Yesterday, Sandy crushed the East Coast, millions went without power, and my good friend Mark Chmura called from Michigan to tell me trees were crashing to earth along the Big Manistee while he was guiding clients to double-digit numbers of steelhead. "Winds were gusting up to 50 mph," he said.
In my little corner of the world, it was calm. The sky was partly sunny, and the air seemed mild until the boat accelerated to about 25 mph. At that point, exposed fingers and facial features began to numb, so I slowed down a bit. Didn't have far to go.
The photo at left was taken a few days prior. Nobody with me yesterday to shoot, but I managed to slip several smallmouths over 20-inches (an inch or so bigger than the one at left) into the net and shoot some closeups of lures we're going to cover in the March-April issue of In-Fisherman.
But I was using the rod in the photo, the same one featured in the 2012 Gear Guide. One of those Jekyl-and-Hyde Dark Side Ultralights. It's the G. Loomis GLX TSR 791, and I can't make myself put it away. Now that the shortened days and bone-chilling water temperatures have most of the weeds laying down, I find Mr. Hyde to be even more companionable.
The rod is rated for 3- to 4-pound PowerPro, though I've been used it with almost every other 4-pound superline on the market. For a light-power rod, it sets hooks astonishingly well with any 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jig sporting a quality hook, probably because most 4-pound braids, though super thin, have have very little stretch with actual break strengths of 8 to 10 pounds.
I've been swimming jigs tipped with Mojo Lures Reefer Tails or Kalin's Grubs. Light line coupled with the action of the TSR 791 sends those packages way out there, covering more water in less time. The drawback I thought would be fatal to the system was speed. In the wake of this recent cold snap, water temperatures over the past week dropped on my little Secret Lake from around 45°F to an even 40°F, and smallmouths have demanded slower presentations every day. Maddeningly slow at times.
Superlines in the 4-pound range cut through water exponentially faster than 4-pound mono when being pulled toward bottom behind a 1/8-ounce jig. The good news is, it reaches bottom fast. The bad news is, in order to keep it up off bottom, retrieve speed has to almost double. But there's more good news: A 1/16-ounce jig-plastic-combo casts farther on 4-pound braid than a 1/8-ounce combo can be pitched with 6-pound mono, and it sinks and fishes at almost the same speeds.
Two other factors have been working in Mr. Hyde's favor: As the water cools, smallmouths that had been feeding primarily in 4- to 8-foot depths are now taking the preponderance of their meals in 10- to 14-foot depths. While I needed to jump up to 10-pound mono on a heavier stick to adequately balance with a 1/4-ounce jig, Mr. Hyde was able to comfortably fish those depths with a 1/8-ounce jig. And, of course, the entire experience would be far less enjoyable without a fast, smooth, dependable reel to counter those quick surges toward the boat, those instantaneous turns, and those powerful runs back in the opposite direction. Still depending on the same Shimano Stradic CI4 we strapped to the rod 18 months ago as research began for the Gear Guide piece. No regrets.
The frost has melted away. Sunlight streams through the window, and startling images from yesterday force themselves into my mind's eye. Hog bass wallowing, throwing wakes, pushing their bronze backs across the surface — doubling Mr. Hyde over like a young willow in a hurricane. Of course, he beat every one of them down and brought them boatside with monstrous precision, being much more powerful than his size and weight suggest.
I can hear him right now, out in the garage, sending his obscene challenges out to every smallmouth in the neighborhood, extolling me to quit writing long enough for him to kick some more bass. He's pretty convincing, too. Maybe I should. After all. It is Halloween.
I'll be back online later today with Mr. Hyde's Trick-Or-Treat bag — a special New Wave Bass box filled with "almost ultralight" swimbaits, cranks, suspending baits, and jigs that the advent of Dark Side Ultralights allowed me to turn loose on the local pigs among our considerable bass populations.