We spend time every March in the Florida Keys, and the devistation from Hurricane Irma has certainly been on our mind over the last week. Thankfully our friends down there all made it through, but now the real work begins… Please keep all of them in your thoughts, and do whatever you can to help them out. It's a great place with incredibly resilient people, and we'll be back visiting Captain Jim Willcox and Captain Vic Gaspeny as soon as we can.
One of our favorite families from Fayetteville, AR returned for their annual fall trip to the Hayward area on Tuesday. My partner Terry Peterson and I spent the first of a three day trip with the Whitfield crew. Bill and Ruth were in the boat with Terry for the morning shift, and I had Cheri Holzer along with her son Josh Maier. Always good to have these Razorbacks back in the boat! Sunny skies and warm temps moved into northern Wisconsin, and it felt a lot more like July than September on the water. No wind and a huge bug hatch along with high skies made for conditions we don't see a lot this time of year. We spent our morning fishing walleyes, and the first school I parked on was stubborn. After only catching one small fish, we moved and got into a few biters in 35' – 38' of water. It was a slow bite, but Cheri and Josh were able to put some decent fish in the net up to 18" using jigs and slip bobbers with minnows. Cheri switched out with her husband Mark after lunch, and we targeted smallies. Josh and Mark started out quickly putting a couple of fat brownies up to 18" in the net right off the bat using jigs and minnows in 5' – 10' of water. The action slowed after our fast start though, and we bounced around quite a bit during the rest of the afternoon catching one here and one there on top and along rock edges. A good pattern never set up for us, and the spots we fished seemed to have scattered schools of fish. Water temps started at 65 degrees and hit 70 in the afternoon. When we got to the landing at quitting time, it was no surprise to find out that Terry's boat had clobbered a bunch of fish in less than 5' of water. "The Professor" was on them… Bug hatches do strange things to smallmouth patterns, but always remember that they follow the food. If you crack that code this time of year, you'll have some big days. Fabulous weather and fabulous people. I'll take them both every time!
We've had some real heros in the boat over the last couple of weeks. Dave Bender from Lake Havasu, AZ returned for a trip to the Hayward area on Wednesday. Dave flew Apache Helicoptors during Desert Storm in 1990 and spent a career in the military. He's got some great stories, and it was a pleasure to have him back in the boat. Our "July" like temperatures continued, and we spent our morning targeting walleyes. A little bit of wind makes a ton of difference on our lakes, and a nice south breeze helped get things going for us. After locating fish in 35' of water on our electronics, it didn't take long for the net to get wet. Dave landed a pile of fish up to 24" on nightcrawlers, and it was another good example of making sure you stay diverse in your presentations. We tried minnows as well, but if you weren't fishing a crawler, you weren't catching fish. I even tried a few jigging spoons and Jigging Raps, but it was completely a crawler situation… Multiple doubles and a bunch of big fish made for a morning that would be hard to beat. With his limit on ice, Dave wanted to get after the smallmouth in the afternoon. Terry Peterson gave me a good tip from the previous day on a shallow bite, and it turned out to be spot on. Big surprise! After a bit of searching, we fount a bunch of hungry fish on rock piles in 2' -5' of water using plastics. Dave landed a fat 19" fish along with several others, and it was the perfect ending to a near perfect day. Water temps were the same as the day before starting at 65 and ending at 70 degrees. I didn't hit my trailer exactly right when pulling loading my boat at the landing, and that was the end our our perfection. It's hard to be perfect! Thanks for your service Dave and for another great day. Can't wait to do it again!
