What I Know About Fishing, Part 1: Be Observant

What I Know About Fishing, Part 1: Be Observant

I have been asked by many people to put down on paper my knowledge of fishing. In my mind, there is a direct correlation between knowledge and experience. The keys there are to identify the experience and remember it for future use.

At the top of my list of things to do is to be observant. The number of times that my being observant has resulted in fish is literally countless. I’ll give you an example of what I think might be the first time I applied that theory.

Everything happens for a reason

It was the summer, and I was fishing with my father on the Assabet River in the Maynard/Stow area of Massachusetts. I was probably 13 years old at the time.

The Assabet was notorious for becoming carpeted with small algae that the locals referred to as duckweed. (The ducks did love it, by the way.) It would be so thick on the surface of the water that it would support the weight of many non-metal lures.

On this day, we were drifting downstream when I noticed a disturbed spot in the duckweed. Logic told me that it happened for a reason, and I assumed it was brought about by a fish. So I cast my recently purchased 6-inch black Creme plastic worm towards the spot. I was careful to cast slightly past it and bring it on top of the algae to the slightly open spot.

BOOM! A nice largemouth bass grabbed the worm. My father got so excited that I could not believe it. We landed the fish, which we kept to eat. After that, we caught a few more, but we missed more than we caught. The next time we went fishing, my dad had his own supply of plastic worms.

Later, I would apply the same principle to bait fish. My friends and I would go down to the river downtown with little pea-sized dough balls to catch shiners. We couldn’t keep them all alive so we would wrap them in tin foil and freeze them. Before we put them in the freezer, we would bend them into about a half moon shape. That way when we put a hook in the frozen shiner and cast it like a lure, they would spin on your retrieve. They worked in open water, but they worked best coming across the algae.

Stop and look

There are many obvious instances of being observant when it comes to fly fishing, but here is an unusual one. I was wading at Menemsha Beach on Martha’s Vineyard one fall day while fly fishing for bonito.

I was having no luck, despite knowing that I was casting a fly that was a perfect match to the small baitfish that we call “spearing” that were schooled right in front of me. The bonito were crashing within arm’s length of me, at times even splashing me. To say that I was frustrated was an understatement.

The next time a bonito crashed close to me, instead of casting at it, I simply observed exactly what was going on. A crash came, and I immediately noticed a dozen stunned spearing just quivering and slowing sinking from the shock of the strike. Suddenly, below the surface and out of anyone’s view, these flashing streaks darted in all directions and picked off every one of the stunned spearing. When the next explosion occurred in front of me, instead of retrieving my fly after casting, I simply left it there and twitched it a few times…BOOM! I was on!

Sometimes, things are not what they appear

Many times, early in my fly-fishing life, I would get frustrated by casting at rising fish and not getting a take. What I learned was a simple principle that applies to all forms of wildlife, “The less energy expended, the better.” In other words, “Take the easy way out.” Or, “Why kill yourself for a meal when you don’t have to?”

As it turns out, more often than not, those rising trout were not taking the already emerged dry flies, but rather the emerging ones. Those nymphs lay helpless in the surface film for several moments as they dry their wings. They are so easily picked off, like the spearing on Martha’s Vineyard, why not take the easy lunch?

Take it all in

Being observant can also mean exactly that, in that you want to take in all that is around you.

If for example you aren’t catching fish in your favorite bass pond, but you occasionally hear or see a large splash in the lily pads you can assume that the bass are looking on top for lunch, for something like frogs perhaps.

Trust your senses. If you thought that you heard a splash to your right, you no doubt did, and splashes don’t happen for no reason.

If you notice the slightest movement by a lily pad that seems out of place, you can bet that it is a fish, probably a big one.

Watch the loons and mergansers. There life depends on finding fish. That said I would never crowd either of them. Wait until they move off before fishing that spot. When you are there, take note of the depth and water temperature (when applicable) where they were fishing.

Water temperature isn’t that important at certain times of the year. For example, in a shallow lake in late July, the temperature is going to be pretty uniform throughout. However, if you are fishing a few weeks after ice out, a one- or two-degree temperature difference from one spot to another is huge!

I kid you not

Don’t forget the little boy or girl in you. When you went to a pond or river as a kid, what did you do? You looked for all the neat things that lived and grew there. Keep that in mind the next time you launch your boat. If you see many pollywogs, for example, you can bet that the game fish are fully aware of them too. 

