Chasing White Bass

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I’ve been out a few times recently trying to see what the white bass are doing.

With the impossible-to-predict-weather we’ve seen so far this past sprinter and spring, the anadromous fishes have been off from their normal upriver spawning runs.

So I went this past Sunday on the kayak and found striped bass, white bass, crappie and more on Jordan Lake, then I took a stroll through a scenic area on the Haw River earlier this week and searched the pools and eddies for the small-but-ferocious fighters, and finally rushed to meet up with Captain Stu Dill yesterday after work to see if we could find any fish on the main lake before the weather hit.

So Sunday was awesome…

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I found and caught six species. Released all the perch, bream and smaller whites and crappie and largemouth bass, but I did release one big striper…check out the video.

 

I don’t like to keep freshwater stripers over 22″ for the table. So I usually release the bigger fish. And I’d already put a 22″er in the ice box along with the whites and crappie. So that was a great day; probably caught 30ish fish, almost all on jigs and sassy shads trolling in 20′-24′ of water.

Then, I got the itch to seek out the creek dwellers. I walked to a cool spot on the Haw River and took some pics before catching one little male, which was photo’d and quickly sent back to the river…

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The fishing was slow, but the afternoon was priceless.

Then I decided to hit the water yesterday after a half day of work with Captain Stu Dill and we worked as hard as we could. We employed a run-and-gun strategy; knowing we didn’t have a lot of time before storms would hit. Stu drove and I tied and re-tied rigs, trying to see if the fish would eat. But the rain quickly arrived and the air cooled considerably. We figured we were golden; barometer dropping, cloudy and overcast, no wind, blah,blah,blah.

We almost got skunked; if not for the hungriest white bass in the world yesterday, which also hit a small jig with a white sassy shad trailer. (feature photo) It was quickly photo’d and released as well. But the storms ran us off the water less than 2 hours after we launched, so we didn’t even get to fish any prime time.

So the moral of the story is the same as usual with spring fishing. Get out there and do it, but don’t be too disappointed when the sure thing on a spring day turns into a non-starter. Just breathe in that fresh air and enjoy the time afield and afloat.

More Winter Stripers

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Winter Stripers fight hard and are a great excuse to get out and brave the cold.

So I got out for only my second trip of the year yesterday and the bite was really hot again. I found striped bass in 15′ – 18′ feeding heavily. I went out in the kayak and targeted structure with jigs and spoons.

Needles to say, the sonar was very important yesterday as it was a bluebird, high-pressure day. All my fish were caught just off points and yesterday they were crushing the lures. I didn’t go out in the morning, it was in the 20’s and there was a north wind forecast. But I saw that the wind was supposed to switch over to an easterly around lunchtime so I couldn’t resist the trip.

I went one other time this year and found fish in the same depths, but on a totally different type of structure. That particular day the fish were barely hitting the lures, and every time I fought one to the surface it only had a single hook in it’s mouth. I hadn’t taken a net and lost several really nice ones trying to get the fish grippers in their mouths. I’d grown tired of dealing with a net in the yak, fighting with getting lures out of snags and had really gotten comfortable using the grippers, but that’s no good when they aren’t crushing the lures. And thrusting your hand into the mouth of a thrashing striper with treble hooks exposed is not something anyone with any experience with this species will do more than once.

So I brought a net yesterday and didn’t lose a single fish. Lesson learned.

I landed 7 stripers over 20″, and the best fish was a thick 25″ specimen that probably weighed between 6 and 7 pounds. It had broken lines on both sides and had gorgeous colors. I didn’t target or catch any other species, but there were some smaller fish I didn’t take pics of.

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As you can tell by the surface of the water it was fairly calm, which is the ideal condition for wintertime fishing. Whether you are using live bait and fishing vertical or using artificials; like jigs and spoons, windless days are the best. This allows you to stay on top of good marks, trees and contours around points pretty easily.

The color of the lure didn’t matter yesterday, but they did want small baits (standard for winter, go small!!). And presentation had to be perfect. If I hadn’t had the sonar on all day I wouldn’t have caught a single fish. They were really holding tight to structure and dead on the bottom. The marks were like bumps on the bottom of the lake, but they were there.

