Musky on the Ottawa River

John Anderson 2014 Opener

As a Musky Canada member opening day of Musky season is always a celebratory event. This year was no different. Over 50 Ottawa chapter members showed up. Making the opener especially significant was a surprise call from my friend John Anderson inviting me to join him aboard his boat for the morning fish. John had experienced a rare cancilation – a rare event for his guiding service which is normally booked solid through to October. I graciously accepted with one condition, my regular partner David Mingie join us for the morning.

We pushed off from the Tredwell launch on the Ottawa River just east of the city of Ottawa at around 7:30 on Saturday June 21. Weather was perfect with slight overcat conditions and moderate winds and temperatures. Water temps were in the mid-60 range with reduced visibility – 3-feet and less — common for the Ottawa River. Even though spring was incredibly late weed growth was coming along strong with many weed beds coming within a foot of the river’s surface.

John and I were anxious to try out the new Shimano Compre Musky rods each of us had acquired following their release in late winter 2014. The variety of split and full cork handles with longer telescopic models reaching 9-foot 6-inches in length are light weight, powerful and sensitive. .

We started the morning with a short troll to the mouth of a bay that was on average 6-feet deep. John’s philosophy says that if it’s possible, go for it, and fishing sub-surface baits in waters that will soon be weed-choaked, seem to make sense.

Before long David hooked up on a nice 40” Musky using an in-line spinner while executing a figure eight beside the boat. He missed on a second not long after, which I may have caught shortly there after on our next pass using a jerkbait. John, the ever-respectful guide, first-and-foremost, was standing a mid-ship covering water David and I had already worked over. His suggestions and words of encouragement had there effect though, and we both owe him a big thanks for extending us this very generous offer to spend six hours.

Backwater Adventures in the Florida Keys

We’ve all watched on TV people sight fishing for Bonefish and Permit along the flats located in and around the Florida Keys. Spotting fish and accurate casts are crucial. Well, there’s more than one way to catch those marauding saltwater game fish and I’ve got the proof.

Arranging a day’s charter should be simple, and it would be if I never bothered mentioning that I’m completely without sight. First and foremost, guides question how that’s going to work. Then there are the personal safety issues.

I’ve been told more than once my money was no good by guides simply unwilling to test the parameters of their insurance providers. I don’t take it personally because a rogue wave just might sweep me away, or I could fall off the dock, or I could stumble down a bank, or stick myself with a hook, or get bitten, stung or speared by a fish, etc., etc… So naturally, when I do come into contact with guides like Dave Denkers of Islamorada, a man who respects people who take chances that involve their own personal safety, I’m always thrilled and relieved.

The plan was for Dave to pick me up out front of the RV park where my family and I were staying. “Look for the guy with the white stick” I texted Dave the night before, to which he replied, “I’ll be driving a black Dodge” – a common rookie blind encounter mistake that happens more often than one might think (LOL).

At 7: a.m. the next morning I heard Dave’s SUV pull to the side of the road. I knew it was him by the sound of the empty boat trailer rattling along behind is truck. A quick hand shake and I piled in for a short ride to the marina. Five seconds of sighted guide technique instruction and I was safely on to the dock and seated in Dave’s 16-foot bay boat.

Dave was excited about the prospects for the day. Reconnaissance gathered from fellow guides led Dave to believe that the Tarpon would be on fire. I asked if this was based on reports from the day before, and Dave confirmed this to be the case. Both guides he had spoken with reported the Tarpon had been on fire. Now, I’m not a superstitious guy, and all that talk about “should have been here yesterday” stuff does nothing for me, but I did note the full moon eclipse the previous night and may have expressed some scepticism.

Sure enough, following a 30-minute cruise down the coast, weaving between islands and crossing sizeable bays, we arrived at the promised grounds. Unfortunately, all the Tarpon we spotted, and there were probably over two dozen, expressed not a flicker of interest in what was on offer. This being Pin fish drifted under floats using tidal currents and sand bars to our advantage.

