July 6, 2014

Toronto Island Family Fishing Day

Each year, Canada designates one week in the summer as National Fishing Week. During this week, the province of Ontario designates the period as a license-free fishing opportunity to encourage the public to experience fishing for the first time.

As part of the initiative, many agencies and fishing groups set up Family Fishing Day events to encourage participation, as well as to provide an avenue where experienced anglers can teach first time or novice anglers how to fish.

The Toronto Urban Fishing Ambassadors had participated in these events annually since its inception. This year was not different and many members attended the weekend events.

On Sunday, the event was held at the Toronto Islands. Wishing for a little bit of fishing time before teaching kids, a few of us arrived a couple of hours early to search for bass. I had my mind on either Largemouth Bass or Bowfin, so I was rigged up with a whole nightcrawler to start the day.

Not too long after searching, I found a 3lb Bowfin slowly stalking prey. I careful cast and placement of the worm resulted in an immediate response. The Bowfin swam forward cautiously and strangely placed its chin over the worm. It sat here for a couple of seconds as I was contemplating whether the fish had refused the worm. But then the fish inched backwards, pointed its nose down, and gulp!

That was all we found before the kids showed up.

The event started at 10am, but the number of kids trickled in slowly. The kids and parents gathered for a briefing where they received a bit of information on safety, the kind of fish common to the area, and simple instruction on how to fish. Even so, many kids and parents often required our help to set up their rods and reels, tie up line, bait hooks and casting instruction.

While I was walking around to offer help, I noticed a long dark shape deep in the weedbed. All I saw initially was the ribbon-like dorsal fin. Yes, it is a Bowfin!

I thought about telling people to look for the fish, but having so many novice anglers around, everyone would want to cast to the fish. I truly would be happy if they had caught it, but since many people cannot even cast properly, many of them would end up tangling their lines or each other lines. The ensuing chaos would take a long time to sort out. Even if they manage to cast near the Bowfin, a sloppy cast would send that fish out of the area.

Instead, I ran to grab my own rod and quickly baited up a nightcrawler. Everyone was wondering why I was running so fast...and all I said was "Bowfin!"

The rest was history...

It was cool to be able to catch and show kids the amazing fish that is the Bowfin. They got to touch it and see its beautiful colour. Ron took the video and edited it. A lot of the interaction between me and the kids was cut out in the video, but I think you want to see more of the catch than the other "stuff".

It was maybe an hour later when a few moms and their daughters asked me to help teach the girls how to put worms on the hook and how to cast. One by one, I showed them how to cast and when they developed a better cast, I moved on to help others. Walking my way back along the shoreline, one of the moms said the reel could not turn. I saw the lines had wrapped under the spool and there were loops of line all tangled up between the rod guide and the bail arm. I took of the spool, unwrapped all line around the shaft, cut all the knotted line and retied the entire rig. Just as I was going to make a cast for them, I noticed another Bowfin, in the same area, stalking sunfish in the deep weeds. So instead of the little chunk of nightcrawler that I had put on the hook, I replaced it with a whole nightcrawler. These shorter rods were more difficult to cast, but I had experience on my side so I was able to swing the worm silently and accurately to the fish. However, this fish turned out to be pickier, but eventually persistence paid off!

I tried to hand the fish off to the kids, but none wanted to take the rod. To be honest, this fish would give them a handful since it was pretty strong, the rod was less responsive, and the drag was quite jerky. I had to back the drag off and thumb the spool most of the time. Here are some pictures.

Hook up

Netting it with a really short handle net...

Showing the kids the fish

That's Bowfin #3 for me on the day. Awesome!

The Family Fishing Day event ended at 1pm, but it was already 2:30pm when we had taken down our booth. A few of us decided to stay and fish longer. I still had my mind of Largemouth Bass and Bowfin so I stalked the area twice but found no further Bowfin.

I saw a mom and her son trying to fish, but not catching anything. At this point, I had a little hook fishing chunks of nightcrawler for the sunfish. I was poking the worm underneath a rock when a Rock Bass came darting out. It was about 10" long and the mom saw that I was doing well so she came to ask for help.

They got the rods from the Family Fishing Day and was there earlier, but her son hadn't caught a fish. In truth, the hooks that were provided were too large for the sunfish. I switched out the large hook and replaced it with one of my #14 hooks. After baiting up with a small chunk of nightcrawler, it took no time before her son caught a Pumpkinseed Sunfish. We caught a few more sunfish before they became shy and I parted ways with them.

