November 26th, 2007

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Of Wind and White Bass
By Tim Giger (bluegill222)

It helps to have a wife who's a good sport when the alarm goes off at 5:00am. We've only been married for about a month and this whole getting up real early to go fishing thing is not something she's used to yet. When we met two years ago, she already fished, and during our courtship I converted her to the fly rod, which she has taken to very well. However, she's not a morning person so this is a new wrinkle for her. But like I said, she's a good sport so after a little poking and prodding, she got up and we were on our way to the lake with a brief side trip for gas and coffee, without which neither the truck nor Marguerite were going far that morning.

We reached the lake just as the sun was beginning to redden the horizon over the opposite shore. One of the reasons I like to start at this spot and start this early is that the sunrises this time of year are well worth taking a little time to stop and enjoy. Besides, we were going to be fishing the rip-rap along a bridge where the river enters the reservoir and it was a little too dark yet to go scampering over oftentimes loose boulders and washed up debris. So we took our time rigging our rods and watched the sun come up. There was a fair breeze blowing (about 10mph) that would only strengthen as the morning went on, so I wasn't worried about the white bass (our targets for the morning) leaving the rocks with the increasing sunlight.

Once we were rigged up and ready to go (me with my Scierra 6wt, Marguerite with her 5wt TFO and both armed with clouser minnows) we hiked down to the far end of the bridge. My thinking is that it's easier to make the hike and fish your way back towards the truck than it is to fish your way out and trudge all the way back later. Same number of steps, I know, but the anticipation of fishing makes the hike easier somehow. We picked our way down the fairly steep rock slope slowly, all the time watching the water for signs of shad, seagulls, or fish rising to the surface to feed. The shad were there, but nothing seemed to be feeding on them. Oh well, I thought, whites are cruising fish, there may be a school along any minute.

This is the type of structure that always seems to hold a few fish, but apparently not this morning. The wind was right, the baitfish weren't overly abundant but they were there. However after an hour of picking our way along the rocky bank, we'd still not gotten so much as a hit. The water was murkier than usual from some heavy rain farther upstream, so I don't know if the fish were absent, or maybe they were there and just couldn't see our flies. Either way, after another half hour, we decided to find a spot a little farther down the impoundments where the water should be a little clearer, and the walking a little easier.

Our next stop was a series of points and shallow bays about halfway down the lake. By this time the sun was up and not a cloud in the sky, which would normally make shallow water not as good a choice. The wind, though, had also risen and there were white-caps rolling in across the bays and breaking against the points. My thought was that the waves would force baitfish into the shore and kick crayfish and other food items loose from the rocky areas along the shore. The wind was up to about 20mph and blowing straight into the points, not exactly anybody's idea of premium casting conditions. Marguerite decided at that point it might be safer for all concerned if she went to spinning gear. I went to an intermediate sinking line hoping the extra weight would both allow me to push a little more line out into the wind and keep the fly below the swells.

This time my instincts were dead on, and after about five minutes I looked over and Marguerite's spinning rod was bent double and she was into a nice white bass. I stopped and watched her land it, remembering a time not so long ago when she would have needed me to help unhook it and return it to the water. Not so anymore and she handled the job just fine on her own. The look on her face when she's catching fish reminds me of when I was just starting out (more years ago than we'll talk about, thank you) and reminds me it doesn't have to be any different now. It was all going to be chuck and duck for me with the 6wt., so I went from the #2 clouser minnow I'd been trying to throw earlier to a #6 in brown over orange. That way I had baitfish action combined with crawfish coloration, hopefully a one-two punch. Sure enough, a few casts later I was into a fish myself. Mine wasn't quite as big as the two my wife had by then landed, but I'm getting used to the odd habit she's lately developed of catching bigger fish than I.

Marguerite

After that we settled into a pattern: she could cast the quarter oz. lure she was using farther than I could a fly, so she fished the bays between the points while I got out on the ends of the rocky points where I could reach a little deeper water more easily. Pods of fish were cruising the shoreline anywhere from 15 to 40 feet from the bank. Lucky for me they were moving closer yet as they came around the points and the 25 feet or so of line I was able to shove into the wind was more than sufficient. First Marguerite would start catching fish as they would cruise by her, then a few minutes later I would start catching them. That would go on for a while, then the pod would move on and we would have to wait for another school to come in.

Wind casting

A school of whites isn't quite the organized hunting machine that a school of wipers can be so you don't as often see the bait balls on the surface, so it's more a matter of keeping your fly in the water and either moving until you find them, or sticking in one spot until they find you. When they are feeding like this, color and size of fly is less important than how it moves. It's almost not possible to strip a streamer fast enough sometimes and a slow moving fly will often not trigger the vicious strikes that make these fish so fun.

White bass aren't the only fish that take advantage of these conditions to feed. The lake we were fishing also has fair populations of crappie, drum, walleye, and smallmouth bass, all of which are possibilities on a fly. During a lull in the white bass action I picked up a walleye and a smallmouth, both on that same crayfish colored clouser.

Walleye

As noon approached, the action slowed down a bit, which was probably just as well since Marguerite had to be at work that afternoon and we had a good hour's drive home (she works from the house so we could cut it pretty close). I lost track of how many fish were caught altogether, but we had doubles on at several points, and there was never too much time passed between hook-ups once we found the right spot. The big thing though, was that we had an all too rare day when we could both be together catching fish and enjoying what turned out to be a beautiful, if somewhat windy day. ~ Tim Giger


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