Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fishing for buffalo, catching carp

March in Illinois means a few warm days that hint at spring's arrival.  Sure enough, we had a streak of warm days that pushed the remaining ice fishing thoughts out of my head.  My focus for this spring will be Illinois suckers - buffalo, carpsuckers, redhorse, chubsuckers, spotted suckers, and blue suckers.  My first target was buffalo at the Shelbyville spillway on the Kaskaskia River.  This was my first time fishing this spot, and I'm guessing by the underwater benches that the water level was a little higher than average.  On top of that, the water was quite cold because the lake above the dam still had ice on it!

I met up with Garren King, a fellow species fishing enthusiast.  We fished worms on the bottom and had a very slow day.  Nonetheless, it was great to meet up with another guy who enjoys fishing for every kind of fish willing to bite.  While we were there we saw quite a few people drive up, fish for an hour, and then leave empty handed.  Fortunately we did get a few bites, and the one hookup for the day was this common carp.  As Garren put it, "Hey, a fish is a fish!".

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

We did see other people catch a few smallmouth buffalo - small ones about 14 inches.  It was encouraging to at least see one of our targets, even if we didn't catch them ourselves.

The next weekend I continued my sucker quest closer to home, fishing by myself from the bank of the Spoon River near its confluence with the Illinois River.  I had heard rumors that buffalo hang out in this stretch of the river as well.  To change things up I tried corn and shrimp as bait instead of the usual nightcrawlers.  I tied a crude version of a hair rig with a J-hook for the corn, and I put the shrimp on a small octopus circle hook.

I saw the tip of the shrimp rod quiver just once, but man oh man did the corn get bites.  The tip of that rod was constantly bouncing up and down.  It took some practice learning when to set the hook, but before long I was catching carp after carp.

I swapped the shrimp out for corn on the circle hook and started catching fish on that rod as well.  At the end of the day I decided to take six carp home, the biggest being 24 inches.  I cleaned half of them, putting the fillets in the chest freezer for future meals, and the remaining fish I buried in my compost.  This is a practice I only condone for non-native species that are harmful to our waters, which in central Illinois means common carp, grass carp, silver carp, and bighead carp.  The feeding habits of common carp uproot aquatic plants and contribute to low visibility, which further prevents plants from growing.  Unfortunately, we'll never be able to rid the state of these fish, but maybe in some small way removing a few adult fish (the females happened to be full of eggs) will help keep their population in check and make some room for native fish (i.e. buffalo).

Ultimately it's up to each angler to decide whether or not to remove non-native species from our waters.  I would never look down on someone for releasing the carp they catch, and likewise I would never judge someone for taking the carp they catch and burying them to become fertilizer.  The only practice that I absolutely despise is the killing of any fish and leaving them on shore to rot or throwing them back in the water to later wash up on shore downstream and rot.  That is never cool.  To my fellow Illinois anglers - pick up your trash, don't leave fish on shore to rot, and let's take care of the waters of our state!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lake Whitefish from Sturgeon Bay, WI

This weekend Ruoxi and I met our good friends the Leisens for another fishing double date!  We met up on Friday in Green Bay and then continued to Sturgeon Bay on Saturday morning.  We compromised between roughing it on our own and hiring a guide by doing an unguided shack rental from one of the guide services.  The guide met us at the boat ramp, and I followed him in my Subaru out to our shack.  I have to say I've ever seen so much blue on my GPS screen.  Is this photo giving away our fishing spot?

This ice shack was our home for the day.  It was spacious and fairly clean.  Even though it wasn't very cold, it was nice to have a heater and benches to sit on.

Our guide gave us a few pointers and then moved on to help his other clients who were doing guided or semi-guided trips.  He checked in again once in the middle of the day and then at the end of the day to take us back to shore.  Other than that we were on our own.

Joy was the first to hook up with a whitefish.  We were pretty excited to see our first fish!  Apparently purple was the lucky color of the day.

Before long I hooked up with my first one as well.  We were fishing in 85 feet of water, bouncing weights on the sandy lake bottom and then finesse jigging until a whitefish hit the waxworm on a plain hook above a barrel swivel about a foot above the weight.  I caught my first one jigging by hand and then hand lining the fish in.

Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) - new hook & line species #267

Ruoxi caught the next fish, and it turned out to be the biggest of the day at 20 3/4 inches.  It was a good looking fish!

Josh was the slow poke, taking a while to get his first fish.  However, he made up for it by catching three more after this one!  I caught one more, so we had eight fish total between the four of us.

The fishing hit its peak when Josh and I got a double.  This is a pose that Joy invented years ago.

In the afternoon the bite really died down.  We had plenty of beers though, so we didn't run out of entertaining things to do.  In hind sight, did the bite really die down... or did we lose our focus?

Slow day or not, we had a great time.  Lake whitefish was a new lifer for Joy, Ruoxi, and me, and we put enough fish on the ice to take home and smoke.  We were really happy that we did an unguided shack rental.  It removed a lot of the stress of trying to figure out a new location for the first time, but we still felt like we worked hard for our fish.