- Hometown Photos
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By CHRIS FLINT
I just finished up my second event at the James River, this time a B.A.S.S. Northern Open. I worte about the James River in my last blog where I competed in the FLW Walmart Rayovac series where I finished 77th out of 98 competitors. If you missed that story, you can read it at http://chrisflintfishing.com/blog/pants-or-shorts-2015-james-river-rayov...
My finish at the Rayovac event left me with mixed emotions, would I be able to compete at that level, on that tidal fishery or would I even figure out how to catch fish during the hot summer days? Tidal bass fishing can be a tricky deal and then add the level of competition that would be arriving for the B.A.S.S. Open with B.A.S.S. Elite names like Mike Iaconelli and Boyd Duckett, my nerves were already somewhat rattled and I have not even arrived for practice.
My wife Jen and two dogs Garrett and Georgia arrived the week before the July 4 giving me plenty of practice time in order to learn more about the fishery. We stayed at the Rockahock campground http://www.rockahock.com/ a beautiful campground located on the Chickahominy River a tributary of the James River. We chose this location knowing that at the last event the winning fish came out of this tributary and it would let me launch right there and spend plenty of time where I thought I would need to be. Little did I know things in the tournament fishing never go as planned.
My day one of practice started with a sunny hot, and do I mean hot, Virginia day with temperatures reaching the mid-90s! I started in the back of a small creek and began working several patterns of wood and grass. It was a typical tidal bite with periods of several bites to hours of nothing. I was pleased with what I had located withing the first four hours of practice there catching some quality 2-3 pound fish but limited numbers of fish. As the tide changed I decided it was time to leave and started my slow idle out of the creek which was about 5 miles of areas which had no wake zones so it does take some time to get back out of these areas. I had made it about two miles out when all of the sudden my big motor quit. I was unable to figure out the problem and knew I needed service on the motor. A look at the map showed the nearest boat launch was about three miles away and with no boats in sight, I knew it was going to be a long day. I called Jen and gave her directions to the launch and where to pick me up. I dropped the trolling motor in and started that way. To my luck, Flint Luck, I also had the wind in my face and an incoming tide, which slowed my speed down to a blistering 2.1 miles per hour! It took me a little over three hours to arrive at the launch and I can tell you one thing that was plenty of time to mentally beat myself up. By the time I had arrived I had cleared my head and told myself these things happen and need to be dealt with and move forward. We located a great service station, Richmond Marine Center. These people were amazing with how well they treated us. They stayed over late to figure out what the problem was in an attempt to get me back on the water as soon as possible. Being a tournament angler, your biggest fear is having days of downtime while waiting for your boat to get fixed.
Unfortunately the part I needed was in Atlanta and would need to be overnight shipped. This was going to put me out of service for at least two days. With nothing more that could be done at that time, I left the boat and headed back to the campground to enjoy a few days of sitting by the campfire and relaxing.
As it turns out, some of the greatest things we get to experience on the road in our adventures are the people we get to meet. While sitting outside, we saw a couple pull in and set up camp. They had a Weimaraner, similar breed to ours. Then we see another dog, a German shorthaired pointer. For anyone who has never owned these breeds of dog, I can tell you one thing that is common - the owners are unique and special people who have a personality much like the breed. They are always fun, energetic and great to be around, so we went over and introduced ourselves.
We quickly hit it off with the couple and sat by the fire into the early morning hours telling stories and getting to know each other. Every event that I fish I always try to learn something new and take something with me that can make me a better angler and better person in life. This meeting would prove to be just that.
As we conversed with the couple we spoke of our jobs. Brooke stated she was an occupational therapist. To me, it sounded interesting although I had no idea what it meant. When I asked exactly what she did she replied to me that "OT is in the business of helping people maintain the highest quality of life as independently as possible by restoring lost skills, adapting (upgrading and downgrading) to environments/people/support systems and compensating throughout a challenge as needed to achieve your goal!"
Wow, for me that statement hit home and I felt it directly applied to what I do every day and it would prove to make a turning point in the outcome of my event.