After three hours our eagerness and anticipation were soon set aside along with my Tarpon float rod. We rolled up our sleeves and got down to the hard work of catching fish. We decided to switch it up and set off for a series of backwater bays.

Upon approaching our first bay Dave killed the motor and resumed poling from his elevated rear poling platform located over top of the boat’s outboard engine. We first had to cross over a set of what turned out to be astonishingly high breakers to enter the bay. I took my place at the ready on the front casting deck, but finding the rocking and pitching boat almost impossible to stand on, elected to stand in the cockpit instead. It was around that time when I heard Dave’s pole clank against the gunnel. “Dave, you O.K.”, I called back over the sound of the crashing waves that were now pouring over the bow? “I’m fine”, Dave replied, “I just fell out of the boat”.

Dave explained that while in mid push the boat dropped out from under his feet. His choices were to either attempt a landing on the pitching deck, or in the shallow water where there was less chance of him incurring an injury. Dave said that was the first time he ever fell out of the boat, and I have no reason not to believe him since it never happened again that day. It did make me pay more attention to my environment though, just in case it was going to be me poling Dave’s boat home alone. In reality however, the water was only three-feet deep and neither of us were ever in danger.

It wasn’t long after that Dave spotted a 20lb Permit feeding actively with its tail out of the water. Time after time I launched my shrimp in the direction and distance Dave instructed. The 40 mph winds weren’t helping though, with cast after cast being blown off course. Normally, I’m a relatively accurate caster with the ability to land lures within inches of the sound of surfacing fish. This time however, whether it was the wind or a communication breakdown, I’m not sure, the entire frustrating process seemed to have lasted for tens of minutes, but in reality was over within 90 seconds. O.K., try one and we were learning.

Opportunity number two came not long after. Dave spotted a Bonefish 30-feet off the stern on the down-wind side of the boat. We had agreed on a system by then. I would fire bullet casts just above the waves, and Dave would let me know when to stop the bait’s flat trajectory. By keeping my rod tip slightly elevated as the line tore through the guides, and then dropping the tip at the same time I stopped the cast, I was able to drop the bait quietly into the water and avoid startling the fish.

With directions from Dave such as “hold”, which meant not to reel, and “reel”, which meant draw the bait away from the fish to trigger a reaction, along with the various commands we adopted to target my casting, we began hooking up.

First fish over the gunnel was this pretty little Bonefish weighing in at around 3.5 lbs. I was blown away by the relatively small stature of this fish given the number of drag-pulling runs it was able to execute over the 3-4 minutes it took me to reel in. No wonder people fly all over the world to capture this species – they truly are athletes. Not a bone could I detect on its body however, which made me question why these fish were given such an unappetising name. Dave said the bones were all on the inside, and plenty of them. From what I could feel Bonefish were solid muscle.

Next to come over the gunnel was one of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever had the pleasure of holding. It was a 4 lb Permit fish and I was awful glad it permitted me to feel its amazing fins and tail. It’s also toothless which makes it even that much more inviting to hold.

Like the Bonefish, Permit too are capable of destroying drag systems on smaller spinning reels. After each fish was caught using 6 lb Power Pro line spooled on to a Shimano Sahara 2500 spinning reel, I had to carefully cast out the bait while at the same time pull line off the spool that had become impacted. I suggested Dave look into the Shimano reels that feature aerowrap technology designed specifically to prevent this from happening and to provide longer casting distances.

Aerowrap is one of those innovations Shimano has engineered that has put them well ahead of their competition. However, being the only reel manufacturer that has adopted this innovation, not many fishers know it even exists.

Later that day Dave introduced me to a deadstick method of fishing that might make many sceptical, but made a believer out of me. Once Dave had located some slightly turbid water generated by contrary currents coming into contact, he anchored the boat using an ingenious method of tying off to his 24-foot long pole that he first sunk into the soft bottom, and then bent over 90 degrees.

