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  • I was ready to hit the water bright and early STORY - by Slabsrus

    When Sunday, September 28th rolled around, I was ready to hit the water bright and early. The last couple weeks weather, with the cold and rain two weeks ago, and then the wonderful warm up this past week, the autumn panfish bite was pushed into full swing. By the time my wife left for work at 5:50am, I had already been awake for nearly an hour and a half loading my kayak and all the gear needed for a day of fishing. I had planned on being in my Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5 kayak for the majority of the day, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared.

    Considering the fact that I fish almost exclusively from a kayak, I keep tackle and equipment requirements to a minimum. But, even with that being the case, I still needed to take two rods, and a medium size tackle bag, just for the fishing. Then there was a camera bag with two cameras, lots of batteries and memory cards, and a 16 foot telescoping paint roller pole to use with my submersible camera. Ok, now add some food and drinks, a paddle, and a couple personal floatation devices and you get a complete checklist of what went in my kayak.

    Just as the first hint of light was visible out my front door, I headed for the lake. The wind was almost nonexistent, and there was zero percent chance for rain. It was only 49 degrees at the time, but was forecasted to get into the upper seventies. Wisps of orange and red painted the sky above a jet black tree line resting on a haze covered field. I had to stop briefly to take a couple pictures and admire the beauty of the morning, and as I stood there, I think I actually grinned and said to myself “This is the start of another great day.”



    After more than 40 years of bluegill and crappie fishing, I have learned Fall fish patterns can be just about as predictable as Spring patterns. Here in Northern and Central Michigan, I know that it will get colder in the Fall. I also know that when the nights and days start to get cold, the water temperature begins to drop. When the water temperature drops, certain zooplankton begin to flourish near the surface in somewhat shallow water bays. And I know that when zooplankton is abundant near the surface, so is much of the food chain that utilizes them. Bluegills and crappie like to eat zooplankton and the minnows that also eat the zooplankton, therefore they are often abundant near the surface, in many of the same spawn and pre-spawn bays where you will find them in the Spring. And finally, I know that when I arrived at my landing, and looked out onto the mirror calm surface of the lake, I was only a couple minute paddle from my first autumn panfish bite.

    I was the first boat on the lake, and since my boat is a kayak, the only sounds to be heard for quite some time were the occasional slosh of my kayak paddle and the birds. The clouds had lost their fiery morning glow and become thin and pure white against the brilliant blue sky. Hints of autumn glowed in orange and yellow foliage, highlighting the leafy green shoreline in the distance. As I neared my favorite autumn fishing spot, my eyes were drawn away from the beauty surrounding the lake, and onto the surface of the lake itself.



    About 50 yards ahead of me there were ripples on the surface, but everywhere else around me was flat calm. There was no wind, yet the water was moving. I raised my paddle from the water, laid it across my lap, and just sat in peace. Tweets and whistles from the local birds seemed to wash away any of life’s issues. I was calmer than I have been in a while, and yet my heart was beating a bit faster than usual. The ripples I had noticed were now just 20 yards away and they had come to life with the pops and gulps of bluegills and crappies feeding just under the surface. I took a look over the side of my kayak and there they were, zooplankton, millions and millions of zooplankton, and the fish were gorging themselves on them.

    In a matter of just a couple minutes there were three other schools of panfish feeding within 75 yards of me. I could hear the distinctive “pop” of a surface feeding bluegills as they would gulp at their prey close enough to the surface of the water for their mouths to emerge. I could literally see the backs of crappies and bluegills rising out of the water. The wide open paper thin jaws of crappies would break the surface, followed by an arching back and dorsal fin, as the fish fed on the tiny aquatic creatures. There was plenty of food to go around so I figured it was time to bait up and assume my role in the food chain.



    My bait combination was my usual 1/64 ounce orange jig, tipped with Berkley Gulp minnows. My rod and reel combos were ultralight Quantum Optix 10 reels, one on a six and a half foot rod and one on a 4 and a half foot rod. Both rigs were spooled with new four pound test the night before. On the shorter rod I used a clear in-line bobber pegged with a stick match, allowing for easy depth adjustment, and a bobber that doesn’t spook the fish. On the six and a half foot combo I used just the jig and bait without a bobber. The longer rod allows good casting distance without a bobber, and gives me a bit more distance from the kayak when I am just dipping around the wood structure. My tackle was rigged, the camera was rolling, and the fish were in range, so I made my first cast of the day.

    That initial cast set the tone, for as soon as my jig and bobber hit the water, the match stick peg went upright and then the bobber disappeared into the water. I raised my rod tip in a quick back swing and hooked into a good fish. Though I only managed to get about three turns of the reel handle before the fish got away, I knew some of the fish would be willing to bite what I was offering. It was only a couple more casts before I was hooked into another fish.

    On that second fish I made sure to keep tension on the line while I reeled, preventing a real nice bluegill from shaking my hook. He was a solid eight incher and was my first of the day, so I stuck to my tradition and released him. My next cast had the same result, and in just a few minutes I had landed and released two very respectable bluegills and was ready to start stringing a few for a fish fry.

    The school that I had been fishing in slowly disappeared so I moved toward the next closest ripples. Not wanting to spook the entire school of fish, I carefully cast my rig just to the edge of the feeding fish. I let it sit for a couple seconds and then gave it a little twitch along with two or three cranks of the reel. With a swift pop and a little splash, my bobber submerged and I set the hook again. It felt like a nice fish, and at first glance looked to be a crappie. It fought like a crappie, but there was a bit more of a sideways pull like a bluegill. When the fish was just a few feet from my kayak I saw a flash of silvery gray and was then sure it was a good crappie. After a few more reel turns there was just five feet of line from my bobber to the end of my rod, so I lifted the rod tip up and back, to place the fish alongside my kayak and reached down to grab it. When I looked over at the fish I realized that it was not a crappie, but was instead a white bass about ten and a half inches long, and was the largest white bass I had ever landed. My day could have ended right there and it would have been complete, but I fished on and kept the cameras rolling.



