March 20, 2012
By Ned Kehde
At the behest of some members of the Finesse News Network and readers of our blogs, we will continue to make addendums to the "Month-by-Month-Guide to Midwest Finesse," which was posted on Jan. 11. ( http://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/01/11/a-month-by-month-guide-to-midwest-finesse/).
It will be accomplished by reworking our fishing reports that are circulated to members of the Finesse News Network. It will also include a few comments and observations of other anglers from various locales who are devotees of Midwest finesse tactics.
Across the next several weeks, we will have three new addendums: one featuring our January outings, a second one will be based on our February endeavors, and a third featuring all of the outings from Mar. 1 through Mar. 19, which marks the end of the winter of 2011-12.
These blogs will note our work with a new finesse bait that Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, designed and Z-Man Fishing Products made a prototype for us to test. Five of them arrived in the mail on Jan. 23, and we commenced testing them the next day.
It will also chronicle some observations about the winter's unseasonably warm and windy weather, noting that the redbud trees bloomed in Lawrence, Kansas, 37 days before they normally bloom on April 20. What's more, an area angler picked a mushroom on Mar. 14, which is unheard of. To our dismay, the warm wind caused our daffodils to start wilting on Mar. 15. Then to our surprise and delight, the surface temperature at one of our reservoirs hit 59 degrees on Mar. 16.
A long family adventure and Old Man Winter's antics (his windy spells were especially wicked and incessant) kept us off the water between Dec. 28, 2011 and Jan. 24. To read about our first two outings during the winter of 2011-12, please see the blog posted on Feb. 1 (http://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/02/01/the-value-of-fishing-logs-and-how-we-tally-our-bass-catches/).
The first outing of 2012 commenced at the same 2,600-acre power-plant reservoir that we closed 2011 upon. I had hoped to fish a 100-acre community reservoir, but when we arrived at the boat ramp at 9:15 a.m., about 40% of the lake was covered with ice. Thus, I meandered eastward and southward, hoping to find some ice-free water at two other community reservoirs, but to my dismay, they had a lot of ice covering them. Ultimately, I drove another 47 miles to the power-plant reservoir.
I began fishing at 11 a.m., focusing on several largemouth bass lairs that lie within the warm-water plume. It is an expansive area, consisting of four bluffs, about mile of riprap shorelines and several massive flats. The flats are graced with some submerged creek channels, ditches, roadbeds, ledges and stumps.
The wind angled out of the east by southeast about 8 mph. The morning low temperature was 16 degrees, reaching an afternoon high of 53 degrees. Initially the sky was partly cloudy; then the sun shined brightly for the rest of the day.
The water was stained to the point that I couldn't see the trolling motor and propeller, but it was considerably clearer than it was on Dec. 21, 2011, when it was murky from a heavy downpour that hit its watershed on Dec. 20. A lot of the stain seemed to have been created by an algal bloom, as well as many days of heavy and incessant winds.
The surface temperatures in the warmest segment of the plume ranged from 59 to 61 degrees.
For the first two hours, the fishing was extremely trying. During this spell, I was fishing lairs where the surface temperature was as cool as 48 degrees and no warmer than 52 degrees.
In these areas, I was primarily wielding Z-Man's prototype, which Drew Reese designed. Essentially, it is a slim three-inch ZinkerZ embellished with four tentacles on one end. There were only 10 of these baits poured, and the only color was watermelon with green-flakes, which has never been an affective hue for alluring bass in the reservoirs of northeasternKansas. The prototype was rigged on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Original Mushroom Jig Head on a No. 4 hook. The tentacles were situated around the collar of the jig. It should be noted that Reese designed it so that the tentacles were at the tail rather than the head of the bait. I occasionally used Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on a chartreuse 1/32-ounce Gopher jig and a green-pumpkin Rain MinnowZ on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. During those first two hours, I garnered only several bites and caught only two white bass, three wipers and two largemouth bass.
After 1:30 p.m., I used only a green-pumpkin Z-Man 3.75-inch StreakZ on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig and the green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on the 1/32-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig. For the next 90 minutes, I caught 23 largemouth, one crappie and a big freshwater drum. The StreakZ caught five of those bass, and the ShadZ caught 18 of them. All were caught along two bluffs.
