Monday, September 23, 2013

Buckeye Kayak Fishing Trail's Fall Finale, Pre and Post Fishing

Last weekend Amanda and I made the long 6 hour drive up to Nettle Lake to fish Buckeye Kayak Fishing Trail's "Fall Finale" event. Our weekend started earlier than most other anglers, as I had managed to get Friday off of work. We got up at 3:50am and made our way toward Dayton and met up with Neil. From there we were going to stop and fish along the way. As we got closer to Lake Erie we started to notice a few wind turbines. I looked over to Amanda and told her it was a good thing we had brought our anchors along. If the government had spent millions of dollars to install wind turbines, they probably felt that there was a sufficient amount of wind to justify placing wind turbines there. Wind and kayaking are something that we have tried to avoid in the past, but it seemed that there may be no avoiding it this time around. Here's a cool picture Amanda took of the wind turbines east of Toledo as I was driving. The pictures don't do them justice, they are every bit of 300 feet tall.
Wind Turbines near Van Wert, Ohio.
After a few hours of driving we decided to stop and fish the Maumee River for Northern Pike. My first impressions of the Maumee River wasn't so great. It was a very wide river with very little flowing water, at least where we fished anyway. We got on the water at 11am and fished until 4pm. The water was unseasonably cold, I didn't hook my fish finder up but I'd guess it to be in the high 50 degree Fahrenheit range. We spent about 5 hours paddling around and fighting the wind before deciding to head back to the boat ramp. Everyone had failed to find a fish, fishing was slow to say the least. The water looked good though, plenty of clarity, structure, and cover.  Since it was already after 4pm we decided to head over to Nettle Lake and get our tents set up before it got dark.
My little tent on the left, and Neil's tent on the right.
As we began to set up our tents I quickly discovered that I have a few things to learn about "luxury camping." It appeared that what Ozark Trail claimed was a 4 person tent was more like a 2 person tent. However, everyone else that set up tents that night had what appeared to be 8 person tents for themselves....lesson 1. I started to defend myself and my little tent. I began to ask them why they needed such a big tent for just one person, they then informed me that you need a big tent for big air mattresses....lesson 2. Neil and I quickly got the tents set up and hit the water. Amanda decided to lay down in the tent and let us scout the lake out, since we only had an hour before dark I didn't bother to persuade her to come out. We turned the hummingbird fish finders on and began paddling the shorelines looking for any change in the bottom or submerged structure. We quickly discovered that the lake was full of small lily pads, but that was just about the extent of the cover options. After a half an hour we had reached the northern end of the lake. At this point we decided to break the rods out and start fishing. I had started with a donkey rig, which is a tandem weightless fluke rig. I figured that the bass were keying in on schooling bait fish high in the water column this time of year so the two weightless flukes would be a good option. After a half an hour of casting I got my first fish from Nettle Lake, a 11.5" crappie. I was super excited, since the bonus fish for the tournament was a 12" crappie. Someone who catches a 12" crappie during the tournament would be awarded 30 bonus points toward the final trail standings. I was in the lead by 5 points overall so I needed to get a bonus fish or do very well in the tourney to extend my lead. I figured since I had gotten an 11.5" fishing for bass, that I could easily get a 12" crappie while actually targeting them. The sun quickly set and we failed to find another fish. Neil and I began to talk about the tournament on the paddle back. We had both come to the conclusion that 3 decent bass would win the tournament, and quite possibly that 3 measurable bass would place you into the top 5. Our hopes were pretty low, and we only had one person to blame for this....Travis. He had chosen the lake off of what someone had told him, not his own personal experience. It was by far the furthest lake from the anglers in the whole tournament trail, so if it didn't go well he was to blame. Travis arrived at the campground at 10pm, we were quick to inform him of our experience on the lake. He told us what he knew and why he had chosen the lake, we weren't buying it and neither was everyone else. We gave him crap for it all night long, and at about midnight we all tucked into our tents. Some anglers went to their cozy air mattress filled mansions and others onto the cold hard ground in their shanties. 

Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of Amanda's cell phone. She had sat her alarm for 6am, in order to give herself time to do her make up. The tournament didn't start until 7:30am so I'm sure the other guys were thrilled to hear the alarm go off. Everyone got up and started to get ready anyway. At 7 we started to head over to the state boat ramp, where we met the anglers who had drove in that morning. We all gathered around and the guys who had drove in wanted to know if anyone fished the lake last night? I was quick to inform them of our experience. A couple other guys chimed in and said they had fished the lake last week and it was awful then too. Travis was in for round two, but he quickly told them what he had told us the night before.
Travis trying to tell everyone that there are big fish in the lake. Everyone's face is priceless.
It went something like this, "A friend of a friend told me that he had caught some huge bass in here......his biggest was 9.8lbs." They weren't buying his story either. We hit the water at 7:30am and started working the shoreline of the main lake. The lake was as calm as glass, but it wasn't going to stay that way for very long.
It didn't take long for the front to blow in and the wind to pick up. In about two hours the lake had went from glass to throwing 2 foot waves.
I started off throwing the tandem fluke rig but after an hour without bites, I had to switch back to what I had confidence in....a hollow body frog. I quickly landed a 12.5" bass and missed another small one. However, at about this time the waves started to build and the top water bite had all but shut down on the main lake. I alternated between the frog and a small crappie jig for the next few hours. I managed to pick up a few crappie and a couple bluegill in 5 feet of water. My largest crappie went 11", it was heart shattering. I knew that for the overall standings a bonus crappie would help me as much as a first place finish in the tourney would. I eventually made my way to the north end, the most sheltered end of the lake. I found Brian and Jeff tucked back in there all by themselves. Jeff quickly paddled over and we started talking. He had found 3 good fish, and even discovered the topwater frog bite. I told him that I had only landed one bass and that I had an 11" crappie. I made my way around the north end of the lake, still throwing a frog and a crappie jig in alternation. As I made my way around I failed to pick up any fish, at this point I had made up my mind that I was going to catch a 12" crappie since I had no chance of placing well in the tourney with one bass. I was going to head back to the very same spot that I picked up an 11" crappie and make that spot give up a few more fish. I made a lure change from a small swimbait to a 3" plastic worm, a wobblehead. Last year we re-discovered the wobblehead worms, landing several bass over 3lbs, a few crappie over 13", channel cats over 24", carp over 20", etc. Here is a link to one of my best trips on wobblehead worms....Wobblehead Fishing Report. They looked like a worm out of water, but when paired with a 1/32oz jig they looked more like a wounded 3" minnow. It was a deadly combination, so I had confidence in it. I arrived to find that the wind was slamming the bank where I had caught the crappie before. I didn't have any other options so I paddled out into the waves and then vertical jigged the wobblehead worm as they blew me back toward the bank. I quickly picked up yet another 11" crappie. I paddled down the bank and noticed that I was catching these fish off of a weed line 10 feet off of the bank. I started watching my fish finder and noticed that there was a ledge of weeds about 10 feet off of the bank in 4 foot of water. The ledge then dropped into 10 feet of water. I was catching fish right on the break. I assumed that the waves were pushing baitfish into the weeds where fish were patiently waiting. Once I put the pattern together I started to find bass. I quickly got 3 bass in the 12 to 13" range. I had 3 decent bass at this point, good enough to place in the top 5 I felt. At this point I had a big decision to make, switch to a jig or frog and hope for a kicker to win the tourney with, or stick with the wobblehead and see what I can get. I knew the wobblehead worms caught quality crappie and bass so I stuck with it. That decision soon payed off for me with a 18.5" bass. 
At that point Jim had come around the bank in his Hobbie Pro Angler. He was well equipped to fight the big waves as was I in my Malibu. I asked if we were the only ones stupid enough to fight the wind and waves? He told me that everyone else was tucked onto the other side of the lake out of the wind. I then proceeded to tell him that I had caught an 18.5" bass and a couple smaller ones off of the wind blown weedline. We then set back out and hit the weedline with our soft plastics.

Soon enough 3:30pm rolled around and I started to make my way toward the boat ramp. I met up with Travis and Rylan and told them what I had gotten. Each of them had also gotten a limit of three fish too, so the day had turned out much better than I had expected. Travis was pretty happy to hear that I got an 18.5" bass, now the guys wouldn't give him such a hard time for choosing the lake. We got back to the boat ramp and patiently waited for the results. I had placed in 2nd, and Jeff had placed in 1st. We sat around and talked a little, raffled off a few prizes from our sponsors, and then went out to eat.

