The Blue Line Brawl: Part I

It was 4:00pm on Friday afternoon and I was sitting in my office. The Adirondack KBF Blue Line Brawl had kicked off 11 hours ago and the fish were starting to pop up on the leaderboard. No biggins had been uploaded yet, but they were sure to show up soon.  It was poised to be an exciting 11 days of fishing in the Adirondack and Catskill parks. I knew my plans for the weekend, but seeing the fish rolling in, I was itching to get out. Do I go home and get a solid night’s sleep so I can hit it hard in the AM? Or do I pop out for a few hours now? I looked out the window and it was gorgeous out. Sunny skies, light breeze, and I certainly wasn’t focusing on work at that point. I wrapped up the document I was working on, shut down the computer, and scooted out of the office just a little early to hit the road to the first lake on my list.

I pulled into the West Lake boat ramp just before 6:00pm. I would have 2 hours to fish till dark, and there was no reason I even needed to leave then. I would just have to play it by ear and see how the fish were biting. I geared up the yak, and paddled down the stream out onto West Lake. I already knew there wouldn’t be enough time for me to go out onto Canada Lake so I would just need to fish West as hard as I could. This was fine since my better smallmouth had always come from West anyway.

There was a sign at the ramp when I showed up reading “Caution, High Water Levels” but this wasn’t a concern at my first location since it was an open water spot. I threw a number of baits around the ledge with no luck. The smallmouth often school up in the open water there and I can usually get them with some kind of moving bait like a crank bait, swim bait, or chatterbait; but today they didn’t want to feed. Or maybe they just weren’t there? I got two short strikes but not enough to keep my attention. I didn’t have time to mess around and try to find them. With only a little time left, I needed to move on and try to hit my few other key spots. I pulled into my next area and the high water certainly changed the dynamic there. The boulders I usually fished were deeper, the vegetation was fully submerged, and it had me scrambling a bit to try to find a bite. I moved out past the drop-off and looked for some fish there with the dropshot, but everything I marked was little perch and rock bass. Not the smallies I was after.

The sun was starting to get low in the sky and there was a noticeable drop in the air temp. I could tell it was going to be a cold night and I was not dressed to fish in those temps. Once it got dark, I would need to go in. That made my night even shorter. With only time left to hit one more spot, I shot west to the deep weed line. The lake contains quality smallmouth, which is what I usually target. There aren’t even supposed to be largemouth in there, but last year I landed a decent largemouth in this area. I thought if I couldn’t get the smallmouth going, maybe I could locate one of the largemouth in the weeds. I was also tired of not catching anything and I jokingly call the one end of the weed line “The Pickerel Corner” because I usually just get inundated with pickerel there. That evening was no different. Flipping a plastic along the weed line I couldn’t locate the bass, but I did land a couple pickerel including the cutest little baby that wasn’t longer than 8”. But the sun had dipped below the horizon, the air was cold, and it was time to go. Day one was in the books. I put in about 2 hours on the water but didn’t have a fish to show for it. That was ok though. The next day was primed to be a beautiful day, and I had my honey hole lake to hit.

My Saturday alarm came way too early. Luckily everything was still loaded in the truck from my little evening trip, so all I needed to do was to pour my coffee and hit the road. I pulled into the launch area of my honey hole at just about 5:50 and it was cold. The truck said 46 outside and it felt it. But I was dressed right and cool air actually felt great.

Cold Start to the Morning

I got the yak all loaded then I rerigged my one spinning rod with a new leader before I hit the water. I had noticed the old leader was getting a little short from breaking off or retying new baits. It was easier to just do it at the truck rather than on the water. The plan for the day was to fish for 12 hours, cycle through the good spots, and see what I could manage. If I hit 90 inches, I would leave earlier. No sense overexerting myself when I knew I would be right back at it the next day. 

I started my way south hitting the shoreline and docks along that stretch. This was always the best area so I wanted to hit it first. I cycled through a multitude of baits trying to figure out what they were biting on. I was throwing a swimbait, a spook, tossed a creature bait around, but I got my first bite about 6:30 on a wacky rig next to a floating dock. It was an ok fish, 15-inches. I had said for this tournament I was only photographing fish 16” or larger. I had 11 days and I knew I couldn’t afford to finish scoring anything shorter. But since it was the first one, I put it on the Ketch board and got a photo anyway. I didn’t want to jinx it by not getting the photo.

A few casts with the wacky rig later, I got another bite. This time when I set the hook, I only came back with the hook and o-ring. The fish must have just pulled the worm right out. I really didn’t want to fish with a wacky rig anyway. Honestly, I was having a hard time focusing on my fishing. Mentally I was struggling. It just didn’t feel right on the water. I turned and saw the sun popping up over the mountains. I sipped my coffee for a few minutes to just try to regain my composure. I still wasn’t feeling it and rather than grab a new Exo-stick, I put the rod back in the rod holder and grabbed the other spinning rod I had just re-rigged that morning.

