Category Archives: Largemouth Bass

A Small Pond.

Tucked away amongst the trees of a state managed wildlife preserve, and just a quick back-road ride from my home, there is a pond that everybody ignores. It’s not for lack of traffic – the walkers, runners, hunters and transitioning boaters pass me by every time I’m there. Many ask about the fishing. I’m honest, and tell them I catch bluegills here. They sigh with disappointment or nod knowingly, and carry on. In the year or so that I’ve been frequenting this pond, I’ve yet to share the bank with another angler.

The disappointment of the curious passer-by may lie in an unfulfilled promise, or an idea of good intention that simply didn’t take. Nearby, a yellowed and weathered piece of paper stapled to a sign board speaks of the attempts of the state to stock largemouth bass and catfish here. There is a diagram indicating how makeshift underwater structure was created to keep the bass happy, and that these would be marked with a float to both avoid snags and to point out exactly where the fish probably are. Either way, I’ve fished this water high and low and never so much as sniffed a largemouth. Perhaps the idea of marking the spot where a fish should be wasn’t the best of strategies. Perhaps the water and the bass never could quite get along. None the less, in an area with a significant population of bass anglers, they don’t come here anymore.

Quietly, and without notice, things are changing at the pond. I still come here to throw a sneaky pete from a 5 weight in search of bluegill – sunset being the consistent time to take them on top water flies – and the fish deliver. But over the course of the past year I’ve noticed them getting bigger. Certainly not those dinner plates you catch down south – though I wish they were – the pond is producing some of the larger panfish I catch in the area. They put a deep bend in a light rod and can take runs reminiscent of their largemouth cousins, and they strike a popper with determination. I’d stopped hunting for bass in this pond. It was now a place to sneak away to for an hour – a convenient puddle in which to catch a few fish before dinner – but still a valued fishery for it’s stack of tough, and growing gills. But then something happened just a night ago, fishing at sunset. What felt like the  familiar snap of bluegill on a hastily returned popper turned out to be a juvenile bass. I photographed him for proof and quickly let him go, grinning at the prospect of having found a living, breathing bass where it was believed there to be none. I cast again, and caught a second bass, very similar in size to the first. I considered the possibility that the state had once again stocked the water, and made a mental note to find out. Then, I considered the more intriguing possibility – that these bass were not the product of delivery, but perhaps the spawn of a native. Had we all been fooled?

I think I’ll keep this under my hat for a while.

 

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Bug, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Poppers

Catching Up.

 

Could it really be three weeks since I last posted here? I frown on other regular writers when they do that. But perhaps I can be forgiven. Things have been hurried, real life has been engaging, and I forgot the amount of work that spring requires.

Beach Trash

After Trout season was in bloom, I’d landed some nice freshwater fish, and was content to do some other things. The Henbit, after all, had arrived. This purple flower shows up on roadsides and turns the local fields purple each spring, and it’s always a solid bet that, with the arrival of the Henbit, the first flounder in the back bays will be caught. And so it was this year, on schedule.  The spring striper run was fair, and the fish are lingering with the warmer temperatures. That’s what I hear, anyway. When I shelved the fly rod and took out my beach rods last week, I caught absolutely nothing. Instead, I used up my time by collecting a stack of Mylar balloons off of the beach, and one large trash bag that had washed ashore that made me cross my fingers and hope I would find trash in it, and not something more gruesome. If the crime shows my girlfriend watches are any indication, one of these is going to be stuffed with a guy with a questionable background and some recognizable tattoos. Any day now….

 

Roadside Henbit

 

 

Praying Mantis Hatch

Yes, spring is all around and in full swing. Along with the appearance of the usual plants, I’ve almost tripped over a couple of turtles, and the other day, I had the rare opportunity to watch a Praying Mantis hatch in my back yard. I was just in the right place at the right time. The new-born mantis are almost tan in color at birth, but are very recognizable by the all the familiar atributes; the “praying” appendages, the large eyes. They emerge from what is called an ootheca, basically a frothy mess that an adult mantis deposits, in this case, in my shrubs. This hardens, and protects the growing young until they emerge.

So, in the mad dash between stringing up salt water rods one morning, and then grabbing my fly rod the next day, and with intervals of playing nature photographer, and the annual dusting off of the lawn mower, rakes and water hoses, there just hasn’t been a lot of time for fishing and writing. I caught a nice bass the other day on a brief local trip. He bit an olive and brown woolly bugger and was cruising shallow water. Carp are appearing in the shallows, too. On an impromptu trip out to Las Vegas last week to visit my girlfriend’s family and celebrate her birthday, the chance to fish did not arise, but I did sneak off to Bass Pro and pick up some flies and tying material for the coming saltwater expeditions. Crab imitations, shrimp and baitfish, and my old favorites, the Clouser. I think I’m ready to go. Time to catch some fish….