Fast forward to July 3.
My boat is done. The great people at Richmond Marine center stayed late on a Friday night in order to get me going and back in service for the weekend. I started practice again the next day. It quickly came and went with only three bites and me not even landing a fish.
I spent the next two days fishing in the Chickahominy River, where I caught plenty of good fish during my practice period at the last event. Each day proved what seemed to be wasted with only a few bites per day and fish that were far from the winning caliber. As I ate dinner, I knew time was running out and I needed to figure something out if I was going to improve for this event. I thought back to what Brooke said to me and it clicked. My purposeful activity was obviously not what I have been doing the last three days. What was I going to do to change it in order to improve on what my expectations were? My decision? Abandon everything I had done? Maybe go fish brand new water that I had never seen and start over?
I started the next morning wandering about the mid section of the James river like a lost child at a fair. I was stopping here, going there looking for things that might work. The deck of my boat looked like a sale bin at Bass Pro Shop with lures strung about as I threw everything I could think of in an attempt to get a bite. The whole time saying to myself I can make things happen if I work hard enough. Eventually, I picked up a spinnerbait and made a cast to a laydown on the bank as I began to crank down winding the bait back my rod loaded up and I felt the immediate shake of a large fish. After days of fishing with no bites, my heart raced as if I had just won the lottery. After a few minutes I landed the fish and quickly became disappointed a large blue catfish had fooled me into thinking I had started to figure something out. I released the slimy critter and sat down to re-tie my bait and clean the slime off my line.
As I thought to myself I will never find a bass, something immediately made sense. This was the first aggressive bite I have had in days, this fish was there for a reason, although not the right species it did mean that it was a section of water that held fish. I decided to buckle down and find bass living in that section of water. My motivation and mindset turned fruitful as in the next ten minutes I put a limit of good bass into the boat.
Tuesday came, which meant I was only one and a half practice days away from event time and I did not have near enough fish to do well so I still had plenty of work to do. The interesting thing about tidal fishing is some areas or small feeder creeks you attempt to fish are often impassable at low tide so timing is everything. I made my way back into one of the small creeks at high tide that line the James River. I had a burning feeling if I could get to the very back of one of these creeks I could find a few key fish I needed to get my limit where I needed it to cash a check. As I idled and worked my way back I would often become stuck on mud flats having to force my way out with the big motor and try to find small depressions in order to get further back in the narrow creeks. This is a tricky game because if you do not pay attention to when the tide drops you could be sitting in a creek for the next six hours until the tide comes back in. As I pushed my way back I overheated my motor and it shut down. I fished my way in further on the trolling motor while the big motor cooled to recover. Again I started the motor up trying to sneak my way into what I hoped would be a secret honey hole only to have my motor overheat and shut down again. At that point I decided that was it I was going to fish my way back out. I covered a bunch of unproductive water until I turned a corner on a small shallow grass flat. The toss of a frog and a good three pound bass ate it. My next three cast proved to be the same. It appeared to be a great spot but I knew still I did not have enough fish to get me through the event. I started to idle out of the creek in search of a few more areas when the unthinkable happened the motor shut down and this time I could tell it was not an overheat because the alarm did not sound. I ran through my normal checklist of things in attempt to get it going with no results. It was time to call search and rescue and Jen was again on route to pick me up at the nearest launch. This time I was fortunate enough to have the wind at my back and an outgoing tide which had me cruising at a whopping 3.1 mph this time. Today appeared to be my lucky day as another angler came along and offered me a tow cutting my time to the launch to just 45 minutes. The unlucky part was I had both sets of keys to the the truck which meant Jen had to drive 30 minutes to get them and then 30 minutes back to get the truck and trailer. We ended up getting to the Bass Service crew in the late afternoon wasting about 5 hours of crucial fishing time. A minor motor glitch and the service crews had me up and running in about 30 minutes. By this time it was pushing 5 pm and the tide was coming back in. I told Jen I had to get back on the water until in an attempt to try and salvage this event.
