May 30, 2014

It's easy enough...once you figured it out.

A few days ago, I was chatting with my friend Richard on the phone. He mentioned there were all these baitfish swirling all around his dock. He dropped a line in and they were chasing and nipping his chunk of nightcrawler, but he couldn't catch them since his smallest hooked were only #8. We suspected that they were Alewife. Usually, Alewife's diet consist of small items like zooplankton. They usually do not feed while spawning, so it was odd they were interested in the chunk of nightcrawler.

I was intrigued. I have yet to catch an Alewife. While I was in Virginia a couple of weeks ago, there were shad spawning and we were certain that some of them were Alewife. But since they were most difficult to tell apart from Blueback Herring, it was difficult to target them. Now this opportunity was present, I must exploit it as much as possible.

So the first chance possible, Richard and I tried for them after work for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, it appeared that the Alewife had moved out and only small number of them remained by his boat slip. We tried fishing small segments of garden worm but only caught salmon smolt after salmon smolt. Since our time was limited, we decided to give it another try a few days later.

This morning, I was organizing my gear for another after work attempt. While I was taking my shower, I thought "Hm...maybe they would hit a sabiki rig..." Well, by the time I step out of my apartment, I had forgotten all about the sabiki. It wasn't until I was halfway to work on the subway that I realized I forgot my sabiki.

Richard finished work early and I was able to get my work done quickly, so we arrived at his slip by 5:30pm. We decided to take the little dinghy to actively to search for the school of Alewife. While motoring around, I noticed some stickleback in the shallows; so I put on a tanago hook to try for them.

As I was leaning over the side trying to sight fish for these little guys, Richard was chatting with someone and found out that he caught some Alewife on hook and line just a few days ago. He mentioned something that resembles a sabiki rig. Of course...that's exactly what I forgot to pack. He did mentioned where he was catching these fish, so we headed over in that direction.

Sure enough, there were small schools of Alewife under the docks and boats. We had no sabiki rig so we tried to jig small chunks of nightcrawler or garden worm. We noticed that the fish would swarm and swirl around the bait only when we jigged. Enchanted as they might for the moving bait, they were not taking it. I tried to use small 1" twister tails in different colours but they were not any more tempted to bite.

Then we noticed someone jigging by his dock. We suspected he was jigging for Alewife, so we slowly drifted over to get more intel. Indeed, he caught an Alewife with a sabiki right in front of us. We started chatted and told him we were trying to catch some Alewife but had no success with our technique. It appeared that they would only hit sabiki. He would jiggle the sabiki a couple of times, pause briefly, then give it a sharp quick lift. The Alewife would usually hit on the lift.

He found out I was trying hard to get my #389 species and lend us a sabiki rig. Using the rig, it took less than a minute before I finally caught one!

Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) - Species #389!

Proof that they were not snagged.

Once we figured out how to catch them, it was super easy. We caught 8 of them quickly. Since it was getting toward sunset and the temperature was quickly dropping, we returned the sabiki to our new friend Pete and called it an evening.

Thank you Pete for helping us catch a lifer!

May 26, 2014

Gar time!

The time has arrived for the annual gar spawn. This is the best time to catch Longnose Gar as these spawning gar could be found amassed in certain areas. It is a relatively short window of only 2-3 weeks and it is somewhat dependent on water temperature and water level. After fishing for them in the last 4 years, I've found conditions may vary drastically each year, but the timing generally only change by a week or two.

Two friends of mine, Dave and Mike, had never caught a Longnose Gar. So we planned a day to give it a shot. Our original date was last weekend. However, heavy rainfall just before the weekend blew out the river. So we delayed the trip until this Sunday. The river was still high, but the river height data appeared fishable. I've never fished water this high before, so we were definitely taking a gamble.

A 2-hour drive later, we were found a roaring river. The current was so powerful that it was not even remotely safe to wade, not even in the shallows. Luckily, there was a back eddy close to shore that was holding a number of Longnose Gar and the water clarity was decent. I was pretty relieved at that point since it could have been a complete bust. So we got the gear ready and started drifting small minnows in the eddy current.

Earlier in the morning, the fish were not very active. We lost a few hits but bites were far and few in between. So I decided to explore a little with my fly rod. Somehow, I forgot to bring the camera with me...and of course I would catch two Longnose Gar on the fly without the camera to document the catch.

When I returned to Dave and Mike, Dave landed 2 gar and Mike landed 1. Once the sun peeked out of the clouds, the water warmed up more and the gar began to bite more regularly.

Here are some pictures of our wonderful gars.

By mid-afternoon, each of us had landed at least 5 gars. All of us had a couple of gar came off the hook right by shore just as we were netting it. In the past, we found that #8 treble hooks were perfect for most of these gar. The size of the gap was just wide enough to trap their jaws shut, yet not too wide to allow the hooks to slip off easily. This year, we realized that a sideway sweep of the rod set the hook much better than an upward motion. Even though gars have very hard jaw, the mechanic of the hookset dictated the sideway sweep and we improved our hooking and landing ratio to about 50% of the bites. That's pretty good since in the past, we would be lucky to hook 30% of our bites...and lucky to be able to land 30% of the fish we hooked.

By around 2:30pm, we ran out of minnows (we started with around 3 dozen). We decided to fish the other side of the river where I saw some Common Carp in the morning. However, the carp had left so we decided to fish some worms for whatever may bite.

There was not shortage of Smallmouth Bass. Since bass season was closed, the bass received a quick release without pics. I was catching smallies on the fly, with the minnows and on nightcrawlers. Many of them were 1-2lbs, with a few that were pushing 2.5-3lbs!

Surprisingly, I found a very ambitious Logperch that bit half a nightcrawler on a #8 hook!


