Mon River February 28, 2013

Time of day: 3:45pm – 4:30pm
Air Temp: 33 degrees, 10 mph winds
Flurries, Full Moon, River at 12.63 feet

I had some left over minnows from fishing at Canonsburg Lake, so I took them to the boat launch in Elizabeth, PA.  Trip was more of an excuse to check out the boat ramp than to actually get some fishing done.  It was more than frigid, but noticed that there was a storm drain outlet right next to the ramp.  I tossed some hooked minnows over there, and around 4pm I had something start steadily bend the rod tip down.  In my excitement, I tried to set the hook.  Naturally, I pulled the hook right out of the mouth of whatever it was.  Rule #1: Always fish crazy slow in cold water.Tried to temp whatever it was for a while longer, but I gave up before it gave in. Maybe when the water is warmer I can check for smallmouth near that outlet.
There are plenty of barges that are moored along the river here; not sure how fish will relate to parked barges.  There are two pilings for the bridge just down river. Aside from snags, I anticipate that there will be fish around there as well.  Just watch out for barge traffic trying to get into the locks.
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Canonsburg Lake Feb 27, 2013

Time of day:  ____pm
Air Temp: 41 degrees, 0 – 3 mph winds
Full Moon, light ice on part of the lake
Lake level up 5 inches


Tried to go fishing for the first time this season;  because of snow melt, the lake was up a bit.  I tried fishing fathead minnows on a bobber near the boat launch and on the lake side of the spillway.  No bites whatsoever. But at least I was out.

Also, I learned that Indy likes chasing ducks too much for me to take him shore fishing.  Thank God I didn’t catch any fish, or I wouldn’t have been able to hold onto the least, the rod, and actually reel them in.

insert picture here

Solve for Why

I get bored rather easily.  It isn’t for a lack of anything better to do; my house is filled with half completed projects, thousands of unread books (no, seriously.  Thousands), and enough reference material to write a few decent books.  If I could only be bothered.  This wouldn’t seem unusual except that the most entertaining thing that I could think to do right now would be to stand in a stream in Erie from sun up to sun down.  Stand there completely still, without speaking to another soul or listening to music.  Just to hold a fishing lure in the same ten square feet of river.

I’ve had a few people ask why I’ve become so “obsessed” with fishing.  I’ve always struggled to explain why (or neglected to attempt to), because it was never something tangible.  I usually pass through a couple different phases a year, where I obsess over a topic, spend hours doing internet research on it, buy books from my store to learn how to do it myself/better, and then buy supplies for it in bulk.  Just to move on to something else.  But if the weather is right for it, I’ll be out fishing without a doubt.  As best as I can figure it, the reason I’m still out there casting to fish instead of scribbling down notes or learning to play that bass guitar I bought years ago is because that fish has a brain, and I can’t figure it out.

I love being presented with a problem to solve.  People generally like brain teasers, but if you give me something to figure out I am in my element.  Why isn’t this working?  Design or create something for this contest.  How can I get this to be just right?  I love those sorts of problems.  I could (and usually do) have twenty other things that I should be doing instead, but if you give me a problem to obsess over you will have my undivided attention…for now.  Take that away, and I become a bored couch potato.

Fishing gives me a reliable and steady outlet for this sort of behavior, because the fish presents an unknown variable into the equation.  There is a lot of science behind fishing.  Your choice in clothing is decided by the amount of wind and sunlight, as well as the depth of water you’re fishing.  The type and thickness of line dictated by the size fish you are after and the clarity of the water.  There are even charts to show you what color baits work best when cross referenced with water color and the amount of sunlight.  Where to place your bait in the water can be charted out on a map cross referenced with water temperature.

But the fish.  You can do everything correct, have a textbook example of a successfully planned outing, and not catch a single fish.  I have tossed bare hooks in and caught fish.  The problem becomes trying to outsmart a creature with a brain that is smaller than the fingernail on your pinky.  And on many days that fish will outsmart you, and figuring out why and how becomes the obsession.  You adapt your camouflage to the surroundings and move slower so it doesn’t see you and spook.  You try different baits and lures.  Sometimes this experimentation pays off.  Other times it only serves to drive you deeper into madness.  “These damn fish can’t outsmart me.”  But they will.  And they do.

Even if you manage to figure out the fish in any given situation, you are working in an environment that is constantly changing.  The stream moves branches and rocks around, and different pools and eddys form.  A front moves in, and the water temperature changes too quickly.  Thousands of mayflies hatch, and the fish are full from feeding on them. So many things can change the perfect fishing day you had yesterday into a frustrating skunk of a day today.  It takes a lot of experience, gear and stubbornness to try and find what things changed and how to adapt to them.  Which is probably why I have five tackleboxes of gear right now.

Hey, you’ll never know when you might need something in the middle of a lake.

Outlander! We have your fish!