I hit the water again with about 3 hours to fish, my practice time and decision making at this point would be crucial in me doing well. I needed to find something else. So where to? Sometimes in life it always pays to go with your instinct even though to you it does not make any sense. My decision was to go right back to the same creek where I had broke down. The reasoning I had was the water was now high and I was going to make a trail into the back of that creek that I could run on plane at 60 mph. This would save me time in the event and give me the opportunity to fish more water during tournament time. The downfall was if I did not plot the right route with the map and GPS I would likely destroy my lower unit. Most of the water you are running through on these tidal flats and small creeks are 3 feet when the tide is full, now add submerged logs, sunken barges and crab traps into that a little luck would certainly be nice, and not the usually Flint Luck. I made my way back into the creek and pushed on again this time luck seemed to be on my side as I had passed all the locations where my motor had overheated and was into the skinny part of the creek when I saw an intersection where two other small feeder creeks met with the main creek. This looked right and I dropped the trolling motor and started fishing. With about an hour of daylight my frog crashes onto the silent water only to be disturbed by a load splash of a three pound large-mouth. I removed the hook and so not to catch anymore and my next several cast resulted in fish blowing up on the frog. As darkness started to fall I slowly made my way out of the creek in order to double check my route to make sure I had created a safe route which I thought I could run on plane.
On Wednesday I only have a half day of pre-fishing and then event registration and meetings. I hit the water with the purpose of checking the location where I had caught a limit of fish earlier in the week. A check of the area just to make sure my fish were there and that I would get a bite. I pulled in and eased up on the outside of the location where I had caught fish and the first cast I got bit. That was a confidence builder and I left the area in search of hopefully one other location that would produce fish. That time came and went with no results.
Overall I summed up my practice period as far worse that the first event I had fished. I estimated each day I could get six to eight bites. That is not a whole lot considering I have a co-angler who has a chance of taking some of those bites. I also estimated if I fished clean, landed fish I was on about 10-12 pounds that I could catch each day. I new from the fishing conditions and talk among other anglers that the weight would be enough to get me a good check. With a lucky bite I could even make the cut. My baits of choice at that time were a white spinnerbait with gold Colarado blades, a white horny toad and a white swim jig.
Tournament morning came and I was boat 89 out of 193 boats. Which means you sit and watch a lot of boats leave wondering if they were going to hit one of my limited fishing areas before I even got there. I arrived at my first location along with another boat. As I fished through the area no bites came. I felt the overwhelming feeling of here we go again. At that point I stopped myself and remembered what Brooke said. I needed to adapt to my environment to overcome what was happening at that moment. I stopped, opened up my tackle box and looked, I grabbed a bait I had not thrown all week but it just felt right, an unfair Lure KaBOOM which is a topwater pop R style bait. I tied it up and on my second cast a three pound fish boiled up and was quickly in my livewell. I went about another hour with no fish activity and the other boat had come and gone. I was thinking it was time to go but I also knew I did not have enough fish in other places to catch a limit especially if other people were there. I told myself one more from here and I can go, I have to make it happen. Thirty minutes later I landed that fish on a spinnerbait. I felt at that moment I was in control of what my outcome would be in this event because of my mindset. I just needed to stay focused and make my outcome what I wanted it to be.
It was time to head for the creek. A fifteen minute drive and I approached the tidal flat and it was time to test that route. I am not going to lie there was a little pucker factor going there as I crossed onto the flat at 60 mph and my depth finder was reading 2.5 feet. My route proved correct as I shut down in the back of the creek and was excited to see no one else there. I fished hard on that back creek intersection without a bite. The game was starting over again as I started to second guess myself and my decisions. I looked at the main creek and a bend that was even further back and debated should I try to go fish the unknown or move back out to my one final spot in hopes to catch them. I went with what I felt was safe and moved to my last grass flat which was mid creek. As I pulled up I knew I needed three more fish here, the flat was about 50 yards by 20 yards so there was not a lot of water to fish. I quickly landed a small keeper and now had three. Another hour passed back and fourth up that small weedline, baits pounding it over and over in hopes of one more bite. I had one other spot North near the boat launch that I had caught one three pound fish and that was it if this place did not produce. As I had about an hour left the bite came a large blow up on the water a set the hook hard and could tell this was the one I needed. The fish dove hard into the grass as I leaned back to try to keep it up my line went slack. Gone... the line had cut as if someone took scissors to it. I never felt defeat it was a condition that was dealt to me and I had to keep going. I needed one more fish and I knew where to catch it. I packed up and headed North.
