Monday, September 28, 2015

Swamp Bass

Swamp Bass

 The sun was still rising when I made it to the bank of the swamp. It looked like the beginning of some horror movie. Bright early sunshine and swamp lily pads lying on the surface water out from the bank. A forest of trees as far as the eyes can see without any sign of life. Even the name “Buzzard Swamp” seemed to make a good title for the movie.
 I knew it would be rough getting the kayak over the lily pads and underwater vines. I dug my paddle into the soft moss and mud beneath to get enough leverage to shimmy my way out to the open water. The paddle ridden with strands of stems and moss attaching itself with every stroke was becoming quite a mess.
 Once clear of the lily pads I rinsed off the muck on my old pair of sneakers and the paddle. I paddled out through the channel towards the main body of water before taking a break.
 A slight of a breeze was felt but not strong enough to ripple the surface water. The water surface was a dead calm except for the small waves caused by my kayak. Except for an occasional caw of a distant crow it was deathly silent. Old gray tree trunks sprouted up out of the water throughout the swamp. Entangled deadfalls lay near the banks here and there making good cover for an ambushing large mouth. I lit up my first cigar at about a quarter to 9 in the morning. I started to relax and beginning to enjoy much more of the morning after the half hour of rolling my kayak down the overgrown grassy trail through the forest to the swamp.

 I missed the first bass along a tangle of deadfalls. The bass emerged suddenly when I was swimming the popper back towards me with easy strips. I couldn’t get another to rise so I searched about for another good looking location. I had the whole place to myself so there was no hurry to get to any specific area I had found bass before.
 As I paddled the breeze picked up and brought with it a morning chill. I felt my beads of sweat on my skin turn cold, from hauling the kayak and roughing my way through the muck. The surface water, that was earlier a mirror surface and reflections had turned into printed ruffled bed sheets and distorted images.
 I let my claw hammer down, I used for an anchor, in the shallow water and stripped line out of the 7wt. fly rod to make a cast along the lily pads. Each cast was a practiced art even taken in consideration with the soft breeze. With enough applied force and timing I had the popper maneuvering through the air like a thrown marshmallow and landing on the surface water like a frog from a lily pad.
 I skipped and popped the frog imitation with a pause now and then. At first each cast I expected a strike but it took some time for a grab.

The popper fell to the edge of a peninsula of lily pads. I stripped line with short strokes and let it rest for a second. A fish shot out and up from the pads with a quick sweeping rush. I towed back on the rod handle and it felt like I got a good hook set. Right off I could feel it wasn’t a big bass but I got it to the kayak safely and that ’broke the ice’ as they say.

 The day slowly wore on and if it wasn’t for the pleasant scenery and solitude I might have left the theater. 

 Like a B horror flick there isn’t much of a plot. It drags on as you wait for some surprise and excitement. The day was going that way. It wasn’t that I expected some monster bass to chomp a chunk out of my kayak or my kayak was going to tip over and I’d be entangled in the lily pads. I was just waiting for an explosion of a bucket mouth to terrorize one of my poppers at any time.
 The wind kept up so my claw hammer anchor was only slowing the kayak down a little in the more open water. I would only get a few casts towards the lily pad before blowing out too far away or blowing smack into them. I found a calmer area on the swamp but couldn’t get a strike. I changed popper colors and shades often. Sometimes i got a blue gill to grab the trailing feather because the hook size was most likely too big to fit in their mouths. When there was an exposed stump I’d tie off to it and spend a few minutes casting about. It got to the point my best option was to get right into the lily pads and drop the anchor. It would tangle up enough in the underwater vines and moss that the wind couldn’t dislodge me. I would let enough anchor line out that would put me just at the edge and cast from there.
 It was just afternoon and I think I was on my third cigar. I came to the conclusion that nothing wanted to do with any of my shades of frog poppers. I had been changing colors and occasionally would get a blue gill to mouth the tail feathers of my brighter colors but I was after bass and refused to down size just to catch one of the gills.
 I had anchored in the lily pads and strung enough anchor line out to cast along some lily pads extending from shore. There were also a few pods of pads here and there in the shallow area within casting distance. With the wind behind me I got good distance so I stuck around the area longer than most of the other places I had visited. I watched as my popper would ride the waves like a small piece of drift wood in an ebb tide. I’d pop it now and then just for some action.

 I attached a silver and purple popper I tied up. I didn’t even have a name for it, it was just something different and wasn’t to resemble anything in particular. I cast it into a slow wind riffle of water between two lily pad groves. After popping it I let it sit and slowly drift with the wind force. The take wasn’t an explosion but a big enough gulp and water spurt that I hauled back thinking this got to be a bass. Sure enough I felt the weight of the fish as the rod flexed into the mid section. He pulled and tugged testing the rod strength as well as the drag I had set. I kept the rod out towards the open water not wanting him to take me into the lily pads. When I got him close to the kayak I reached for my net, behind me to my left, but found that the elastic cord that I had attached to a back strap wasn’t long enough to net the big bass on the right side of the kayak. I ended up tiring him out enough to get him to rise to the surface so I could lip him. My big bass and all the excitement I was waiting for ended in a matter of seconds. It felt good to land the big guy.

