Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hobo fishing Missouri part 2

After the second night of sleeping in my car I again woke up as the sun was coming up (notice the pattern?), drank some water, drank some coffee, and got my fishing gear out.  I had spent the night next to Big Spring, which shares the title of largest spring in the U.S. with two other springs.

I didn't get any bites near the head of the spring, so I worked my way down to its confluence with the Current River.  I saw a small pod of redhorse hanging out where the waters mixed.  I threw out half a nightcrawler on a fish finder rig and got a bite after a few mintues.  I was hoping for a black redhorse, but it turned out to be a handsome golden redhorse instead.

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)

I wanted to check out a few spots along the Current River, so after a long streak of no bites I hit the road.  Some of the spots I fished, others I just looked at.  It was hard to find redhorse to sight fish, but there were feisty smallmouth bass near shore that would bite.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

I also caught a big white sucker, but unfortunately it flopped back into the water when I was fumbling with my camera.  That was a bummer, because it was probably a PR for me.  Before leaving the Current River drainage I tied on a Tanago hook to catch a few micros.  Bleeding shiners were the most common species.

Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus)

I was hoping to see an Arkansas saddled darter, but it was too windy, and the water was too choppy.  Next to shore I found rainbow darters, but the saddled darters were probably out in the main riffles where the water was a few feet deep.

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

Next I worked my way north and east into the St. Francis River drainage.  My first catch was another rainbow darter.  The red spots on their scales were really prominent here.

Bleeding shiners were common here as well, and I also caught one wedgespot shiner.

Wedgespot Shiner (Notropis greenei)

The Black River madtoms were surprisingly easy to catch at this spot.  It's funny that I caught my lifer the day before, and now I was getting them left and right.

Black River Madtom (Noturus maydeni)

I used a technique that I came up with last year to catch yoke darters in southwest Missouri.  Three large split shots are put an inch above the hook, and then the line is reeled in until the top split shot makes contact with the rod tip.  Once you see a madtom or darter under a rock, you put the rod tip under water and get the bait in front of it.  Simple as that!

Originally I thought I would fish a third day in Missouri, but I was feeling a bit demoralized and burnt out when the sun went down on day #2.  I hit the road, grabbed dinner near St. Louis, and then continued on until I reached Carlyle.  I parked my car by the spillway and went to sleep for my third night in the Subaru.  Sunday morning I woke up to find gizzard shad splashing like crazy.  I tied two #20 hooks about 12 inches apart, baited them with small pieces of green plastic, and floated them below a weighted bobber.  I caught a few gizzard shad, but none of them were hooked in the inside of the mouth.  Grrrrr.

Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)

Carlyle is a good place to try for buffalo, so I gave up on the shad and moved downstream so I could fish the bottom.  I chummed with corn and alfalfa pellets and then cast out my lines.  Unfortunately, I picked a spot that had a really bad snag.  My rig got stuck on every cast.  I caught one carp and then packed up my gear and headed out.

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

The good of the trip?  I enjoyed sunrises three days in a row and fished one of the most beautiful places in the country.  The bad of the trip?  I discovered that sleeping in my car for multiple nights causes me to burn out and feel demoralized, especially when I see a number of fish that I can't catch.  I'll be back again soon, but I'll probably book motel rooms next time.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hobo fishing Missouri part 1

Occasionally we do trips without much planning, and last weekend was one of those times.  Southeast Missouri is an easy drive from Peoria, there are plenty of species I still need to catch there, and I had Friday off work, so I hit the road Thursday evening with my car loaded up with fishing and camping gear.

I spent the night sleeping in my car at the first fishing spot, a drainage canal connected to the Mississippi River.  It was a cold night, but I survived and woke up as the sun was coming up, ready to fish.  I started off with nightcrawlers and right away caught several small channel cats.

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

This didn't surprise me, so I switched to corn and chummed a spot with corn and alfalfa pellets.  About a half hour later I started catching big common carp.  This was a good sign - I hoped I would catch a few buffalo as well.

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

My friend Garren decided the night before that he would drive over, and after I had been fishing for an hour he showed up.  He rigged up similar to me, and we both caught quite a few carp.  The buffalo did not make an appearance unfortunately.

A few of the carp had lampreys attached to them.  Our friend Tyler Goodale informed us that chestnut lamprey is the only parasitic lamprey in Missouri, so that's what they were.  They're a bit frightening when you're looking at their tooth-filled jaw-less mouth.

Chestnut Lamprey (Ichthyomyzon castaneus)

However, when you flip them over with their beady little eyes looking up at you instead, they're quite adorable.

Garren also caught this spotted bass using a nightcrawler.  He needed a good photo for his lifelist, so he was glad he caught it.

Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

After about 15 carp, we decided to pack up and head over to Duck Creek Conservation Area.  This area has a number of lowland species that I have not caught, such as banded pygmy sunfish, pirate perch, slough darter, bluntnose darter, creek chubsucker, and spotted sucker.  We rigged up our Tanago hooks and fished below a culvert with running water.  My only hook & line catch at this spot was a lone black bullhead.  This bugged the heck out of Garren, because he needs one for his lifelist.  Don't worry Garren, you'll get yours soon!

Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas)

We weren't able to catch anything else in the muddy water, so before we left I grabbed my dip net out of the car to see what we missed.  Each scoop of the net had about a half dozen fish, mostly banded pygmy sunfish, but also some slough darters and bluntnose darters.  It was frustrating knowing that three potential lifers were abundant at this spot, but we couldn't get them to bite!

Banded Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma zonatum)

Slough Darter (Etheostoma gracile)

We continued west to the Lake Wappapello spillway.  It was surprisingly warm for March, and we enjoyed sitting in the sun while we fished.  Unfortunately, our only catches were small channel catfish.  We had baits in the water for several hours, and I also spent time throwing small white jigs and inline spinners, but we didn't get anything else.

In hindsight we really moved around a lot that day.  We were impatient and didn't want to spend our time catching small channel cats.  Who knows, maybe we should have stuck it out longer.  We drove down to Poplar Bluff to microfish some tributaries of the Black River.  Tyler Goodale took us to these spots before, and I knew that one of the creeks was full of cypress darters.  Garren and I both spent time fishing for them, but the only one we landed was one I foul hooked in the chin.  Grrr!

Cypress Darter (Etheostoma proeliare)

Feeling bummed about the cypress darter, I cheered myself up by catching a big blackspotted topminnnow.  They're very easy to catch, and it helped take the sting out of the foul hooked darter.

Blackspotted Topminnow (Fundulus olivaceus)

Tyler showed up at this point, so we walked over to another creek and caught some brook darters.  They're a split from orangethroat darter and certainly look quite a bit different from the ones in central Illinois.  This time of year they males are really colorful!

Brook Darter (Etheostoma burri)

Garren and I planned to camp somewhere along the Current River (which is further west), so we said goodbye to Tyler and drove over to the boat ramp in Van Buren to fish as the sun went down.  Pretty soon it was dark, so we got out my spotlight to look for sculpin.  We found several of them hiding among the rocks near shore.  I caught a nice banded sculpin, and Garren caught a lifer knobfin sculpin.

Banded Sculpin (Cottus carolinae)

I also caught a mudpuppy, which is a native amphibian that has external gills.  It was hiding under a rock near shore and grabbed my bait as I was looking for sculpin.

Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus)

At the end of the day I finally caught a new lifer.  We saw a few madtoms hiding under rocks, and they turned out to be the one madtom species in the Ozarks that I haven't caught.  It was a long day, and it felt good to finally get a new species.

Black River Madtom (Noturus maydeni) - new hook & line species #323

Ever since dinner Garren had been feeling pretty rotten, and at this point he knew he was sick and couldn't continue with our trip.  He grabbed a motel and went home the next morning.  I drove a few miles out of town and spent the night in my car again alongside the Current River.  My hobo fishing trip was under way!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Chequamegon Bay part 2

On Sunday we woke up at the same time, hit the bait shop again, and then drove over to a spot Scott recommended on the western shore of Chequamegon Bay.  This time we were on our own, and we had to hike quite a ways to reach the 50+ feet of water that Scott told us would be good for lake trout and whitefish.

About a half mile from shore, we came upon a massive crack in the ice.  Wind, water currents, and thermal expansion cause the ice to crack, pull apart, and push together.  These cracks can be very dangerous to cross, so Brad and I took our time selecting the safest spot.  No fish is worth dying for, so if you find yourself in a situation like this and don't feel comfortable, don't feel like you have to cross it.  There are fish in the shallower water closer to shore as well.

We checked the depth every couple hundred yards, and when we marked 56 feet we stopped and set up our gear: four tip-ups rigged with fresh shiners and two additional holes for jigging.  Using light mono line in 56 feet of water was a bit more challenging than in 30 feet of water, especially with the water current that comes in from Lake Superior and circles the bay.  We couldn't use our smallest jigs, but we wanted lake trout and whitefish, so heavier spoons were preferred anyway.  Before long, we began catching smelt close to the bottom.  They're extremely fun to catch!

Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax)

Brad also caught a few smelt, but I could tell his attention was divided between jigging and keeping an eye on the tip-ups.

Late in the morning one of the flags finally popped up.  Brad was on it in a heartbeat, and after waiting a few seconds to make sure the fish was pulling line, he set the hook and pulled it in.  He was pretty darn happy when he put his first burbot on the ice.  Nice work Brad!