I arrived at my final spot with 45 minutes left to fish. I had caught a 3 pound fish here on a specific piece of deep structure. I even could recognize this fish if I caught it again because of the big black spot on its back. I dropped my lure on the spot and nothing. Again, nothing. I threw from every angle over and over trying to make this happen. Five minutes left and it was time to go as I started to pull away from the spot my co-angler yells I got one! As I see the fish surface I recognize it with the big black spot. It was time to go and that fish was not meant for me. I returned to weigh in with 3 fish weighing in at 5 pounds and one ounce. This had me sitting in 136th place. I could not say I was disappointed I had my chances and things pretty much played out as I expected with the exception that I did not land the fish that I was expecting to land.
As I tried to come up with a new game plan for day two I knew I needed to go out fish the moment and make things happen. Day two started and I decided to fish my spots in reverse to see if the bite would be different and at that point I had nothing to lose. I arrived at my creek and the location where I had broke off the big one the previous day. My co-angler makes the first cast with a Pop-R topwater bait and gets a fish right away. I throw the frog a few times and nothing seems to be working as my co-angler gets another strike but misses. Day one my big fish came on the KaBoom. I decided to tied it back on and second cast I put one in the live well. I moved to the very back of the creek where the day before I never had a bite. A few cast later a big one eats and I put a three pound fish in the livewell. We worked that small area for another half hour and I keep looking at that bend in the main creek I could never get back to. I start trying to make my way over to it and finally take the right path and drop into deeper water. My co-angler makes a cast and lands a fish. My mindset now tells me I am going to make this happen right here, right now. My next cast produces a fish and then another and another. The momentum is building and so is my confidence as we push further back in the creek. I have a decent limit and keep telling myself just one big bite. There is a zone you can get into once in awhile and when it happens its unexplainable. Every pop of that topwater I could see the small droplets of water splashing, every twitch that lure made I could feel . I know right then it is going to happen and it does, the topwater explosion every bass angler hopes to see and hear. When it happens there is no doubt you are hooked up with a game changer! I landed that fish which was just under five pounds. The determination to make things keep happening at that point is unstoppable. We fished the next few hours in there and I caught several more fish but I was unable to upgrade on weight. I made the decision to leave and just run new water in hopes of getting rid of a small one pound fish that I had.
We ran new water for the next several hours with no results. I decided it was time to head North and finish up the day. I knew at that point I had probably gained enough to almost get back in check range I just needed to cull once more. Once I got North I ran spots where I caught a few fish but nothing that I thought would actually help me. My mind raced what could I do to fix it? I told my co-angler I am going to pick a good looking section of the bank put the trolling motor down and fish straight through for as long as we can. I did just that and we had about an hour and a half left before weigh in. Cast after cast producing nothing. Doubt would set in, then I would tell my focus make it happen. Cast after cast and still nothing, the clock is ticking. Ten minutes left and I am thinking it could be any one of these casts and if it was meant to be I had to stay ready. I can still picture it, I tell myself a long random cast right out in the middle of the river because nothing else is working. I fire away and my lure splashes down, before I even grab the handle to start reeling the sound of water breaking. I set the hook and see a three pound fish jump and then jump again. My heart races with fear as I hope to land the fish. A few seconds later its at the boat and quickly picked up! Now if you have never seen two grown men who are complete strangers scream and hug like little kids I can tell you it happened right at that moment. That is one thing about this sport is each angler understands, you get to see and feel each others defeats and accomplishments and maybe that's what makes this sport so great.