Here are the rest of the pics.

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Yep, I caught Stripers on a Skitterwalk

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So with the nights cooling off I’ve gotten back on the water for stripers a few times over the last few weeks.

Last Saturday morning I hit a lake and found fish eating a ChugBug steady until 9am. The fish were knocking the bait out of the water repeatedly. It was incredible. Literally the best topwater bite on freshwater I’ve ever experienced. Never had so many fish come back to a bait they’d knocked 10″ out of the water so many times. That post with pics is here.

So I went back one day after work and the bite was non-existent in great conditions. It was cloudy, the wind was down and shad came to the surface in many schools a few hours before sunset; but the small baitfish were unmolested. Not a single fish surfaced that afternoon and I finally resorted to a Texas rig to catch one very small largemouth bass. The area was devoid of life. The water is still really warm for striped bass in the afternoons.

So this am I decided to hit the Cape Fear river and try my luck there. This proved to be a great decision.

Literally non stop action til about 8:00am.

I starting catching fish in the dark…

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It’s a little unnerving in a river, by yourself, yanking a topwater bait across the water towards the yak in the dark when a fish unloads on it. The sound was violent and water sprayed me all morning. But that’s what getting up at 5am is for… And they kept hitting the ChugBug. Even some nice ones….Biggest one, the Skitterwalk fish, was almost 26″ and not too skinny for a late summer fish, probably 8 pounds.

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I lost a few too. Last weekend not a single fish came unbuttoned, and there were a lot of bass mixed in. This am no bass at all and I had 1 good fish come unglued at the boat. I couldn’t complain though…When the bite slowed at one point, I remembered I had tied a white Skitterwalk on one rod. I had never hooked a freshwater striped bass on one so I chucked it out in a lull.

First few pops…and this comes on board after quite a tussle…Sometimes a quick change of baits is all you need.

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The bite died at almost exactly 8:00. I tried to find other biting fish but the area closed for business just like that. As often in late Summer you will see fish bite great for about an hour or two but can shut down quickly in shallow water.

I had other things on the agenda for today so I headed out at 9:00.

Man what a morning.

Gaston Lake Citation Striped Bass

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It’s tough to fish Gaston Lake on a holiday weekend.

It’s even tougher after you spring a leak in your boat after treating it an unkind manner. I decided to hit Gaston Lake for several days and knew it would be tough to fish much at all. So I went with the attitude of just rolling with the park tanners and taking what I could get as far as fishing. I caught a few dink bass and stripers Friday afternoon before the masses hit the lake. But nothing of any size, and thunderstorms ran me off the lake early too.

Saturday morning was a repeat of dinks along with a few nice blue cats. After beating my skiff up a good bit just riding around and enjoying the cool weather on the water after fishing, my friend noted a leak in the front. Like a 2” crack. I put the hammer down and got back to my truck in short order and trailered the boat.

I remembered fixing a radiator years ago with JB Weld. It held for 6 years and I figured if it could do that against heat, water and pressure it could seal a popped weld on a metal boat. So me and Pop hit the hardware store, (lucky they were open) and purchased the goods.

It takes basically 6 hours to set good so I cleaned the area and applied the weld. So fishing that day was done. The next morning I put the boat in the water but there was still a touch of water coming in, but 90% stopped. But I looked out on the water saw jet skis already circling and decided to just fix it right. I could see I needed to go another ¼” to seal the crack.

I made the additional repair and was on the water in a dry boat by 4pm. I ran straight out of the creek and hit the main lake. I knew where the fish were so just got there and dropped lines. 10 minutes into the troll one of 4 rods doubled over violently and I grabbed the rod. The fish fought like a huge striper but I hoped it wasn’t another blue cat. I fought the fish as best I could to the boat and asked Raixa to grab the net. She’d never netted a fish like this in her life, so I told her to just go lower than she thinks she should and mentally crossed my fingers….After a nervous few seconds boatside the fish was in the net and I was kinda shocked. She was 32” and 14lbs+. We both kinda freaked a bit and after a short celebration and a few pics that fish went on ice.