Everyone but Travis, Luke, Amanda, and I went home. We decided to stay another night and give Nettle another shot. We grabbed a few burgers from Burger King and hit the water at 6:45pm. We had all decided to try and get a Northern Pike so we tied on large surface lures and crankbaits. We paddled back to the northern end of the lake and started working the lily pad edges. About a half hour before dark I decided to tie on the hollow body frog and see if I could get a few bass before we had to head back. On my 2nd cast I landed a 15.5" bass, a few casts later and I had landed yet another 15" bass. As I was releasing the second fish Travis came over to see what I was throwing, I told him I had got 2 good fish in less than 20 minutes. He too made the switch over to a hollow body frog in hopes of landing a bass. We then sat in the middle of the cove and debated where to go to finish the night out. I told him that one side was deeper than the other and he ended up taking the shallow side of the cove. I quietly paddled over to my side and started to throw my frog on the bank. I'd let it sit for a second or to and then ease it into the water. I would then pull it slow and steady over the pads until I got to a pocket of open water or the pad edge. I would then let it sit for 4 or 5 seconds and then begin to walk the frog back to the kayak. On my 5th or 6th cast I had something blow up on my frog about 10 feet off of the pad edge. I set the hook hard and the fish came to the surface. The light was fading so I didn't get a real good look at it but I knew it was a good quality fish. I quickly gained all but 15 foot of line when the bass started its aerial assault right at my kayak. It came up and gave me three or four good jumps less than ten feet from my kayak. I quickly grabbed the largemouths lower lip and pulled it into the kayak. I then yelled out that I had a good one, Amanda replied, "How good?" I didn't know how big it was at the time so I told her over 5lbs and 22". Travis overheard the conversation and him and Amanda started to paddle over to me. Luke was pretty far away still so I don't know if he even heard what was going on. Everyone got close and I lifted it up for them to see. Travis was super excited and kept saying, "I told you so....there are big ones in here!" The bass went 21.25" and 4lbs 8oz, the biggest 4lb 8oz bass I had ever seen. It must have had an empty belly or something. Here's the best picture of the size of the fish, the flash didn't go off on the camera so it was out of focus. Regardless you can see how big she really was.
Here the flash went off and we got a good picture, it did make it look a lot darker than it really was.
Here's Travis letting everyone know that he told us there were big bass in the lake.
Travis....."I TOLD YOU SO!!!"
Until Next Time.
We ended up fishing way past dark, probably until 9:30pm or so. I managed to pick up another solid fish at 16.75", for a total of almost 53" in three fish, in 1.5 hours. (For reference I took 2nd with 44.25" during the 9 hour tourney.) I wondered where the heck that kind of fishing was during the tournament? I knew of course that the bite was the best at dusk and that the 20 mph winds during the day made it hard to catch fish. Either way, I was glad to have a good night of bass fishing.

Travis, Luke, Amanda, and I made it back to the boat ramp and started to change into dry clothes. At this point the temperature had dropped into the 50s already, so having dry clothes was a must. We then got the grill out and started grilling hamburgers and brats. With the temperature dropping steadily we decided to move the grill out into the club house offered by the campground. We got inside, ate some food, shot some pool, shot darts, and told a few stories. We decided to clean up and head to bed at 1am, where we tucked ourselves deep into our sleeping bags as the temperatures fell to 41 degrees by daybreak. We had a blast, to be honest it's probably one of the best weekends Amanda and I have had in a long time. The guys who left early missed one heck of a good time.

In the end I had lost the lead in the overall trail standings. Jeff is now in the lead by 5 points, the equivalent of half a place in a tourney. I'm not too tore up about it. He has been very consistent all year long, placing in the top 5 in every event he has attended. He had even took first place in an unofficial event at Kiser Lake when the Dayton River event was postponed, so he deserves to win it. I have done fairly well too, some of which I can contribute to luck..... such as pulling a 20.25" bass up a 15 foot high dam during the online tourney. On the other hand I have had my fair share of bad luck as well. I lost a few good fish when I needed them the most.  Such luck includes failing to land a 3rd decent fish in the Columbus event which put me less than .5" out of 4th place, or losing two fish on a frog at Nettle Lake that would have put me closer to 50" rather than the 44" that I ended up with. Oh well, you have to take the good with the bad and in the end what happens will happen. Check the trail standings, event pictures, etc. out HERE. Once again I want to thank all of the sponsors, the guys who put the event together, and all of the anglers who braved the tough conditions this weekend.

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