There was also no shortage of Rock Bass.

We found a few Brown Bullheads too.

It was a fun day of not just gar fishing, I'm especially happy my two friends had checked off the Longnose Gar from their wish list. :). But it was also a multi-species kind of day. In total, we caught:

Longnose Gar
Smallmouth Bass
Largemouth Bass
Rock Bass
Brown Bullhead

May 13, 2014

2014 Virginia (Day 4)

This was our last day in Virginia. Pat suggested that Eli and Ella should try a spot about an hour way from Longear Sunfish and Spotfin Shiner. Since I had caught both species already, Pat and I would try for American Eel and White Catfish again while we cast lures for snakeheads.

It didn't take long before Pat was into a snakehead.

Shortly after, I landed one of my own too.

These fish were caught blind casting. As the bite stopped, Pat suggested a spot with an underwater pipe where catfish might congregate. After I tossed out the catfish line, I started looking for snakeheads. Immediately, I saw one surface for air but, since it saw me, the fish quickly sank deep. I made a couple of casts with no take. Just as I was getting ready for another cast, I noticed a bit of movement. Right below my feet was a snakehead slowly cruising beside the wall. The little ledge prevented from seeing me. I slowly lowered the lure about 4 inches from its path and jiggled it a couple of times. Immediately, the fish lunged forward with the mouth open. Even though the line was vertical, the hook was set properly. A short fight later, I hand lined this fish up for a photo session.

They are simply too much fun!

I spent another 30 minutes in this spot without any catfish bite or snakehead bite. Pat suggested that we move over to the other side.

There was a certain cherry tree where Pat often find snakehead hiding underneath. Indeed, we found three snakehead sitting just below the surface under this tree. It was not easy presenting lures to these fish as the overhanging branches would snag an errant cast. Pat gave me a go at these fish, but I failed to get them to bite. They initially showed a bit of interest and followed the lure a feet or two, but soon they figured out the game and swam off. When I left the area, they would return to the tree, but as soon as they heard or saw my lures in the area, they would sank out. Aggressive fish these surely aren't!

Under another tree, I saw another snakehead slowly cruising under the surface. I cast my lure toward the fish and immediately received a hit! However, it was not the snakehead but rather a 2.5lb Largemouth Bass. I wonder which is more aggressive...the Northern Snakehead or a Largemouth Bass? I can say in this case that the bass beat the snakehead to the lure. Again, aggressive fish these snakehead sure aren't!

Pat was using an ultralight rod, micro jig and Gulp! to catch sunfish and crappie. Meanwhile I had a rod soaking worms for quite a while for White Catfish and American Eel. Finally, I had a pretty good bite and it seems very much like a catfish. Unfortunately, it was a 2lb Channel Catfish.

With Snakeheads not biting and my target lifer not cooperating, I picked up Pat's ultralight rod and played with some Bluegill Sunfish, a Pumpkinseed Sunfish and a couple of White Perch. As the tide dropped, Pat suggest that we work our way back to the other side. He said low water was prime for topwater bite, so we tied on some frog lures. As we came to the corner where I caught the last snakehead, the low water revealed a jaw dropping sight. In that corner alone, there were easily over 10 snakehead congregated and I didn't even had to try to count them. There were more snakeheads in the immediate area, and we saw more swimming just under the surface a little further away.

It didn't take long before we had snakeheads following our frog lures. However, if they saw us, they would give up the chase. Since I was fishing from a high vantage point, it was almost impossible for the fish not to see me. Instead, I tied on a subsurface lure and works it with the same hopping retrieve that had been successful for me a few days prior. I had multiple follows from fish but they were still wary. Finally, I had a pair of fish followed with more intent and one fish lunged at the lure. I saw a huge disturbance of mud and bubbles as the fish took the gulp but did not feel the bite or the weight on the rod. The fish missed the lure!

Many more attempts later, I had the same thing happened. I wondered if the lure was too heavy for the snakehead to vacuum into their mouths. I will ponder this and chat with Pat some more to see if we could experiment on it a little.

Pat went on to fish the other side of area. He said there were over 30 snakeheads when he first started and many of them showed interested in his frog. He caught one, but many of them now had smarten up. Armed with my subsurface lure, I started to locate some possible targets. There was a pair of snakeheads slowly cruising close to the wall. Using my ninja skills, I moved away from the wall as I cast the lure toward their position. I could just barely see the fish as I worked the lure into position. After a couple of hops, I felt the hit and took my third snakehead of the day.

This fish gave me a very beautiful lifer picture to represent the species. In addition, it had a tag on its back.

I removed the tag but certainly did not kill this awesome fish. It's hard for me to kill any of them unless they could not be revived. After calling in to report the tag, I found out that they wanted to know where I caught the fish (I only gave a general location), its size, the lure and technique I used, and whether the fish was killed. The operator sounded disappointed when I told her it was released LOL.

As a reward for reporting the catch, they are sending me history data of this particular snakehead as well as a ball cap with a snakehead embroidery on it. Apparently, the cap will say "Snakehead Control" on it...which is pretty bad ass.

We were literally surround by snakeheads of all sizes. Some where 2-3lbs and some appeared to be 10+lbs! However, all the fish were extremely cautious and we were lucky to received a few more follows.

At around 2pm, Eli and Ella finally met up with us. Eli caught 3 more lifers during his hunt.

13) Spottail Shiner

14) Spotfin Shiner

15) Longear Sunfish

Their flight would leave at 5pm so they had to get going. However, we needed to at least get one group shot before they left. We relocated for a photo opportunity. After all, we needed a little proof that Eli went to Washington DC.

