Chicagoland Fishing, Travel, and Outdoor Expo

     This weekend I was invited by the owner of Lucid Fishing to attend the Chicagoland Fishing, Travel, and Outdoor Expo.  Once I figured out where the hell I was going (got lost again).  I made my way into the Expo and found Ted to pick up my badge.  This is the second time I've been able to attend this expo and it didn't disappoint.  I'm always blown away by the number of people waiting outside the doors in the morning.  So much energy in such a small area, lots of laughter, excitement, and of course fish stories.  I nodded to the regulars as I made my way to the booth and got settled in to the routine of product demos, stories, and lots and lots of handshaking.
     I had a great time and would like to thank everybody that stopped by the booth.  Lots of Lucid Fishing Grips were sold, and the new On-Track System generated a lot of interest.  A big THANK YOU to the crew at Lucid Fishing for allowing me to be in attendance.  It's been great being a part of the Lucid Fishing.  I look forward to doing more work with you guys in the future.  Next up is the MadFlyCasters Event this coming Saturday in Middleton.  Hope to see you there as we cast fly rods, talk shop, and swap fish stories.
     Tight Lines.

Join Me In Chicago!!!

     This Saturday I'll be at the Chicagoland Fishing, Travel, and Outdoor Expo.  I will be spending the day helping out my sponsor, Lucid Fishing.  Stop by the new booth, say hello, purchase a lip grip, and check out all the products that Lucid Fishing has to offer.  While you're there be sure to check out the new Lucid On-Tracks.  Designed to let you mount your gear almost anywhere.  The possibilities are endless with the On-Tracks system and you can see it first at the Chicagoland Fishing, Travel, and Outdoor Expo.
     Tight Lines.

5 Tips for Catching Bigger Bluegills

     So lately I've had the bug to catch some big bluegills, or bullgills as the panfish aficionados call them.  Not your normal eating size fish, the trophies, the ones that make the other guys out freezing in the cold jealous.  I had a pretty good idea where they would be, all I had to do was catch them.  After I released a dozen or so and posted the pictures online I got some messages asking how I caught them.  

So here's a few tips to help you catch a couple of your own.
  • Leave the Crowds Behind.
  • Find the Secondary Weed Lines
  • Downsize Your Bait
  • Learn Bite Detection
  • Limit Your Catch, Don't Catch Your Limit

     Let's take a look at the first tip, Leave the Crowds Behind.  I ducked out of work a little early the other morning (1 hour before sunrise) and headed for the lake.  To my surprise all the parking lots were already filled to capacity.  The bay I planned to fish however wasn't full, everybody was fishing in the same general area.  They were all in the first section of weeds right off of the shoreline.  Seriously, everybody was fishing right next to each other.  Could you imagine what all the commotion on top of the ice must have sounded like to the fish below?  All I know for sure is that the anglers I talked to on the way back to the truck didn't catch what I was catching.  I'm guessing the crowds and all the noise that comes with them had something to do with it.  So leave the crowds behind when trophy hunting, big fish don't get big by being stupid.
     Next up is Find the Secondary Weed Lines.  It was pretty obvious that everybody knew where the weed line was coming off the shore.  What I was shocked by was how many people didn't know about the secondary weed line farther out in the bay.  This weed line was 6-8 feet down and as it turned out, was holding a TON of fish.  When I showed other anglers where I was fishing they asked how I knew where to fish so I pulled out my phone and opened up the Navionics Boating App.  I still don't know why more people don't take advantage of this app when out on the water.  You have a $280 Vexilar to tell you if fish are under the ice, why not spend $14 to make sure you are at the right spot to begin with.