Weigh in time, regardless of where I end up I put into a plan of action that I was proud of. I dropped my fish on the scales for a five fish limit of 14 pounds! That weight gave me the 5th heaviest bag of the day. It also moved me up from 136th to 52nd overall. I received the AllState Good Hands award for the biggest comeback of the event and $250 in cash. Reflecting back on that event it was not the lure choices I made or the practice that I had it was a chance encounter. A breakdown of my boat which left me onshore for a night where I met two great people who taught me something over a conversation at a campfire. So take every day with what it gives you as you never know when that chance encounter might turn into a memory, which will never be forgotten.
Pants or shorts? Competing at the James River Rayovac
By CHRIS FLINT
I recently returned home from my first FLW Rayovac event on the James River in Virginia which turned out once again to be a huge learning curve for me.
Each event I go to mentally strong always knowing it is going to be a challenge to compete against some of the best anglers on that tour many of whom have years more experience than me as an angler.
Going into each event I always try to establish a game plan before I arrive in order to pre-fish effectively but I also try to keep an open mind when I arrive and fish the moment. One of the toughest things to do in bass fishing is fish the moment, in other words sometimes you have to throw everything out you thought you knew or learned in the pre-fish period and just go fishing.
That style of fishing is what makes good anglers great and its also something I know that I really need to work on when game time comes. This event proved no different.
I arrived at the James and set up camp and had about a week of pre-fishing before the event would start. Which I thought would be plenty of time for me to look at the water and try to settle in an area where I thought I could catch good limits of fish each day.
The James River is a tidal fishery which makes chasing fish even more challenging. The water fluctuations each day with the incoming and outgoing tide can often frustrate anglers who fail to recognize the optimal times to be in a productive area to catch fish. Sure fish can be caught at any time on a tidal waterway but there are certain times during that tide cycle when you can load the boat with a good bag of fish in a matter of minutes.
The tidal fishery can also result in long periods of time like hours upon hours where you never get a bite. Just because you are not getting bites also does not necessarily mean you are not in an area loaded with fish. The tidal fishery is all about timing.
I started my week knowing I had approximately 70 miles of river system that I needed to look at which consisted of a handful of creeks that flowed into that system along the 70 mile stretch. I quickly found my best opportunity for bites were the outgoing tide approximately the last two hours along with an hour or so of completely low tide.
With that in mind each day I would be sure to get into a creek and in position where I thought my best chance to catch fish at that time. To my surprise I quickly located fish in each creek I started fishing. The northern section of the James river proved to be a lot different than the southern most section as far as quality of fish went.
While fishing the Northern section creeks and main river wood I located fish with a spinner bait and swim jig. Most of the fish that I caught at that time were in the 2.5 to 3 pound class. I was getting a handful of fish each day. As I pushed further south each day I noticed the fish became bigger and more aggressive along with getting more bites each day.
I spent the first three days of pre-fishing rotating through the creeks along the whole 70 mile stretch, checking and re-checking areas to make sure that I have not missed any good spots. Going into my fourth day I quickly realized the southernmost section of river is where the winning fish were going to be caught.
The bites were more frequent and bigger. At that point I made the decision the rest of my pre-fishing time would be spent in the Chicahominy River which connects to the James River. The interesting thing about the Chick is first off it would be over an hour boat ride each morning just to get to my fishing location on tournament day.
This meant instead of 8 hours of fishing on tournament day I would be cut down to about five and a half hours which would allow me ample time to make it back to weigh in on time. The second thing about the Chick is the bass in there are a Florida strain bass which means they grow big, but they are also really picky when it comes to pressure and changing weather conditions.
The rest of my practice time in the Chick proved to be really good. I was fishing spatterdock and grass targeting areas on a tide that would match tournament day. My practice days consisted of sunny bluebird skies a southern wind and 95 degree temperatures.