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I turned around and ran back thru the area and hung over another rod and this came to the boat…

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Raixa got one heckuva fight outa that fish. But I wanted her to get her first rockfish. Then after another large circle I ran thru the area again and hung over another rod. And when I grabbed the rod it was shaking so hard I thought it was probably another striper so I gave Raixa the pole again (even tho it was my turn lol). But again it was another big blue catfish. She was still stoked (and bruised) after fighting 2 big fish. We went ahead and released it and after another hour without a bite and knowing we had about an hour of light left we hit an area close to home I’d caught a few shorts at earlier in the trip.

 

When we got into the area the water was slick and I dropped 2 leadcore rods and within seconds there was busting fish off to our left, then the first rod doubled over and I gave it to Raixa again and she reeled in her first striper. It was only around 17 or 18″ so without thinking I did what I would normally do in that situation and chucked it quickly back in the drink. Duh. No pic of her first one but she was fine with it. Then another rod went over and I reeled in a smallish largemouth too. We trolled another few minutes but the bait and fish split quick-like. It was about dark too so we reeled in the lines and hit the house.

I had a nice fish to clean for a 4th of July dinner. I could already smell the lemon and Old Bay’s, and it was good.

Trendkill: Death of the Canned Hunt

There is an image of the American hunter many anti’s have. But it doesn’t have to be that way; because it’s an inaccurate image created mostly by hunting shows.

I could not put a collection of essays together, concerning hunting and fishing, without a word on the state of trophy seeking. I believe there is a difference in the pursuit of trophies between hunters and anglers. This is most evidenced in televised hunting and fishing programs on television and on-line. The pursuit of trophies, in itself, is a good thing in either past time, unless he or she who kills has no intention of eating the animal, or has no sound reasoning for wildlife population intervention. The art of patterning different species on land and in the water, taken further in targeting only mature creatures, is far more rewarding in experience and building of proper ethics, than what a person gets back from the taxidermist. I find no faults in the keeping of trophies. The animals we harvest are beautiful, and should be cherished when we are fortunate enough to cross paths with them. It’s the way in which many in the hunting community obtain their “trophies”, and how their voices outweigh the voices of the real hunters in America, that should be of great concern to us these days.

We see hunting shows and the way killing is glorified. We see self-proclaimed stars that show up on a piece of land to hunt; in exchange for a few kind words regarding the outfitter on an enhanced commercial – or they pay for the trophy they take. We see these stars, or ‘professional hunters’ arrive in ‘camp’, which is often a five-star ranch, only to begin viewing photographs taken from cameras placed by guides – rather than scouting the land themselves. Then we see these ‘hunters’ informed of where the deer or other game approach from – what wind is best – perhaps when the areas were baited last, and so on. They are taken by a guide to their approved of destination, and then often told which animals they can shoot, or which ones are off limits, or carry a higher price tag.

Then, these shooters kill an animal – a trophy in inches or weight no doubt. I would not call it a harvest, for a harvest involves more than merely shooting an animal – only to keep the head – then often donate the meat on the way to the next property. This seems to me an odd form of charity. I would not say it is unkind to, or unwelcome by the needy, although perhaps strangely out of place. I think hunting ranches could be a great thing for those who have physical limitations, or may otherwise not be able to hunt, due to financial or geographical hindrances. But for those who are healthy, who can get around physically and have the privilege of being able to do the work themselves – actually hunting – why would they want to cheapen the meaning of a trophy?

I have mixed feelings as I write this. I know there is many a person, who sits and stares at an animal obtained in such a way on many days. They surely felt as though they were hunting when they sat in the blind or on the stand. They may have waited a few hours, or even several days. The weather could have been adverse. The time invested could be measurable. That is for them to decide and live with. That is for them to determine, and decide whether that is a true trophy. And if they wished to promote that as acceptable in the hunting community, if they feel that is what should define a trophy – that inches matter more than experience – that size is more important than passing on a different code of ethics to the youth – which we often call the future of hunting – then they will have to live with what hunting becomes – perhaps a click of the mouse in time.