Every time I go fishing, I’m liable to die. I realize that this sounds dramatic, but it’s true. The number of innocent near-death encounters I have had fishing led to me making a promise to Jackie years ago, wherein I have to stop doing whatever it is I am doing whenever I get a bad feeling.
For instance; in 2008 I had a rare Friday off from work, and Jackie was working for the entire night. The apartment we lived in at the time was situated close to Chartiers Creek and I would occasionally wander over for a few hours of uneventful casting. On this particular day, some devilish muse inspired me to try fishing the other side of the stream, where I had seen some smallmouth bass attacking some frogs previously. The only way to get there was by a long trail, so I decided to use my bike. After carrying my bike and fishing equipment down a few flights of stairs and crossing the busy street in front of the building, I made my way down the long trail to try a frog imitation against the bass. This side of the bank had been rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers some time earlier, and was a steep embankment covered with riff-raff of sharp, hard stone. As I looked at my sandals, I thought that perhaps this wasn’t a great idea. But I had traveled far from the couch, and here I was with my fishing equipment. So down the hillside I climbed.
And I was actually fine. I made it all the way to the bottom unscathed. The small ledge where I was standing to fish was a little slippery, though, and as I threw my first cast I displaced one of the rocks around me. In a fashion that would make Rube Goldberg proud, this (eventually) caused a small rock slide, which resulted in a piece of slate sliding down hill and impaling my right foot. Bone scaring, nerve damage, and a few calamitous hours later, I was alright. (The rest of the story is actually more entertaining. Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll tell you the rest.) This story has repeated itself over the years, although with somewhat different details.
I had never thought I would live until I was 30, so now that I’ve proved myself wrong in this regard and am married as well I’ve decided that there is something to be said for self preservation.
I don’t remember my dreams, so when I have a nightmare wakes me up and sticks with me throughout the day, I’m a little off-center. I was awoken Thursday morning from a dream straight out of a course of percocets. In it, all of the things around me slowly turned into a variety of poisonous snakes, which then proceeded to attack me. Dozens of them. I feel that now is a good time to point out that I’m not afraid of snakes. No, seriously. I just have high-tuned reflexes should I encounter them outside, which came from growing up in an area populated by cottonmouths, copperheads, and all the other poison-spewing creatures of New Jersey. If I am walking and something snake-y darts under my feet, survival tells me to freak out.
After I dropped Jackie off at work, I decided to do some fishing over at Canonsburg Lake before the afternoon thunderstorms approached. The fish were being particularly un-cooperative, and after two hours of panfish stealing my bait without the decency of biting the hook as well, I drove around the lake to where the outlet from the dam forms a nice stream, having heard that other fishermen have success there.
As I got out of my truck , I realized that I have left my cell phone at home. This was more of a nuisance than care to admit; if I had actually caught anything, I wouldn’t be able to photograph it. It later occurred to me that I was also waiting for the mechanic to call about the inspection on Jackie’s car. But the photograph thing was important.
I parked the truck in the empty lot, and walked along the bank until I found a suitable place to fish. Someone had situated rocks into a kind of spillway, and left the middle open so that the water would rush through there. I cast my bait in this faster water, and let the current carry it towards the slower pools. I was startled from my focus by a childish, “Hey, Mister?” Behind me a kid was standing up on the embankment, fidgeting with his fishing rod.
If I’m not afraid of snakes, I want to be clear on one thing. I am VERY afraid of children with no neck muscles. Think of every horror movie child, head tilted eerily to one side, eyes unblinking, prophetising doom.
Flop-neck stared at me creepily and continued. “Did you catch anything yet?” I explained that I had just got there less than a minute ago. “Oh. I almost caught something, but it got off. Do you think trout are still in here?” I wasn’t sure. “Ok. This was were I first saw poisonous snakes. Copperheads started attacking my dad. Bye.” Just as quickly as he had got there, we walked back into the brush towards fishing locations unknown.
Again I found myself alone, cautiously looking around me for snakes. I had been lucky this year and had only seen two snakes, both from afar. I usually wasn’t that lucky. My searching eyes then fell upon my feet, wearing the sandels from the earlier story. (No, I didn’t get rid of them yet.) And I remembered that I had no phone, and couldn’t call for help. I quickly developed a bad feeling. Very bad.
Sometimes it pays to be superstitious. I wish I had a better ending to the story, but I beat hell out of there as fast as I could. I didn’t want to become another sacrifice to “He Who Slithers Behind the Bushes.”

Canonsburg Lake, the sequel

Of course, I never actually got around to posting about the first day I was out at Canonsburg Lake, but I will get around to it. Let’s do this Tarantino style.
As you’ve hopefully read in my earlier posts, I am trying to work on a couple of designs for fishing lures this year. The dream would be to market and sell them one day, but in the mean time all I can do is design, build, and test. Testing is the best part, because it actually means fishing.
But as I learned last Thursday, testing new lures can be exciting and the single most disgusting thing you can do in a day. For one thing, something that you thought was going to work perfectly is going to fail in ways you never imagined. I know this because of the 5 or so designs I tested, only one succeeded in working the way that I had anticipated. The encouraging thing is that I know what needs to be addressed on each of the designs in order to make them work better.
But one thing will stick with me from Thursday. Fish are bastards. They can behave predictably enough that biologists can write books about their behavior, but the second that you require them to behave as such they will find a way to frustrate you to no end. I suppose that’s how it feels to have children.
Anyway, I was fishing from shore and had spent about 20 minutes fishing a few commercial lures to check for some of the trout that had recently been stocked, used a small jig and tube to catch a few croppies, and had tested a few of my other designs. The next design that I tied on was something that I made up while playing with some clay while watching television, and would be best described as a caricature of a small fish. I was disappointed with it’s performance, but mostly due to my inexperience in designing lures. Since it was molded from something I shaped a few beers into a tv show, it was less than symmetrical where it needed to be, and I have to work on making sure that the resin cures evenly (preventing air bubbles from forming on one side of the lure). I had stopped the lure closer to shore on the third cast, frustrated, when a large bass swam up and grabbed the lure by the head. After shaking the heck out of it for a moment, it spit it out and swam away. Would it have been too much to ask for to have the fish bite the end that has hooks?
Naturally, I can’t wait to rebuild the lure better and do some more testing. But there’s a small hell going on inside my head right now. Did the fish bite the lure because of the pattern I painted it? The shape of the lure as it was sinking slowly? Or was it attracted by the screwed up way that lure was thrashing about?
These are things that keep me up at night.