And just like that, our 4-day adventure came to past. It was a lot of fun fishing with two crazy fish nerd. We spent many hours simply chatting about fish species and our past adventures. Pat told us about his recent fishing trip to the Clinch River where it was rich in endemic fish species. Both Eli and I were mesmerized by Pat's tales. We have already agreed to try the Clinch River the next opportunity the three of us will definitely reunite in the near future!

This had been a very tough lifelisting trip. In fact, it was unprecedented since I only caught one new species over the 4 days. Coming into this challenge, I knew the targets were extremely difficult, but there were some easier targets such as Bluehead Chub that simply baffled us. I did rejoiced in Eli's 15 lifer accomplishment within the 4 day period and it was worth every penny and minute being there sharing his success.

May 12, 2014

2014 Virginia (Day 3)

As I said before, we couldn't have picked a better weekend for lifer hunting for Eli. When I visited Virginia last April, it was too early for the shad and herring run. We got lucky landing 5 Hickory Shad, but it was just at the start of the run. This year, our timing in May coincided with the tail end of the Hickory Shad and the peak of the American Shad as well as the Blueback Herring.

All three Alosa species would be lifers for Eli. Last year, I caught the Hickory Shad in Virginia and American Shad in Quebec. Blueback was the remaining possible lifer for me, although there was also a remote chance I could catch one of the many Quillback that were in the Potomac.

Last year, Pat took us through a pretty rough route down to the river. You needed to be a mountain goat to navigate that route. But Pat found a marked trail this year that only had a short stretch of rockiness. It was quite a bit less treacherous and all of us made it down with no issue. I wish I had taken more pictures, but as always, we were a bit too busy to take out the camera.

The river was a bit more coloured than I remembered last year. However, there were shad surfacing constantly. Originally, Eli and Ella were commenting on every rise. Eventually, it became a monotonous occurrences in the background.

Pat started of with a shad spoon and landed a Hickory Shad in no time. I gave Eli and Ella some 1/16oz jig head and 2" plastic grubs which had worked for me in the past. Using the same lures, I landed a Hickory Shad within the first 15 minutes of fishing.

Hickory Shad

Shads are quite delicate. If they were deep hooked, they likely do not survive. My Hickory Shad was hooked deep and require a bit of I only took a quick snap before releasing it.

Shad, like salmon, do not feed during their upstream spawning migration. But like salmon, they often strike out of instinct. Some days, these fish would strike a lure that was drifted with the current. Other days, they would strike a lure that was swung in the current. On this day, I found most success when the lure was retrieved at a medium pace at the end of the swing. Fish often came up from the depths to crash the jig as I prepare for the next cast.

The water at our feet were quite deep. We were perched on large rocks and the water easily dropped to depths over our head if we stepped off the rocks. Shad schools were rushing right at our feet. Since I had a few hits at the end of my retrieve, I tried to vertically jig as fish rushed by. It took about 30 seconds before a silver flash connected with my jig on the upswing.

This was a better fish that cartwheeled in the air. Hickory Shad are quite acrobatic, but Pat said American Shad usually don't jump. My experience with the American Shad was different since those fish loved to be aerial. Perhaps this was a Quebec Shad since it jumped a few times.

I needed a good picture of an American Shad. This one was pretty good and it may be my new lifelist picture.

American Shad

Part of what makes a lifelist angler successful is the attention to details, not only in fishing techniques, but for fish that we can see in the water. Being able to notice subtle difference in fish size, colour, pattern and colour could lead us to identify possible new species to target. Among all the shads swimming about, there were some smaller and more streamlined individuals in small schools. I suspected that these could be Blueback Herring since the small streamlined shape fits the description perfectly. Trying specifically for these smaller fish, I finally hooked one but had it jumped off.

Although Pat and I caught a few shad, it was pretty slow compared to the amount of fish surfacing in the area. Pat suggested a move downstream since the deep, rocky water was not the right place where I may catch a Quillback. So we parted from Eli and Ella to search for some Quillback waters.

A short relocation later, I found a spot where there was a big rock over deep water in front of me, but the water to the right of me shallowed into a sandy cove. I rigged up a split shot rig and put on half a worm to soak for Quillback. At the same time, I could cast the plastic grub and jig for Blueback Herring.

After catching another Hickory Shad and American Shad, I was wondering if these small shad were Alewife instead. Alewife superficially resembles Blueback Herring and much of their meristics overlap. Short of looking at the peritoneum, which is black to dusky in Blueback Herring and pale grey or pink in Alewife, but even that feature does not always hold. It is very difficult to distinguish between the two. These two species are often lumped into "river herring" since identification is often uncertain. The size of eye is quite a definitely feature though. According to Gulf of Maine Research Institute, "the former [Alewife] the eye is broader than the distance from its forward edge to the tip of its snout and the back grayish green, while in the latter [Blueback Herring] the eye is only about as wide as the distance from front of eye to tip of snout". Anyways, my point is that Alewife look similar to Blueback Herring. Alewife's diet consist of mostly small items such as amphipods, zooplankton and shrimp, while adult Blueback Herring do predate on small fish. If these fish were Alewife, they are much less likely to strike a lure.

Just as I was pondering these facts, I had a hit on the retrieve. Immediately, I saw it was a smaller shad and the fight became a nervous struggle. Will I catch a new lifer on this difficult trip?

There was just a little bit of water for me to swing the tired fish into a small pool. At long last, I was able to take a look at the fish. This fish lacks the iridescent dusky spot of the Hickory Shad and it certainly did not have the rounder and blunt head of the American Shad. Finally, I caught a lifer!

Blueback Shad aka Blueback Herring (Alosa aestivalis) - Species #388!

After the first, I caught two more Blueback Herring. Now my focus switched to Quillback. Although I was still casting for shad (since they are so much fun), I was constantly looking at the rod tip of my soaking worm. Since shad schools were swimming about, their bumping into my line often gave me false hope that I had a biting Quillback.