The best presentation with the ShadZ was to make extremely short casts that were parallel to the shoreline of the bluff and to shake, swim and glide it in two to four feet of water.
I ended the day with 25 largemouth bass, four white bass, three wipers, one crappie and one freshwater drum. The biggest bass weighted four pounds and another weighed three pounds, nine ounces.
On the drive home, I noticed that much of the ice had melted on the ponds and one of the community reservoirs.
I fished a 195-acre community reservoir from 11:15 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. To my chagrin, ice was covering 20% of the lake, and it was covering the best wintertime areas.
Traditionally the best wintertime locales are shallow flats that are embellished with aquatic vegetation, such as coontail and curly-lead pondweed. The most fruitful depths range from three to six feet.
I searched in vain for aquatic vegetation on the flats that were ice free.
For much of last year, this reservoir has been stained with an intense algal bloom, but on this outing the algal bloom has finally petered out and the water was virtually crystalline. In December, the algal bloom had the water so murky that the bass exhibited the pale-yellow hue of bass that inhabit muddy waterways, but the six bass that I struggled mightily to catch on this outing displayed their beautiful wintertime tones, looking as if the had been extracted from the clear waters of Bull Shoals Lake or some other clear-water Ozark impoundment.
Some anglers suspect that the heavy algal bloom adversely affected the growth of the aquatic vegetation in 2011. The water was so stained that the photosynthesis was impeded. Therefore, the aquatic plants were unable to survive
The surface temperature was 37 to 38 degrees.
The wind was often calm, but occasionally it erupted at about 10 mph of the south. Then it became totally calm again.
Area thermometers ranged from 33 to 53 degrees. For spells, the sky was blue and sunny; then for awhile, it was partly cloudy.
Besides the algal bloom, this lake was hit by the largemouth bass virus in 2009. Then during the massive heat wave in August of 2011, a significant fish kill erupted, and for a couple weeks, scores of dead bass, bluegill and channel catfish floated upon this reservoir's surface. In short, the bass population isn't as plentiful as it was five winters ago.
After catching only six bass on the flats, I plied two 45-degree and steeper rock banks and several deep rock piles that are adjacent to a deep submerged creek channel, but I failed to garner a strike. By the way, these deeper and more vertical terrains are what many bass anglers consider to be the best wintertime locales, but those of us who employ finesse tactics have never found them to yield as many wintertime largemouth bass, as the shallow flats bedecked with aquatic vegetation.
I used a variety of baits: the Z-Man prototype on 1/32-ounce red Gopher jig, green-pumpkin 3.75" StreakZ on a 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig, a pearl Rain MinnowZ on a red 1/32- and 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a green-pumpkin Rain MinnowZ on a 1/32- and 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig, and a green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ on a 1/32-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig. I also made several presentations with a jerkbait that was painted a Table Rock shad hue.
The six bass were caught on a flat in five to six feet of water on the StreakZ, pearl Rain MinnowZ and Finesse ShadZ. I could detect if there was any aquatic vegetation in the locales that the bass were caught. Four were caught of back-to-back casts. After that there were untold numbers of fruitless casts.
After yesterday's problematic endeavors at one of our cold-water lakes, I concluded that there was still too much ice covering the best wintertime bass abodes. Thus, Bob Gum o f Kansas City and I teamed up to fish the 2,600-acre power-plant lake. It was my second outing there this week.
The low temperature in Lawrence this morning was 19 degrees, but at Olathe, which lies just 20 miles east of Lawrence, the low was 33 degrees, and this amazed Gum and me. The afternoon high in Olathe and Lawrence reached 56 degrees. When we started fishing, the wind was light and variable, and it was sunny. By 11 a.m. the wind was howling from the north by northwest at 23 to 30 mph, and it was partly cloudy.
We fished from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
The surface temperature at the boat ramp was 47 degrees.
The water clarity was the same as it was on Jan. 24: stained to the point that the trolling motor and propeller wasn't visible.
We started the outing, plying a long stretch of riprap on the east side of the lake. It lies within the outside fringe of the warm-water plume. Here the surface temperature was 48 degrees. We caught one three-pound largemouth on a green-pumpkin 3.75" StreakZ on a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig and two freshwater drum.