 

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Filed under Bass, Carp, Clouser, Fishing, Flounder, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Saltwater, Scenery, Seasons, Spring, Striped Bass, Sussex County Ponds

The Last Fish of the Year.

New Years Day, and the wind is gusting upwards of 20mph, which does not bode well for the fly caster. None the less, knowing my chances of getting out on the water tomorrow, after I’ve gone twelve rounds with the impending festivities that lie ahead, I went to the water anyway. I could use the practice while I can still feel my legs.

 

The wind did make my casting life a little more difficult, and it was the icy cold kind of wind that slips up your sleeve, but when the gusts would let up, and I could find a second to feel the sun, it was another unseasonably warm day, especially for the last day of the year. The water was capped and frothing from being whipped up by the westerlies, but most of the fish were indifferent. The Bass stayed out of sight, and eventually out of mind, but my Zap Bug was in the water only briefly before the little bluegills started eating it at regular intervals. This is not abnormal,not surprising. The surprises of the day were that the Calico were nowhere to be found. They are usually abundant here, and it was them I was fishing for. Also of surprise was that I was also catching a good number of Golden Shiners, basically a big minnow, but to describe it like that does it a disservice. It glitters in a silvery gold, it’s red dorsal fin in stark contrast, and it fights a lot harder than calico, bluegill, and sometimes, even bass. I only learned this now, having caught a grand total of one of these fish in all my time fishing here, and today, I find five. They are a heavily schooling fish, and I can only assume the school was in shallows and therefore in reach of my cast; an unusual phenomenon here, but a welcome one.

 

 

I hadn’t set out to have a day of reflection; a mental log book of a fisherman’s year, but thats the way it goes sometimes. I thought of all the memories made on the water this year, all those willing fish. The Bluefish blitzes off of Fenwick Island over summer, where we reeled them in one after the other. The big flounder I caught from the beach at the state park. The countless bass, pickerel, bluegill, and calico from my local grounds. The occasional trout from Newtons Pond. No Striped Bass, so far. They are late. But this is another reason for optimism for the coming year, as if a fisherman approaching spring needs such a thing. My bet is that the striper will arrive early on in the new year, and if I’m right, it could be a January to remember. I plan on spending some parts of that month knee -deep in trout streams, too. So much ahead.

 

 

As the afternoon drew to a close, all too early as we often complain at this time of year, a final tug on the line produced a tiny calico, among the smallest I’ve seen. I admired him briefly, let him know he would never be a big fish if he let clumsy fisherman like me catch him so easily, and sent him back to the deep. And that is how the reliable calico, savior of winter, become the last fish of this fisherman’s year.

 

My Best wishes for a Happy New Year!!

-Neil @ Fly & Gin

 

 

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Filed under Bluefish, Bluegill, Calico Bass, Crappie, Fishing, Fishy Water, Flounder, Fly, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Seasons, Striped Bass, Sussex County Ponds, Winter

Give ’em Green.

Walking through the woods on a thick layer of crunching brown leaves last week, in the dying light of a rather unproductive afternoon of fishing, I came across two men at the make-shift boat ramp, red faced and soaked to the waist, attempting to remove their small Jon boat from the lake. It was particularly cold, but I was dry and well layered, and had been fishing from the shore in the lee of a small stand of woods that had kept me comfortable. These two exhausted looking gentleman had been skating across the lakes surface, in direct contact with the elements, and now were standing in lake water looking ever more as if they were about to croak. I walked down to the boat ramp and grabbed a free line and helped muscle the boat toward the waiting trailer. Without a word, one of the men, his beard collecting ice crystals, waded out of the water and around me, and into the truck. He lurched the trailer from the drink, and the boat transitioned from vessel to cargo.

The man climbed out from the truck and smiled at me, offering his hand, which was icy to the touch. Catching his breath, he thanked me for helping, and then looked at me with wide eyes, and said. “Chartreuse. It’s Chartreuse this  year. Bass, Crappie, whatever. Try Chartreuse”.

Of course, I knew what he meant. He had noticed my fly rod and the brown and olive colored woolly in the hook keeper. He was a spinning reel fisherman, but this was his home water, and he knew what the fish were biting at any given time, fly or Rapala, it didn’t matter. The way he relayed that information, though, made me think perhaps he didn’t give it away very often or very easily.