This had the fish active and easy to find hiding in all of that heavy vegetation as the tide fell. I targeted my fish with a mix of topwater frogs and swimbaits. I was also aware at that time it was post spawn for a lot of the fish which means a Pop-R plug usually works well. I never produced any quality bites on that Pop-R but my frog bite proved really good.
On one particular section I landed a fish that was just under 5 pounds. The next cast I hooked one that looked to be in the 6-7 pound class that came off. This was then followed by a 3.5 pound fish. I knew at that point I was dialing in something and frog fishing was something that I am good at so I was more than excited to see this bite.
I was also aware the Chick would have plenty of anglers so one thing I was also practicing was to go in behind another angler after they had fished a section of grass to see if I could catch a fish after they had already fished it.
On one occasion, I met another angler on a weed line and we passed by each other. I decided to keep fishing through the area he had just fished through. A few cast later I landed one of my personal best largemouth at 6.61 pounds.
I finished up practice that week locating sections in the grass and spatterdock where I could catch a few fish or just get bites. My game plan was to rotate through a 2-mile stretch of the river on these spots and hope my weight would be enough to get me a check.
At that point I was confident that I could catch 12-14 pounds a day without having to count on one big bite. If that big bite came it could put me in the top ten. Overall I had about 25 spots in that stretch of river system where I had located fish.
I ended my pre-fishing on Tuesday before the event to take a evening off and the next day just to rest up for tournament days. During that pre-fishing time I felt I got really good at reading the water and the current and knew the right times to pull up on places to catch fish. It looked like things were shaping up to be great first event for me.
I settled in Tuesday night with a good meal and a movie in the camper hanging out with Jen and the pups. Soon I heard the rain start pounding down on the camper. I started thinking to myself...not again. Last year I had practiced for this same event in April.
I had found a decent group of fish only to have the river flood so bad the event was canceled. I never returned to fish that event in 2014. Wednesday morning came and so did the continued weather change. A northeast wind, rain and one other factor I had not considered a full moon. Little did I know at the time these conditions would have a huge change on my fishing pattern.
Thursday morning came and I was up early at 3:45 am and stepped out of the camper to check the weather. For the first time that week it was cool or maybe I should say cold compared to the 95 degree days I had encountered all week.
I went back inside and said to Jen I think I will need pants today. She joked with me and told me not to be such a wimp. As I reflect back I realize how important this joke turned out to be deciding if I should wear pants or shorts. For Thursday, I chose pants. I arrived at take off to see rain, wind and fog. We did our thing and before I knew it I was blazing down the river at 70 mph in heavy fog and rain for one hour and ten minutes.
I arrived at my first location where I expected to get a few fish right away. I pulled up and put the trolling motor in the water and got ready to go to work. I quickly realized I had a major problem. The water had changed drastically.
What should have been a outgoing tide with low water conditions was not there. The water was high and stained and the pads were flooded. I knew in my mind at that point the bite was going to be different as this makes the baits harder to see and the fish are dispersed more with higher water. I fished an hour through that area without one bite or even a sound of a brim hitting the surface much like I had seen earlier in the week. I tried not to panic and keep and open mind in an attempt to fish the moment.
In reality, I thought to myself I have 20 plus spot to fish through even if the frog bite is slow I can still salvage the day with five bites and get enough to survive until tomorrow. I rotated through my spots over and over and the bites were very limited and far from aggressive as they had been.
As noon came and I had no fish in the boat I thought it was time to slow down and go flip some grass just to try something different. On the other hand I told myself I only have two hours and I need to stay moving my bites will come. I talked myself into staying with the frog almost knowing it was not the right thing to do but I still did it anyway.
Fishing the moment, exactly what I needed to do and I did not do it. The difference between a great angler and a poor one. I ended the day with five bites and only landed one fish. Disappointing in myself for making poor decisions is what ruined this day.
Day two came and along with it a little bit better weather. Today I was not going to talk myself into a stupid decision, I was not going to fish what I thought I had learned. I was going to be a great angler even if that meant just improving on my catch from the day before. I arrived back at the Chick and picked a location that I had just a few bites on. It actually was considered one of my less desirable spots to fish but as I passed by it in the morning it just looked right for some reason.