Finally, I had a real bite! Unfortunately, it was a White Perch. This picture may end up on my lifelist though since it was quite good.

While I landed the White Perch, I heard Pat calling for me. Pat had an American Shad on the line. Although he had caught them before, he didn't have any picture of them. These are species lifelisters like to call "photo lifers", and often, catching a photo lifer is just are frustrating as catch a new lifer. This shad was not small either and it was giving a valiant fight. There was a small pool next to Pat where he could guide the fish for landing. If we could get the fish in the pool, even if it came off the hook, it was next to impossible for the fish to escape us. The only issue was that the mouth of the pool has very little depth. I started to clear the rocks at the mouth and eventually created a deep enough path for Pat. After a couple of attempts and nervous moments, we had the fish!

Congrats Pat! It was an impressive photo lifer. The picture was awesome since it showed the dusky spots on the side that is often very difficult to capture in photos. He had a good photographer LOL.

I returned to my rock, tossed in a worm and caught another White Perch...and then one more. Even though I had Quillback surfaced next to my line twice, none would bite.

It was well past noon. It was sunny and about 90F so we were really feeling the exhaustion. Pat and I eventually returned to Elijah. He had added three more lifers and completed the Shad Slam!

9) American Shad

10) Hickory Shad

11) Blueback Herring

Pat and I saw some Tessellated Darters among the rocks. Eli looked more carefully and eventually caught his first Tessellated Darter which would be his first darter species!

While Ella attempted for her own darter, I took a picture of the surrounding.

Our Potomac fishing spot

We were all quite tired, so the plan was to return home for some fried fish and an afternoon nap, and then regroup in the afternoon to fish for more snakeheads.

Pat's wife Lia wanted to join us for the afternoon fishing, so Pat and I waited until Lia finished work. However, a storm moved in around 7pm and prevented us from fishing. We finally met Eli and Ella at 8pm. Eli and Ella had been fishing since 5:30pm and Eli reported catching two snakeheads before the storm.

As much fun as snakeheads were, Pat said he had caught American Eel and White Catfish at this location. In fact, these two species were what I was hoping to target on this night. In addition, the presence of Brown Bullhead also interested Eli. Thus, while Lia cast lures for snakeheads, the rest of us soaked worms for various targets.

It wasn't long before we heard Lia's excitement as she landed a nice Largemouth Bass. I was too far to take a picture, plus I was watching Pat's gear as he went to Lia's side.

Even though the post-storm condition was prime, the catfish apparently did not receive the memo. We didn't have any bites until I caught a Bluegill Sunfish an hour after we started fishing. Not long later, I caught a White Perch. Seeing the slow fishing and being quite tired, Eli and Ella called it a night. Pat and I continued out attempted until it was about 11pm. At the end, we had to call it a night since Lia had to work the next day.

As we were packing up, Lia declared last cast. Close to the end of the retrieve, Lia was excited again as a fish jumped out of the water a few feet from shore. On a short and tight line, the fish spent more time in the air than it did in the water. Eventually it was tired enough that it came to shore quite cooperatively. At the end of the line was Lia's first Northern Snakehead. We certainly didn't want to lose her lifer, but without a net, our only option was to handline the fish a few feet up onto land. Luckily, the 15lb fluorocarbon held and the hook managed to stay secured. For her first Northern Snakehead it was definitely an impressive one. It was around 8-9lbs, but the photographer made the fish much more impressive ;).

Lia and her lifer Northern Snakehead!

This was the perfect way to end the night!

May 11, 2014

2014 Virginia (Day 2)

As we planned the itinerary, there would be a few opportunities for me to catch some new lifers. Although I have only caught 12 new species from Virginia, much of the available species in the area had already been added on my lifelist from elsewhere. For example, although American Shad was in the area, I had already caught it in Quebec. Thus, the available new lifer targets for me were rather limited...and these limited opportunities would not be easy.

Pat did suggest one river where I could potentially catch a few easy micros, especially the Bluehead Chub. On the macro end, we may find Spotted Bass. So the plan for this day was to check out the river in the morning, then head to a set of bogs where Eli can fish for his lifer Flier and Chain Pickerel.

After about a 2 hour drive, we arrived at a little boat launch beside a small river. It was literally raining inchworms...and we thought this may be one of our issue. I'll explain further later.

We spread out fishing in different areas. I picked a little back eddy under the road bridge where I saw a school of micros. I got some bites but nothing long enough to get the tiny tanago hook. Meanwhile Eli and Ella was tossing lures in an attempt to find Spotted Bass and Eli said he had a couple of big minnows chased his lures.

After a couple of hours, Eli and I had just about given up. Pat had waded upstream to check out more habitat. Despite some very prime area, Pat caught nothing. We were all using frisky nightcrawlers at one time or another. This was simply unheard of. If there was a sizable fish in the stream, either a minnow or a sunfish, we would have eventually found it using worms. Yet...we were fishless. With the large amount of inchworm falling into the water, there were no rise for all that free food, which was surprising as well. Perhaps the fish were so engorged with inchworms that they could feed no more? It was a probable argument as we were still picking off inchworm from the car seat 2 days later.

Eli and Ella decided to check out another nearby spot. When they returned, Eli reported seeing some minnows but these fish quickly dispersed when he tried for them.

Pat seems rather concentrated in one little corner. Indeed, he found a couple of Spotted Bass against the shore. By the time we joined Pat, one of the bass had left. The remaining fish seems quite intent to hold its territory. We tried multiple micro panfish jig, Gulp! on micro jigs, live nightcrawlers, live redworms, worms we found on location...I even caught a small frog and freelined it! This fish showed varying level of interest from complete disgust to a tentative bit for Eli's micro jig. At the end, Eli and Pat had given up and they were waiting for me to quit. Seeing we had limited time, I gave up too.