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

If you are fishing a body of water that is next to a ripening corn field, you can bet that little rodents are making many trips to that corn and are in need of a drink or a swim.

Look at what is under those rocks. Are there nymphs or leeches? Neither is pleasant to most of us, but they’re high on any game fish’s menu.

Dragonfly Nymph

Observe the elements of your success or failure

For example, August is without a doubt the toughest month to catch trout, especially on a fly *most* of the time.

Many years ago, I fished a heavily fished trout pond on a rainy, foggy, muggy August morning, and I had a spectacular day. Now every August I head to the pond on days just like that. In fact, that pond, which had long been one of my favorites, I have yet to fish this year. It has received much publicity, and it is very popular with kayakers so fishing it in good weather is no longer pleasant. Fishing it in unpleasant weather is much more relaxing and productive.

On a similar note, my very best days there have been in early season snowstorms; I kid you not! 

In fact, one of those days is a perfect example for this topic. In late April of 2011, we had a very cold snowy opening day of trout season.

Ian and Your Guide in the Snow on Opening Day

Ian and Your Guide in the Snow on Opening Day

I had my grandson Ian in my boat, and Tony had my grandson Sam in his. The pond had at least a dozen other boats on it when we got there.

We started by trolling close to shore to try to locate some fish. We did in less than 10 minutes, and we stopped at that spot to cast. A couple of hours later, we had the place to ourselves, and we had landed 77 trout that we released.

Sam's First Tiger Trout

Sam’s First Tiger Trout

It seemed that we could have caught fish all day, but I insisted that we leave because Tony and both of my grandsons were wet and shivering. When we got to the launch, the local warden was waiting for us.

Dave asked how we did. He was shocked. He said none of the other boats had landed a single fish. He said that he was called all kinds of names including a liar when he assured the other fishermen that it had been stocked.

Why did we catch fish when no one else did? We were observant and smart. After the very first hit that we got trolling, I stopped the boats for two reasons. First, I knew that this early in the season the fish would be schooling. Second, I knew that they would seek “structure,” meaning rocks, logs, etc. for protection.

That is exactly what happened. My very cold and wet grandsons were very happy.

It was a memorable day for sure.

Another example that you might remember from my August 2014 blog post called “Rapid River: A Challenge and a History Lesson” is when Tony spotted a backwash that no one else spotted. He learned about the benefit of backwashes from fishing the Cape Cod Canal, where we often catch schooled striped bass who target bait fish caught up in backwashes.

The fishing at the Rapid River was challenging, and the banks were crowded with fishermen. I can count at least nine fishermen in this one photo that Tony took that day. 

A School of Rapid River Fishermen

A School of Rapid River Fishermen

If it weren’t for the nice backwash that Tony spotted and many other fishermen missed, our success would have been very different. We caught most of our trout and salmon on dries, which is preferable, but with the river so properly named, every fish was a challenge to land. Why were the fish attracted to this backwash? Like in the Cape Cod Canal, the backwash traps food. In this case, insects.

Tony caught what was then his biggest native brookie (16 inches) along with several others and several nice salmon. He earned them because he was observant enough to spot that nice backwash that was holding so many fish.

Tony's 16-Inch Brook Trout in 2014

Tony’s 16-Inch Brook Trout in 2014

Keep your eyes open, and think about what you are looking at. 

WLAGS

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WSI Update for February 2019

WSI Update for February 2019

As I explained in previous blogs tagged “WSI,” such as “WSI Report for January 2018,” a Winter Severity Index (WSI) day is any day that the snow is more than 18″ deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.
This is where the snowfall is so far this season:
Nov. 43″
Dec.  3″ (on the 31st!)
Jan.  25″
Feb.  18″
Total so far: 89″
Last March: 43″
Last April: 7″
Average season total: approximately 120″ (10′).
Season total for the winter of 2004/2005: 136″
Season total for the winter of 2015/2016: 34″
That’s a 102″ difference.
Sub-zero days for season: 10 (9 in Jan., 1 in Feb.)
WSI days: 10, all due to temperature, not snow depth, which is well below average and tolerable for deer.
Deer in Snow

Deer in Snow

Maximum snow depth: 16″ average on level ground (4 days) to date–2″ inches below the 18″ necessary to qualify for WSI. Some Midwestern states actually consider a winter of 50 WSI a mild winter!
If we don’t have a horrible March, like we did last year, this would be a far better than average winter for deer.
Deer Tracks in the Snow

Deer Tracks in the Snow

A similar March to last year we bring us up close to or slightly above average for the season.
What else does an old man have to contemplate while waiting for spring?
WLAGS

WSI Report for January 2018

Here we are in just about the middle of the meteorological winter with less than 40 days until March.