The next day, I once again found myself with time to fish. I considered my options, and decided that I’d go back to that same lake, and try some form of chartreuse fly on the frozen man’s advice. I looked in my fly boxes, and realized I didn’t even have anything in that color, other than a couple of poppers that weren’t the best choice for winter fishing when the fish are low and slow. With the truck warming up in the driveway, I sat down at my vice and very quickly tied up some flies; the kind I though might be of use. A small woolly worm, and a couple of my own creations I like to call zap bugs. Simple affairs; some pearl and chartreuse chenille wrapped around a size 8 hook, and tail tipped with a small, but sturdy piece of hackle. I find that, if tied well, this fly can stay on the surface and be fished dry, or can be retrieved and fished as a small streamer. In fact, I’ve often found that the transition from floating to the diving and swimming action it produces when retrieved is when most of the strikes take place.

I had ignored chartreuse, as the search of my fly boxes proved. I’d been relying on more natural colors of browns and olives, and the occasional white in my tying and fishing. Complacency.

I would soon learn that this was an oversight, as I went on to catch enough fish to lose count of, and four species; Bluegill, Calico Bass, Largemouth Bass and a Golden Shiner, a big minnow I’d never taken on a fly rod before.

Not big fish, but fish none the less, and that’s the point in the end. For a dark, cold day in late december, this was a treat.

The moral of this tale? Don’t forget to change something when what you’re doing isn’t working; advice I knew, yet foolishly neglected. If your local freshwater isn’t giving up fish, chartreuse and white with a sparkle have been the ticket for me. You can tie up flies in any number of ways with any number of materials and have a good day catching fish.

Oh, and always help a man with his boat……

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Filed under Bluegill, Bug, Calico Bass, Crappie, DIY, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Places, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Winter, Woolly Bugger

Horsey & The Northern River Otter.

Fishing Horsey Pond requires a boat as far as I can tell. Boat ramp fishing is hampered by overhanging trees and the rest of the shoreline appears to be either a part of somebody’s private back yard, or is lined with dense forest. I walked over two entry points and  never found an area from which I could fish, which was disappointing because Horsey has been described to me as one of the more dense populations of largemouth bass in the area. I didn’t get to survey for myself.

Those little sets of eyes looking back at me belong to two of three Northern River Otters that lingered around the boat ramp as I watched, and as they watched me. I took them as a bad sign for fishing off the boat ramp, but a good sign that they lived here at all. They would duck and then surface a few feet away, and stare some more, but they soon went back to focus mainly on chasing each other; Otters being among the animals that share the human species’ capacity to do things just for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Sometimes, even when the fishing is non-existant, I still see something I wouldn’t have seen if I didn’t, at least try, to go fishing.

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Filed under Fishy Water, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Places, Sussex County Ponds, Wildlife

20 Ponds. – Tussock

While recently browsing the fishing section of the DNREC website, I came across a listing of state owned public ponds, and it was only then that I discovered that there are twenty of them in my county alone, and I’d only fished three of them. Water is everywhere in Sussex county, with the bays, tributaries, rivers, and of course, the big pond we call the Atlantic, so my oversight can perhaps only be explained by an abundance of good locations near home; the ocean alone enough to keep me fishing without visiting the same couple of locations every other day. But twenty is a nice round number, and Sussex is not a big county, so like Mallory’s mountain, I’ll fish them all because they are there.

While I’d take note of where I’d been and fully intended to visit all of them, I must stress that this was not a gonzo fishing operation aimed at high fish body-counts or a reason to claim I’d “fished ’em all”. It would simply take me to new places that have been right under my nose the entire time, as fishing often does. If the fish wanted to contribute by willingly taking a fly from a stranger now and again, that would be fine, but having not known that some of these  ponds even existed, let alone that they have fish in them, made me feel lazy and dumb about my surroundings. It is also an excuse to write about local waters from the perspective of the bank fisherman. I find that most fishing information left online or in books in regards to my local area begins by assuming the reader owned a boat. But what if you don’t?

Finding each pond on Google maps was easy enough, and I found that several were scattered around the lower third of Delaware in clusters; some mill-ponds, some man-made, others the remnants of when this neck of the woods was blanketed in Cypress Swamp. I was going fishing in the morning, and I had the day, so I marked a couple of ponds I could fish for a few hours each, and I’d see what I could see.

After a wrong turn that left me staring at an empty cul-de-sac, I found my way into the empty parking lot of Tussock Pond. It was unseasonably warm, and I was down to a long sleeved t-shirt before I finished rigging up.

According to my reading, Tussock had suffered from fluctuating water levels and this had contributed to a lower-than-average growth among fish. 400 largemouth bass fingerlings were introduced to the water on 2007 in an effort to boost the population, but the pond lost so much water in the fall of the same year that these efforts were probably hampered. The information trail goes cold here, but the pond and it’s waterline certainly looked very healthy to me, so the only thing to do is go fish it as well as you can, and see what it produces. This is not the best way to go into the fishing of a new water; with ‘below average’ stamped neatly on your expectations, but you also may think you can prove that theory wrong; at least by your own standards.