We left the area with our tails between our legs in defeat. Hopefully the next area would be more productive for Eli. Again, I would have yet another uphill battle finding a new lifer.

Our next location was a set of bog. The water had a high level of tannin. This slightly acidic water is home to Flier Sunfish, Chain Pickerel and some micros such as Eastern Mudminnow, Bluespotted Sunfish, Banded Sunfish and Swamp Darter. Eli's targets were the Flier Sunfish and Chain Pickerel. Since I had caught the two already, my targets were the difficult micro species.

These micros were difficult since they are associated with weedy areas. By associated, I meant to say they hide in thick weeds. Eastern Mudminnow is also a nocturnal species, thus even if you spotted one, it may be inactive. While Pat and Eli waded chest deep in bog water, I spent a lot of time fishing inch by inch around weeds and within holes with the tanago hook. This was the issue I was faced with. Habitat for these micros were everywhere. Just look at that task all around me!

Ella was originally hesitant to wet wade into the bog. But she surprised us all by going neck deep in it. We were all super impressed! I limited my depth to only chest deep. It appeared that most of the fish were restricted to waist deep water and there was little need to get too deep. If you wish to cross the bog, you did have to wade in neck deep (for short people like Ella and I LOL). Ella wanted to follow she went right in.

Fishing in the bog may seemed strange, but I did catch a lot. Sadly, all of them were Flier Sunfish with one additional Warmouth. Warmouth are actually quite rare here, but both Eli and Ella would eventually catch a Warmouth too. I had a couple of fish snapped my 2lb tippet. There were some big Flier, Black Crappie and even small Largemouth Bass that could be potential culprits.

Eli was having problem catching the Flier Sunfish. This was an issue I also had on my first attempt at Fliers. Eli had already added a couple of less probable lifers Golden Shiner and Warmouth. I said the Fliers were hiding within the holes among the aquatic plants, so Eli started probing all the shallow slop as well.

It wasn't long before Eli caught his Flier Sunfish! After catching his Flier, Eli turned his attention to Chain Pickerel. However, as you can see, the scummy bog where we fished was next to impossible to fish any lures. Eli tried his best to find clear casting lanes and he admirably tried for Chain Pickerel. However, Largemouth Bass kept spoiling his effort.

Pat and I saw small schools of some very small sunfish. We suspected that they could potentially be Banded Sunfish or Bluespotted Sunfish, but we couldn't land one to confirm. Certainly they behaved very different from other juvenile sunfish since Bluegills or Flier would not hesitate to bite. These little sunfish would inspect the bait in a group but often did not show any intent to taste the flake of worm we were fishing.

At the end, Eli and I decided to try the stream nearby for any lifer minnow species.

Just as we were leaving, Eli happened to stepped into a puddle in our path. He noticed a fish that was disturbed and said "I'm pretty sure that was a Mudminnow."

Eli offered me the opportunity to try for it. We lost sight of the fish, but figured that it was hiding in the holes between the flooded grass. You would laugh if you had seen us. I was dipping the tanago hooks into a puddle with 4 inches of water. But sure enough, as I lowered by flake of worm into a hole between two clumps of grass, I felt a little tap and the line went sideways. I set the hook into a decent size Mudminnow (decent is relative...this fish was about 5 inches long). Unfortunately, as with most tanago fishing situations, the fish fell off the hook as it broke surface. :(

I kept trying a few times but Eli eventually returned to the car. Just as Eli was out of shouting range, I had the same fish bit again and yet again it got off the hook as the fish broke surface. ARGH!

I started looking more carefully in this puddle and found a second smaller Mudminnow that was already spooked by my presence. Pat returned and saw me fishing in a puddle and I told him my story. He said indeed they could often be found in flooded areas and puddles are definitely potential habitat.

By the time I returned to the car, Eli was already fishing by the bridge across the stream. He caught a couple of bass but nothing exciting. As I was tying up a new hook for micro fishing, Eli returned to the car for a nap.

I tried different areas looking for different lifers. I saw one minnow that didn't stay around for long. I tried the head of a pool, the middle of the pool and the tail end of the pool where the water slow down. Pat mentioned he had caught various minnow in the slower eddy in the past, but no one was home today. Eventually, I did catch a Redbreast Sunfish, but it wasn't a lifer for me.

Pat was tossing a little gold spinner and caught a bunch of big Bluegill and Redbreast Sunfish, as well as a couple of Black Crappie. He and I were soaking bait in hopes of finding a rare Mud Sunfish, but alas our efforts did not pay off. It was getting toward sunset and eventually we had to quit. Pat said that I often don't quit...indeed, I'm often the last person still on the water trying.

Eli finished with three more lifers for the day!

6) Golden Shiner

7) Warmouth

8) Flier

When we got home, Lia bought some Salvadoran roast chicken, with plantain, cassava, rice and refried beans. The chicken is great as is...but that GREEN SAUCE kicks it up not just a notch...but a few flights of stairs! It is probably just jalapeno in a blender...but wow! I had it last time (2013) with Pat and Lia and I really missed it. The yellow sauce was good too.

May 10, 2014

2014 Virginia (Day 1)

Since this is *hopefully* my graduating year, I had not plan any travels for spring and summer of 2014. I really want to concentrate on my thesis and most of all to graduate by summer.

And then Elijah sent me an email...

"My friend had the good fortune of getting some bonus miles on her frequent flyer account, and we are thinking about visiting Virginia for the weekend sometime in the next few weeks."

