Walleye vs Sauger

Just recently I moved out to Missouri for a new job, and I haven’t done much fishing since early September. I haven’t done any posts for quite a while because of all the work involved with relocating. So it was very nice to get back to fishing again, and after I had settled into my new place in KC, I decided to pull the trigger and buy a fishing license and head out.

One of the biggest differences for myself is the presence of giant catfish within driving distance in Missouri. In upstate New York, one can maybe hook onto a channel catfish approaching 40lbs, but you’d be hard pressed to land anything that would offer a fight that would really test your physical strength (as opposed to your equipment strength).

After doing my research, I went to the Missouri River the other day, home to giant Blue Catfish. While I didn’t hook any or even get a nibble, I did manage to catch a fish I’d normally throw back without a second glance. Being in a completely new state made me take a longer look at what I caught on a nightcrawler less than 3 feet from the shore.


This fish is a sauger. It’s a close relative to a walleye. So close that the two species can interbreed and create Saugeye, a sterile hybrid. Thus the difference between the two species is very subtle. Plenty of anglers will go by coloration in determining the species. The general consensus is walleye are golden colored while sauger are more blueish with blotches, but it’s not a guaranteed method of distinction. The truth to the matter is walleye can have the same blueish/gray color and sauger can have faint blotches like this one I caught. The more appropriate way to identify the two is by checking the dorsal fins. The sauger(and saugeye) will always have a mottled pattern of spots on the dorsal fins. The walleye will not.

I’ve caught dozens of walleye in the mohawk river before. Most of them I’ve thrown away without checking. Perhaps a couple were sauger? Who knows. So next time you catch a walleye, look at it’s dorsal fins. Because you never know…you might have caught a sauger instead.

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Overcoming tough fishing conditions on the Mohawk

Normally I’m not one to complain about fishing conditions. But right now catching fish the Mohawk river is tough.

The other day I went fishing in the early morning on the Mohawk and found the water crystal clear. I ended up catching one 3 lb smallmouth bass weighing on a shiner at 6:15 am. After that the action died down and I ended up leaving about an hour and a half later. Surprisingly I saw no one else fishing on the river, despite plenty of skullers and a couple kayakers. Normally there is at least one or two boats I’ll see in the morning on a weekday.

The reason for the poor fishing? Enormous amounts of baitfish, super clear water, and a plethora of weeds make it tougher than ever to land good gamefish like bass and walleye. Locating and catching active fish is essentially a big crapshoot at the moment.

My best recommendation for a strategy to overcome these conditions is to use a large artificial lure like a plastic frog or worm or even a jerk bait and go off the surface. Cover as much surface as possible and go out in the morning or evening when the water is calm. Look for big splashes or scattering risings, and be quick to act on these.

I’ve had my best luck fishing the usual hot spots like feeder mouths and drop offs using a larger than normal shiner or 4 or 5 inch floating rapala. While the bass are absolutely gorging themselves on 1 to 3 inch minnows right now, it seems they have a definite preference for larger baitfish. The other day I proved myself right as the smallmouth ended up ignoring any shiners that were less than 4 inches long.

So my advice for any anglers who go out on the mohawk is to have a good floating lure and a lot patience. Or wait a couple weeks for it to get a little cooler.
Good luck!

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Freshwater Drum

Last week I went down to the lower Chesapeake Bay and did some fishing in the coastal estuaries and tidal rivers. I ended up catching some spot and a stingray, but mostly croaker, a small fish of the Sciaenidae family  related to the much larger Red Drum caught further out. Most of the drum fish are saltwater inhabitants and habit the eastern coast along the shoreline, and are mainly south of New York. One species of this family is different though and can be caught in the heart of New York.

The freshwater drum is the only species of the Sciaenidae family to reside in freshwater it’s entire life and can be caught in the lakes and rivers of New York. The other month I caught my first freshwater drum in the Mohawk River, and after catching another close relative the other day I figured I’d write about this curious fish and give at least a little advice on how to catch one. Here are some tips:

Freshwater drum

Do your homework first
Not every lake or river has freshwater drum. They usually reside in large rivers and lakes where they need the space to spawn, so don’t expect to catch them in your local town pond. Even in bodies of water where they are known to live in (i.e. Hudson and Mohawk Rivers) they can have spotty localized habitats, so it’s worth researching hot spots before going out.

Try fishing below dams and at locks
Right below Lock 7 on the Mohawk River is a place where I took my first drum. It seems a lot of these fish congregate in these areas, probably because zebra mussels and crayfish are so ubiquitous. I haven’t seen anyone catch them in the slower parts of the river, although I’m sure they occasionally do migrate in schools throughout these sections.

Look for surface activity
Drum will splash at the surface like carp. If you see a lot of jumping fish that are silver colored and are of medium to large size, there is a good chance it’s drum. Bass and walleye rarely exhibit this behavior in large numbers.