Most of the shoreline here is thick with brush, so good opportunities for casting a fly rod are slim. Working from the boat ramp wasn’t too difficult, especially with the nearby trees now bare and the leaves under my feet, but the area I could cover was small, and didn’t look promising. I searched it with a woolly anyway, feeling for bass, and finding none. I could see an open stretch of bank across the water; probably a good 40 feet of blue sky bookended by trees. Some stumps protruded from the still water before it. I reeled in and started my walk to the opposite side, which took me along a country road, where I stopped and leaned on a guard rail and made lazy casts to the far side of a rocky spillway, it’s very working existence confirming that water levels had returned to good health.

As I continued on, along the edge of a farm field and towards my spot, a noisy Dehavilland Twin Otter took of from nearby Kent Airport, and clawed it’s way into the air. I’d noted the airport on my map, and new it to be a small grass strip. Such an airplane, out in the countryside and operating from a grass strip, led me to surmise that it was for a sky diving operation. At least, I knew he wasn’t dusting crops.

There had been an optical illusion form the boat ramp on the other side of the pond. Those stumps weren’t nearly as close as they had appeared, but the bank was indeed clear of obstruction and I liked the view.

I tied on a small Clouser and began to send long casts out to the stumps; letting the fly sink and then beginning a swimming retrieve. If the bass were home, they weren’t interested, and I began to cast out to other water, or up along the bank, but the stumps were just classic bass cover and I returned the fly there with every third cast or so. Nothing came of it.

When I’m not catching fish where I thought I might, I tend to do one of three things: I change my fly, though I try to do this as little as possible, for the sake of my leader, and my sanity. I might move. Or, I’ll choose to take a moment to just sit and watch.

Moving wasn’t going to happen. I’d found my preffered spot on the shoreline, from where I could work the most water, and I was happy there. So I watched.

The sun was directly in my eyes, but not too high in the sky, and if I crouched and put the tree line between us I could watch the shady part of the water off to my left. The water lay as still and flat as tightly tucked sheets with the litter of fall motionless on it’s surface. Woolies and Clousers hadn’t produced any fish from the deeper water, and I knew there was a population of bluegill and reader sunfish here, although both are said to live with the bass in the ‘below’ average numbers’ category. So I tied on an Adams parachute, a favorite of mine for bluegill, and sent it softly into the shady water. The fly sat up on the dutifully, drunk on floatant, and before it’s concentric circles had dissipated, it was snatched angrily by a scrappy bluegill.

I thanked him for playing, then lowered him back to the water, as over my shoulder, parachutes, – red, blue, yellow – , drifted lazily from the sky.

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Filed under Adams, Bluegill, Clouser, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Places, Scenery, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Woolly Bugger

Bass, Pickerel, Woolies and Perspective.

 

It’s another gloomy afternoon in light rain, and it’s a little cold and theres a breeze, but I have no complaints because fish don’t seem to care, and I have the afternoon to fish, and the water to myself, and it’s all about perspective.

I have been finding both bass and pickerel in deep water on the local grounds; pickerel in greater numbers, as they don’t mind the cooled water temperatures as much as the finicky bass. While I’ve caught several of both on a small collection of streamers this fall, the go-to fly has been the Woolly Bugger, and by significant margin. I’ve found a preference in these tan and olive colored ones; heavy from lead wiring around the hook shank and it’s bead head, and with an abundance of underwater animation provided by the light, stone-colored hackle. From the banks, I cast these into area I know to be deeper water, and let them sink before beginning a retrieve that is varied in depth and speed until I determine what the fish are looking for a on a chosen day. I don’t believe there really is a wrong way to fish a woolly, but finding the right way in a given situation is usually rewarded with plenty of strikes, even in the dwindling months of the year. Deeper water has been the preference of late, to the point that I’m allowing the woolly to sink to the lake bed before starting my retrieve.

 

Bass and pickerel tend to go after the same style and types of flies, but the bass are gentle on the fly, and the pickerel, with it’s rows of sharp teeth, is quite the opposite. There are more durable choices of fly when it comes to pickerel, but all the best ones: Woollies, Mickey Finns, muddlers and Spey types, can all be completely mangled in the capable jaws of a pickerel, as demonstrated in the picture above and the one below; a ‘before-and-after’ view of pickerel fishing with a woolly bugger.

I caught the fish, and he was a fine pickerel, full of fight and about fifteen inches long, and I can re-tie the fly. It’s all about perspective…..

 

 

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Filed under Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Pickerel, Woolly Bugger