I pulled up dropped the trolling motor and on my first cast I landed a 3.5 pound fish. It sure felt good but that can also be the sign of a long day with a lucky first cast. I circled that area and quickly caught three more fish and had four fish in the boat by 9:30 am.
A great improvement but I wanted more. I rotated though my stuff most of the day with little results and ended up back where I had caught the four fish earlier in the morning to see if I could catch a few more. My co-angler caught one on a frog and then lost a big one shortly after. We spent another hour circling the small area with no further results.
At that point I decided to make a run to another creek where I would have about an hour to try to catch one more. This area had limited fish but it also had limited fishing pressure so I hoped I could seal the deal and at least put a limit in the boat.
We arrived and fished through and about 15 minutes before it was time to go I got the bite I was looking for, the fish swam past the boat and quickly shook off. It was time to go and weigh in. I arrived at weigh in with four fish coming in with around 7 pounds for that day. A big improvement from day one but still in the back of my mind I knew poor decisions on the first day held me back.
The long rides home from events like this let you reflect on many things and lessons learned. I am thankful I get to travel and do the things I do, I chase a dream which is never easy. Failure is something people can often associate with fear.
Why is it that many people have dreams but never chase them??? Fear of failure for some reason human nature has taught us to fear failure. Why is that? The stigma of what people may think of you, how it effects you mentally as a person.
I am sure there are plenty of reasons none of which should be a legitimate one. The sport of tournament fishing is probably one of the most challenging sports someone can do, the reason is if your goal is to win every event you fish 99 percent of the time you fail.
Those are some pretty hard statistics to overcome and especially hard on your mental well being. So when I look back at all of these type of events and ask myself have I failed?
Nope, not yet. I have just figured out a whole bunch of ways not to win. Each and every event I try to learn something, whether about fishing or just a life lesson and as long as I continue at that pace I will succeed.
My lesson learned from this event … when I wake up on tournament day and have to decide pants or shorts? I am betting the fishing has changed and so will I!
Don't Chase your dreams … catch them!!!!
Fishing the Black Lake season opener
By CHRIS FLINT
It has been a long cold winter and spring has finally sprung in the North Country. It is a special time of year of me. My planning and preparation for the 2015 season is all in place and now it is time to get outside and enjoy what the North Country has to offer.
The anticipation for what occurred this past weekend can only be compared to children waiting for Christmas morning. Opening season for turkey hunting followed by the opening of pike and walleye season results in a sleepless night.
I have given up hunting due to my passion of fishing so for me this weekend would consist of chasing crappie and northern pike on Black Lake.
With the ice being out for only a few weeks and the opening day upon us you might consider tough fishing conditions due to the cold water.
The reason I chose Black Lake is knowing how quickly a few warm days can heat that lake up and when this happens so does the bite. My normal course of action this time of year is to try to get on the lake within 7-10 days after the ice is fully out.
This time seems to work well for the patterns that I fish and the water temperature will usually be good if we can get a few sunny days with a warm wind.
Dad and I hit the lake recently before the season opener of Pike season to see if we could catch some big Black Lake crappie. I also wanted to locate some old weed growth in an attempt to narrow down my pike locations for opening day.
Main lake temperatures were in the low to mid 50s when we took off in the morning. The lake's water level for this time of year was low as compared to the last few seasons. We ran north on the lake and began checking the back pockets of bays and small creek inlets to find not much of a water temperature change.
Our baits of choice were small red and white tubes on a bobber rig, small underspins and crankbaits. The underspins and crankbaits we use primarily to locate schools of crappie. Now normally it has to be warmer for them to react to these baits but the big ones still bite it and that's what we are after.
After checking several of our old hotspots we were dissapointed to see little weed cover left from the following season, possibly because of the heavy ice during our harsh winter months. Our day came and went with only about 10 crappie, a few giant perch which ate the crankbaits and a few bluegill.
