve and I really wanted to get into just one school of wipers. On the last spot we fished there were a lot of young-of-the-year shad present and we were hammering the white bass; a fish every cast on the flutter spoons. We were both thinking the abundance of prey should mean a school of wipers would show up and sure enough about that time I hook into a much larger fish. That ended up being a 26-inch wiper, and after we caught, photographed and released that fish, Steve immediately hooked into a 24-incher. At that point we had accomplished what we wanted, to catch some wipers, so we quit for the day!
Fishing with Doug Stange!
Obviously one thing from this past season that I will never forget, one memory that I keep recalling, was the couple days spent fishing with Doug Stange and filming for In-Fisherman TV. I went on and on about that experience in this blog post, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2011/10/pinch/ , and those of you who read that already do not want me to bore you with all of those details, again. I was fortunate enough to catch the biggest fish while we were filming and that 21-inch+ rainbow was a fish I will never forget. That trout was caught well into the afternoon of our second day of filming. We had fished hard for quite some time at that point, but Doug and the cameraman had some additional footage they wanted to shoot. I was fishing a little ways from them; if you want to know what we were using all you have to do is watch episode 4 of this year’s In-Fisherman TV, http://www.in-fisherman.com/in-fisherman-tv/ . We were drifting baits in the current. At the end of one drift I was reeling my bait in to make another cast, and as I am reeling I see a trout, a big trout, chasing my bait. Immediately I pause, drop the rod back, and the trout eats it! As soon as I set the hook I holler “Fish On–Big Fish”! I have not seen the footage on TV yet myself, but I am told that the whole thing is on film! Doug came up and landed my fish in his net; the cameraman took a picture of both us together with my big fish of the trip. That fish was so cool and I will never forget seeing it chase my bait!
Big fall wiper
I love fall fishing; best open-water fishing of the year. One of my most memorable fish was caught late last October; it was one of the last fish other than trout that I caught from open-water last year. I should not tell you this, but if you are not fishing swim-baits yet, well, you are missing fish, big fish. On an afternoon late last October, my son and I were doing some wading and casting hoping there were still some baitfish and big predators moving shallow to put on the fall feed-bag. I made one cast as far as I could sling my swim-bait, but even then my bait was probably in only 4 or 5 feet of water. I cranked the reel handle a couple, three times and felt something thump my bait. I set the hook and the water just boiled, a huge boil. Then it was off to the races as, in typical wiper fashion, the fish took off for deeper water. A fat 26-inch fall wiper pulls really hard and I had to give a lot of line and do some shuffling down the shoreline to keep up with the fish, but eventually I got it. The violence of that fish hitting my bait and the subsequent hook set will never be forgotten and it will keep me motivated and eager for more!
There, now you know what I was day-dreaming about while being “snowed-in” this past weekend. I try not to spend too much time sitting around the house because I try to be on the water as much as possible, but sometimes it is nice to kick back and remember. Big fish are always some of the most memorable, but you know what? Sometimes it is not necessarily the biggest fish that provide the best memories. If you get me started, I could ramble on and on about a lot of other fish that come swimming back through my memories; I have only shared a few here (and probably rambled on for too long with these). Besides swimming through my memories, all of the fish I included in this blog post were released. They are back out there swimming and waiting to make more memories. I can’t wait!