I had tied on a new bait I just got, and I really wanted to see how it would perform. It was a simple skirted Z-Man ned head. The color was called “Pond Scum”. It had a green pumpkin top, but with blue, orange, and white on the bottom. I was able to find a TRD Ticklerz in a great color to pair it with, “Hot Snakes”. It’s a dual color, green pumpkin on one side, and a yellow on the other. By rigging it on the Pond Scum head with the yellow down, I created what I thought looked like a great little bluegill pattern. Perfect for most of the lakes I fish.

I started throwing the ned bait around and it didn’t take long and I was hooked up again. This time just a little guy, but still fun. I knew I had a great combo and was psyched to keep playing with that bait. The issue was I wasn’t seeing the bigger fish up shallow I usually saw at this lake. I fished around the docks for a while with nothing but little bass taking the bait. My kayak was out in 10-feet and I was marking a few fish out deeper on my side imaging. I approached my favorite spot in the lake. One of only two docks that actually has lily pads and grass growing right next to it. This patch has always produced for me. I switched from the ned and grabbed my worm rod. Two flips and I felt the tick. I cranked back and *SNAP* My line broke. Looking down, it appeared it was a clean break. Most likely that meant it was a big pickerel. They’ll steal a lot of baits, but you gotta be willing to fish through them to find the big bass.

I tied on a new rig, and decided rather than focus on the weeds, I would cast more up ahead along the drop-off where I was marking fish. My first cast along the drop I felt the worm get heavy, I reared back and let him have it. The bass dug deep and I knew it was a big one. I fought it up to yak, got it in the net, and I was stoked! A 20-inch largemouth. The hook had clipped her gills just slightly so she was bleeding a bit, but she was still feisty as ever. I got my photos quick and got her right back in the water. She took off fine so I knew she would recover.

First Toad of the Tournament

That big bite was all I needed to know what I needed to do. I abandoned the shallow bite and went straight out to the drop off and just kept dragging the worm. I had reached the south end of the lake and took a little time to answer some messages I got from other anglers since this was the only place on the lake with service. While I played with my phone I cast the ned rig back out just to let it soak. I would pick it up to reel it in occasionally while I drifted around, each time I had a bass on. Sometimes it was a 10-inch, a few were 14-15 inchers, still nothing I wanted to post to the leaderboard.

I made my way up the other shoreline and worked both shallow and deep but nothing good hit my bait. As I got up toward the north end, I knew the conditions weren’t right for what I was seeing. It was too shallow and there just wasn’t good weed cover. I moved out to the middle of the lake to find the deep channel again and to continue to work the worm. As I drifted with the wind, I noticed a clump of milfoil in the middle of the lake. I pedaled over and saw it wasn’t just floating, it was a thicker patch that had grown up! I grabbed the worm and tossed it in there. The wind was blowing a little harder so I was struggling to keep position. I needed to stand to see where I was flipping, but I could only get a one flip in before I had to sit down and reposition the kayak. I finally got a really good pitch and felt the bite. But like with what happened earlier, I came back with nothing but a cut line. I knew this spot was potentially special so I marked a waypoint and drifted off while I retied. This would prove to be a smart move later in the day.

I made my way back to my starting area, but this pass I stayed deep dragging the worm. It was about 11:15 and the day was really getting nice. As I drifted along the ledge, I only got a few bites, but they were the right ones. It started with a 16.5”, then an 18.5”, then a 17.5”. It was only 11:50 when I reached the end of that line, that 35 minute drift really set the day up to be a success and I was finally starting to feel a little better. Still wasn’t too excited, but at least mentally I was getting into it more. I decided to try to relax and have more fun so I grabbed a creature bait and hit my favorite weed patch again. Two flips in and I had a 15-incher in the boat. The next flip, I had a 12-incher. Two flips later and hooked a 20-inch pickerel. I grabbed my ned rig and pitched that up by the dock and had a big hit but the line quickly broke. I don’t know if it was a big bass, or another pickerel. Either way, I knew that ned rig setup was gold so I tied the same thing right back on and worked that bank shallow as I set up for another deep drift. I didn’t get anything more shallow, and my next drift along the ledge only produced shorter fish.

