June 22, 2014

When you have low expectations...

Since last weekend's encounter with those troubling Golden Shiners with questionable ID's, I've been searching all week for potential Rudd spots closer to home. After sorting through various sampling reports from Canadian as well as US sources, then browsing through many fishing forums to determine the best timing for Rudd fishing, it appeared that I've already missed prime time for Rudd.

I came across a great spot for spring time Rudd on the US side. These US Rudd comes in to spawn when the water is around 40F, just before the Yellow Perch starts to spawn. We're well past spring and the water is around 70F, so I figured I would just do some recon to see if there are any potential areas on the Canadian side that has similar characteristics. I'm really just looking for spawning areas that fulfills certain criteria. With a number of GPS coordinates written down on a sticky note, it was time to laid down some footwork.

We started very early today. The weather forecast called for mainly sunny skies, but it was mainly NOT sunny skies in the early morning. We even had a few rain sprinkled on the drive. We were not entirely confident that our quest would be fruitful. In fact, confidence and expectation was at an all time low.

By 8am, we arrived at the first of six location. The first location was quite disappointing since it was very shallow with heavy current. There were a number of little "shiners" which we tried for a bit, but they simply wanted to chase but did not commmit.

The second location was a bit deeper but a bit murky. We didn't see any Rudd and moved on.

The third location was much deeper and much clearer, although there were little weed growth. We could see bass on beds and bass hunting shiners. However, there were no Rudd to be seen.

As we arrived at our fourth location, Michael went ahead to scout while I went back to the car to grab the wallet I had left sitting in plain sight. Just then, I heard "Ken, GET YOUR ROD!" Woah! That's a good sign!

I ran as fast as I could trying to contain myself. Just as I arrived, I saw a school of Rudd swam upstream away from us. Darn! I thought. Michael offered me the first crack at them since I did most of the ground work toward this expedition. He was keeping an eye on them as I put on a chunk of worm. The school of Rudd had continued upstream way past casting range, but there was a pair of Rudd hanging around just downstream. I got into casting position and delivered a surgically accurate cast just ahead of the pair's path. As the chunk of worm slowly sank, the smaller of the two Rudd turned toward the bait and I saw the mouth flashed open. I waited untit the float sank...FISH ON! It was that easy!

Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus) - Species #391!

There is absolute, positively, ZERO ambiguity with this fish. You can't get more Rudd than this.

This fish was a male that was milting. It was following a rather large fish that we assume was the female. In fact, the small school of Rudd appeared to be several mature males following the female. So I guess we found the right spawning ground. I'm not sure if these were just late spawners, or perhaps the spawn lasts longer than I've gathered from reports. But in any case, this was a very good start. I would like to come back next spring to see if we can pattern the spawning time.

Now it was Michael's turn...

Well, it appeared that our prancing and dancing and general giddiness might have scared the Rudd away. OK, actually we gave each other a couple of manly high-fives and fist pumps...but we think the commotion of that struggling Rudd had alerted the rest of the school. Now the remaining pair of Rudd was completely uncooperative. After trying for a good half hour, the decision was made to explore the remaining two locations, and return here if necessary.

Location five was semi-clear but did not have much weed cover. Location six was wide, slow and muddy. Neither of them was ideal. And not surprisingly, we did not find any signs of Rudd.

So it was necessary to return to location four. It hit all the necessary criteria of a "ruddy" spot.

As the morning progressed, the sky started to clear. We had seen some fish "puddled" further upstream when we were last at this spot. Now that the sun shined into the water, we could see that it was a school of smaller Rudd that was "puddling". They appeared to be actively feeding on something on the surface, but they were a bit out of reach (for now).

Michael concentrated on a few roving Rudd that did not want anything to do with us. Over and over again we tried to refine our rig and presentation, but these Rudd were much too wary. Finally, as Michael retrieve his worm, one of the Rudd charged forward and chased. Hm...that was interesting...

I went to the car and grabbed my fly rod. Perhaps they would chase a fly on the surface? Despite some careful casting, there were simply too much shoreline foliage for the fly rod. It was really getting me nowhere at all. Michael decided to tie a dry fly on his float rig, and did a bit of bushwacking to reach the puddling school of smaller Rudd upstream.

Over and over again, Michael tossed the float-and-fly into the school. The splash of the float would scare the school. It would take them a little time to settle down but they wouldn't take the fly sitting on the surface. By random chance, Michael had cast the rig a little too and he was retrieving his float-and-fly back toward the school while the dry fly had sunk. He noticed a Rudd chased the sunk and moving fly.

So he repeated this action and had another chase. Finally, on the third time, a Rudd took the fly and Michael made no mistake! Oh, it was Michael's birthday today...and this was his birthday Rudd!

We've both caught our target. Technically, we were ready to go. However, we wanted to pattern these fish so we could guide our friend Eli in the future. We wouldn't want Eli to drive 6 hours to here from Ottawa only to catch a fish that we had no clue on how to target them. Since these fish liked to chase, we thought...maybe a small spinner would get them hitting more often?

