I caught my personal best bass, took a lot of first-timers out kayak fishing, and focused on species other than my usual favorite, smallmouth bass. I also relocated to a different area in Pennsylvania where the Susquehanna is narrow, there’s access to many remote lakes and ponds, and the winter comes in a blink of the eye. Below are my results and most memorable moments from my 2014 season.
The best catch hands down was the gigantic largemouth I landed earlier this August. The fishing trip was completely spontaneous; I was planning on heading out later in the day with one of my good friends, but my boyfriend wanted to hit the water before he had to work at 2 PM. We headed out around 11:30 and arrived at the spot by 12. The area is a nearby reservoir that is filled with dead trees, thick algae, and lots of lily pads. Less than a half hour went by and I felt my line tighten during a slow drift with a Lockett Lures Outlet soft stick bait. I started reeling in what looked to be a 6 lb largemouth. As it started to near the kayak it jumped out of the water and tossed my lure.
Frustrated, I paddled back up to the area I hooked it in and started another drift. I thought for sure that was going to be the big one I lost that day, but I was wrong. Five or so minutes passed and once again my line got tight, but this time, I knew I had something insanely large on the end. I was beyond determined to get the fish in and was careful to not let it throw my lure like the previous one did. After an awesome adrenaline infused battle, I got the beast in. She was 24 inches long with an 18 inch girth, still not sure of the exact weight, but most bass calculators put it around 10 pounds. Once I got her into my lap I felt like I was in shock. My hands were trembling as I stared dumbfounded, as if it was if it was my first fish and I didn’t know how to handle it. I absolutely couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t on the water more than 45 minutes and I had landed my personal best largemouth!
In 2014 I moved to the endless mountains in northern Pennsylvania. Not only are the winters longer, but also the wind gusts tend to be stronger due to a lot of the lakes being on the top of mountains. My biggest challenge was learning how to adapt to abrupt wind gusts without limiting myself by anchoring at a spot. Through trial and error I found that the best method for catching fish in an area with wind gusts was to use a drift and drag weightless method. To do this I would first determine which way the wind was predominately blowing. After that it’s pretty simple, paddle up in front of the wind, cast out, and let the wind push you to the other end while occasionally twitching your lure. Most of the summer I used this method with various soft plastics weightless rigged such as senko style worms (both wacky and weedless rigged) as well as weightless tubes and flukes.
MOST MEMORABLE DAY
The most memorable day fishing I had this past year was taking one of my good friends kayak fishing for the first time. My friend is quite the angler, but he’s used to chasing after trophy trout from boats on the big lakes. When I first heard that he never kayaked before, I knew that I needed to take him out. We hit the water around 2 PM and fished until just before dark. Both of us were having a blast catching over 10 bass each on variety of lures including Lure Concepts buzz baits with soft plastic trailers, swim baits, and dark colored with chartreuse tip Lockett Lure fatties. It was awesome seeing my friend’s reaction on how stable and easy kayak fishing is. We both fished in areas that boats could never reach due to submerged trees, thick lily pads, and tight spaces. Sean loved the fact we could fish separately in different spots without having to compromise, but we still could communicate across the water. I’m just excited I was able to show a dear friend, who’s a lover of fishing, the joys and differences of kayaking.
The funniest moment of my past fishing season happened as I went to load up my kayaks after a good day of fishing. We were the only ones on the lake for the majority of the day and around the early evening a man pulled up with his jon boat and took forever to launch it. I kept wondering what on Earth he was doing and finally figured it out when I was done fishing for the day…he stole my tie down ropes! I was borrowing my Grandmothers Subaru Forester, which was already a pretty funny sight to begin with having two kayaks laid down on the backseats of a 250k mile vehicle with the hydraulics broken on the trunk. Originally I had the kayaks tied down in the back and then in the front to double secure them. However, the man stole the longest ropes I had. Luckily, I found a small rope in the passenger’s seat that was just long enough to be able to handle-tie two kayaks to the headrests of the car. Needless to say it was quite a fun ride back home. The drive is filled with many mountain roads, most being gravel only with a numerous amount of crater sized potholes. We had to hold onto the kayaks every time we went up the hills. Thanks, man who stole my ropes, for a ride back filled with laughter and uncertainty!