I made my way around to the far shore, this time focusing on the ledge, but going into the wind fishing it was a tad trickier. It was difficult to slowly drag the worm while pedaling into the wind. It was 3:30, I had been grinding mentally, and I was ready to call it a day. I hadn’t been out the 12 hours like I intended, and I didn’t have the 90 inches either but I was pretty much checked out. I checked the GPS and saw that the waypoint I marked earlier was right in between me and the launch. Good enough. I would pedal out, flip it a few times since there was a lull in the wind, and then pack up.

I approached the spot and stood up looking for the weeds. I finally spotted them and started to make pitches. Just like I expected, I felt a good bite and let the fish have it. The rod doubled over and I knew I had a bigger one on. I just hoped it was a bass. It was a bass, and she was a fatty. 18.5-inches. That gave me my 90 inch day (91 actually) and I was satisfied. I could load up, and get home at a reasonable time to rest before doing it all again on Sunday. These multi-day online events can be a grind, but if I wanted to win, I knew I needed to put in the hours on the water. 

Sunday morning was an earlier one that Saturday. I had a longer drive to the lake I was fishing, but I was feeling much better mentally than the previous day. I was excited to get on the water. After the dust had settled from Saturday I was sitting in second place, just 1.5” back. With my current bag, I knew I was set up good to keep culling. I didn’t need to worry about catching a bunch of good fish, I now needed to go out and hunt for that one big bite. Knowing that, I was taking the advice from a friend and fishing a new lake. I know better than to ask people for their fishing spots, but I had a few friends whose advice I trust and I asked one of them which lake he would fish between a couple of lakes. He actually recommended another lake right by the ones I listed, and he said if I was after just a big bite or two, that’s where I needed to go.

I launched just before 6:00am and pedaled out to the first area he said to hit. He told me I needed to fish deeper so I started off with the drop shot. I got a few bites and put some short largemouth and smallmouth in the boat, but not the big bite I was after. My friend texted me while I was out there asking if I had checked it out yet and I joked “Actually, I’m out here right now!”. Since I had him, I asked if color mattered. The lake was crystal clear and I had been throwing very natural colors. He told me “black and blue all day. Throw the jig, trust me”.

Now I’m not much of a jig fisherman. I’m much more comfortable with a texas rig. I resisted his advice for a little while. I fished some of the dropoffs with the drop shot, I tossed a texas creature bait into some weeds, and I got some more smaller bites but they were not what I was after. I decided to make a run to the next area, and while I did, I begrudgingly took out my worm rod, I cut off the texas rig, dug out a big black and blue jig, and tied it on.

I pulled up to the next spot I was told to fish, and began pitching the jig along a deep outside weed edge. There was a flat that was maybe 8-10 feet deep with some scattered weeds. My kayak was out in 18-20 feet of water and I would pitch up to the shallow and slowly pull the jig down the dropoff. It only took a few casts and I got my first bite. I set the hook and came back without the trailer. My guess was a smallmouth had just grabbed the claws of the craw, but that was a good sign. He said throw the jig, I did, and I was instantly hit. I put on a new trailer, and just a few yards down I was hit again. This one was big. I got it in the yak and it was just the fish I was after. A 19.75-inch toad. I snapped a few pics, told my friend a huge thanks, and kept fishing down the bank already knowing the day was a success.

I Guess I’ll Throw the Jig

I threw that jig all day. Fishing docks, boulders, bluff walls, and laydowns; and I got some real quality fish. Occasionally when I took a break to grab a snack or drink, or to check a message on my phone I would cast out the ned rig. I almost always got bit on it, but they just weren’t the bigger ones. I did get a 17-inch on the ned rig so I know it was working, but the jig was the key.

I had about 85 inches on the day, and I had made the one good cull for the tournament. I was happy with that, but I wanted to fish one last area. I started making the run back toward the launch but veered off to a spot that looked just right on my navionics. I pulled up and made a pitch against a bluff wall. As I did, I peeked down at my side imaging and spotted some marks off to my right. I worked the jig back and just gave it a flip out to my right. The bait never hit the bottom. It was about 22 feet deep there, and as I watched the line as the bait fell I saw a slight jump. I felt the weight and set the hook! It was a heavy fish, she was a fat largemouth and my second good one of the day. She only measured 19-inches, but was heavier than the 19.75 I had landed earlier. But the cull was huge. It put me over 88 inches on the day, and my tournament total was now over 95 inches.

It was a great way to end the day, so I packed it up and headed home. Weekend one was in the books. I was sitting in first place with a great bag and was happy with my performance. Hopefully I could find an evening or two to get out during the week before Labor Day weekend. There was still a lot of time left, and some great anglers who had yet to post fish. I needed every minute of the upcoming 3 day weekend to chase down some giants because I knew the others would be doing the same thing. But for now I could relax, enjoy a beer, and be happy that I fished as well as I did over the weekend.

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