All hunters go through the stages of the hunter, and ultimately should seek mature animals or trophies, but the trophy sought should not be singularly defined by the length of beams and tines. Of course the experience is of the utmost importance. An outdoorsman should be able to scout the land himself, determine animal movements, food sources and bedding areas, by reading sign on the ground as well as utilizing careful observation. He should determine himself where the dominant wind comes from, where to place stands and if bait need be used at all. Hunting ranches often bait areas to up the chances of sighting game for paying customers, so they may move more hunters through more quickly. While the man who hunts an area responsibly, and knows what the deer are eating, often needs no bait at all. He will hunt near the white oak dropping acorns, or the persimmons tree. The true outdoorsman should have a good idea of the carrying capacity of the land he hunts – be it public lands or private lands he has access to. Then, there is the proper selection of mature animals. Young hunters tend to shoot at all ages of animals. This is not discouraged early on, as most want new hunters to be interested. But as those that will stick with hunting become more seasoned, they will naturally learn to let younger animals pass. This has been described as the “evolution of a hunter”, and is essential in the art of taking mature animals. The ethics involved in allowing young animals to live is obvious in many ways. But only after we hunt a piece of land over time will we see the age class of deer, and know which deer may be the trophies in the woods we stalk. In one county a four year old, hundred and eighty pound, eight point might only have one hundred and ten inches of antler. While a tract of land miles away, where there are many more acres, and managed strictly for whitetails, may have a deer of similar age and weight with one hundred and seventy inches of antler. Is one really a better trophy than another? If the hunters put in the same work – should one really be more coveted? Because one man lets the deer exist as they would with the least of his intervention, and has less inches of antler, but the other man plants supplemental feed in the ground or baits? And I have heard the arguments that those who plant fields with different crops for deer are managing deer and not baiting them. To me this seems about the same as the fly-fisherman referring to his bobber as a strike indicator – funny how that works.

Most citizens of this country don’t have the land or money to grow big deer or hunt on the elitists lands. Or perhaps they weren’t as lucky in what they inherited. Most hunters actually hunt for the meat and the experiences obtained during their outings; any trophies they may perceive or take are only icing on the cake. But they have little influence in the way hunting and trophy seeking is perceived by non-hunters. Non-hunters see these ‘pros’ pounding their chests and shouting to the Lord seconds after the killing of a big game animal – as if God himself placed the animal in their path to kill. Then they see high fives and behavior they don’t really like to see at the Super Bowl, much less after an animal has been shot dead for television.

I do not see this evidenced with professional fishermen. Sure there are a few with outrageous behaviors and self-marketing strategies, but they all put in the work. I don’t see many television shows with anglers sitting on a two acre pond, yanking eight pound bass from the water and gathering and maintaining such large audiences or such prestigious notoriety. I see television shows that take place in truly free-range places and fair chase scenarios. I see anglers on large lakes and strong rivers, battling harsh conditions with outcomes not always the best. Now there are a few TV shows where hunters actually put in the work, but they are vastly outdone by the programs that do not.

Why do fishermen seem to need a more pure experience involved with obtaining a wall-hanger than so many hunters? Perhaps it is because taking a citation fish is in fact harder to do. I have never known an angler that would think of going to a trout pond, hooking a trophy class rainbow, and then taking it to a taxidermist. So why are there so many people that will basically do the same thing for a deer mount?

I suppose there could be psychological explanations, full of nonsense. I suppose it could be explained away as just another example of the apparent need to “keep up with the Joneses”. Regardless, this hunter is sure of one thing. I will take a hundred inch four year old deer, taken on public lands, where I have no fences, no guide, no bait and no control over others hunting pressure, over a paid for set of giant, unnatural looking antlers, someone I barely know points at and tells me I can shoot, after they were paid to do all the work for me.

So I have written this not to divide the hunting community – but to let those on the fence about hunting know that the majority of those who hunt in this country are not represented by what you may see on television. Virtually nothing you see on these programs would accurately depict what real hunters do or care about. For the few shows that actually provide content which show more realistic situations, or those programs which focus on getting our veterans or handicapped citizens in the outdoors – thank you. At least these types of hunting shows represent something different than a canned hunt.

Capone & Pop
Tom Sullivan