Use worms or crayfish
Drum have evolved to feed on crustaceans. While they will likely take an artificial lure, live bait will yield the best results. Using a crayfish might be more effective than a nightcrawler, but make sure to restrict it as they like to slip under rocks even when hooked. Keep your bait on the bottom.

Try jigging with bait
Drum do feed by sight, so using a flashy jig with a worm might hook on to fish quicker than just letting bait sit on the bottom. Try lifting your jig several feet off the bottom and drop it down and wait for a hit. Let it sit for several seconds and repeat the process.

Bring medium to heavy gear
Drum get big. They average at 18 to 20 inches in size, but some can get up to 20 lbs. The world record is over 50 lbs! You probably won’t catch a fish that big, but make sure to use thicker line and a stout rods and reel. It also helps when fishing in the craggy areas they seem to like.

Ultimately freshwater drum aren’t the flashiest gamefish, but they can grow big and provide good sport. Few people target them exclusively, but knowing how to catch them can provide you some excellent fishing when located and a good fish to bring to the table too.

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Swamp Fishing

Yesterday I went swamp fishing. Yes, swamp fishing. In New York. Upstate New York. I originally was out kayaking on a small lake, but decided to paddle up a small feeder creek after the wind picked up. This tributary quickly fanned out and led me to a flooded region full of weeds, roots, and branches.

Swamp Fishing is a completely different experience in real life. Maybe you’ve seen a youtube video or watched a clip of it, but fishing from a small boat in a swamp is nothing like regular fishing. It’s the ultimate stealth challenge. It’s tough. But it’s quite a change of pace and is certainly rewarding.

If you want to go swamp fishing, here’s what to do and what to expect.

Swamp Fishing is all about going fishing where no one fished before

 

Requirements
•A very small boat or kayak. I’ve got a 10 foot kayak and it’s almost too big. Anything with a motor won’t work. Waders may be ok, but you might get wet.
•A stiff rod with at least 10 lb test line. A baitcasting reel is preferred.
•A weedless lure or nightcrawler. Small minnows can work but will snag more unless restricted.
•A lake or river with a swampy tributary.
Instructions
•Locate the mouth of a tributary and launch at it. Head upstream.
•If using live bait or worms, paddle over to open spots and quietly dip your baited hook into the water. Set your drag high.
•If using a weedless rig, cast to the thickest spots(maybe even the shore) and quietly reel it in. Do your best to avoid spooking the fish
•When a fish bites, reel it in as quickly as possible.

Expectations
•Largemouth bass, panfish, and small pickerel are the primary species you’ll get. Perhaps gar or bowfin if they are in the area. Don’t expect trout or pike unless you go in the spring or fall.
• You’ll lose a bit of gear on roots. Bring extra hooks and lures.
• Don’t bet on landing a lunker. Most fish will be under a pound, but be on the look out for bigger fish as they will occasionally take refuge in backwaters.
• Be prepared for a workout. It can be pretty difficult to paddle across thick weeds and brush that are so prevalent in these areas.

I ended up catching only one bass and losing a couple smaller fish. It was a great experience and I wish to go again sometime. While I didn’t catch my biggest fish or most fish, the experience was quite memorable to say the least. So my recommendation is go try it sometime. You’ll be surprised at how difficult yet rewarding it might be.

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Summer bass fishing

Summer is my favorite season for bass fishing. I know plenty of people might disagree with me, especially when they hit a good bite in the spring or fall, but the one thing that Summer promises is consistency. While I’ve had excellent experiences with bass fishing in the fall and spring , I’ve gotten skunked in those seasons as well. Summer is different though in how a relatively unpredictable fish can be somewhat…predictable.

Plenty of anglers give up when the weather gets hot. I suppose there is some logic with hanging the rod up during the “Dog Days of Summer.” Hot weather and bright conditions certainly do make the fish less active. Bass are still very much catchable though, and you can very well match the success of the cooler months. Here are some tips on how to land bass during the hottest days of summer.

When the sun is out, hit the weeds
During the summer heat, my favorite spot are weedbeds. Bass love to hold in dense foliage during the day. Try fishing a moderate to heavy weeded spot that is at least 4 feet deep. One tip to lure out bass is to use a weedless frog and dance it across the surface of lilypads or water chestnut. Or through a weedless rigged plastic worm in the same manner and then let it drop at the waters edge.

Fish prime spots during dawn and dusk
Fish will always bite more aggressively during low light conditions during the summer months. At these times bass usually migrate short distances to points where baitfish are. It can be tricky to locate bass during these feeding blitzes, but one fail free method is to locate spots where the fish are “rising”(when a group of small fish is splashing on the surface).

Protected areas are better
A lot of lakes and rivers get a good deal of traffic during the summer months during the day. When noisy boats are out, I’ve always found the back sections of lakes and rivers which are somewhat isolated are better than open stretches.

Live bait yields the best success
During the day, bass are much less active and put less effort into feeding. It’s much harder to get a fish using a crank bait or spinner bait, especially when they are located in restrictive spaces. Using live bait is a better tactic during these times.