A sure sign for me after catching the perch and bluegill in shallow is that the crappie were not ready to bite at least in the locations that I like to fish. The sun stayed bright with a light breeze all day but the water temperature never seemed to rise.
Dad and I returned back to the lake Friday after watching Thursday's weather stay warm and the prediction for Friday being just as nice. It's a great time of year for me with tournament season just around the corner, it's nice for Dad and I to spend time on the water together before my travels begin.
Friday's main lake temperature showed mid to high 50s and I knew we were getting close to the bite really turning on. We ran back north and checked the same locations. This time it was a whole different game.
As we pushed back in the pockets I started to see water temperatures in the 60s so I knew things were about to turn. We fished through some of our spots still with no luck and no sign of fish. Strange for the water temperatures I new we were not quite figuring something out. I pushed tight to the back just to have a look in the brush, there was not any water which you could cast into because it was so low, but I wanted to see what was going on in there.
As I bumped the boat into the brush I see a school of about 30 crappies scatter from underneath the brush laydowns. They were in there; the problem was the water was so low it was almost impossible to get a lure into them. We pulled back out and hit a similar location targeting shallow brush growing tight to the bank. We soon found that our casts had to be tight to the brush line, within a foot or less.
Once there the tube rig would have to sit still, and moments later a crappie would come out from that brush and eat. Any cast that was further than a foot from the shoreline seemed to be wasted. We continued this pattern throughout the rest of the day catching about 20 crappie in the 10-11 inch range.
It appeared most of the fish we caught were males that had moved in and were getting ready for the females. We decided to search off shore for the last few hours to see if we could locate the school of big females which must be getting ready to come in.
After some idling around with the structure scan I located a tree offshore in the middle of a bay which was in about 6 to 7 feet of water. First cast in I hooked a giant crappie.
We anchored down for the next few hours and had found the big school of females. Most of those fish were in the 12-15 inch class and were heavy fish! We released a lot of fish and kept a few for a great springtime meal.
I was excited for opening day of pike season as I was taking out my two good friends Don Miessner and Dave Swanson to target some crappie and pike. Don and Dave have never really targeted crappie on Black Lake so I was excited to get them into some of the action on the big school of fish I had located.
During my prior scouting I had also located some old weed growth and post spawn location that I thought would produce plenty of pike.
We took off in the morning under sunny skies and a light wind and I headed to the tree Dad and I had left the day before in an attempt to get some crappie. That stop proved plentiful for us as that tree produced fish after fish. The water temperature had warmed and they were really feeding for the first few hours we got there.
The bite slowed and the sun continued to warm the bays and I decided it was time to see if my pike locations would work. It was not long before we landed our first pike fishing old weed lines. Our day of action proved to be non-stop with some locations producing double catches of pike.
I have never really caught giant pike on Black Lake but we did catch some quality fish in the 6-pound class. As the day continued and the bite stayed strong it gave me the opportunity to experiment with baits in an attempt to see if I could catch a bigger fish or more than Don or Dave. It's impossible to be on the water and not compete against your buddies!
The bite was awesome and it seemed whatever you threw at them they would hit. We caught fish on buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, frogs, jigs, chatterbaits and crankbaits. After switching through baits and testing the waters my bait of choice for the day would be the Berkley Grass Hog which is a slim swimbait in white. I fished this on a wide gap hook with no weight.
That setup for me proved to get more and bigger bites throughout the day. Overall it was a great day with good friends on the water. Black Lake continues to be a fish factory. We kept about 25 crappie for a meal and landed 20 pike throughout the day with plenty of followers that just never committed to the bait.
This time of year can be some of the best fishing you will see, the winter being over and warming water temperatures puts fish in feeding mode. I am normally a catch and release angler but of once a year I treat myself to a meal of crappie which I think is some of the best fish you can eat.
Just remember to practice good conservation etiquette: just because the bite is hot and you can load the boat with limits of fish does not mean you have to keep everything you catch. Keep enough for a fresh meal and release the rest to be caught another day.
Don't chase your dreams.....catch them!!!