What started out a little mild, eventually turned to record cold in terms of temperature and time. We were probably near a Winter Severity Index (WSI) disaster. Add that to some significant snow earlier in December, 31” by my tally, and things were looking very gloomy.

As I explained in previous blogs tagged “WSI,” such as “Winter Severity Index Report for 2015,” a Winter Severity Index (WSI) day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.

A flock of turkeys that I saw regularly was getting decimated by the sub-zero nights and days, aided by strong winds. At first there were eight. Then a few days later there were five, and finally I saw only two.

Turkeys in the Snow

Turkeys in the Snow

The others *probably* froze to death while roosting. We’ll never know, as any carcasses are surely consumed by a host of predators and scavengers. That said, I have seen two flocks of more than a dozen birds during this thaw.

By my tally, we had 14 WSI days in the last week of December. (Again, that’s two for each day that the snow was more than 18” deep and the temperatures went below zero.)

January continued that trend for the next week with another six, 2-WSI days. As the temperature rose, it was only the snow that was adding to our WSI total.

With this wonderful and unprecedented thaw, everything has changed. We now stand at 31 WSI so far for the season. That is good, but far more than we have had in the previous five years. In 2016 (See https://wlags.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-matriarch-moose-of-j-e/) and 2017 for example, we had only 1 WSI for each of the last two months.

However, it all comes down to March and April. Those are the “make it or break it” months. We are in a good spot for now, with the deer and turkeys able to move about freely.

Today I ventured out to check snow depths in the woods. They ranged from bare ground in the large evergreen groves to 8” on the northeast-facing slopes. Four inches is a good average of what I saw.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

WLAGAS

Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

From March 14 through my visit on the March 30, there were varying intensities and frequencies of visits. The most notable was from a vulture because they are not frequent visitors in the winter. My guess is that it was migrating because it only stopped by for a meal on the go.

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Another surprise was the fisher, not because it came at all, but rather that it only came once.

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

There were countless visits by coyotes, even after all of the deer was consumed, except hair, including the morning that I checked the camera. You can see in this photo from that morning how little was left at that point.

What's Left

What’s Left

The bobcat visits were much less frequent, but did provide some great photos.

Bobcat's St. Patrick's Day Feast

Bobcat’s St. Patrick’s Day Feast

The ravens were a constant, and they were by far the most photographed critters over the last two weeks.

The Ravens Were a Constant

The Ravens Were a Constant

A mouse even got involved. I had to look closely, but one night as a coyote approached you can see a mouse scooting away. The coyote barley gave it a look, unlike almost any other time when he would have turned himself inside out to catch it.

There were more great photographs than we could reasonably include in a few blog posts. Instead, we’ll just include a slideshow here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All in all, this young buck provided much needed sustenance to many forms of life during the very trying days—the most trying days—of winter, as fat reserves are all but gone this late in the winter for most of these animals.

Having said that, I still am sorry that this little spike horn buck did not live to see his second spring.

WLAGS

Startled and Surprised

Startled and Surprised

I went to get a few tasks done on Monday and Tuesday, and as usual I had a surprise or two waiting for me.

I went to Stand #1, and was standing over the dead buck, which is still untouched, when the very loud snapping of a branch behind me startled me so much that I grabbed for my pistol.

It sounded about 30 yards away to these half-deaf ears, in the swamp and just out of sight.
When I composed myself, I thought it had to be a moose, despite the lack of fresh moose sign around me.

I then headed up to set up a camera at the bear rubbing tree at Stand #2. As I left there, I spotted a single fresh moose track in a spotty snow patch, headed towards Stand #1. I now felt sure that it was a Moose that I had heard.

I then proceeded to Stand #3, and as I did I chewed myself out for not remembering a padlock for the recently moved stand. I then remembered that we had left the bow holders in the old tree, and I mused over what it would take to recover them now that the stand was gone. It was probably an impossibility to get them.

