Thursday, January 27, 2011

Electrofishing Lake Alice

If you were to visit the University of Florida in Gainesville today, chances are you'd drive past Lake Alice. The small, 4.5 acre lake is located almost directly in the center of campus. As you drive by, you'd also notice the huge signs posted everywhere that say "No Fishing". Breaking that rule will land you in jail.

Unless you're with the Fisheries department...

The day I'd been looking forward to for weeks had finally come. My Introduction to Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences class took boats out to Lake Alice to electrofish and collect data on the fish present in the lake. We backed the boats down into the water and set off to shock them. Each boat had three people on them; one to drive and two to net the fish that came to the surface.

Shocking the fish merely stuns them. They come up to the surface and are then netted and put into a live well. Shocking runs last 15 minutes and the boat motors around the lake, up into the reeds, and under branches during the sample period to collect fish. Once the sample is over, the boat returns to shore, collects data, and releases the fish.

Every time I go fishing I tell myself, "I -know- that there are more/big fish down there. I just wish I could see them". Today, I got to see every one of them. The very first fish that I netted was the biggest crappie I'd ever seen. It measured out to 13.5 inches (I'll have to go back to the data to get the weight since I can't remember it off the top of my head).

Immediately after that we netted an almost identical one. We then went on to net several 2+lb largemouth bass, and tons of monster bluegill and redears. After my sample was done, I took my turn at collecting data on the fish. Game species (Bass, bluegill, redear, etc.) over a certain size were measured and weighed. Each fish then received a fin clip on their left pelvic fin. We do this so that when we return next week and the week after, we can pick out the recaptures. Finally, bass over a specific length were tagged and then released.

I luckily got the chance to take the shock boat out one last time before the day ended. Once again we pulled in quite a few bass and lots of big bluegill. Nearly all of the bluegill measured (over 200) measured greater than 9 inches and many weighed over 1 lb.

I also got a chance to catch one of those monster redears that taunted me in Merritt's Mill Pond years ago.

We also hit a huge school of shiners, a catfish, 1 alligator (he was pissed), a bullfrog, and my first ever: Bowfin.

I'd always seen pictures of Bowfin, but had never seen one in real life. Not only was it my first Bowfin, but it was HUGE. The biologists working with us said that it was on the upper end of the Bowfin size spectrum. He almost didn't fit in my net, barely fit in the live well, and was too long for our measuring board. He went an easy 10 lbs.

The greatest part about all of this is that it's school. I get a grade for doing something I'd just do for fun. To make things even better, I get to go back and repeat the electrofishing process two more times in the upcoming weeks. I'll be sure to bring the camera for more pictures. Anything to get ya through the winter fishing slump.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Christmas Fishing

There seems to be a relationship between terrible weather and my time spent back home. Every time I drive back to Pensacola it storms and I get the thrill of freezing cold rainwater dripping on my legs through the openings in my Jeep. If, for some bizarre reason, it doesn't storm while I'm driving to Pensacola, mother nature makes up for it by providing terrible weather for the duration of my stay.

Christmas was no exception.

The weather was decent enough on the drive back. But it wasn't until I reached the I-10 bridge over Escambia Bay that I could see dark storm clouds rolling in from the west. It proceeded to rain, get cold, rain more, get colder, and rain a little more for the whole Christmas break. The horrible weather kept me out of the kayak for most of the break. I had one opportunity to break out the paddles and I jumped all over it. My dad and I drove down to a bayou that's usually a winter-time honey hole for trout. It's not uncommon to land 75+ fish within just a few hours on a fly rod. However, we've noticed over the years that this particular bayou is either -really- on, or -really- off. Hit or miss. Fantastic or terrible.

We landed a 'miss' day.

I took my ultra-light spinning reel and fished with stingray grubs for close to two hours with absolutely no success. By this time, my dad had finally managed 3 very small trout on a fly rod. I made the switch over to the fly rod and fished for another 30 minutes before I finally landed a small trout.

With that, we called it quits.

Since I failed to catch an over-slot redfish during Thanksgiving break, my dad and I headed out to Ft. Pickens to give it another try. Luckily for us, the weather was stormy with a chance of awful. However, after only being set up for a few minutes, one of the rods doubled over and began screaming out line. I was furthest away from the rod so my dad grabbed it. It turned out to be a 28 inch red! I snapped (what I thought was) a picture and we released him. Turned out I took some awesome 5 second videos of my dad grinning with a fish. Luckily, I was able to convert it into a still picture.

With such quick success, I had relatively high hopes for the rest of the afternoon.

Foolish me...

I sat for 3 hours without the slightest nibble of a red before we headed home. Sometimes that's just how it goes.