In short, bass fishing is actually quite good in the summer. While you won’t get 10 fish in an hour during the day like in the Spring, you definitely can still catch some lunkers, even during the hottest days.

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Esox Myths

As a fisherman, my favorite type of freshwater species to target has to be that of the pike. My grandfather was also big pike enthusiast. He used to travel to a certain lake up in the Adirondacks each year during the spring and catch 3 ft + Northern Pike. I suppose one could say it runs in the family. Catching big torpedo shaped toothy predator fish that can weigh more than an average sized family dog does have some allure to it.

While practically every fisherman I know has caught a bass, I know plenty who haven’t landed a pickerel or pike, let alone a musky. Fish from the pike family are one of the trickiest freshwater species to catch as a first timer. Because of this, there are plenty of myths and misconceptions with Pike Fishing. Here are some of them.

Pike are always found in weeds
While most people think pike and pickerel always are hanging out in the densest weedbeds 24-7, it’s at least a partial misconception. Most of the time this is true for smaller individuals that are less than 2 years old, but personally I’ve landed my biggest pike either outside of weeds or completely away from them. One of the best locations to find pike in the spring are at feeder streams, which are usually absent of weeds. This myth is actually the farthest from the truth in the summer, when weed beds hold only small pike and pickerel. The heat usually pushes the larger individuals to the depths where weeds may be completely absent.

Pike can’t be caught in the summer
For the longest time I thought this was true. It’s not. Northern Pike do feed in the summer time, but it’s usually more difficult to catch them as their feeding time is shorter and there is more food available. I actually proved this theory right the other week when I caught a 30 incher on a shallow diving lure in 80 degree water.

Pike only bite during the day
One of my biggest pike landed this year was caught 30 minutes after sunset. While it wasn’t completely dark out, it was during a point where I shouldn’t have been out on the water.  Usually the best times to catch pike are during dusk or dawn(better). While action can be decent during midday hours in the fall or early spring, the bite usually diminishes when the sun is high up in the sky.

Pike only eat minnows
Pike primarily feed on minnows, but will eat other things like leeches and crawfish and even small rodents and ducks if given the opportunity. I’ve caught a good amount of pickerel on non-minnow lures, and I know plenty of other fisherman who have caught pike and tiger musky using plastic worms.

Always use a steel leader when pike fishing
I hate this myth more than any other one because I have yet to loose a pike from a time where I wasn’t using a leader. I’ve lost a large northern to a bite off only once. I was using a 12 inch leader and a golden shiner as bait, and the large fish likely bite off the end of the leader when it swallowed the hook.

I’ve heard plenty of books recommend using a 16 inch leader at all times. I disagree. Only use a steel leader when using live minnows as bait. Even then, one can avoid using them if the hook is set quickly. Pike are more like sharks rather than bass in how they rarely swallow a prey whole on first pass. It’s thus extremely unlikely a pike will swallow a lure whole and cut the line.

I’m not going to say it can’t happen. In certain situations where the pike are very aggressive, it might be a good idea to take the extra precaution. But in plenty of situations, the leader can lead to less hits and you’re better off without the steel wire.

Pike are hardy fish
Fish of the Esox family are actually quite fragile fish and should never be treated like bass. It’s been shown in various studies that the catch and release mortality rate of pike and pickerel is actually much greater than that of bass and walleye. The reason is due to their propensity to bleed much more when caught as well their weaker vertebrae. Always use care when handling a pike or pickerel by unhooking them in the water.

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For the Mohawk River, 2012 is the Year of the Smallmouth

Last year there was a lot of speculation about the health of the Mohawk River post Hurricane Irene, specifically in how the fish population would adapt to the enormous deluge it experienced. Many times during large floods fish are displaced as they move to the edges to avoid the large currents. When the river level falls, it frequently traps fish off from the main river in nearby lakes, ponds, streams, and canals (or even swimming pools). Not only that, but plenty of species have trouble feeding in extremely turbulent waters with low visibility.

Well the good news is the Mohawk River fishery is still healthy. I’ve had one of my best years of fishing this season. It isn’t exactly the same as it was though. The river contour has changed a bit, and plenty of the old hotspots have either moved or disappeared. Another difference is the species of fish that are present and the ones that aren’t.

One of the most noticeable observations I’ve made this year is the absence of largemouth bass. While the Mohawk River has been mostly known for it’s smallmouth bass, it certainly has produced some big largemouth bass in the weedy sections in prior years.

This year not so much. Since May, I’ve fished river outlets, drop offs, and weed beds using crank baits, plastic frogs, spinnerbaits, and worms. Out of the dozens of bass I’ve caught, I’ve only landed one largemouth. Even in the thickest weeds I’ve ended up pulling out smallmouths, like this 22 inch beauty below yesterday(this is my 3rd 20+inch smallmouth of the season).

6 lb Smallmouth Bass

Maybe other people are having better luck in the river with largemouth, but for me, this year the smallmouth are the kings of the river.

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