When I got to the stand, I thought how it was so unusual not to see the stand in that big black spruce tree after all these years. So I looked in that direction again and again. Where was the tree? I could not see the tree that I had seen hundreds of times before. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I walked to where I knew it had to be. There it was…laying flat on the ground!

Was Stand #3 Load-Bearing?

Was Stand #3 Load-Bearing?

That seemingly perfectly healthy 80’ to 100’ spruce, had been blown over in the recent heavy winds. It would have been quite a sight if the stand was still attached to it, as it was just 10 days ago. The bow holders were right there; chest high! I pulled them out and placed them at the bottom of the new stand location.

Easy Access to the Bow Holders

Easy Access to the Bow Holders

I then made my way to Buck Knob. I saw running moose track coming up Route 1C. So I back tracked her (I think it was the cow) to Route 1A, and she used my trail down to Stand #1. I found her bed 30 yards south of Stand #1, in full view of it. So I was wrong about the distance from me when I had heard her. It was at least 50 yards.

There was no deer sign, and only sign of the one moose. There were lots of coyote and hare tracks. Porcupine, partridge, mouse, and mink tracks made up the rest. The coyotes must have a den near Fort Knox, as there was heavy use on one trail going in both directions. Why they haven’t touched that deer carcass at Stand #1, which is less than 200 yards away, is a great mystery. 

On Tuesday, I went out for another hike to the north side of our hill. The walking was awful. There was much deeper snow than I expected; over my knees in places. I got around best by walking in melted out moose tracks.

I spotted a rub on the south side of Route 1A. It was about 150 yards from that big scrape under the beech tree on the north side that we marked last season.

Big Buck Rub

Big Buck Rub

I guess it’s safe to say that it is breeding season in the world of snowshoe hares! Their track was even more numerous today, probably because I was in thicker cover, hence the deeper snow.

Snowshoe Hare Track, Droppings, and Estrus Sign

Snowshoe Hare Track, Droppings, and Estrus Sign

It felt great to get outside again and not be cold and wet.

WLAGS

Remote Pond Boat Extraction

Remote Pond Boat Extraction

Three years ago, Tony, his dog, Angie, and I made a mission out of dragging a boat into a remote trout pond that we had fished a few times with success in our float tubes.

Dragging the Boat in Three Years Ago

Dragging the Boat in Three Years Ago

The thought was with a boat in place, we would fish it more often, if for no other reason than we would not have to deal with carrying in the float tubes and inflating them. Well, it didn’t work out that way. As it turned out, we never went back, except to check on the boat. It also turned out  that other people had taken advantage of our efforts. They broke the lock off by twisting the chain, and they obviously used the boat more than once. They twisted the chain so badly that we needed the same bolt cutters that we used the day before to detach it from the boat.

Twisted Chain

Twisted Chain

Well, we now had better ideas for the boat. As he described in his blog, in the fall, Tony could use it at home to access some bowhunting spots that are along a river, and my grandson, Ian could use it for fishing all summer.

So now it was up to us and Tony’s new dog, Bear to get it out of the pond. In both of our trips, it was necessary to make benefit of snow cover to make the dragging easier. At first, this trip was was made more difficult by a coating of ice on the snow’s surface. It was very slippery, especially in the shaded and steep areas. We had to pick our way carefully and more slowly than we had hoped.

Icy Ledges Slowed Us Down

Icy Ledges Slowed Us Down

 

When we reached the boat, it was mostly uncovered from the snow. With a little work, we were able to free it, and when we did it became obvious that it had suffered a little damage. I could see light coming from rivet holes under at least one of the seats. Other than that, it looked as though it would serve our purposes. I’ll patch any holes this spring.

How We Found the Boat Three Years Later

How We Found the Boat Three Years Later

So the trek out began.

Dragging the Boat Up and Out

Dragging the Boat Up and Out

 

The good news was that in the 30 minutes that we readied for our exit, the high sun had softened the snow, despite the subfreezing temperatures. The trip out was significantly less slippery.

The first third of the trip was steeply slanted up and to our left as we made our way through the beech trees on the south facing slope.

 

After that, the biggest problem was not getting hit by the boat as it slid down the steep slopes and avoiding a myriad of boulders. It was a lot of work in a fairly short period of time.

Steep Steps

Steep Steps

 

When we finally reached the truck, Bear did not need much coaching to get in the back seat. She would sleep the entire way home.

