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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

And you thought superman had super powers....

I've found over the last few years the the spots I consistently catch bigger smallmouth bass at almost without exception are good places to catch a catfish on a lure. A decade ago it seemed like it was a novelty to catch a catfish on a lure. Sure it happened a few times a year but it wasn't something you could expect to happen while out wading the river for smallies. You were as likely to catch a big river crappie or a drum or a saugeye as you were a catfish. But as I've concentrated more and more on just trying to catch a big smallmouth and not just a bunch of little ones a funny thing happened, I began to catch a catfish nearly every trip. Sometimes several and sometimes some nice big flatheads. And my friend Dan got me started fishing lipless crankbaits and big swimbaits below lowhead dams and in bend pools at night with the idea of just catching catfish. So in part to help my never ending quest for the next big smallmouth and it part because I'm falling in love with catfish on their own  I've been studying catfish a lot lately. They are really just about the most interesting fish that swims I've found out. And it sure doesn't hurt that they get huge. All you have to do is Google the legendary catfisherman Robby Robinson to see how exciting catfishing can be if you go after trophy cats. Here are a few things I've learned about these amazing fish.
Probably nothing on earth has the ability to taste like a catfish does. They are essentially one big giant taste bud as they have them scattered all over their body. I tried finding out how many and one source says 175,000 another 500,000 and then another said a quarter million were counted on a six inch long catfish! I'm guessing the number varies according to what species of catfish and what size the catfish is. It's probably mind boggling how many are on a giant hundred pound blue cat. Besides having untold numbers packed inside their mouths and gill rakers, cats have them scattered all over their body even on their fins and tail. It's impossible to touch a catfish anywhere without it being able to taste you!
To me though that's not nearly as freaky as a catfish's sense of smell. Over and over I've read where catfish can smell at least one part per ten billion. So what the heck does that mean? Well one part per ten billion is a bit over 833 FEET out of 160,000 MILES!!!  Or a distance less than three football fields long out of a trip six and times around the earth. I still can't come close to wrapping my mind around that but it comes closer than saying one part per ten billion does. Hopefully my math was right on all that but either way you get the idea, its more than a lot. Some numbers are just too big to comprehend. And a catfishes sense of smell is just too good to comprehend,  A fish smells by passing water over sensitive folds inside it's nostrils or nares as they are called on a fish. A small bass might have five or six and a big trophy smallmouth might have 18 or 20 of these folds. Members of the trout family who  have 18 or 20 as well. Well ladies and gentlemen your average channelcat has something like 140 plus folds in his nares.
And even though catfish are known for their extraordinary senses of taste and smell their superpowers do not stop there. Take for example their sense of hearing. In most of the world's fish their swim bladder is separate and unconnected to their inner ear. And most fish can hear really well. But like everything else the catfish takes it to the next level. In catfish anatomy their swim bladder is connected by tiny bones to their inner ear and their entire swim bladder functions in essence as a giant eardrum. The hearing of a catfish is many many times more acute than that of most fish like a bass.
Catfish actually also have a sense of electroreception. Like sharks and rays and paddlefish it turns that catfish can actually sense minute electrical impulses given off by prey. It's a very close range sense probably only a centimeter or two but they can use it when rooting around in muddy water for prey on the bottom. In one study I read large magnets were placed under fish tanks and these had no effect on fish like striped bass and bass but channel catfish would change their location away from the unseen magnet when it was placed under them.
And even though it isn't developed into a superpower catfish can see perfectly well, probably something like a bluegill or bass. Their eyesight isn't a priority like it is with sight feeders like trout or bass but there is certainly nothing lacking in it.
Catfish of course have the amazing lateral line that other fish have. There are a few studies where catfishes ability to capture prey in the dark was studied. Some catfish had their lateral line severed. Using their other super senses they could still capture prey but their ability was diminished and it took them much longer to capture prey. Lateral lines on fish are a series of tiny fluid filled sacs along the fishes sides that can sense waves of water pressure given off by things in the water. In one study it was found that fish could actually sense how large or small another fish was and where it was located by using nothing but their lateral line.
And we cannot forget the feature that gives a catfish it's name, those whiskers. Catfish use those whiskers as highly sensitive feelers that enable them to do something most other fish cannot. Which is to say "reach out and touch" something without have to bite down on it. These whiskers are also sensitive to water currents and probably vibrations and in one study of a catfish found in Japan it turns out catfish use their whiskers to test the PH of the water and it was found they were as sensitive as the lab equipment in finding changes in PH levels. It seems that these catfish preyed on an aquatic worm and at night the catfish were detecting changes in PH given off by the worms breathing to find them even when they were buried in the mud of the bottom.
Small wonder that catfish can operate in any environment from gin clear water to muddy water you cannot see a half an inch into. All these incredible senses have combined to make the catfish the worlds most successful fish. There are something like 3000 species of catfish that are known but there are probably even more than that as catfish seem to thrive in very habitat on earth and there are lots of remote places left on earth where all the fish species haven't been sampled yet.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Maybe you just "stink" at fishing....