By now, it was later in the afternoon. During midday, the Common Carp were sunning and not active at all. But now, I started to see a few carp milling on bottom. It's time to focus on them.

I tried to fish with the guys for a bit but action was slow. However, just 20 feet to our right, a young guy hooked into a nice carp but he was having trouble controlling the fish. He was using a telescopic rod with fairly light action and a reel that could use a better drag. He set his drag too light and all he could managed was to reel against the spool as fish was taking out more and more line. I tried to instruct him to use the pump and wind to gain some line back, but his inexperience was obvious...and he was getting spooled...and his fish was taking him toward a series of overhanging branches. So I finally asked if he needed my help and I found myself trying to turn the fish before it got too deep into the snags.

It took quite a bit of finesse to turn that fish. While I was thumbing the spool to slow the fish down, I also had to mind the light telescopic rod. The drag was rather jerky so I had can't put too much pressure on it. By lowering the rod close to the water, I was able to pull the fish out of the snag and prevented the line from fouling up as the fish ran under the overhangs. After a few tense moments, I finally gained back a lot of the line and had the fish in the clear. I handed the rod back to the guy and let him finished the fight while I grabbed the net. It still took another 3 minutes before we had the fish in the net. The rod was simply to soft to hold the fish while I try guide the head into the net. At the end, it was a 20lb class carp. I had a little bit of rod bending fun thanks to him.

Now I'm really in carp mode. I decided to try a little area where I've caught carp even when they were not very active. This area is a narrow where carp moved from one basin to the other. At the narrow, there was a dock which I think was what attracted the fish to use this area. Although the water was very shallow, the dock provided some cover as the fish swam through. I placed my rig at the tip of the dock and chummed the area a bit. Twice I had fish came close but just not finding the baited area. Just as I was not watching (the sun's glare prevented me from seeing carp approaching from the other direction), my line went tight and it was on!

Although this spot often produce fish, it was extremely difficult landing them. First, there was the dock which fish could run under. Right across the dock was a lot of downed branches that fish could wrap the line around. if the fish ran too far, it could run around the left corner and tangle my line without any means for me to chase the fish. If the fish ran to the right, there was another set of docks that could foul the line. It was close quarter combat fishing...you either stop them quickly or it is game over.

Well, I did stop the fish early enough and I had it pretty beat. But just as I was getting ready to land it, it gave a turn and got into the fallen branches. The line was wrapped around a pretty big branch and it was game over for me. The fish eventually pulled the hook out.

People started leaving due to the slow carp action. Eventually, the young guy left too. He came by to thank me again for the help and told me he just lost another fish before he packed up. I know his spot is a great spot since there is an overhanging willow tree where carp came into the feed in very shallow water. I've seen them come into that area numerous times in the past.

I tossed in my rig just to the edge of the overhanging willow and baited the area. Within less than 5min, I was on! There wasn't any drama with this fish this time. It wasn't a big carp and it was under control the whole time.

But that was all the action this spot gave up. After 30min, I decided to call it a day since it was already 7pm. I had already taken apart all my gear when I was walking along the shore and spotted a trio of carp feeding very tight to the shore. I simply can't resist.

I had been trying to sightfish for carp all day while searching for Bowfin. I came across a few fish in the shallows, but even a gentle drop of the worm in their feeding path spooked them. This time, it was no different and the fish ran back to deeper water. But as I watched, I could see them returning to the shallows again. Instead of placing the worm close to them, I watched for their direction of travel and placed the worm 15 feet ahead of their path. It took quite a bit of patience waiting for them to approach, since they were working the bottom very methodically and thoroughly searching for any edible items. At one point, the trio turned for deeper water when someone approached the shoreline (I hate when you are fishing and someone spooked the fish!). But then the fish returned and headed straight for the area where my worm was sitting. Since the worm was sitting under a ledge out of sight, I had to make sure the fish had my bait before setting the hook. I couldn't see any twitch on the line...and then the carp was turning away. But as the fish turned further, I could see my line tightening up. Yep, got it!

After this fish, I decided to call it a day.

Not a bad day's work with 3 Bowfin and 2 Common Carp!

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