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Keep It Up!

 

If there’s an angling experience more exhilarating than a fish smashing a bait on the surface, I’ve not yet come across it. It matters little whether it’s a striped marlin engulfing a 12-inch skirted rubber lure trolled in the wake, a smallmouth bass pounding a popper skipped over a reef, or a brown trout chasing a hopper pattern all the way across a freestone stream, there’s just something viscerally exciting about watching your quary as it’s fooled into a reaction.

Fly anglers hear early in their lessons that trout feed more than 80% of the time below the surface, and I suspect that number only increases as you move on to other species. So, it’s little wonder that few anglers select surface baits, especially when their fishing time is limited. You don’t, however, have to sacrifice numbers of fish for the thrill of watching the take; you just have to be a little selective about where and when you apply it.

On a trip to northern Saskatchewan this summer I fished pike for three days, almost exclusively with surface lures and even my partner would admit that I caught at least as many fish as he did using more conventional tackle. The timing was optimal, as we were within a couple weeks of ice-out and the big post-spawn hens were still relatively shallow thanks to the cool water. The first day I completely wore out a Luhr-Jensen Woodchopper, losing count of the number of pike that attacked it during the strip, pause, retrieve sequence. Eventually the propellers got mangled beyond repair and I literally had to discard the lure. The combination of the noise, the commotion of the prop, and the stop-and-go retrieve was too much to resist. Further, the big floating plug allowed me to cast into pockets of cover that spoons and other lures would hang up in.

The next day I switched to my fly rod, casting big polar bear hair streamers along cattail edges. In one session I hooked 10 fish in 12 casts and two of them were better than 38 inches. For my money, no hard-bodied bait can match the seductive allure of a streamer fly and these pike seemed to agree. I wouldn’t let it sink more than a couple inches below the surface, bringing it back to the boat in a series of 18-inch strips. More often than not I could see the wake of a pike as it closed in on my offering. It was all I could do to wait until I actually saw and felt the take before setting the hook.

Pike are the ideal topwater fish. They are aggressive predators with a penchant for over- reaction and through the years I’ve had great luck not only with topwater plugs like Woodchoppers and Jitterbugs, but also buzz baits. I’ve also worn out more than a few mouse patterns cast into the shallows and retrieved with a steady motion.

Later in the summer, mid-July, I headed to Manitoba for a couple days of fishing smallmouth bass. I decided to fish exclusively with poppers, chugging them relentlessly over and across every likely looking piece of water I could find. Most of my poppers are not sophisticated; in fact several were made by cutting up the soles of $2 sandals and inserting a long-shank hook. It’s the action, not the look that attracts bass. I hooked and landed enough smallies to keep me busy, including one 19-inch fish that qualified for Manitoba’s Master Angler program. Time of day turned out to be important when chucking poppers to these bass, with 80% of the action happening before noon or after 6 p.m.

I spend most of my free time in August fly-fishing trout and grayling in Alberta’s many streams and rivers. I fish almost exclusively with dry flies but I’m not a snob about it; it’s simply that I get a huge thrill hunting rising fish and attempting to fool them. Size is more important than colour in my experience, and I will fish cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout, along with grayling, using only half a dozen different patterns. My preferred flies include stimulators, elk hair caddis, H&L variants, Adams’, pale morning duns and a hopper pattern. I’ve found that accurate presentations are more important than a precise imitation of the real thing.

Depending upon the species, time of day seems to make a difference. Cutthroats keep banker’s hours, and are most active from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. My experiences with grayling has been similar. Rainbows seem to prefer the shoulder hours, particularly through the evening when they can often be found sipping naturals off the surface in surprisingly thin water.

Brown trout are funny. Most often thought of as reclusive and shy, not poking their heads up except in the earliest and latest hours. I’ve actually found them to be very aggressive when they’re keyed in to a specific prey. Late in summer and on into the fall they’ll often fall all over themselves chasing a grasshopper that splat noisily onto the surface. Hopper fishing allows anglers that are still learning the art of fly-casting to experience success, as a delicate cast is not only unnecessary, it’s not as effective as one that lands a little heavier.

Those who don’t fly-fish should consider experimenting with a casting bubble. They look similar to a slip bobber, but can be filled with water to give them the weight necessary to cast a small fly. Tie your fly to a tapered leader that’s 7 ½ - 9 feet long and cast away. Ensure that you use a tapered leader, however, as the taper helps ensure that the leader unfolds and the fly doesn’t pile up. Casting bubbles can be used equally effectively in larger rivers or on potholes, lakes and reservoirs.

Get past the notion that numbers are the only barometer of fishing success. As a kid, there was nothing sweeter than watching a little red and white bobber jiggle and dip, signalling that you had a fish. The grown up version of that game is fishing with surface lures which can be effective on a wide range of species. And when you hook up, you’ll find yourself giggling, laughing, and reminded of your childhood, that little bobber, and the notion that fishing’s supposed to be fun.




Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Keep It Up!

(2) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(3) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(4) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(5) Hawg Holes

(6) Saltwater Salmon

(7) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(8) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(9) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(10) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(11) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(12) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(13) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(14) Fall Walleye

(15) Wet Flies

(16) Versatility the Key to Success

(17) Grayling of the Boreal

(18) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(19) Size Matters

(20) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(21) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(22) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(23) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(24) The Point Of It All

(25) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(26) Fall Fly Fishing

(27) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(28) Big River, Big Fish

(29) Bottom Bonanza

(30) Fishing Small Flies

(31) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(32) Four Seasons of the Bow

(33) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(34) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(35) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(36) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(37) Edge Walleye

(38) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(39) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(40) Four Corners – Four Waters

(41) Chasing Pothole Trout

(42) Springtime Stoneflies

(43) The Torrents of Spring

(44) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(45) Bust Them With Bait

(46) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(47) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(48) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(49) Terrestrials

(50) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(51) Rocky Mountain High

(52) Reading the clues

(53) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(54) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(55) Fly Fishing 101

(56) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(57) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(58) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(59) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(60) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(61) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(62) Trust Your Electronics

(63) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(64) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(65) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(66) Walleye can be Humbling

(67) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(68) Winter Flyfishing

(69) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(70) Hot Fall Pike Action

(71) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(72) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(73) Frequently Asked Questions

(74) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(75) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(76) Deep Water Perch

(77) Post Spawn Brookies

(78) A Fisher's Life

(79) The River's Last Stand

(80) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(81) Coho on the Coast

(82) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(83) Summer in the Mountains

(84) Peak Walleye Season

(85) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(86) Last Ice Rainbows

(87) The Burbot Event

(88) Tackle Matching

(89) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(90) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(91) The Lure of Brook Trout

(92) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(93) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(94) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(95) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(96) The Vesatile Plug

(97) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(98) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(99) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(100) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(101) Daily Fish Migrations

(102) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(103) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(104) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(105) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(106) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(107) The Fun in Ultra Light

(108) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(109) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(110) Never Stop Learning

(111) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(112) Jigging through the Ice

(113) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(114) Rainbows on Ice

(115) The Season of Ice Begins

(116) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(117) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(118) Facts On Cats

(119) West Coast Adventure

(120) June Walleye Frenzy

(121) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(122) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(123) "Northern Exposure"

(124) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(125) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(126) Man Overboard