It’s Thursday of my first week back, and I’m sitting at 10 species. I have planned a trip up to Northern Minnesota with Tony and the wonderful E-Kol, but I want to knock off some easy species before I head up with them on Friday afternoon.
I opt to drive 30 minutes South and target Shovelnose Sturgeon and Flathead Catfish. Before I get to the spot for them, however, I need to get bait (bullhead) and burn some time. Since I’m leaving after work, I try to leave as early as possible to avoid rush hour. My GPS tells me that since I am leaving at 3:45 PM, it should only take 35 minutes to get to my destination!
After 20 minutes on the road, it becomes apparent that it will take significantly longer than 35 minutes. I ran into the traffic as it was starting to get backed up, and when I got into the town that I would be fishing in, it was a crawl. My GPS now told me that it would take 15 minutes to get 1 mile. I crawled through, doing my best not to become agitated. Finally, I reached the end of the bridge and was on my way. When I pulled off to start driving the last mile to the fishing spot, however, I was stopped by an unwelcome sight.
We had gotten a lot of rain at the end of May and in early June, but there’s no reason it should have remained closed. After a quick call to my favorite vehicle-law-abiding friend, I was confident that I wouldn’t get towed if I parked, and decided to walk in to the spot.
This decision was probably a mistake. I was almost immediately beset by mosquitoes of all shapes, sizes, and personalities. The path (which winds through a swampy forest) seemed to stretch on for miles, and when I finally got to the spot I was upset to find that it looked exactly like it always does (read: NOT FLOODED). The fortunate side-effect of this unfortunate trek was that I didn’t have to deal with local anglers (or DNR). I like the law as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just have to use multiple rods – it was nice to know that I could target both bowfin and sunfish without constantly looking over my shoulder. Minnesota is one of three states which does not allow multiple rods while angling (Washington is one of the others), and it is incredibly frustrating when doing intense multispecies fishing.
I started bouncing around the rocks near shore, hoping to get a bluegill quickly for the Contest entry and to use for Bowfin bait. They were seemingly nowhere to be found – I gave up after about 45 fruitless minutes (nobody should go 45 minutes without a bluegill – it just isn’t right!) and tossed out a minnow under a float. I had 3 remaining minnows from the previous night fishing for Longnose Gar, and I knew that Shortnose Gar and White Bass existed in this particular lake so I figured it was worth a try. I left that rod unattended with the spool open, and hiked a little bit through swampy forest to a log that was jutting out into the water. This HAD to hold bluegill. After a few small taps and misses, I had my bluegill in hand. I don’t think I’ll ever have to work this hard for a bluegill ever again. Thinking that this was the only place I could get bait, I stuck the bluegill in my back pocket and proceeded to catch one more before being sent back by mosquitoes. It is important to note that I had put on 100% DEET as soon as I got to the fishing spot – these mosquitoes were braver than your average nuisance-bugs!
Bluegill – Species #11
Satisfied with my success for the moment, I switched to my bowfin rig (freelined, wire leader, 2/0 Circle Hook baited with cut Bluegill) and went hunting for bullhead. It didn’t take me long to catch a couple of small Black Bullhead for Flathead bait. As I caught the second one, the bell on my bowfin rod began ringing violently as a fish took my bait. I ran over to the rod and picked it up (ripping my last pair of shorts in the process), and felt the rage that only bowfin harbor. As I got it closer, it shook its head and unhooked itself. Bowfin are suck crazy fighters that it’s not that uncommon to lose one, especially as they get close to shore. I rebaited and cast out, and decided to try my minnows again with my other rod.
I cast out near the rocks close to shore, hoping for a White Bass. My bobber went down almost immediately, and I brought in a small Black Crappie. With 2 minnows left, I knew it would probably be a bad idea to cast to the same place again, but some kind of angler’s intuition told me to do it anyways.
I was rewarded with a new species.
White Crappie (Species #12)
I’d had White Crappie in the back of my mind for a long time as a fish that I should catch some day. The ready availability of spots for them kept me from actually going out and doing it. I was more than thrilled to catch this here – new species #2 for the contest! I tossed out my last minnow in a place closer to shore, and went to check my bowfin rod.
Surprisingly, I felt resistance when I started reeling. I dragged the (fish?) in for a little while, and then it woke up and exploded out of the water. I had a decent-sized Northern Pike on the line! When it got close to shore, it made a beeline for the culvert I was standing on, hoping to run into the current and snap me off. Thankfully, I was prepared (unlike with the carp from earlier in the month), and after a minute or so, I netted the fish.