Then we fished a main-lake hump and roadbed, where the surface temperature was 48 degrees; we failed to get a strike.
After we fished the hump, we fished two bluffs on the southwest rim of the warm-water plume. We also fished some of the flat between the two bluffs. The surface temperature was 58 degrees. Along the steepest bluff, we caught 14 largemouth bass and seven on the shallower one. We also caught two crappie. These fish were caught on Z-Man's prototype affixed to a red 1/32-ounce Gopher jig and a mud-minnow-hue Rain MinnowZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. The surface temp here was 58 degrees. We also caught two crappie.
Next we fished a flat and creek channel edge on the west side of the lake. Here the surface temperature was 60 degrees. Gum kept the boat in the heart of the channel, which was about nine feet deep. We made 35-foot casts, which placed our baits well onto the flat and into two to three feet of water. We retrieved our bait with a swim-glide and shake retrieve, working them over the creek channel edge and into the channel. Besides the prototype and Rain MinnowZ, we used a 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. We caught five largemouth, three wipers, two white bass and one channel catfish.
(It needs to be noted that best ZinkerZ color was a pearl one that had been accidental stored with a chartreuse one, making the color pearl-chartreuse. The mud-minnow-hue Rain MinnowZ had also been accidental stored with a chartreuse ZinkerZ, and it had a shadowy-chartreuse hue.)
As we finished fishing this flat, the wind began to how, angling out of the northwest with some gusts reaching 23 mph, and it prevented us from fishing the next bluff, which was buffeted by 60-degree water.
So we searched for some calmer areas, and elected to try a short section of the shoreline immediately above the first island; this area was sheltered from the northwest wind, and it is also enhanced by a submerged roadbed. The surface temperature was 58 degrees, and it yielded three largemouth bass.
Then we fished a somewhat wind-sheltered portion of another bluff, where were eked out 12 largemouth bass and one crappie, catching them on the 2 ½" ZinkerZ, prototype and Rain MinnowZ.
After that we decided to surrender to the wind. It was too much of an obstacle to overcome.
We caught 37 largemouth, three wipers, three crappie, two white bass, two freshwater drum and one channel catfish. We failed to catch any lunkers. Three of the bass looked to be three-pounders, and two others were 2 1/2-pounders.
We caught them on a variety of retrieves; we couldn't establish a solid retrieve pattern.
On the way home Gum and I talked about how the winter had been relatively mild and how the wind had kept us off of some reservoirs and even at bay on many days. What's more, we wondered why we hadn't been able to find significant concentrations of bass since early December, which is unusual. Without a lot of bass to catch, we can't develop a system, such as the best retrieve and best locations and best lure or lures to employ. Traditionally, we have caught a significant number of four- to six-pound largemouth bass during the winter, but not this winter, and that puzzled us. We wondered if the algal blooms had anything to do with our inabilities at alluring the lunker-size bass.
What an odd but delightful January. I examined my logs for previous Januaries, and the last time that I had fished this 195-acre community reservoir on Jan. 30 occurred in 2006. Back then this reservoir was primo. What's more, Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, Dick Bessey of Lawrence, Kansas, and I were much younger, too, and we spent a lot of hours fishing this reservoir during January of 2006 wielding jerkbaits, catching from 15 to 40 bass an outing, and occasionally tangling with a lunker that weighed about five pounds. Those were also the days when we used YUM's two-inch Wooly Beavertails and YUM's three-inch Dingers on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. At times, we also used four-inch worms on a Gopher jig. During the winter of 2005-06, this lake had significant patches on coontail on the flats in three to eight feet of water, but those have disappeared. Of course, that was before it was hit by the largemouth bass virus.
On this outing the water, clarity was the clearest that I have seen it in a long, long time. There was a bit of ice in the east arm, but 99% of the lake was ice free. The surface temperature at 10:45 a.m. was 37 degrees. By the time I made my last cast, it was 39 degrees, and at one spot, it hit 40 degrees for a few seconds.
For a third of the four hours and 15 minutes that I fished, it was partly cloudy. The rest of the time it was sunny. Area thermometers hit a morning low of 39 degrees and an afternoon high of 67 degrees. The wind was pesky, angling out of the south at nine to 22 mph.