"I know your budget and time are very limited right now, but it would be pretty awesome if you joined us. Although our time is limited to just the weekend, maybe you could take some extra time and hop on that deep drop trip out of Virginia that we've been talking about?"

With an invite like that, how can I resist?

Well, the deep drop was out of the question since it would zap too much time away for Eli's lifer hunt. Together with my friend Pat who lives in Virginia, we came up with a pretty good itinerary for 4 days of lifer hunting. Funny thing is that by chance we picked the perfect weekend for many of the target that Eli was after. I don't think we could have picked a better weekend for Northern Snakehead fishing, which was Eli's target number one.

My budget was pretty limited so I decided to bus down to Washington DC on the Friday night. I hopped on the bus at 19:45 and arrived in DC at 11:30. It was a very long journey...I could have flown to China in that time LOL.

Elijah had already arrived Saturday morning at 07:30. Instead of waiting for me to arrive, I suggested that he should spend the morning going after some micro lifers. So before I even arrives, Eli had already caught 4 new lifers:

1) Satinfin Shiner

2) Swallowtail Shiner

3) Redbreast Sunfish

4) Mummichog

From Union Station, I took the Metro to a station close to Pat's apartment. Before even grabbing lunch or unpacking, Pat asked if I was ready for some fishing. And just like that, I was digging out gear from my luggage on a neighbourhood street and changing into swim short in the somewhat privacy of a rental car.

While Eli's friend Ella returned to Pat's apartment for some lunch and rest, Eli and I proceeded to cross a little creek during low tide. It's not so bad at low tide when the water is only knee to waist deep. We do have to keep an eye on the tide for the return trip.

While we were walking over the rocky shoreline, Eli said "You know, I'm at #386 now. How cool would it be to tie your 387 species with a Northern Snakehead?" Indeed, it would be fantastic! Some people think I go about this lifelist business a bit too seriously and they think I'm really competitive and aggressive. Those who know me well know that I am in fact the complete opposite. I like to form a network of lifelisters that are mutually respectful and beneficial to each other. Sharing information, whether success or failure, is the only way in my opinion to foster our pursue. Life is short, resources are limited and there are simply too many species to pursue! Eli and I often joked about how "jealous" we are of each other's new lifer catches, and how we are quickly besting each other on the lifer count. However, it is simply camaraderie rather than vicious competition. In fact, I see him as a brother. There is nothing more I would like than to help him accomplish #387 with a Northern Snakehead. I just hoped I could deliver.

Pat had a certain confidence on my snakehead fishing skills...but I was feeling some immense pressure. Sure, I know where to take Eli to find them. However, I had yet to hook and land one from this location during the two times I've fished here in the past. In fact, the last time I was there we didn't even see one snakehead. Thus, I was quite apprehensive about it all. But Eli probably didn't see all that concern as I try to be calm and collected LOL.

We finally arrived at this little culvert. The spot did not look like much at all. The bottom was mostly mud and silt. There was no aquatic plant growing in the area. The best cover available was a bed of bottom debris consisting of mostly rotten leaves. Needless to say, this urban stream was a highly disturbed habitat that had been severely altered by human activities. Oh, did I mention we were fishing underneath a freeway?

Initially, I couldn't spot anything aside from Largemouth Bass and some Common Carp...and I was extremely worry. I moved to higher ground where I can have a better vantage point while Eli remained down low to avoid detection. With a better view, I started to see a long shape coming out from deeper water onto the shallow debris bed. And then another. As the incoming tide flooded in more and more snakehead came into the area.

I started pointing out all the fish to Eli and we coordinated to put his lure presentation in the best interception course. Often, I would tell him to speed up or slow down based on the fish reaction. Sometimes the fish would move off and a new cast was needed. But after 30 minutes, we were still looking for a solid follow or a strike.

Since Eli's subsurface lure was not getting much attention on the steady retrieve, he and I wondered if my topwater frog would fair better. The surface presentation certainly garnered some attention, but most follows were quickly dropped. From my high spotting position, I was also quite visible to the fish. They are extremely wary when they could spot us.

Finally, I slowed down my presentation and slowly twitched the frog lure. This slower presentation drew the attention of a snakehead. In order to keep it interested, I had to inch the lure away every time the fish advanced. With every twitch, the fish charged forward a few inches but stopping just shy of the lure. Often times, the tip of its snout was just barely nudging the skirt of the frog. This cat-and-mouse game lasted for a distance of 30 feet until the fish was directly below me. By this time, I was crouching as low as possible and I used some grass to break up my outline. I felt like a lion stalking prey on the Serengeti Plain. As I was running out of line to work the lure, I gave it one final aggressive tug. This tug ignited the snakehead and the mouth finally opened! It grabbed the lure underwater but unfortunately the hooks did not set. From my angle, the line was completely vertical to the fish. It was very difficult to get a decent hookset. It also appeared that the fish merely bit the skirt of the lure to pull it under, which is a common habit of snakehead to pull a frog under by its leg before the finishing lunge at the frog while it was underwater.

Although we didn't hook the fish, it did gave us a glimmer of hope that perhaps we could crack the snakehead code.

Eli and I repositioned to the opposite side of the culvert. While Eli progressively worked down the shoreline by blind casting, I was proceeding at a much slower pace. Eli and I noticed that the snakeheads were slowly moving into water just deep enough to cover their backs. In fact, if you were not careful, you often spook these fish before even getting a chance at them. All you would see is the muddied water that they leave behind as the fish retreated back into the safety of deeper water.

With that in mind, I backed away from the waters edge and resumed my stalking position. Soon, I was able to present lures at a few fish. However, the fish were ignoring, or even disturbed, by the steady retrieve of our subsurface lures. Realizing that our last successful bite came on a slow twitching cadence, I attempted the same presentation with the subsurface lure. With such a retrieve, the lure imitated a frog scurrying about on to bottom.