Northern Pike (Species #13)
The Pike taped out at 25″ and girthy. Thankfully, it was hooked in the mouth, and was released safely. I went to check my minnow rod, and was again surprised to find that a fish was on! After about 3 seconds, I had another species in hand.
Largemouth Bass (Species #14)
This tiny Largemouth Bass killed my last minnow!
I noticed that there was a lot of surface activity now that the sun had almost set, and decided to try to catch whatever was causing it. I suspected that it was crappie, and I was not disappointed when my Mini-Mite jig yielded multiple Black and White Crappie. Some time during this, my Bowfin rod got savaged again. I picked up the rod, felt the violence, and watched in dismay as the Bowfin, clear as day, leaped and shook the hook. Cursing to myself, I rebaited with my last chunk of sunfish.
I decided to try the rocks near shore again for sunfish for bait, and was rewarded with a lot of Bluegill and Green Sunfish. I kept a couple for bait, and kept fishing for them while I waited for the bowfin to bite. Suddenly, something grabs my small redworm-chunk and runs for deeper water with it. I was again surprised by the voracity of the attack, and commented aloud “I don’t think that’s a bluegill!”. I saw a flash of gold near the rocks as I brought it in, and my suspicions were confirmed. After a little manhandling (once again near the current in the culvert), I had a little Common Carp.
I switched back to Bullhead fishing to gather extra bait, and caught a few which looked suspiciously like Brown Bullhead to me. After bombarding poor Tony with a million pictures, we eventually agreed that they were just Black Bullhead.
“Brown” (Black) bullhead
In the middle of this debate, my Bowfin rod went off yet again, and, predictably, I lost the fish within seconds. What was it with me and Bowfin today?
I caught another couple of bullhead, and decided that the next Bowfin bite would be the last before I left for the Sturgeon and Flathead spot. Sure enough, I got one more bite, and sure enough, I lost it when it breached the water and thrashed violently. Oh well, maybe next time.
I drove back into town, and crawled down a precarious bank to get to my Shovelnose and Flathead spot, and was pleasantly surprised to see MM (Fishaholicsanonymous). MM is the girlfriend of the great Moose (2-time Species Contest champion and currently running away with the competition again), and I was happy to have someone to spend the undoubtedly long, fruitless hours of Flathead fishing with. She and her friend H (CityLimits) were fishing for Shovelnose as well – MM had been fishing for several hours without any luck. I got set up for both Flathead and Shovelnose, and chatted idly with MM while we waited for our luck to kick in. She joked that now that I was there, I would get one and she would continue fishless. Thankfully for her, she was wrong.
My luck, however, was not to be. Several fishless hours passed, and then H caught another Shovelnose. Out of respect for me (they really didn’t have to!), they both took their rods out of the water and waited for me to catch mine. H notified me that she had drawn a circle, stood in it, and mentally recited the phrase “Only people who catch fish stand in this circle” before she caught her Shovelnose. We all laughed, but at this point, that circle was sounding mighty tempting…..
Something else was ‘sounding’ as well. I put my hand to my ear and asked MM if she could hear anything – I thought I could hear an insect chirping. She said no, and I realized that it might actually be the drag on my Flathead rod running as a fish took my live Bullhead. I cautiously made my way across the sandbar, and exclaimed “IT’S MY FLATHEAD ROD!!!!!!” multiple times when I saw the line peeling off of my reel. Flathead Catfish is one of my 2017 fishing goals – it would be awesome to meet that goal during the Contest!
Hands shaking, I picked up the rod and set the hook.
There was a catfish on my line. Unless it was a massive Channel Catfish, it was probably a Flathead.
I realized pretty quickly that it was not a massive one (they get well above 40# here), but it didn’t matter since I just needed any for the Contest. MM waded in the water, ready to grab the fish for me. As it got close, we saw it surface. It was pretty small – maybe 20″ tops.
As soon as it broke the surface, it came off. Much swearing was heard. Oh well.
I rebaited with another Bullhead and walked back to my other rod, still untouched by sturgeon. I decided to utilize H’s circle, and no sooner had I recited the phrase to myself than my rod started bouncing. Exclaiming and excited, all three of us made our way to the rod, and I reeled in my fish.
It was a black bullhead.
Well, I hadn’t exactly told the Circle which kinds of fish I was to catch. My bad.
After another hour or so, we called it a day, and I left muddy, mosquito-bitten, and exhausted. I uploaded my 4 new species at 2:30 AM, then collapsed into a well-deserved bath. Who needs sleep, anyways?