I fished four areas. Three were traditional ice-out spots.
I didn't garner a bite for an hour and 20 minutes. Then I found a concentration of largemouth bass in the back of the south feeder arm. It was at a traditional ice-out location. These bass were in 4 1/2 to 6 1/2 feet of water. I think they were associated with emerging curly-leaf pondweed, but I couldn't feel any of it on my lures.
Within an area slightly larger than a football field, I landed 29 largemouth bass and failed to land four other largemouth bass. I also elicited about a dozen short strikes. The other three areas that I fished failed to produce a bite. None of the bass were bigger than 2 1/2 pounds.
The bulk of the bass were caught on a green-pumpkin-and-blue-flake Finesse Shad on a 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig. Four were caught on a PB&J Rain MinnowZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher. Another four were caught on Z-Man's prototype ZinkerZ with tentacles affixed to a 1/32-ounce red Gopher jig. One was caught on a watermelon/red flake StreakZ on a red 1/32-ounce Gopher jig. A jerkbait, pearl Rain MinnowZ and green-pumpkin Rain MinnowZ failed to garner a strike.
A drag-and-incessant-shake was the best retrieve, but I caught a few on the swim-slide-and-shake retrieve.
The bass seemed to be constantly circling or gamboling about, moving almost clockwise around this flat. Thus after I caught a few of them, they would disappear. Then I would search for them within this area the size of a football field, and eventually we would cross paths again, and then I would catch some of them, and then we would play hide and seek again and again.
One of the tricks to catching wintertime largemouth bass in the reservoirs of northeastern Kansas when the ice melts is to locate a big concentration of them. During the winter many of our largemouth bass congregate in big schools like our white crappie do, but the white crappie prefer to inhabit deeper environs than our largemouth bass inhabit. Many of our largemouth bass congregate in flats similar to the one that I caught them on this outing. We have also found that clear water and aquatic vegetation make our wintertime endeavors more fruitful than stained waters devoid of vegetation. We have heard score of anglers curse when their lures become enmeshed with filamentous algae, but we have found that filamentous algae, coontail and curly-leaf pondweed are necessary elements in our largemouth bass fishing.
In sum, it was nice to fish in clear and alga-free water, to find at least one concentration of bass, to have the surface temperature hit 39 and 40 degrees, and to have my hands and back of my neck warm from the first cast to the last cast.
In the report about this outing that was circulated on the Finesse News Network, I included a photograph of the Z-Man prototype we had been using. I said that I thought it would be an effective bait for us in the months to come. I also explained that the watermelon-and-green-flake one, which is not a color that we traditionally use hereabouts, but in the crystalline waters of this winter, it had been an effective color. The rendition that we were using isn't impregnated with a lot of salt, which we liked because the lack of salt made it buoyant. In our minds, buoyancy is what makes Z-Man's soft-plastic finesse baits superior to other brands.
Casey Kidder of Topeka, Kansas, responded in an e-mail to the comments about the prototype's effectiveness. He wrote, "I saw the photos of the prototype; it looks intriguing. I can appreciate the lack of salt for buoyancy. In a way, I would like to see it loaded with salt like the ZinkerZ. The flexibility just seems unbeatable on the ZinkerZ once the salt dissolves, and it holds scent better."
After I found the first concentration of ice-out largemouth of the winter on Jan. 30, Rodney Hatridge of Shawnee, Kansas, and I elected to see if we could fine a similar concentration of bass at a 100-acre suburban reservoir near his home.
We had never fished this reservoir immediately after ice out. We usually start fishing it in late March. For example, we fished it on Mar. 28, 2011, and caught 54 largemouth bass and two walleye when the surface temperature was 46 to 49 degrees and caught 74 largemouth bass on April 8, 2011, when the surface temperature was 54 degree.
Since we didn't possess any information on where the ice-out largemouth bass normally congregate, we began exploring areas similar to the flat that I found the largemouth bass inhabiting on the 195-acre lake that I fished on Jan. 30.
Therefore Rodney and I spent more than 90% of the time exploring a massive flat on the south end of the reservoir. It is the size of a half dozen football fields and endowed with many pods of filamentous algae and wilted patches of coontail.
