Friday, April 16, 2010

Swamp Mission

Swamp Mission with a Fly Rod

We met at Sheetz about 9:10am. I pulled in with the canoe on the van. John stood by his truck checking his cell phone. I hoped it wasn’t important because he was to guide me around a swamp for some pike and largemouth bass using a fly rod.

 I followed John to a State Game Lands. The swamp/lake, (I’ll use the term swamp for the rest of the story), was a few hundred yards away from the gated parking area. I thought we would be able to pull up to the swamp, unload gear, return to the parking area and be on our way. I guessed wrong, seeing the circumstances, but John had another idea. I remember him saying something about bringing his deer hauler. So, as I got the canoe down from the van roof, John assembled his deer hauler.
We balanced the canoe on the deer hauler and strapped it down. We filled the canoe with our fly fishing gear, paddles, life jackets and net! Oh ya, John brought along a spinning rod and reel for some reason or another!?! We wheeled the canoe passed the locked gate, which blocked the grassy road, and easily made it to our launching sight. It WAS easier than I expected. John got in the front of the canoe and I pushed him out into the water further and than climbed in. We were going to do some swamp fishing in April!

 The sky was streaked in grays and light blues with small cumulus clouds above. The weather people had predicted rain but for now the sun was peeking through these skyward factors. This gave the swamp a fishy atmosphere, not too bright yet not a dull ugly look either. A small breeze blew towards us and created a washboard ripple look upon the water surface. As we turned the canoe, towards the long stretch of swamp, I got a better look at our arena for the day.
 10’ to 12’ thin trees, partially submerged in water, branched skyward along most of the bank. Unplowed farmers fields colored the backdrop in spring greens and wheat tan and yellow hues. I noticed patches of scrubby brush growing in small areas within the swamp as well as tops of lily pad growth spread throughout the waters.
 John pointed to a grove of gray, well weather worn, tree trunks standing feeble in the middle of our direction ahead. Their bark were stripped as the wood beneath looked like well aged barn siding. Their limbs branched out, up to a few feet or so, elbowing in different directions finally coming to an abrupt broken blunt end. Far off John pointed in the direction of another grove of weathered tree trunks. An Osprey was tending a branchy nest in the crook of one of the well weathered tree trunks. Within 20 yards another looked on high upon his perch in another crooked branched feeble tree.
 As we paddled on I took notice to clusters of lily pads throughout the swamp, some thicker than others but all good cover for hiding or predatory fish. The water was visible about two feet or so, than the underwater swamp weed tops and stems blocked the view further down. John would point out the deep channel that snaked its way through the swamp as we would canoe over it. It was easy to tell as the underwater weeds disappeared instantly.

 The wind died down as we positioned ourselves within the weathered trunks. John started casting a green popper out along the protruding trunks with his fiberglass fly rod. I put a chew in and started off casting and stripping in streamers I had tied for pike a week earlier. We covered the area pretty well in about an hour or so without any strikes. The area looked perfect but the fish wouldn't cooperate. The sun found its way above us in the clearing sky as geese honked in the background like a traffic jam in a major downtown city.
 We paddled out of the area and figured on fishing in deeper water. Ducks flew out from cover as we approached near weedy patches. In some areas we would see small wakes of fish swimming away from our presence. We found a visible stump, just off from a deeper section, and I tied the back rope to a limb. John scored first with a crappie on a small white streamer he was using. Not long after this he scored another crappie and I believe a small largemouth. I was trying my best but I’m not as well acquainted with fishing in a canoe in a swamp as I am along a streambed.

John noticed a beaver hut far off in the distance within the swamp water. He gestured that maybe pike would be in and around the loose limbs and branches near the beaver hut. It looked like a long way to paddle but we had all day and maybe that’s where the hungry fish were. The wind picked up a little as we paddled, into it, to our destination. The sun dimmed, and looking up, I noticed small groups of dark clouds blowing through. Sprinkles of rain dotted the calmer sections of water hidden behind groups of swampy bush growth. It didn’t look serious and nothing was said about turning back or giving up. We made a wide arc, paddling around the beaver hut, not wanting draw attention to our intrusion of the area. We circled around so we could put our backs against the wind to make our casting less difficult. We found some sturdy branches protruding the surface water and I tied off with the rope knotted to the rear ring of the canoe. The canoe drifted out towards the beaver dam and than came to an abrupt stop. The wind made for good distant casting and the washboard water surface hid our heavy leaders and tippets.

 I worked the far left side of the beaver hut casting a yellow sunfish slider and occasionally a perch looking triple threat where I knew the channel deepened. Occasionally I’d cast high over John’s left shoulder, towards the beaver hut, when he wasn’t looking while fishing to his right. John worked the branchy outskirts of the hut and deeper channel between the canoe and the hut. He would, at times, toss his green popper to the shallows towards his right but concentrated nearer the hut and deep channel more often.