 After releasing him I checked the time. I had a party I was invited to so this day I had a time limit. Just like the movies, you begin to keep an eye on the clock to see when it will end and wait for the next exciting moment in the picture. I had about an hour and a half before time was up. I slowly made my way, anchoring in lily pads, casting out in front of me for another bass.

 My cast put the popper up against the edge of the lily pads that extended pretty far out from the grassy bank. I was swimming it back to me in a slow retrieve. I let it stop and set just on the other side of a few lily pads that lay upon the water in the open about 12 yards out. I tie my poppers with stiff hackle feathers behind the foam so it doesn’t add any weight or absorb water. This way when I get in this situation I can flip the rod up and the foam popper, with the stiff feathers, usually glide over the pads without getting hung up.
 “Wham”!! A bass inhaled the popper before I was able to flip it up over the pads. I was already in the motion to do so, so I just yanked a little harder and set the hook. This big boy hauled ass out into the open like a tug boat full steam ahead. With the rod flexed deep he turned and headed towards me to my left into the lily pads. I knew I was anchored too far into the lily pads that there was a good possibility I wouldn’t be able to land him if the pads were too thick. I felt the tugging and yanking as I held the rod handle up with the rod tip in a good arc. The tugging on the other end ceased but my rod was still in an arc. I tugged a few time in hopes that I could feel the fish tug back on the other end but that wasn’t the case. I was left with a mass of moss and lily pad vines.

 I took a swig of water and slowly fished my way to my exit point. I caught one smaller bass on a small frog popper before trudging my way through the muck back to land. From there I drug the kayak up through the field of grass to the lane. 

On the lane I strapped the kayak to my home made dolly and began my ½ hour journey back to the van.
 At the vehicle I opened a bottle of cooler chilled beer and quenched my thirst while I packed everything into my van. Just before leaving I lit up a Brick House Churchill for the ride home. Sure I didn’t catch many bass but it sure was a pleasant outing without any horrible encounters!

 “I’ll be back”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bass in a 'Yak"

Bass in a “Yak”

 This year I made my annual bass pond excursion in a Kayak. I had bought a 10’ Sundolphin Journey SS already set up for fishing. I was looking around for ideas of a cart to roll this down to the pond when I came across a golf cart dolly at a consignment shop for $10.00. A little thought and not much work I made it into a dolly to roll my kayak around to far places.
 So instead of carrying a 40 to 50lb backpack for about 45 minutes filled with a float tube, pump, flippers and fly gear I now can shorten my walk and not have that heavy pack on my back.

 I arrived Saturday morning in the gravel parking area. After assembling the dolly and securing the kayak on the dolly I consciously loaded the kayak with what I needed and proceeded to roll down the lane leading to the pond through the Allegheny National Forest.
 The last few days the weather had been in the 80’s with high humidity. Today was supposed to be the same but so far the early morning was quite cool. The sky was full of white clouds as I trekked through the forest, under the canopy of trees, towards the rising sun. A cool breeze would feather through the forest carrying with it the smell of fresh pine and moss. I felt like this was going to be a relaxing outing and hopefully a few big bucket mouths.

 The kayak was a little wobbly on the way down but this first experience taught me a few things to better position the dolly under the ‘yak’.
 When the pond came into view I was relieved that it wasn’t overgrown with lily pads. From the distance it looked like a wonderful place to spend the day searching for largemouth bass.

 Once at the pond I assembled the 9’ 7 weight fly rod and knotted on a fresh frog leg popper. I folded up the dolly and it fit nicely in the back compartment. 

 It was a little struggle scooting and paddle pushing through the bank side muck and young lily pads but I got through it without having to get out of the yak. Once in the deeper channel of water, that lead to the bigger section of the pond, I was excited and anticipating a leisurely fishing adventure.
 The pond was calm with an occasional breeze that wrinkled the surface water. There were lots of areas where lily pads covered the water surface making good cover for bass to hide.

 I was kind of enjoying the scenery as I slowly paddled looking for a good place to make my first cast.