A few days later I attempted to right the wrong that 'everyone I fish with has caught an over-slot red except for myself'. First Chelsea, now my dad. Now it was my turn. I took Chelsea back out to Ft. Pickens and set up in the same area. Once again, we hadn't been there 10 minutes before one of the rods went off. I grabbed it this time and began fighting the fish. I could tell by the way it thumped that it was a big fish. Unfortunately, it was only on for a few seconds before my line broke. I reeled in my line to see that it had broken at the knot I had tied on the pompano rig.

Looking back, I remember tying that particular rig and thinking that I had messed up during the tying process. However, it looked right in the end so I left it alone. Next time I'll just re-do the whole rig rather than lose another big red. Chelsea and I sat out there until dark with no more luck. I suppose things could have been worse. I was lucky enough to get to spend time with family and was blessed with some decent weather for my last fishing trip.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Merrit's Mill Pond, 2008

NOTE: While looking through all the pictures I have on my computer, I came to the realization that the majority of them are from fishing trips that I've never made a report on. Rather than let the pictures grow in age and the memories of those trips fade, I've decided to make reports on them.

In spring of 2008, I made a trip to Marianna Fl to fish Merrit's Mill Pond with my dad and a long time fishing buddy. I had heard that the water in the mill pond was crystal clear as it's fed directly from a spring just a few miles upstream. We took our kayaks, fly rods (and worm rod), and launched at a boat ramp early one morning. The weather was beautiful and the water was just as clear as stories had told. After paddling just a few hundred yards, I noticed a school of HUGE grass carp, slowly making their way around the base of the cypress trees that were growing in the water. They spooked as I approached them, setting off a chain reaction and scaring hundreds of unseen carp further down the bank.

Merrit's Mill Pond has special bag limits on fish. Redear Sunfish cannot be kept if they are UNDER 10 inches long. I had never ever seen a Redear -close- to 10 inches, much less -longer-. Therefore, it was shocking when I looked down in the water and saw many Redear that went well over 10 inches.

What was not shocking was the fact that it is impossible to catch these ogres. Not only can they see you just as well as you can see them, they've probably seen every trick in the book by other awestruck anglers. Flies certainly didn't prove effective so I switched to the sure-fire earthworm. And....

Nothing. The big Redears just swam the other direction. The best I could do was catch countless 2-3 inch bluegill on the worm rod. We fished literally all day with similar results from everyone. Once the sun got up, other boaters came out and began motoring and jet-skiing around. This caused large chunks of algae to wash from off the bank and into the middle of the pond, dirtying the water. It's my personal opinion that Merrit's Mill Pond should be restricted to non-motorized vessels. It isn't very long and is at most 200 yards across. The boaters just proved to be a nuisance in such a small body of water.

Overall, the mill pond was a fantastic day on the water. However, I will probably never go back. It proved to be extremely difficult to catch -any- fish and certainly impossible to catch fish of any size. Clear water may be great to look at, but it sucks for fishing.

Winter Update

Things are kinda slow this time of year as far as hunting and fishing go for me. To be honest, January through March is my least favorite time of the year because the deer season is nearly over and it's too cold to fish for most of my favorite species. I find myself spending my days plotting for times of warmer weather and generally just going crazy.

The next few weeks, however, might prove to be a relief from the lack of outdoors. I'm currently getting a minor in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences and one of my classes requires field work (lake work?) on a lake located on campus. Fishing is off limits on this lake and that means there are some BIG bass and bluegill in it. Luckily for me, the field work consists of electro-shocking the water and taking data on the fish that we collect. I'll be bringing a camera for each outing and snapping pictures of the fish that no one ever gets to cast at.

The second week in February should prove to be exciting as well. My dad and his long time fishing buddy will be driving down and picking me up for a trip to the Everglades. We'll be kayaking and targeting Cichlids in the canals down there. From what I've read, the fishing for Cichlids is best during winter months due to lower water levels in the canals. I've only had a chance to fish for Cichlids during summer months, so it will be a brand new experience for me. My dad was nice enough to loan me a 3wt fly rod for this adventure and I'm excited about trying it out on some Oscars and Mayan Chichlids. I hope to not only catch a mess of fish on the fly rod, but also land a spotted tilapia on the fly. I've had success catching them on worms before, but they've yet to take a fly.

My latest fishing trip landed me on a small lake within Gainesville city limits on a friend's tandem kayak. I only took the 5wt with me while he fished with a spinner. I fished for hours with top water flies and never had the slightest bump. I finally switched to a bead head nymph and managed 3 nice size bluegill, a small bass, and my first crappie on a fly rod. I failed to bring the camera with me, so you will just have to take my word that the crappie was as long as my arm. My fishing buddy might protest to this measurement, but he's still delirious from cold and the lack of catching fish.