Mind you, we’re sitting in a 17’ canoe casting hard foam poppers with 8 ½ and 9 ½ foot fly rods. We’re not standing on a boat deck flipping jelly worms! With the wind behind us, we’re casting and dropping our offerings 30’ to 45’ away accurately not wanting to snag up on the loose branches or water weeds. Than having to flip the popper out of the water soon enough to start our back-cast trying not to snag up on the swamp weeds in front of us.

 In the deeper channel John finally coaxed a small largemouth up from its depths. He worked the fish towards him for a group picture. After he caught another largemouth I switched to one of my own tied frog poppers.
 Casting across the breeze, to my left, my popper glided and dropped just shy of some overgrown branchy looking hazards, just on the far side of the deep channel. I let the popper sit a few seconds than popped it twice to cause a commotion. The breeze wasn’t strong enough to sweep the popper across the surface but was strong enough to make the washboard surface difficult to keep a constant eye on the popper. I swam the frog popper towards me across the deep channel with even strips. The popper gurgled some and a small wake was created from its sides. I stopped it where I thought the middle of the channel would be and again let it sit. Twitching the rod tip sharply upward twice popped the popper and bubbles formed from the cupped mouth. I took in some slack line as the popper sat there rolling with the small riffles. Wham, a hurricane of water erupted upon the surface and I reared the rod back instinctively. The fished pulled hard as the rod tip bent downward from the pressure but not with enough force I thought I’d have to give him much line. I lowered the rod tip and swung it to my left guiding the bass around some surface branches and to the canoe. I thumbed the nice size largemouth for an instant picture. The bass had engulfed my frog popper completely in its mouth. With a quick twist of my pliers, I released the hook and than released the bass back into the swamp water. I watched as he disappeared into the darkness.

 After another hour of casting without catching, we canoed to a quiet calm cove with lots of lily pad growth and good shoreline brush. With the sun shining again the area looked like the perfect spot for fish.
“It’s something how we fishermen always know where the fish should be but most times nobody told the fish.”
 In the time went spent in the cove John caught one blue gill, maybe two, before we decided to drift fish out in the middle of the swamp. We paddled through some snot green thick water surface growth that made us put in a little more effort than we expected to get through the mess.

 Out in the middle I snapped on a shiny clouser looking streamer Kevin had given me the week before. John changed to small white Mylar tubing looking minnow. As the canoe slowly wind drifted, I casted into the deep part of the channel and let the heavy streamer sink a bit before slowly stripping it in. It felt as if I hooked a drifting underwater branch until I pulled back hoping not to snag the unseen object. The darn thing pulled back his way and his weight caused the rod to flex into the middle. We struggled a bit as I kept the rod high and palmed the reel with pressure as needed. After a few tugs in different directions, I controlled the struggle and led my biggest bass of the day towards the canoe. Near the boat he tried to dive deep but the rod pressure only let him get down so far before the pressure was again too much. The largemouth surfaced and I thumbed him in the canoe, got a phot, unhooked him and released him.

 We only drifted a short distance when John hooked into a crappie. After releasing his fish we continued to drift without any strikes. We paddled back and wedged our canoe in a ’V’ of a surfaced branch in hopes of catching more fish but that didn’t occur.

 We finally let the canoe drift again as the wind kicked up just enough to gently push us towards our entry point though we were still quite a ways off. John continued using his white Mylar minnow streamer as I would switch different streamers as depth would allow. We were slowly drifting towards a nice wide patch of lily pads. John was teasing any fish laying in wait along the outskirts of the growth. I had just casted and was slowly stripping in a white streamer when I heard a gulp. I looked over and the splash denoted a fish and, with John’s fly rod bent, I knew he had’m on. I wanted to grab the net but I knew I had to reel in the streamer first in order not to snag up. I reeled frantically looking over the edge of the canoe trying to get a visual of the fish. John kept the rod high and we began to drift smack dab into the lily pads. Lily pads were bending and moving erratically from beneath and than I saw a large mouth surface with a big body shaking behind. I had just got the streamer in as I watched John try his best to heave the bass into the boat as we continued to drift further into thicker lily pads. I laid my rod down to grab the net but, you guessed it, the biggest fish of the day got away. At least I witnessed it!!

Oh well, that was the big excitement. We were about ready to call it a day anyhow. We fished the far bank a bit before we canoed to our entry point. We loaded the canoe on the deer hauler and hauled our tired basses back to the vehicles. We talked a bit as we put our gear away. I drank a beer while John took a couple of pain killers.

I followed him back to the Sheetz and he continued on as I pulled into the parking lot. I went in and bought a Dutch Masters Corona De Luxe and a bag of Cracker Jacks. On route 58, east out of Greenville, I unwrapped the 43 gauge corona and then realized that I didn’t have to nip off the end of the machine-made cigar. I’ve been used to smoke’n hand rolled imports. I lit up, thought of the great weekend and looked forward to getting home and relaxing.


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