The Whitfield crew was back with us on Thursday, and they spent the day with Terry Peterson and I on a crappie mission in the Hayward Lakes area. Summer like temperatures continued, and there was a cool haze in the sky throughout the day as a result from the smoke caused by the fires burning in Montana right now. With all of the hurricane business going on, we've forgotten about our friends out west. Best wishes to all of the guys and gals out there dealing with that mess! Whenever this happens, it makes for some of the coolest sunrises you'll ever see. The picture I took doesn't do it much justice, so you'll have to take my word for it… The crappies at our first stop of the day were definitely not in a cooperative mood. We marked plenty of fish in 20' – 25' of water, but the bite was extremely slow. We were able to catch a few up to 12" on plastics, but by noon a move was in order. Lake #2 produced a much better bite. We found big schools of fish in 25' – 30' of water and had steady action on plastics until quitting time. Cheri, Mark, and Josh put a bunch of fish in the boat, and it was a fun afternoon with lots of catching. Water temperatures were in the mid to high 60's, and they are definitely playing a role in the funky crappie bite from lake to lake. I'm loving this weather, but a cool down will definitely start to concentrate fish in more predictable patterns. I shouldn't have said that… One more day with this crew before they head south, and I have a feeling smallmouth and walleyes will be involved. Good stuff!
Kirby Krischke and his wife Susan (Hudson, WI) attempted to put in a day on Chequamegon Bay with me last year. We made it about an hour before we had to move inland, and his second attempt was Deja Vu. This time he brought along his neighbor and friend Brian Wert. I picked them up at the River Rock Inn and was hopefull we could finally get it done on the bay after several attempts over the past few months. Weather conditions have made things really tough out there this season, and we weren't going to break the curse on Friday. When we arrived at our first spot, winds were blowing from the NE. Brian and Kirby quickly put a few good fish up to 20" in the net before things got out of hand. 20 – 25 mph gusts made it impossible, and we had to make a change. This is crazy… Inland we went, and my crew wanted to catch a few crappies to bring home for a fry. It didn't take long to make that happen. We located fish over mud flats in 25' – 30' of water and parked on them using slip bobbers and plastics along with jigging spoons. Action came in flurries with lots of goofy wind and weather. We started out with SE winds and ended up with NW winds by quitting time. In between wind changes the lake would lay flat and the bite would slow. Wierd weather… My crew had no problem putting their limit of keepers up to 11" in the box, and we had lots of laughs throughout the afternoon. Good guys and good times! Water temps hit 70 degrees by the end of the day, and it seems like summer has finally arrived. Better late than never! Brian is a die hard Badger fan, and I have no doubt that's why things worked out. You had the "right" shirt on! Thanks for a fun day fellas. Go Bucky!!!
Terry Peterson and I spent Saturday with the Whitfields for the last day of their trip in the Hayward area. Bill has been fishing with us for a long time and mentioned that he never remembered fishing in a t-shirt every day during his fall trip. I think he's right… July and August weren't this nice!!! The good weather and good bite trend continued. Cheri, Mark, and Josh were back in my boat and, we focused on walleyes in the morning. It took some time to settle in, but we finally marked a good school of fish in 40' of water. They weren't easy to locate, but after dropping anchor we had steady action throughout the morning using jigs and slip bobbers with minnows and nightcrawlers. Cheri was the AM champ landing a pile of good fish, but Josh took home "Big Fish" honors with a nice 21" eyeball he put in the net. Don't worry… Mark would get his revenge. In the afternoon, we targeted smallmouth and found a good school of fish along a rock pile in 10' – 15' of water. A nice south wind pushed us perfectly as we drifted with minnows, and Mark definitely had the hot hand. He put fish after fish in the net but was nice enough to let Cheri and Josh land a few in between. Did I mention that this family is a bit competitive? Hey… It all works out in the end! Water temperatures were in the high 60's, and our largest smallmouth landed hit the 20" mark. Super way to end a super trip, and I always hate to see this crew go home… These guys have caught a bunch of fish with us over the years, but it'll be hard to beat this trip. We'll keep trying!!!
Unseasonably warm temperatures are keeping our water temps from cooling down to more "normal" fall fishing conditions, but I don't think anyone is going to complain about it. Plenty of cold days are ahead, and we'll enjoy every warm one we get. The Badger football team is 3 – 0, and the Packers won their opener. Life is good!