Monday, April 27, 2015

Barkley Dam and Carlyle Dam

Last weekend was one of those trips where success was far from guaranteed, but the stars were aligned and everything ended up falling into place.  Garren King and I drove south to the Barkley Dam in Kentucky, which is on the Cumberland River just upstream from the Ohio River.

Barkley is one of the largest dams I've fished, and to be honest it was intimidating.  We quickly gave up fishing baits on the bottom - the current was too powerful and unpredictable, and the bottom was covered in rip-rap that snagged our lines right away.  That was ok though, because our priority was skipjack herring, so we focused on casting jigs near the spillway.  Garren was the first to hook up with a couple of white bass, and soon I caught one as well.  I've never seen a white bass with such bold lines!

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

We were determined to find our skipjack.  A family of four showed up and began casting sabiki rigs next to us, but they weren't having any luck.  I think their sabikis were staying near the surface, whereas our jigs were dropping down a little deeper.  Then I got another hit - the fish felt light but it fought like crazy for the few seconds it took to real it in.  Skipjack!

Skipjack Herring (Alosa chrysochloris) - new hook & line species #268

A few casts later and I caught another one.  They were nailing these jigs!  Both of mine were caught on the first of two jigs, which is an indication of how fast these fish are.  For most other species, the first jig grabs their attention, but they end up hitting the second one because it's easier to catch.

A little later Garren hooked up with a double, but one of his jigs broke off.  The one skipjack he landed was quite large though!  It measured 15 1/2 inches.  We gave our fish to the family so they'd go home with something (they'll likely use the skipjack as catfish bait).

We tried jig colors other than white, but either they didn't work, or the bite had died down.  Feeling good, we switched gears and drove around the area for a while to check out the local creeks.  We found one with good access and took turns fishing with my 5 foot ultralight rod rigged with an Owner Tanago New Half Moon hook.  This was Garren's first foray into the world of microfishing, and he took to it like a duck on water.  His first fish was a chubby little creek chub.

Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)

We switched our focus to darters, and soon we began seeing heads poking out from under rocks.  They couldn't resist a bit of redworm, and before long we had each caught several fringed darters, my second new lifer for the day!

Fringed Darter (Etheostoma crossopterum) - new hook & line species #269

The fringed darters showed quite a bit of variability.  The first photo below is a female, and the next two are males showing different colors and patterns.  The blueish purple iridescence on the sides of the darker males was really cool.

We tried one more creek.  This one flowed into the Tennessee River instead of the Cumberland River, so we hoped to find different species.  Garren took this photo of me trying to catch a darter, and I have to say it captures the essence of micofishing perfectly.  Complete and utter focus trying to catch a two inch fish!

We caught darters that at first looked very similar to the fringed darters.  The big difference, though, was their second dorsal fins.  These darters, which we identified as guardian darters, had long fingers with knobs on their second dorsal fin, whereas the fringed darters had a dark ragged second dorsal fin.  I had a hard time getting any of them to cooperate in my hand, but you can still see the difference in the photo below.  The guardian darters were smaller in size .

Guardian Darter (Etheostoma oophylax) - new hook & line species #270

Garren caught his lifer guardian darter as well as a blackspotted topminnow.  He really wanted one of the stonerollers we saw, but they refused to cooperate.  Next time!

With a few hours of daylight left, we went back to Barkley Dam to try fishing bottom rigs a ways downstream from the spillway.  However, we were still getting snagged, so again we abandoned the idea.  I switched to casting the same two jigs that I had used for the skipjack.  I felt bites - something was shaking its head hard and throwing my hook.  Other times I'd feel weight on my line and then nothing.  The culprits turned out to be silver carp.  When I felt steady weight I think I was snagging them by accident, but the vigorous head shakes were likely bites.  I landed two fish, one fair hooked in the mouth and the other snagged by the dorsal fin.  I know there is plenty of controversy over whether or not these catches are legitmate.  All I know in this case is that one of the two carp was fair hooked in the mouth, and a lot of the other hits felt like bites.  Fortuntely, silver carp is not a new lifer, so I don't have to lose sleep fretting over whether or not to count it.

Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)

The next day I ventured on my own to Carlyle Dam in Illinois, a spot I've been visiting for several years.  The water level was the lowest I've seen.  I had never seen the rock ledge up near the spillway, which explains why people get snagged so much there when the water is higher.  There's no way a heavy sinker and hook can make it over that sharp lip!

I set up quite a ways downstream to avoid the crowds.  I chummed the area in front of me with alfalfa feed and canned corn.  While I waited for buffalo and carp to move in, I cast out nightcrawler halves to see what else would bite.  The three species I caught were freshwater drum, black bullhead, and flathead catfish.  There's always something biting at Carlyle!

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas)

Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)

After a half hour I switched both of my rods to canned corn hoping to catch more buffalo, in particular a black buffalo.  It was a nice day to sit and watch bank rods for bites.

The buffalo never showed up, but the common carp did!  I caught about 20 of them over the next few hours.  There were some real odd looking ones.  Some were dark, some were light, some were lumpy, some had messed up scales, some were fat, some were skinny, some had tall backs, and some were torpedo shaped.  Their tail colors ranged from black to gold to red.  The common carp gene pool must be pretty funky in this stretch of the river.