I've been reading an amazing book called  "The Scientific Angler" by Paul Johnson. Here is an excerpt I found fascinating...

"Fish biologists have long known that fish have olfactory (sense of smell) organs. What has not been precisely determined before is just how sensitive and diverse these smell detectors are in the average game fish. Within the past few years some innovative research has been done to help answer this intriguing question. Working with migrating salmon, a team of researchers ran a series of experiments using a Y-shaped salmon ladder. As the migrating fish approached the intersection of the Y they could proceed upstream either to the left or the right. The first studies showed that the fish really did not show a preference-apparently there are no right- or left-handed salmon. As expected, 50 percent of the fish turned left and 50 percent right.

Now the biologists began a fascinating series of tests. They introduced various chemical contaminants into one leg of the upstream. When they put a bear's paw into one channel all the salmon immediately ceased migrating into that side. When they put the bear's paw into the other channel they again reversed the migration. The fish were clearly detecting and reacting to trace parts per billion of a chemical coming off its paw.

If salmon had developed this ability to detect and react to the smell of a bear as a natural predator, what would they do with human smells? The researchers had human subjects experiment by placing their hands in one of the migration channels. Almost as if a railroad brakeman were throwing switches, the salmon detected the human smell, reacted and switched channels on cue. The odor coming off a human hand was clearly repulsive. In some instances, with some human test subjects, the researchers noticed that not only did the migration change, but with certain human subjects the migration stopped altogether."

So human scent repelled fish in general but certain people shut down the fish completely. I wonder if your "unlucky" at fishing, one of the fish scents on the market might up your odds more than it would most people, working more as a masking agent than as an attractant. it seems that fish are extremely sensitive to amino acids that people leave minute traces of on everything they touch. And the levels produced vary from person to person.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Wintertime fishing story # 4

When you have spent a lifetime in the woods you naturally run into a bear now and then. This is the story of the only bear that scared me a little bit. We were backpacking in the smokies and I'd fished this creek before and knew it doubled back on itself so much that if you actually walked straight away from the creek in a few minutes you would hit it much further upstream without having to have waded a bunch of unproductive water. So I'm thrashing around thru the woods and "Oh S%$, there's a bear". A really close bear maybe twenty yards away and he was just standing there looking at me. So I talked to the bear calmly letting him know I was a human. "Hello bear, how are you today?". Nothing, the bear just stands there looking me right in the eyes. We both stand there for what seems like forever. I talk to the bear some more. The bear just stands there. Then suddenly you could see in the bears body language it relax. It lowers it's head eating on something and I take a step or two slowly backwards. It raises it's head and it's got a deer leg in it's jaws! No wonder it wasn't going anywhere. "Good bear, nice bear" as I take a couple more steps backward. Now that the bear has relaxed I slip the camera out of my pocket and snap a couple bad pics as I ease back towards where I came from. Come to think of it the fishing wasn't too bad in those last couple pools...

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Not a fish I'd normally brag too much about but heck it is the middle of January. Caught three of these guys after work on a swim shad fished as slow as I could fish it on a swim bait hook

wintertime fish story #3

It was 4 am below a low head on the Great Miami. I'm fishing a lipless crankbait on a medium spinning outfit. When the rod loaded up and bent into the cork. I remember it was pretty much a standoff with the fish taking about as much line as I was gaining for a long time. Long enough that my arm began to hurt. Finally I'm gaining line and the fish is to the point where I've got it up shallow several times before it powers back out to deeper water. A couple more of those and Ill have it. Then at the end of one of these short run the fish just stops. What the?? I just had the thing about landed and it's hung up out there in the dark. Just the week before in this same place I had hooked a giant that had just decided to leave and was well on it's way to spooling me when it pulled off. I wanted this fish badly. Out comes the wallet and the cell phone. I lay the on a rock and begin inching out into the dark. Just a little further... I'm now out in the river at 4 in the morning reaching that depth where certain parts of your anatomy don't wanna get wet. The rods bucks, the fish is still on somehow but still stuck. Just a bit more... Past the point of no return and the waters up to mid chest and the fish finally swims free. A couple minutes more and I had a deathgrip on a big lower jaw and drug my fish to shore with a memory I'll never forget.