As I was looking for the next fish to target, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. About 10 feet from the water edge was a decent size snakehead slowly creeping up toward me. It was moving parallel to shore and it had a certain intent in its movement. Since it was not spooked, I assumed it had not spotted me yet. I sent the cast about 15 feet beyond the fish, then quickly worked it into the intercepting course. I let the lure fall to bottom, sat for a couple of seconds, then hopped it forward a few inches. The snakehead immediately took notice and turned its head toward the lure. Similar to the last snakehead, this fish would advance toward the lure every time it moved and dropped to bottom, but stopping just shy of the lure when it sat in place. It followed the lure closer and closer to shore, with its back and dorsal fin now just barely covered by water. As the fish came so shallow, I had to waddle back even further away and crouched even lower to avoid detection. By this time, I was literally on knees and elbows.

I had worked the lure into a bit of a situation when two shallow rocks was blocking the lures path. For me, it was a do or die moment - either hopped it over the rocks and risked losing interest from the fish, or let the lure fall between the two rocks and risked a potential snag. If the lure were to hop over the rock it didn't appear there was enough water for the snakehead to swim over. But as a last resort, I decided to hop the lure over the rocks. There was just 4 inches of water as the lure came over the rock. The snakehead, seeing its prey fleeing to freedom toward shore, lunged forward with mouth wide open. In a matter of second, the fish pounced on the lure and turned back toward deeper water. I felt the weight of the fish on the rod and set hard.

The fish immediately flew out of the water, jumping 2-3 feet high in just a few inches of water. The head shook violently as it landed, and it charged toward the safety of the depths. Although snakeheads are strong fighter, the limited depth prevented this fish from doing much. It charged side to side often, but it was the aerial acrobatics that threatened a thrown hook or a snapped line. Finally, I had the fish under control and yelled down to Eli to notify him about my catch. Eli arrived just as I slid the fish up the muddy bank.

With a set of very strong jaws, it took one of us to hold the jaw open with hemostat while the other person unhooked the fish. My fish was not as terrible to unhook since it was hooked just at the tip of the upper jaw. I felt quite terrible to have caught the fish before Eli had hooked on. It was a pretty nice fish too. I would estimate the fish to weight around 8lbs.

After hearing about my slower but effective presentation, Eli immediate adopted this method on his next cast. He hopped the lure slowly on bottom and immediately had a hit. On the next cast, there was a second hit. Snakeheads usually do not strike twice. Often, you have one and only one shot at each fish. Perhaps there was a pair of fish...or maybe this snakehead didn't ready the Snakehead Bible. Eli made one more cast in the same area. As he hopped the lure off bottom, he saw a flash of white under the lure and felt the weight of the fish on the rod. Fish ON!

This smaller fish gave a spirited fight also, but we were able to quickly bring it to shore. I made sure to get into the water to prevent the fish from "walking" back into the water during the landing process. No...they do not walk on land...they can barely even squirm with any sense of direction on mud. This fish had a beautiful lavender side, an olive back and some very distinct dark snake-like markings all over. The belly was especially marked with really cool blotches. It was a phenomenal specimen.

#387 for Elijah - Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) - so happy for your accomplishment, brother!

It was quite a handful since it had swallowed the lure deeper and the hook penetrated the cartilage between the gill arches. Again, it took one of us to hold the jaw open with hemostat while the other tried to free the 6/0 hook from its hold. When we finally had the lure freed, the fish bled profusely. Despite attempts to revive it for 20 minutes, this fish finally bled out. We decided that rather than wasting the fish, we would take it back to Pat's for dinner.

Since the tide was quickly rising, we decided to give it just a little more time before we needed to head back. If the tide rose too much, I would literally need to swim to cross the creek. Luckily, we made it back relatively dry. I did tip-toed across one deep hole to prevent my gear from getting wet...and they were already held over my head. I could have gone snorkeling.

I did not tell Eli this story. The very first time I fished this creek, I was quite apprehensive about crossing the creek on the flooding tide. This creek flows into the Potomac River, the Potomac River flows into Chesapeake Bay, and the Chesapeake Bay opens into the Atlantic Ocean. Even this far up river, it experiences tidal influences. Certainly the water is a bit brackish. When I was chest deep on tippy-toes, I asked Pat if I had to worry about Bull Sharks in the Potomac. He said he never heard of any, but I guess it could always be a remote possibility. So Eli...I didn't want to freak you out...but I was watching out for that dorsal fin!

On our way back, we got a little lost so Ella had to come pick us up. She was fascinated by the snakehead and was quite interested in tasting it. While Eli and Ella returned to their hotel for a shower and a short nap, I cleaned a snakehead for the very first time.

This snakehead was a pre-spawned female. It had a decent size egg sack but nothing that was out of proportion compared to other fish. In fact, the Steelhead I caught a few weeks ago had a larger egg sack in relative proportion than this snakehead. What was amazingly fascinating was the rib cage of a snakehead. While most fish's rib cage ends at the anus, the Northern Snakehead's rib cage continued onto the rear edge of the anal fin! Much of that body cavity was empty with no discernible organs beyond the anus. The egg sack in this spawning fish did not surpass the anus either. It was quite puzzling why there was so much empty cavity in the anatomy of snakeheads. Perhaps, when the fish is alive, the air bladder could occupy this space? Since snakeheads are obligated air breathers, I guess this is conceivable. I'll have to look into it some more.

Anyways, we pan fried the wonderfully white fillets of snakehead with some butter, red onions and cilantro and made some fish tacos. Although the flesh is white, it was not at all very flaky. The flesh held together very well. It is not surprising that Asians like to use this fish in curry and soup dishes for that reason.