     Third on the list is Downsize Your Bait.  This is kind of a no brainer on heavily pressured waters this late in the season.  Small marmooska and ratfinkee ice jigs are my favorites.  I like to keep color choices simple and find that I have the best luck on black, green, or purple jig color variations.  I have also made the switch to all tungsten jigs since they allow me go small in size while staying heavy in weight.  When you find a school you need to get back down quickly, tungsten will make that possible.  Plus it's better for the environment.  Don't believe me?  Check out this paper about what all that lead we've introduced into our waters over the years is doing to the native wildlife.
     Learning Bite Detection is next and is probably the hardest thing to teach when chasing bullgills.  The fish may be bigger, but their bite is often much more subtle.  In fact the take can be mindbogglingly delicate.  I used to keep a few bluegills in an aquarium and I was always amazed at how fast they could take a bait in and spit it back out.  So you need to be able to detect a bite quickly.  I personally use St Croix Ice Rods with the spring indicator system.  I like these rods in ultralight and light actions for my bullgill excursions.  They are great rods for detecting a light strike, but I've came up with another good way to determine if a fish is on the line.  I tell clients they need to keep the rod moving and feel for the weight.  Don't let your rod stop moving, it should be always jigging.  Not necessarily jigging aggressively, but just enough that you can feel the jig.  If you keep it moving you can feel the rod get heavy.  It will start to load up when the fish has the bait in its mouth.  You can't see it, even with the spring indicator system, but you can feel it.  Practice this until you understand what I'm talking about and your catch rate will double when out on the ice.
     The last tip should be an easy concept to grasp, Limit Your Catch, Don't Catch Your Limit.  However I still see photos of people that seem to take pride in catching a limit on every trip.  If you want to catch bigger bluegills consistently, let the big ones go.  The big fish you catch through the ice this season are going to be the ones that are breeding this spring.  We want the big ones passing on genetics, not the little guys.  Trophy bluegills should always be put back in the water, eat the average size fish and take only what you need for a meal.  Nobody needs 25 fish for dinner every time they hit the ice.  I put back every big fish that I pulled through the ice that day.  So do us all a favor and Limit Your Catch, Don't Catch Your Limit.  There's nothing like a big bluegill swimming in circles under the ice.  Let's make sure every angler gets a chance to experience the rush that keeps us all coming back each winter.
     Tight Lines.

SWTU Ice Breaker 2016 Recap
     This past weekend I spent my Saturday at the Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited's 33rd Annual Ice Breaker event.  This was my first time to attend this wonderful gathering of fly fishing enthusiasts and it didn't disappoint.  The energy in the building upon arrival was amazing.  Everybody was hustling about and setting up tables, organizing rooms, and swapping fish stories.  Once I figured out where I was supposed to be setup (I was teaching in the Stream Explorers Program) I made my way out to the main gathering area.
     The Ice Breaker marked the first time I have personally donated raffle items to an event.  On behalf of I donated two packages.  The first was an 8 weight Orvis Encounter combo and a collection of my hand tied carp flies.  The second item was a half day guided carp on the fly trip around the Madison area.  If you're thinking it was a strange choice to donate fly carp'in gear to a trout event you might be right.  However, the prizes got a lot of attention and were very well received.  They also turned out to be the only "big rod" prizes and I was told by more than a few anglers that it was nice to see something offered that wasn't just for the driftless area.
Henry teaching fly tying.
     As I mentioned earlier I was signed up to help out with the Stream Explorers Program.  This is a great program that caters specifically to the kids in attendance.  The Stream Explorers taught fly rod rigging (that was me), fly tying, casting, entomology, and even had a coloring station.  It was a great chance to meet the next generation of anglers.  I took this opportunity to teach the kids other ways that people catch trout.  I showed them how to setup spinning rods, Tenkara rods, and even did a little primer on how to pursue big brown trout through the ice on Lake Michigan.  The kids had an absolute blast and since Trout Unlimited kept the stations moving all the kids were engaged in what they were learning.  Although I'm guessing the great prizes in the youth raffle didn't hurt either.
     The speaker for this event was none other than everybody's favorite globe trotting trout bum Jeff Currier.  He was giving multiple presentations and did some of his wonderful sharpie art on a Cliff Fly Box that he donated to the raffle.  Getting to meet Jeff was the whole reason I decided to attend this event to begin with and I will have more on that in a future post.  In the mean time you can keep up with Jeff and all his angling adventures here.
     The 2016 SWTU Ice Breaker Event was a big hit with local fly anglers and proved to be a wonderful way to spend a cold Wisconsin Saturday.  I met so many new people and was shown what Trout Unlimited is really all about.  These members truly care about the waters they fish and the communities they fish in.  With a real passion for the outdoors and a dedication to the anglers of tomorrow the Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited is a driving force in the Midwest fly fishing scene.  For more information on the SWTU chapter follow the link here.  Then make plans to attend next years Ice Breaker Event, I know I'll be there.
     Tight Lines.