I tried a #1 spinner and had them chased on every decent cast, but either the hook were a bit too big, or the action was just a bit off. They would chase but would not commit. So we though maybe we could tie a trailer nymph behind the treble to give the Rudd a target to hit. Over and over, the Rudd would follow but not hit the nymph...except for one Rudd that finally smashed the nymph and I had the fish on for a couple of seconds until it jumped off. Yes, the Rudd was jumping!

We know we can catch some more if we simply put in the time to cast over and over again at the fish, but by now it was well after 12pm. Since we both accomplished the Rudd, I figure Michael should try for his Grass Pickerel since we were fairly nearby. Before we left, I took this picture. Can you see all the red fins in the water? This was just a fraction of the school. There must have been close to 30 Rudd in this picture, and the school was larger than I had estimated. There were a couple of Rudd with beautiful orange body. It would be too cool if we can catch one of them.

A bit of a drive later, we arrived at the spot where I caught my Grass Pickerel a couple of years ago. The water was higher than last year and quite murky. In fact, it was quite a bit higher and much muddier than two years ago when I caught my Grass Pickerel. Something had changed...and I hope it doesn't affect this fragile population of Grass Pickerel. Still, we pounded the water quite a bit....I had a false alarm when this Black Bullhead stopped my lure dead in mid retrieve.

Since this spot was quite dead, we decided to move on. While pouring over the maps, I found an interesting little trail that lead to a section of the water that might not be so heavily used. It about about 1km hike...but it could very well be worth the trek into the unknown. Michael and I decided to give it a go, since we had basically very little confidence and expectation today.

We arrived at a wide spot that contained about a dozen carp. The water was deep but murky, possibly due to the presence of carp. We worked this area real well and I had something slashed at my lure, then another Black Bullhead thought it was a Grass Pickerel. But after a good 45min of searching, we were empty handed.

Just about 100 metres back from this spot, there was a little side trail that led to another section of this water. Michael and I decided to explore even further into the unknown. This area was well shaded, shallow, still and very snaggy, all the criteria of a great Grass Pickerel habitat. We spread out to cover water and quickly became acquainted with the snags. I was down to a couple of small trusty lures while Michael only had larger larger models with him. After fan casting the area for 30 minutes, I finally had a little Grass Pickerel followed the lure. Another 5 minutes later, I had probably ran the lure 10 times through this little spot, but this time, I felt a grab...and up came a little Grass Pickerel!

Although I described the fish as "little", this Grass Pickerel was about 8in; which is the average size in this body of water. These little Esox don't exceed 12in here, and this is individual would be approaching mature size. It had already lost its juvenile lateral light band, but if you look carefully, you could still make out a faint trace of it. It was a bit more evident in person. Also, note the fully scaled cheek and opercular, and the backward slanting bar (teardrop) under the eye. These are characteristic of Grass Pickerel. Northern Pike has fully scaled cheek but only the upper half of the opercular is scaled. The teardrop of a juvenile pike also either point straight down toward the corner of the jaw, or it slant slightly forward.

Grass Pickerel (Esox americanus vermiculatus)

Another 15 minutes later, I hooked into another Grass Pickerel that came off.

To my right was a virgin area where I had not fished yet. I waved Michael over so he can have a fresh crack at it. I handed him my rod with the trusty lure but that lure was quickly lost when one of the hungry snags ate it. We were down to only one trusty lure left and this was the last chance. While Michael worked the area, I took his rod and danced his little spoon around to see if it would attract any Grassie. On my 5th or 6th cast, I felt a little tug and missed, but then a little Grassie followed the lure all the way to shore, hitting 3 times in total but missed the hook each time. Michael was puzzled since I received most of the attention, but I affirmed that he simply needed to work each area methodically and thoroughly...and to keep faith. Not long later, Michael said "I got a follow!"...and another few casts later...

Michael got his birthday Grass Pickerel!

We were pretty satisfied by the result...and now I felt 500% more confident that Eli can catch his lifer Grass Pickerel the next time he tries for them. This spot is seriously Grassie!

Now it was about 5pm already...but we were not really done fishing yet. We figure we would try another spot on the way home for some multispecies fishing. We were hoping for some Redhorse species...but boy would we be completely surprised...

We arrived just after 6pm and started pounding the water. For a weekend, it was not as busy as I expected. The water was low but murky...and I really have little confidence when visibility was this poor. Still...we fished on.

An hour later, I felt a strong tap on the line...and after a little tussle, up came a Channel Catfish. Not really our target, but it's nice to get a rod bent.

Another 20 minutes later, I was just feeling the bait bounce along bottom when there was this double tap...then a bit of loss of tension...then again a few more determined taps. I raised the rod tip a little and felt the weight...BAM! This fish was fairly strong...and I thought maybe it was the right kind. However, it came to the surface and I saw a bit of silver. Hm...another Channel Catfish?

Nope! It was a freaking Steelhead in June freaking 21st!!! What?!?!

OK...that was random...and probably a fluke...but then another 20 minutes later...

Two is a theory...three is a pattern...well...

Houston, we have a pattern. In fact, we saw an 8lb Steelhead jumped just before we left at 9pm. I finished up the evening with one more Channel Catfish, and Michael had the lone Mooneye of the day.

For a day which we had very little expectation, everything sure exceeded all our expectations!

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic report! Congrats on the lifers and happy birthday to Michael!