It was another unseasonably warm January day. Area thermometers ranged from a low of 51 degrees to a high of 64 degrees. It was sunny and eventually it became partly cloudy. The wind was bothersome, angling out the west and southwest at 10 to 22 mph.
The surface temperature was 39 degrees around the dam and 42 degrees on the flat that we fished. The water was relatively clear.
We saw a few fish feeding on what appeared to be an insect hatch on the surface. Some of the foraging fish looked like small largemouth bass. The water in this area was 3 ½ to four feet deep. It appeared to have all the necessary ingredients for ice-out largemouth bass to inhabit.
In December of 2011 we fished this reservoir four times. We caught 69 largemouth bass on Dec 1, 63 largemouth bass on Dec. 3, 15 largemouth bass on Dec. 15 and 14 largemouth bass on Dec. 17. All of these bass were caught within a 100 yards or less of where we saw the surfacing fish. But on this outing, we could muster only seven largemouth bass.
Besides exploring parts of the massive flat, we plied two deeper creek channel edges, where we caught one largemouth bass. The other six bass were caught on the flat three to five feet of water, where patches of coontail flourish when the water is warmer. Our baits, however, never pulled up any coontail. But we saw a few pieces of coontail floating on the surface. Two of the bass were caught around the area where the fish were popping the surface.
We caught one bass on a jerkbait in a Table Rock Shad hue. We caught three bass on a green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig. We caught one on the prototype attached to a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. We caught two on a Rain MinnowZ fastened to a 1/16-ounce red Gopher jig.
We fished from 10:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., and the bass really bamboozled us today. It was a disheartening outing.
After the report about this outing circulated on the Finesse News Network, Terry Claudell of Overland Park, Kansas, wrote an e-mail seeking more information about ice-out bass fishing in northeastern Kansas.
He asked five questions. He wanted to know when the ice normally melts. He asked: "With this being an abnormally warm winter do you think the bass are in the ice-out mode already?" He wanted to know where the pondweeds start to grow first. He was curious about what the bass forage upon at ice out. He wanted to know if the northeast side of the lake was more fruitful than the other sides.
We told him that ice-out usually occurs in February. We noted that in 2011 it occurred on Feb. 20. We were fishing by Feb. 10 in 2009. But we weren't afloat until Mar. 5 in 2010. We had similar weather in January of 2006 as we had this January of 2012. But it wasn't as windy in 2006. Back in 2006 we caught largemouth throughout the entire winter in the typical ice-out spots, which are in the backs of the feeder creeks on mud flats in three to six feet of water that are graced with coontail and emerging curly-leaf pondweed. In 2006, however, our bass fishing was a lot better than it has been recently. Of course, that was before we were hit by the largemouth bass virus. The virus seems to have adversely affected our abilities to locate and catch bass -- especially during the cold-water period. Nowadays, finding a concentration of ice-out bass is almost as taxing as finding the proverbial needle in a hay stack, and Rodney and I looked in vain for that proverbial needle on Jan. 31.
In regard to the question about pondweed, we told him that it grows along some main-lake shorelines and flats, as well as on the flats in the backs of primary, secondary and tertiary feeder creek arms and coves. Our work with an underwater camera has revealed that it sprouts at the same time all over the lake. Even though it grows in some main-lake areas, we find and catch our ice-out bass on the flats in the backs of the coves and feeder creek arms.
As for the northeast factor, we wrote: "Years ago, when we first started winter bass fishing we thought that the northeast factor played a role, but our records now show that it is not a factor. Instead it's aquatic vegetation and clear water."
In regard to his question about what bass foraged upon at ice out. I confessed that I didn't know, explaining that we have never examined the contents in the bass' stomachs. But we have occasionally seen gizzard shad tails sticking out of the stomachs in a few of the bass. We suspect that they eat some invertebrates and small fish, but I noted again that Rodney and I saw a dozen fish (some looked to be small bass) foraging on insects along the surface during our Jan. 31 outing. I also told him that a number on winters ago we noticed the smallmouth bass at Coffey County Lake ate blood worms, but that is a different environment and fish than the largemouth bass.
In a week or two, we will post the second chapter of this blog. It will describe our cold-water bass outings in February. Shortly after the second one is posted, we will post the third chapter that describes our last outings of the unusual winter of 2011-12.