MadFlyCasters Event

     The crew at MadFlyCasters are throwing another indoor fly casting event on February 6th at the Keva Sports Center from 10am-12pm.  The cost is only $5.00 and it's worth every penny.  You can bring your own rods or test out some new rods that are being provided by Fontana Sports.  It's the perfect opportunity to test out the new fly fishing rod you picked up this winter or to work out the kinks in your double haul.  Just remember NO BLACK SOLED SHOES are allowed on the courts.  I'll be in attendance with a few 8 and 10 weight rods if you want to try them out and will have the new Knee Deep Crew sticker from available free to anyone who asks for one.  For more information on the event click the link here.
     Tight Lines.

Ice Breaker

     This Saturday is the Ice Breaker event put on by the Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited.  This will be my first time attending a trout fishing event and I must admit I'm extremely excited!  This years event looks to be a great one since one of my favorite anglers on the international angling scene Jeff Currier will be the featured speaker.  Jeff has been fishing for over 40 years and has caught fish on the fly in over 50 countries (more than 325 different species).  They will also have expert fly tiers on hand and many wonderful items available for people to bid on.  Also remember to bring the kids so they can learn about fly fishing in the Stream Explorers Workshop.  From basic rigging, to fly tying, even casting, and insect identification, they will learn it all.  Best of all it's hands on so the kids will be actively engaged.  So make sure the kiddos are in attendance, they're the future of our sport.  For more information on this great fly fishing show, just follow the link here.
     Tight Lines.

Bending Branches Angler Optimus

12 foot Angler Optimus
     I rarely get excited about products I haven't personally used.  Normally when I see something in a store I go through a series of thought processes before I consider making a purchase.  Don't believe me?  It took me almost 4 months to pick out the rod I use for shark fishing from the beach.  My purchase of a Revo Toro Winch was almost a full year in the making.  This didn't happen with the Angler Optimus from Bending Branches, it was an almost instant purchase.
     The Angler Optimus is a complete system that works with the Bending Branches paddle you already use.  It's a series of fiberglass snap together sections and a comfortable T grip.  The system allows you to turn your standard kayak paddle into a SUP paddle, a canoe paddle, or a push pole.  It uses snap button ferules for a secure connection and since it's from Bending Branches, you know it is built to last.
Like a kid in a candy store (Rutabaga).
     For me though the ability to use it as a push pull is what caught my attention.  I learned over the course of the 2015 guide season that sneaking up on carp in a kayak is almost impossible with a paddle.  This growing frustration led me to look at other angling disciplines for ways to pursue fish in shallow water.  What I found was lots and lots of articles on using push poles to pursue bonefish and tarpon on the flats of sunny Florida.  I immediately started looking into the purchase of a push pole and was shocked at the price!  Also it turns out that shipping a 12-15 foot carbon fiber pole was gonna be a royal pain in the you know what.  So I gave up on the idea of using the kayak to specifically chase carp on the fly and went back to stalking them from shore.  I had almost forgotten about the whole push pole/fly carpin' idea when somebody sent me this video.
     As soon as I finished the video I rushed down to Rutabaga Paddlesports and asked about the Angler Optimus.  Unfortunately, they didn't seem to know what I was talking about.  Disappointed I wandered lazily around the showroom floor.  While looking through the huge selection of kayak fishing accessories I found it!  They had one, hanging inconspicuously in the corner of the fishing section.  I immediately snatched it from the wall and headed to the register.  "Oh that's what you meant," the associate said, "Did you see the 12 footer on the back wall?"  I bought the 12 foot model for $159.95 and headed home smiling like an idiot the whole way.  Know what I did next?
Can almost feel the warm breeze on my face.
     You guessed it, I stood on my Slayer in the garage pretending to push pole my way around a secret backwater.  I promise to do a full review of the Angler Optimus by Bending Branches as soon as the ice melts.  Until then I'll be freezing my butt off while daydreaming in a kayak on the floor of my garage.  I'm sure by now all my neighbors probably think I'm crazy.  Although in my defense, none of my neighbors are kayak anglers.
     Tight Lines.