The method called for me to fire my shrimp attached to a 3/8 oz jig head onto a stretch of submerged white sand over 100-feet away next to the turbid water and flats grass. Keeping the line slightly slack, I was able to detect fish pick up my jig, and after a few exploratory nibbles, wolf down my bait at which time I would simply raise my rod tip while reeling down.

Using Dave’s dead stick method I was able to bring a third species into the boat – Bonnethead shark. The shark were between 3 and 4 feet in length, and while they weren’t able to provide near the fight of Bonefish or Permit, they were a welcome addition to my checklist of species captured and released.

Returning caught shark to the water is a 2-handed affair. One to hold their tail and the other the body just behind the head. Caution should be exercised to make sure sharks are released by both hands simultaneously. Shark are known to twist around 180 degrees and bite those who maintain a single grip on their tail.

Guides like Dave who spend good parts of entire days poling their sports around the flats of Florida definitely earn their pay. It’s hard work, not to mention the effects of the sun and salt water on the body. A big thanks to Dave for agreeing to take me out for the day, and to his wonderful wife who prepared for us the most amazing brownies – each chunk was the size of my fist.

We never were able to hook up a Tarpon in spite of our trying on three separate occasions that day. Too bad as it would have meant a grand slam in Florida. It was our goal at the beginning of the day, but by the end, we were feeling quite proud of what we had accomplished by working together. A true first for us both.

Five Steps to Selecting the Right Bait

Over the past ten years fishing has witnessed a revolution brought on by the merger of technological innovation, scientific research and knowledge passed on by generations of fishers. The result has been ever-more innovative baits. Manufacturers are also working closer than ever with their field staff to fine-tune new offerings, and are publishing increasingly detailed usage instructions. For recreational fishers, it’s resulted in a reduction in the use of live bait, and more importantly, fewer slow days on the water. And, when minnows can cost as much as 50 cents each and night crawlers a quarter, switching to artificial makes for sound economics. So what is it that makes a good artificial bait?

Some of the variables manufacturers take into consideration when developing and marketing artificial baits include matching-the-hatch, light levels, time of year, intended species, water temperature, underwater structure, use ability, longevity, cost effectiveness, environmental impact, fishing trends, etc. It may seem like a long list, but when you take the time to think about what the modern fisher considers when deciding how to invest their time and money, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course there’s always the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to fishing that accounts for many of the tried-and-true baits that can be found in the average fishers tackle box.  These most often are reaction-style baits noted for their ability to generate moderate success under a variety of conditions – a sort of “one size fits all” style of lure that we wouldn’t mind being stuck with on a desert island. But, since the chance of being stranded these days is pretty much nil, why are so many tackle boxes filled with ump-teen different versions of the same style baits?

Increasingly, premium bait manufacturers are counting on fishers to possess a certain level of competency when they launch a new bait. These same companies also assume that we will take the time to learn how to properly apply their latest innovations. It’s this spirit of cooperation that is responsible for the sport’s recent and dramatic evolution.

Successful fishers begin the process of selecting which baits will be used during an up-coming fishing trip many Days before lines are actually wetted. It starts with researching the characteristics of the aquatic environment to be fished, takes into consideration the locally preferred tactics and equipment, and then determining what existing and additional new tackle is required. In short, the right bait at the right time under the right conditions. Other than weather, little about fishing as to do with luck.

No doubt, in addition to the brain-numbing variety of baits on the market, making bait selection even more difficult is the insistence of some manufacturers that their baits do it all. To counter this absence of information, deciding on what bait to buy and use comes down to both a fishers direct experience and what they have learned from trusted experts by reading articles or listening to seminars. More-and-more though, bait manufacturers who have made the investment in developing quality baits are now including educational materials on when, where and how to get the most out of their product on the water. The internet has been a game changer in this regard.