  I spotted a tangle of uprooted trees and branches just out from the bank. Small lily pads covered the surface water nearly surrounding the area of the tangle. I dropped the hammer anchor in the water just far enough out that I could reach the tangle with a long cast.
 I unhooked the frog popper from the hook keeper and let it sit on the water as I pulled line out of the reel. With a few false casts I had a good bit of line out and enough to get the popper near the cover.
 My forward cast carried the frog popper towards the structure and the popper landed with a plop just shy of a small branch that extended beyond the small lily pads. I popped it once, with a sharp yank of the fly line, and than swam it towards me with slow even strokes.
 On my next cast I held the cork grip firmly, false cast, and pointed the rod tip towards the middle of the structure. The popper shot forward and fell onto the calm water between two thick branches that rose out of the water as if it ‘Y’d’ beneath. The water exploded without warning spraying water everywhere. In surprise, yet instinctively, I reared back on the 9’ rod to set the hook. The medium action rod flexed into the middle section and I felt the forceful tugging of a hooked bass. He drove hard out to my left in deeper water with strength and determination to get free. I kept the rod skyward not wanting the get the line tangled up in any unseen obstructions beneath though the rod tip flexed downward towards the fighting bass. We tussled with each other to get the upper hand and I won out with him finally swimming toward the kayak. I scooped him up in the net and my first bass was a doozy as far as I was concerned. 

 I only had been in the water for about 45 minutes and already had a bass in the yak. The excitement and fresh air cleared away any drowsiness or slumber from my early rise. After the long haul with the kayak I felt rejuvenated. I took out my first stogie and lit it up while looking over the water before me.

 I paddled around, anchored and fished throughout the morning. I caught a few small bass and a couple of hungry bluegill and missed a few good gulps at the poppers. I stuck with top water poppers and stick baits always anticipating a strike.

 Two canoes entered the pond a couple of hours after I got there. They also roamed the pond in search of fish.
 I came across a small cove that I was getting more action than any other location on the pond. I anchored down and took my time covering the open water almost surrounded by lily pads. I worked my way patiently towards a small channel that creased between one opening in the lily pads to where the water flowed towards me.
 It had to be just after noon. When the sun was out from the clouds it felt like it was shooting hot laser beams down upon the water. Looking closely at the water surface the heat met with the cooler water temperature and distorted the surface air in an illusion of wave like vapors. The cool breeze that occasionally swept the pond was a welcome relief though it did cause some misappropriated casts. Even so some of the bass were not hampered by the heat wave.
  I was just anchored near a short jutting stump. I made a long cast to my right near the edge of the lily pad growth. There were a few strands the floated above the water between me and the growth so I knew I had to be careful to steer the frog away from getting hung up. As I was swimming the frog  just to the side of a few lily sprouts my popper disappeared into a big gulp of water. I quickly yanked back and felt the resistance. Waiting to fill the tug of a fish never came to be, yet my rod was still flexed towards the sprouts. Bringing in the heavy line I was left with a mass of vine and heavy pond moss. I couldn’t understand how I missed the big mouth.

 I was once told that after a bass takes a top water lure you should count 2 seconds before setting the hook. It sounds reasonable enough. Bass inhales its food and I suppose if you yank too soon, while its big mouth is still open, you can miss the mouth completely. Waiting a second or two might just be long enough to have the bass close its mouth and get a hook into it. I’ve been missing some grabs so I was about to try it on the next take. I’ll admit, being a trout fisherman, it isn’t easy not to set the hook quickly on the first sign of a take.

 I wasn’t directing my cast to any target in particular and let it fly to the small riffle of water that channeled into the open water before me. The cast was long and straight and the popper fell with an audible splash. A couple of sharp tugs and I was swimming the frog popper towards me. The water erupted in a boil mid swim and I consciously waited just a second before yanking a hook set. I felt the hook strike something solid and a bass tugged and fought beneath the water surface. He felt like another nice one. He swam swiftly towards the stump on my left and had enough strength to pull the line up over the stump as he cleared the stump on the other side. I held the rod high enough over the stump not to get hung up. I had no control over the bass as he than swam towards me, deep, heading under the kayak. I took my chance and reached the rod outward trying to coax him away from under the yak. He turned from under the kayak and swam back into the open water. Getting him closer to the yak he didn’t give up too easily and dove deep enough to again flexing the fly rod into the midsection. I played him a little longer before I forcefully took the initiative and got him to the net.

 After another half hour or so things slowed down that I couldn’t get a bass to rise. It was getting near 3:00pm and my body was tiring from the early morning wake up call and day activity. I slowly paddled my way, while stopping to fish now and then, towards my exit point. I hooked up three times to small bass and missed a couple of quick snapping hits I figured were bluegills. 

 Back through the shallow pond moss I was able to get to the bank without much trouble. I figured it was easier to drag the kayak up hill, upon the bumpy field grass, than trying to push the cart over the shallow gullies and holes. Once at the lane I took my time and secured the kayak on the dolly for the ‘drive’ back to the van.
 On the way back I seen somebody’s cart didn’t quite last.

 It turned out to be a good day out on the bass pond. Not a banner day or big bucket mouths but a good outing as far as I was concerned. It sure was good to have a cold beer waiting for me at the van!!