Burbot (Lota lota)

We reset a few of the tip-ups with smelt instead of shiners, and then we got back to jigging.  I focused on doing big upward sweeps, letting the spoon flutter back down, and repeating.  The technique payed off when my rod bent over and I reeled in a nice lake trout.  It was a keeper at 22 3/4 inches.

Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

The action was heating up, because the next thing we knew, two tip-up flags went up at the same time!  Brad pulled the first fish up, another burbot.  I pulled the second fish up, our third burbot!

The nice thing about ice fishing is you don't have to worry about putting your fish in a cooler!  Our haul for the day was one lake trout, three burbot, and two smelt.  We caught quite a few more smelt than that, but they went on the tip-ups as bait.

Right before we packed up our gear to leave, I got one more hit on my jigging rod.  I could tell during the fight it was a smaller fish - it turned out to be another splake.  It was the same size as the one we caught the day before, so I bet they were stocked at the same time.  It wasn't big enough to keep, so back through the hole in the ice it went.

Splake (Salvelinus namaycush X Salvelinus fontinalis)

By noon we had all of our gear packed up and loaded onto the sled.  The hike back seemed to take less time than the hike out, maybe because it was warmer and we were feeling good from our successful day.

The view from shore speaks for itself.

It was a long drive back to Peoria, but we made it without any issues.  The next morning I cooked up the two smelt for breakfast.  I cut off their heads and tails, gutted them, and then fried them whole in butter.  After I flipped them over I added two eggs to the pan to complete the meal.  They were much better than I was expecting.  I wish we had brought more home!

Thanks again to Scott for all the help you gave us, and thanks to Brad for being my road trip buddy!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Chequamegon Bay part 1

My trips in January and February were fun, but I was itching for a new species for my lifelist by the time March rolled around.  It was really exciting when plans came together to do another ice fishing trip to northern Wisconsin, this time to Chequamegon Bay by the town of Ashland.  My friend Brad got the ok to go as well, so after a half-day of work on Friday, we hit the road for Ashland.

On Saturday morning we stopped by the bait shop when it opened at 6am and then met Scott, a friend of a friend, at the town's boat ramp.  He took us out on his snowmobile, which saved us a full hour of walking one way.  Thanks Scott!

Modern Human (Homo sapiens)

The first thing we did was set up four tip-ups with shiners that we bought from the bait shop.  We added split shot to the lines and put our baits fairly close to the bottom.  We had 14 inches of ice, and my Vexilar said we were in 30 feet of water.

Once the tip-ups were set up, we sat around and jigged small lures tipped with wax worms.  My target was rainbow smelt, but honestly we were happy with anything.  Our first fish came on one of the tip-ups.  It was a splake, which is a hybrid between a lake trout and a brook trout.  They're stocked by the DNR, and the easiest way to ID them is to check whether or not the adipose fin is clipped off.  If it's clipped off, then it's a splake.  Also, the yellow spots on their sides are more round and uniform than the blotches on the sides of lake trout.

Splake (Salvelinus namaycush X Salvelinus fontinalis)

Jigging was really slow unfortunately.  We fished this spot almost all day and didn't catch a single fish jigging.

Brad caught the second fish on one of the tip-ups.  It was a yellow perch, probably not what he was hoping for, but a fish is a fish!

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

It was a gravid female with quite the appetite.

Towards the end of the day Scott made the executive decision that we needed to move spots.  We fully supported his decision, because fishing was incredibly slow, and the smelt were nowhere to be seen.  We all piled on the snowmobile and pulled the gear across the bay to a new spot.  It was a good call, because at our new spot we started marking fish near the bottom right away!

I caught a few dinky perch while Scott caught several smelt right beside me.  I wanted one so badly!  All of the sudden, the small fish disappeared from the flasher screen.  Scott and I agreed that a predator was probably moving through the area, and sure enough we saw a really big blip near the bottom.  The next thing I know, my jigging rod doubles over and I have whatever it is on my line!  A minute or two later, we pulled a 27 1/4 inch burbot through the ice.

Burbot (Lota lota)

I bet he was eating the smelt that I was trying so hard to catch, haha.

After catching the burbot I moved to a new hole where I saw a lot of small fish near the bottom.  I practiced getting fish to come off the bottom and follow my jig up towards the surface.  It was a technique I've heard other people talk about but had not tried myself.  Finally, after the sun disappeared over the hills, I hooked up with a smelt.  Success!

Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) - new hook & line species #322

After the first one, they just kept biting.  Shiner tails and wax worms both worked well as bait.  I think I caught seven total on Saturday.

Before long it was completely dark.  We packed up our tip-ups and the rest of our gear and headed back to the boat ramp.  We thanked Scott by giving him a box full of Illinois beer (which unfortunately is not as good as Wisconsin beer).  It was really generous of him to take us out, and I hope someday I'll be able to return the favor by taking him to one of my fishing spots.