    With one camera mounted on a tripod directly in front of me, I switched between taking pictures and filming myself and the schools of feeding fish. The other camera is submersible, so I attached it to my telescoping paint roller pole and probed the waters. Early in the morning I extended the pole all the way out to 16 feet and dangled the camera off the end, just under the surface about 8 feet in front of the kayak. I tried easing the camera into the unsuspecting schools of fish before getting to close with my kayak. At times it appeared the camera was surrounded by fish, but not being a camera that is capable of viewing while filming, I would have to wait until I got home and viewed the memory card to know if I had captured any footage of fish. I was only able to run my submersible camera for ten or fifteen minutes of surface footage before the sun had climbed high and other boats started to show up. The ripples of surface feeding fish had vanished, and I knew it was time to go a bit deeper and closer to cover.



    I paddled about 50 yards until I was within casting distance of one of my favorite inside corners on the entire lake. That particular spot has water that is five to eight feet deep within 20 feet of shore, with weeds beginning right on the edge of where water drops from three feet into five feet and deeper. A lot of boats fish that spot but I often see them pull right into deep water just a few feet from the weed edges, and catch mostly small panfish. I have learned over the years that good size crappies and bluegills will be both on the weed edges and in the open deeper water within 50 feet or so from the weeds. When those larger motor boats and pontoons pull into those areas, I believe the fish get spooked and are likely to move or just not bite until the boat moves. But when I pull in there with my kayak in stealth mode it’s a different story. So I eased my way over and began to cast.

    I began casting so that my bobber landed about 50 feet from shore, toward the outer limits of where I thought fish would be holding. That particular area is basically open water out there, eight to ten feet deep, with a few scattered weeds, so it seems quite barren. But when you look at the area in detail, it is the classic spot for bluegills and crappies to be hanging out. With weeds along the shoreline drop, open water with scattered weeds in close proximity to both the shore and deeper water, and a submerged point, an amazing inside corner exists, and I was going to take advantage of it by starting at the outer edge and working my casts inward toward the shore.

    My first half dozen casts produced crappies in the eight to eleven inch range, allowing me to add some excellent fish to my stringer. One cast after another was answered with a thump from a crappie or a quick bite and run by nice bluegill. I placed my casts into very specific locations in reference to prior casts, methodically picking off fish and working my way toward the shoreline drop. As I fished closer to shore the open water fish were a bit smaller on average, but once I hit the drop off weed line, I got into a mix of real nice fish. That spot rewarded me with over twenty five very nice panfish, which I released at least half of before I decided to try a bit wood structure dipping to finish my day.



    When I arrived at the submerged tree that I wanted to fish, I put away my short rod with the bobber and grabbed my long pole. With no bobber on that set up, I just let about seven feet of line out so that my jig could reach the bottom amongst the tree trunk and many submerged limbs of the tree. Protruding over 30 feet from shore, with the majority of it under water, that tree extends into seven or eight feet of water, and offers prime cover for all kinds of fish. With the presence of so many limbs and branches to get snagged on, I prefer not to cast a bobber rig into that area, but instead I just sat quietly directly over the sunken tree and dipped my micro jig and soft plastic around the structure.

    It has always amazed me how many fish will congregate on certain pieces of structure, and as I pulled one good crappie after another from that single tree, I tried to image what it looked like down there. Is it mossy? Are there hooks and lines dangling all over from years of anglers trying the same spot? How many branches were actually on that tree? Those same questions had run through my mind many times over the years, but the one thing different about that day, was I had my submersible camera with me. So after landing more than 20 good fish from the submerged structure, I turned on the submersible camera and lowered it into the tangle of sticks and tree trunks below my kayak.





    I probed my camera around there for about ten minutes before calling it quits for the day. My stinger was loaded with a 25 fish limit and I was anxious to get home and view my footage.

    What a surprise I had waiting for me when I started looking at my underwater video footage. I had managed to capture a couple schools of bluegills during the early morning surface feed along with a largemouth bass, a smallmouth bass, and a whole bunch of crappies hanging out around the tree. I honestly don’t know how my day could have been any better.
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. CCcrappiejohn's Avatar
      CCcrappiejohn -
      Great thanks for sharing.
    1. Billbob's Avatar
      Billbob -
      you got picks
    1. bigarm's Avatar
      bigarm -
      Thanks for sharing. Great pics
    1. brucec's Avatar
      brucec -
      Great fish, great photos, and great read thanks for sharing
    1. Luvfatslabs's Avatar
      Luvfatslabs -
      Good read
    1. Sawdustsavage's Avatar
      Sawdustsavage -
      Don't you just love underwater cams. Nice pics
    1. ready2fish's Avatar
      ready2fish -
      good story, I really like the pictures
    1. ronetone's Avatar
      ronetone -
      cool shots of the underwater
    1. litewirehooker's Avatar
      litewirehooker -
      Great Pics....looks like good time
    1. broz's Avatar
      broz -
      Thanks for sharing
    1. NYHellbender's Avatar
      NYHellbender -
      Good read and great pictures as allways Slabsrus
    1. SeaRay's Avatar
      SeaRay -
      Great story and pictures. Well written, when you first started seeing the fish feeding on top I badly wanted to cast my fly rod with a Griffin Gnat into the action.
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