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

I promise to never again post this many common carp photos in one report!  I hope you enjoyed the post, and be sure to stay tuned for more to come as spring transitions into summer.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kishwaukee River suckers

When you're on the road to Wisconsin and your girlfriend tells you she's going to be a few hours late getting back from a trip, you take the nearest exit and go fishing in the Kishwaukee River.  That's what I did last weekend.  Unfortunately the sun had already set, but I wasn't going to stay long, so it worked out just fine.

The Kishwaukee has black redhorse, but I haven't been able to find one yet.  I put out two Carolina rigs, each with a #6 octopus circle hook, 18 inch 8 lb fluorocarbon leader, barrel swivel, plastic bead, 1/2 oz egg sinker, and 20 lb braid main line.  In other words, my redhorse rig.  The egg sinker is the most valuable part of the rig, so if I get hung up on a snag I can break the 8 lb leader.  The leader is strong enough that no redhorse is going to break it.  20 lb braid is a nice diameter to deal with, and if you absolutely have to break it off, you can.

The water was low, fish were splashing in the darkness, but the bite was slow.  I caught two fish before I packed up and hit the road - a golden redhorse and a beefy northern hogsucker.

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)

Northern Hogsucker (Hypentelium nigricans)

Two days later I stopped by another spot on the Kishwaukee to put in another hour towards not catching a black redhorse.  The temperature was rapidly dropping as a front moved in, and the bite was a lot better!  I caught a really big golden redhorse, three big silver redhorse, a small channel catfish, and a scrappy little smallmouth bass.

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)

Silver Redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum)

Until next time...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Indiana and Illinois river fishing

Over the weekend I did some river fishing in Indiana and Illinois and met up with good friends.  On Saturday I drove over to Lafayette, IN to try the Wabash River for shovelnose sturgeon and whatever else would bite.  The infamous Miciah McNelius and Mike Berg were my buddies for the day.  The water was muddy and high from the storms a few days earlier, but Miciah insisted that shovelnose would still be biting.

In the swift current it was hard to keep our baits where we wanted them, but after a few dinky channel cats, a shovelnose finally made an appearance!  This was the second I've ever caught, so I was quite pleased.

Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus)

Make sure to put your shovelnose back where you found him!

We wanted more action, so we moved upstream to a tributary that would have redhorse and a variety of other fish.  Unfortunately, the dinky channel cats followed us there!

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Miciah caught a smallmouth redhorse with beautiful red fins, but after that the bite really slowed down.  After a stretch of no bites, one of my rods bent over, and I pulled in this lunker.

Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus)

Smallmouth buffalo have a distinct keel on their back.

The next fish was one I wasn't expecting, a male river chub starting to show spawning characteristics.  For some reason river chubs don't show up in the Wabash tributaries in Illinois.  It was neat seeing this species again (my first encounter with them was last year at the NANFA convention).

River Chub (Nocomis micropogon)

After grabbing dinner we moved a further upstream to try a deeper pool.  Miciah landed another smallmouth redhorse, and we caught plenty of the small channel cats.  As the sun went down, we gathered up our gear to leave, and I discovered that this hogsucker was on my line!

Northern Hogsucker (Hypentelium nigricans)

On Sunday I made my way across central Illinois.  I knew the Embarras River was going to be high from the storms, but I wanted to take a look at it anyway.  I stopped at the dam in Charleston to see what there was to see.

I'm sure there were fish in there, but I decided to move on so I could fish the next spot more.

When you don't have fish to photograph, you end up coming home with photos of other stuff - like dams, rivers, and all the fish stickers on your car.

I moved on to Shelbyville where I met Lance Merry to do some fishing below the spillway.  My goal was buffalo again.  We baited the area with canned corn and alfalfa pellets and fished a few lines with corn and a few with nightcrawlers.  The corn didn't get any bites, but the nightcrawler got picked up by this stunning prespawn male bowfin.

Bowfin (Amia calva)

Other than a bluegill, we went a few hours without any more fish, so we picked up our gear and moved up onto the concrete to fish as close to the spillway as we could.  Right away we started getting yellow bass on nightcrawlers.  We must have caught twenty of these guys.  Lance said he wants to come back in a month when they really turn yellow.

Yellow Bass (Morone mississippiensis)

I chummed the area with corn and alfalfa pellets again.  The yellow bass got tiring, so I switched both of my rods to corn.  After about a half hour, I started to get bites!  Unfortunately the first fish was a carp, but I kept my hopes high!

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

Lance gave a shout when he saw the next fish begin to surface.  Buffalo!  I was stoked to catch buffalo two days in a row in two states, one with a nightcrawler and one with corn.

Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus)

Check out those tubercles!

For some reason when you catch a sucker, you always need to get a good photo of the lips.

The bite was pretty steady for the next hour or two.  I landed three common carp and three smallmouth buffalo, and lost one of each on the way in.  The hooks I was using were #6 octopus circle hooks.  Next time I'll probably scale up and use a size or two larger.  I would hate to lose a big fish because the hook was too small and pulled out during the fight.

Huge thanks to Miciah, Mike, and Lance for fishing with me and photographing my catches.  I can't wait to go again!