 

And after the effort we all put in the day before to relocate the tree stand, we were tired too. It was a good way  to utilize a mid-winter weekend, hopefully to the benefit of many summer and fall weekends to come.

WLAGS

 

The Great Stand #3 Move of 2017

The Great Stand #3 Move of 2017

We finally got around to moving Stand #3 on Saturday. Below is my son Tony’s take on our day.

WLAGS

——————

We had a very productive day. Right after breakfast, Dad glued the latch lock loop back on to my camera. I wrote about it breaking off in my Suburban Hunters blog called “Storms-a-Comin’ “.

Then we set about moving Stand #3. We left just after 9:00 AM.

What we brought:

  • All the padlock keys that we could find
  • Bolt cutters in case we didn’t have the right key
  • Hand saw
  • Pole saw
  • Pruners
  • WD-40
  • Reflective tacks
  • Trail camera
  • Walkie talkies

We needed every one of those things, but we were still underprepared.

What we should have brought:

  • Another padlock
  • A strap for the top of the stand
  • Tools for support bar
  • Spray paint
  • Bow hangers

I’ll get to all that later. First, I’ll share the scouting report from our walk in to the stand.

The snow conditions varied widely thanks to the record-breaking warm temperatures. There was bare ground in spots and knee-deep snow in other places.

Record-Breaking Heat

Record-Breaking Heat

The knee-deep snow meant that we’d need snowshoes, but the snow was so soft that even our snowshoes sunk all the way through the snow. It was a hard slog, and we walked a lot.

Hard-Earned Steps

Hard-Earned Steps

One upside to all the melting snow is that the brook and beaver pond are way up.

Our first stop was Stand #1. The dead spike horn is still untouched, but now that it’s uncovered and the temps are warming, hopefully something will take advantage of all that protein.

Spike Horn Carcass

Spike Horn Carcass

There were turkey tracks and droppings in several places, and there were lots of droppings near Stand #3.

As Dad mentioned almost exactly a year ago (Feb. 21, 2016), The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

Moose Bed with Hair In It

Moose Bed with Hair In It

There was a lot of moose activity from the brother/sister pair.

Finally, we made it to Stand #3. I tried to match up one of the keys we had to the padlock, but no such luck. Luckily, the bolt cutters cut through the padlock like butter. It was a bit unsettling at how easy it was.

The Bolt Cutters Made Short Work of This Lock

The Bolt Cutters Made Short Work of This Lock

I then set about undoing the straps that had been in place for years. The top one had a bad case of dry rot. It broke while Dad tried to tie a not in it. The bottom strap had grown into the tree. I had to use the handle of the pole saw to get it out of the bark.

Then we dragged the stand over to the new spot, about 50 yards to the NNW. Dragging it was much easier than we had anticipated.

Dragging the Stand to Its New Home

Dragging the Stand to Its New Home

We picked a tree right at the intersection of two major trails. We leaned the stand up against the tree, and as (bad) luck would have it:

  • The support bar was rusted and stuck at its current length. We sprayed WD-40 on it, but we really needed a wrench or some pliers. We never got it to budge.
  • There was an awkwardly shaped, big branch right in our way. Cutting it took me about an hour.
The Branch from Hell

The Branch from Hell

While I cut the branch, Dad set up the camera to point directly at the stand, and Bear took a nap.

Bear Taking a Load Off

Bear Taking a Load Off

Did I mention that we had record-breaking heat? I worked up quite a sweat doing all that sawing. I stripped down to a T-shirt. Here it was February 25, and we were working in short sleeves.

A Better Bow Hunting Perch

A Better Bow Hunting Perch

As you can see, the stand is much harder to see now. I put a couple of reflective tacks near it to help us find it in the dark. Despite being, it’s a much better bow stand, with two excellent windows along both trails, thanks to our pole saw work.

We’re really happy with where it is now, but we still have some work to do, hence the “What we should have brought” list above.

On the way out, we split up. Dad went straight back to the truck, while Bear and I checked the Buck Knob camera. The batteries were dead because it’s very windy on Buck Knob this time of year. There were hundreds of wind videos. We’ll need to change the sensitivity to Low the next time we’re there. We did get some great videos of the twin moose though, including two of them touching noses.

I pruned my way back down 1A. By then, the sun was high in the sky, and snow was like slush. It was rough going. Notably, there was moose sign everywhere.

After 2:00 PM (five hours later), we were finally done and exhausted.

~ Tony