Tackle manufacturers are now able to launch new products at the time of their choosing; no longer being tied to a few days each year based on the schedule of an annual outdoor show. They also recognize the value of getting their baits into the hands of trusted experts so these fishers can, in turn, offer-up their opinions and tips through social media.

With so many choices available to fishers it’s understandable why some have grown slightly cynical of the motives of bait manufacturers. Mistakes can happen however, and it’s not uncommon to find baits in bargain bins never intended for fishing conditions within 500 miles of that store’s location. Choosing to buy baits based on first impressions alone might offer one an immediate thrill, but it’s completely reverse to how the process should unfold. The following five steps should help you to maintain control over your tackle purchasing impulses — indulging your compulsive tackle purchasing “wants” should be relegated to an optional sixth step.

  1. Learn from local experts to identify currently productive fishing techniques and baits specific to the region or body of water you plan to fish.
  2. Assess recent and potential climactic and other external influences that could impact your chosen body of water.
  3. Inspect your existing tackle suitable for the fishing scenarios being considered.
  4. Make a list of essential tackle you will need to acquire.
  5. Consult with your local tackle stores staff to identify what available stock might best fit your needs.
  6. Only once steps one-through-five have been implemented should you risk a peek in your local tackle venders clearance bins.

I like to conduct my on-line research about new baits brought to market between seasons. It’s during these slack line moments that I also sort  baits according to how each performed under various conditions. I spend just as much time remembering those glory days and the baits I used, as I do thinking how I could have turned around those less productive days. By spending time focusing on the lessons I learned I’m able to identify where I need to expand both my fishing skills and bait collection. In practical terms, it often means investing more time to research and experiment with new-to-me  products and tactics designed to address the sort of challenges that have been causing me grief.

Like everyone I enjoy telling stories about the big ones, but just as importantly, I always take time to revisit those unproductive moments with my fishing buddies at the end of each day. By thinking and talking our way through our feelings of disappointment, it becomes possible to learn from our mistakes. Sorting through the subjective emotions that cloud logical thoughts allows for clear objective problem solving, and that’s exactly the mind-set needed when you plan your next tackle purchase.

Girl Guides Go Fishing!

Part of my role as the Conservation Director for the Ottawa Valley South Bass Masters club is to find ways to pass on knowledge to others on fishing sustainably. What better way to accomplish this than to bring 38 Girl Guides ranging in age from 5 to 17 shore fishing after school.

Management at the Dows Lake Pavilion generously offered up a sizeable discount on the parking next to their facility located on the shores of a small inner city lake, which was formed as a result of the creation of the Rideau Canal system. Sail outdoors offered up the worms, and a dozen OVSBM club members volunteered their time, expertise and a half dozen or so fishing rods each. Species being targeted were panfish, and the technique was float fishing.

Fishing was fast and furious. Each and every girl caught at least one fish, with most catching five or more. 100 night crawlers divided into quarters lasted just long enough – we just had enough.

Mid-way through the event we took a short break from the fishing so we could cover off the instructional component of the evening. I provided a short presentation on the type of fish we were catching and where they fit into the ecosystem. Tips on fish handling were given, and then I turned it over to Julie Charen, a competitive well sponsored member of our club. Julie entertained and informed the girls with stories and explanations of the various types of fishing gear and techniques she uses to catch fish, and provided demonstrations and samples to make the presentation that much more engaging.

The evening fish was the last event of the year for the Girl Guides, and when the parents showed up around 8: p.m. to take them home, it was interesting to hear just how many girls were able to astonish their parents with their impressive catch reports. I have no doubt a number of those parents will be picking up fishing supplies this summer to satisfy their daughter’s requests to go fishing.

A big thanks to Sandra Kuchta and the rest of the Girl Guide leaders for facilitating things at their end. The girls were just a pleasure to fish with. Their enthusiasm for the sport was truly impressive.