WORST FISHING MOMENT
In the area I recently moved to there are a bunch of nearby ponds and lakes. Almost everyone around who owns a chunk of land has a pond built because the ground tends to have a lot of clay and therefore water is retained easily. The worst moment of my 2014 season was realizing how big of a fish kill occurred in a nearby favorite lake. My aunt introduced me to the spot a few years back and it was always pretty promising. She pulled a few trophy largemouth out of it and I’ve caught some 20+ largemouth out of there as well. In 2012 I noticed the algae and underwater plant life in general was increasing. Both my aunt and I had to switch primarily to top water baits because plant life was too thick to get reactions most of the time. In late 2013, she told me she witnessed a fish kill to what we think was suffocation due to oxygen levels decreasing from the increasing plant life. She said the lake smelled horrible and she witnessed many trophy bass floating on the surface. In 2014, I fully realized how damaged the lake became. On a bad day, the lake used to give you at least a couple topwater blow-ups each hour. However, after fishing the lake 6 or so times in 2014, catching a fish was pretty rare. I think the largest I pulled out of the lake was only a mere 13 inches, compared to the old 18-inch average. I haven’t been back since mid July, but will try again in 2015, to see if anything has changed, but I feel it’s not going to be promising for quite sometime. Usually once a fish kill starts, there’s not much that can be done to fix it. Oxygen is found in water due to underwater plant life. During the day, the plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis. However at night, the plants will use the dissolved oxygen in the water for their own respiration. Fish kills occur when the oxygen levels get too low. Usually these kills tend to kill large fish and sensitive species. Smaller fish usually to survive, which is why the fish I caught there over the summer were very small.
MOST INTERESTING OBSERVATION
I noticed, after fishing the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers the past few years on different stretches, not only are the numbers of bass with skin discoloration spots are increasing, but the number of largemouth found in the river has been increasing as well. Back in 2012, it was rare to catch a largemouth in a Pennsylvania river, especially a bass that was of a decent size. Over the years I’ve caught a few largemouth in the rivers here and there, however, the amount of largemouth I caught in the Susquehanna River in 2014 was significant. In fact, it was significant enough that I actually adapted my usual smallmouth techniques to a mixture of both largemouth and smallmouth. From my observations, there are so many largemouth in the river that it is low-balling it to say that you catch one largemouth per every two smallmouth.
MOST SPECIES CAUGHT (OTHER THAN BASS)
This past year I really learned how to hook and land pickerel. Pickerel used to be a fish that prior to this year, I typically associated with ice fishing because I tend to catch a bunch during the winter season, however, this past year I caught more than previous years. From my experience, if you’re fishing an area that has a decent amount of pickerel and you’ve experienced a “miss” on the surface, pickerel are usually the culprit. Whether it is you had your line sliced after a topwater hit, or have a complete miss, pickerel tend to be the reason why. I caught a lot of pickerel the past year on white soft plastics cast towards the edge of lily pads in shallow water. Most pickerel were caught in water depths between one and six feet. I switched to soft plastics after having many aggressive line slicing blow-ups on the surface. I first tried using top water lures with steel leaders, but instead of pickerel hitting it and staying on, they wouldn’t hit at all. To compensate for the aggressive attacks I switched to non-topwater soft plastics and was able to hook onto them without slicing the line. Of course, you have to be careful when pulling one close to your kayak after tiring it out, but it gives you a better chance than having it slice your line initially.
My favorite event during the 2014 season was the Big Spring Festival in Bellefonte, PA. It’s normally a festival where there are food vendors, free crafts for children, and the local fish and boat commission stocks trout into Spring Creek. This past year I brought a twist to the festival by promoting and attempting to spark a fishing interest in children. With the help of many generous donations, I was able to give over 150 children bags of free fishing lures and fishing accessories. If I didn’t spark the interest in the children receiving the lures, I definitely rekindled the memories their parents had of fishing in the past. Many adults talked to me about fishing memories and how they wanted to take their children out fishing in the near future.