Snakehead fish tacos!

May 6, 2014

Fish just kept coming!

May 4, 2014

The wind forecast was a bit scary calling for 18 knots west, but Richard reassured that he would not put us in harms way. We took it slow and easy to the nuke plant. Fishing was much slower this time. The water was very murky and I suspected that fish simply couldn't see our baits well. However, I managed to pull in a few Freshwater Drum including these two beauties.

Strangely, Richard was doing the same thing next to me and couldn't tempt a Freshwater Drum. It was weird.

May 5, 2014

I really wanted to check out the Bowfin honey hole since we had two days of sun and I suspected the warming shallows would attract these pre-spawn fish. After getting work done with supreme efficiency and finishing in record time, I was able to start fishing at 5:30pm. As soon as I got there, I saw a Bowfin cruising!

I spent 1.5 hours fishing for Bowfin until it was too dark to spot them. In the end, I lost 2, landed 1 and spooked 3 while waiting for them ever so patiently to bite. As active as they were today, they maintained that ever present vigilance. There were a couple of fish that looked at the worm, then looked at me, back at the worm, back at me, and then determined that the worm was not safe to eat. They usually swim off uninterested. If I were to present the worm to the fish again, it would spook off.

I thought I saw a Bowfin hiding in the wood...but it ended up being a Common Carp.

I had trouble setting the hook on two Bowfin bites due to all the snags around. But finally managed to get one hooked, fought and landed. First 'fin of the year and she was a beaut!

After it was a bit too dark to fish for Bowfin, I cast various lure for Northern Pike for no luck. I did see 4 of them cruising around, but they were super spooky. This swan joined me for a while.

Beautiful evening outside and it sure beats sitting at home watching TV!

May 8, 2014

I've been a bit sick for the past few days. Instead of staying in the lab infecting everyone else, I got my work done quick and went home early. It was too beautiful of an afternoon to sit at home, so back to Bowfin headquarters I went.

It took an hour to finally find some cruising around. They were all bunched up in one corner today. I simply patrolled the area back and forth until I found one, then try to present the worm to the fish without spooking it. These fish are arrogant. I had two that stared me down then nonchalantly swim away, leaving me shaking with adrenalin and fear. Luckily, I did find one willing player. She was a fish that I had lost last time. She was easily recognizable since she had two sores on her side.

Carp were active today but I didn't bring any corn with me. They didn't want my worm...or maybe it was because they usually saw me already and then figured out that line coming out of the worm was connected to me. Darn smart carp! Next time I'll bring some corn and chum, chum and chum.

May 4, 2014

The last hurrah

As the steelhead season draw closer to the end, it gets exponentially more difficult to tempt the remaining fish in the rivers to bite. Many people thinks that rain will bring in more fresh runs, especially since we had a late spring this year. However, as evident by the fish we caught on Trout Opener, I would say that 90% of the fish were already spawned out. With the heavy rain we had during the week, many fish had dropped back to the lake. The remaining number of fish in the river was pretty low, and those that remained are on their way back to the lake. These fish had been pressured very hard already and they switched off on most of the common presentation and baits.

Yet, if you know where to find some willing fish, you can find success. Yesterday, we still managed to hook double digit number of fish. However, if we can just land them, that would be fantastic. During the morning, Matt went 0/6 while I went 0/4. I don't know what Michael's stats was like, but it was a slow bite.

We worked downstream and finally Michael and Matt landed a fish each. We got to the Suicide Pool and fished it hard. A fish here and there were caught but it took a lot of hard work.

Matt went downstream and caught a couple. But then it was already late in the afternoon and they had to go. I lingered on for a bit before working upstream. At this point, I was at an atrocious 0/10. Fish were snapping my 4lb fluorocarbon or the hooks were falling out. I just couldn't catch a break.

As I worked upstream, I got back to a corner run that had been fantastic for me this spring. Fish were spawning at the head of the run and there were a few fish sitting back at the tail of the run. Fish that sit behind spawning areas are often picking off the loose eggs. So I drifted a tiny roe sack to the fish at the tail end and finally landed a beautiful spawned out buck.

I couldn't get the rest of the fish to play, so I moved up to the spawning fish. There was a pod of 1 hen and 3 bucks. I managed to annoyed one of the two smaller bucks enough to smash a spoon...and landed it too! This little spoon had been getting lots of hits for me...but I have yet to land a fish on it until now. It came with a large siwash hook that just couldn't hook a fish at all. I even sharpened it and I was still losing fish. At the end, I switch it out to a smaller treble hook that I had sharpened to a surgical knife edge and finally landed a fish!

I moved on to leave the big buck and hen to spawn in peace. I moved back to a little hole under a fallen ceder where Matt took a fish earlier in the day. I switched back to bait fishing with worms. I'm sure that fish were holding very tight to the cedar and it is very difficult drifting close to it without snagging any of the branches. On the 4th drift, my float was washed very tight to the tree when it got pulled down. I thought I might have snagged, but felt something tugging back. This little beat up hen came to hand quickly. Her tails and fins were all damaged from redd digging. I felt bad that I had harassed her when she just wanted to feed to recharge her body.

I worked my way back to the access with just one more quick hit and spit on the spoon. We've been catching a lot of spawned out fish and their conditions were not great. Many fish were skinny with worn fins. As much as I love catching steelhead, I do feel bad that each time we hook up a fish, we're taxing their already worn out body and I can only imagine that our fishing activity this late in the season is only detrimental to their well being.

It is for this reason that I've enjoyed the last hurrah while the going was good. It had been a good little bit of post-Opener steelheading. Now it is time to switch gear and target some other fish while the spring fishing is going strong.