Wintertime fish story #2

When I was around 15 or so we used to fish and camp a lot on the Ohio river. This was back in the day when you could take a boat right up to the big dams like Meldahl, even to the point of tying off in a gate they weren't letting water out of. Some of catfish fishing was incredible. We would pitch a big tent on the rock bar and camp, fishing the dam by day and out in front of camp by night. I remember dad had a mepps spinner that he fixed up with a skirt of frayed nylon rope. He would spend hours chasing gar with this thing. The trick was they would get all those teeth tangled in the rope and you could land them. I remember it worked better in theory than in practice though it did work sometimes. I do think that this kind of fishing where you are trying to catch whatever is biting,be it white bass, catfish, gar or bass or carp, is just about the best way you can ever learn how to fish. I know I wouldn't trade all those times on the river growing up for anything. Well one time my dad and were heading out to the river and it was hot. Really hot. Well instead of setting up on the rock bar below the dam and broiling like a lobster in the sun we decided we would be smart and we set up camp in this huge concrete culvert or tunnel that funneled a dry creek bed under the railroad. Man it was awesome a concrete patio out front to fish off of and back inside the tunnel it felt like air conditioning, it had to have been 10 or 15 degrees cooler than outside. We even found an old barrel that we set up as a table. Life was good. Then like the second or third night you could hear lightning off in the distance. Lots and lots of lighting. To this day I sill don't think I've ever seen a more severe thunderstorm than the one that hit about dark. There were hundreds and hundreds of lighting strikes and no way we were getting out of that tunnel. Along one side a tiny trickle of water began to run. Just an inch or two wide at first. We were perched up on cots snug as a bug in a rug and enjoying the show. The problem was it wasn't letting up. Pretty soon the trickle was a couple feet wide and an inch deep and we were really paying attention. In a bit things like pieces of styrofoam cups and other trash was washing down the culvert and it was a couple inches deep on the one side and stretched most of the way across the tunnel including under our cots. It looked pretty eerie in the light of the old gas lantern. And the storm was just as severe as ever. I remember dad saying now don't zip up your sleeping bag and we had a life jacket lying on each cot. I think we could both picture a couple feet of water flooding down the culvert and washing us both out into the river. I remember seeing at least one crayfish crawling along and sometime during the night we saw a small snake slithering along between our cots. Long story short it never did get over a couple inches deep at it's deepest but that's plenty deep enough when it' running under your cot. After a long sleepless night we packed up first thing and moved back to the rock bar!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wintertime fish story part 1

First year out of high school. I was crazy about largemouth fishing back then. Single, cheap gas, money from that first real job, I fished a lot back then, and wasn't a slacker like nowadays. I'm pretty sure I snuck into just about every single farm pond in Warren county fishing a musky jitterbug at night for big bass. Remember the shimano bantam 100? The newest bestest baitcaster in the world back then. I remember fishing with mine so much that I wore the chrome plating off the side frame where I palmed the reel at. Well my brother Vic was selling fishing lures at the Cincy boat and travel show. (Back then they actually had fishing tackle at the show) I met this slow talking guy from Georgia that owned a huge farming operation. Well it turned out he had all these ponds and lakes dug all over the property to irrigate his farm from. I forget what the exact details were but I ended up paying him like a hundred bucks for his trouble and I could camp on his land for a week and fish all his different ponds and lakes. What a different world for a kid from Ohio. Some ponds had cypress trees growing in them with cypress knees sticking up everywhere. Others had big live oaks along the banks with spanish moss hanging down. In the evening farmers in bibs and floppy straw hats would catch giant bream on 15 foot long cane poles. It was a different world and I'd never seen anything like it before. The bass fishing was slow but when you caught one it was four or five pounds. Three or four of those a day made a kid fresh out of school pretty happy. I remember fishing a huge 3/4 ounce willow leaf spinnerbait with blades like five inches long every day trying for THE fish. Finally just about the time I'd given up hope this guy crushed it. Ten pounds four ounces! To this day I remember putting it the cooler because I was going to get it mounted and the tail lapping up on one end because it wouldn't fit. That's my clearest memory of the fish, being this excited kid looking in the cooler at this fish that didn't fit.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Brrr....Wintertime smallmouth

Eight degrees!! only fish of the day but totally worth it. On Vic's three inch red with glitter grub fished as slow as i could fish it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The start

Well, It's all downhill from here. Two days into the new year and two Fish Ohio fish, a gill and a sauger. One out of a pond and one out of a backwater of the Ohio River. Maybe I'll just quit and be like, "oh yeah I caught a Fish Ohio every time I went this year". The fishing was pretty tough I fished all day for two sauger, a tiny stripey fish and two drum out of a whole bunch of spots all along the Ohio River. The gill fishing was much easier today. The photo of the two herons captured a cool moment. One was already there fishing when another flew in and began puffing up and posturing trying to run the other off. They walked back and forth stiffly for a couple minutes before one finally began backing up a bit on every pass and the other kind of pushed him down the riverbank and took his spot. Also caught a tiny bass to go a long ways towards the "I caught a bass every month" this winter.