January 29, 2020

Lake Champlain Crappie Fishing

The weatherman was announcing a balmy positive 5C last Wednesday, meaning I definitely had to get out on the ice! We decided on heading down to the very south end of Lake Champlain where my friend Rowan (Connecticut Fly Angler) had caught some White Crappie a couple years ago. I have very few reasonable ice targets left within a 3 hour radius and the White Crappie is one of them, the other being Round Whitefish which are only rarely caught in one lake in Vermont.

Rowan's friend's White Crappie

Thus, we made the drive south across the border, knowing we would probably have to do a lot of searching to find any fish at this new spot. Upon arriving, we quickly realized the holes we wanted to fish weren't frozen because of the crazy warm winter we've been having. We fished off a pier for a little bit but didn't get any bites, and then headed out on the ice.

In the distance, we spotted a bunch of cones on the ice so went to investigate. Turns out, someone had attempted bringing a camper trailer on the soft ice and paid the price by sending it to the bottom of the lake. On the plus said, it was located in a nice deeper hole and I figured it could make for some good structure.


Unfortunately, fishing around the trailer didn't really pay off and we only caught a couple small Pumpkinseed after a couple of hours. Having given up on the deeper water, we started making our way back to the access to fish another area entirely. On the way, I saw the outline of a Crappie-shaped fish frozen in the ice. I dug it out and, after a quick dorsal spine count, realized it was the target species! We excitedly drilled a bunch of fresh holes in the vicinity to start searching for fish.

Dead White Crappie

Soon enough, we realized that the spot was beautifully located on a weed edge, and I started seeing marks on the graph. The first fish that came to hand was a pretty decent P-seed:

Pumpkinseed

The marks seemed to disappear after that first fish so we started drilling more holes until we had essentially turned the area into Swiss cheese. It took a while, but, as the sun started to dip closer to the horizon, the marks started showing up again. My friend kicked off the evening bite with a nice Largemouth! Not to be outdone, I pulled up a decent chunk shortly after :)




























Then, the Crappie started rolling in. The marks were fast and furious; they crushed the jigs almost as quick as we could get them down. My heartbeat rose with every Crappie that came to the hole, only to be disappointed each time upon noticing the lack of a White Crappie's characteristic stripes. Nevertheless, they were still really nice fish and I was having a ton of fun with them. We also both caught a couple more Largies between all the Pomoxis fun.

Black Crappie

As the sun got even closer to the horizon, the Crappie seemed to move off and were replaced by Bluegill. The 'gills were somehow even more aggressive than the Crappie and I must've caught almost 20 in a row from 2 holes until it really started getting dark. They weren't huge, but some of the nicer ones approached the 8" mark.

A small Bluegill

Determined to put in my best effort to catch the target White Crappie, I kept weeding through the Sunfish in hopes that one more Crappie might show up. Eventually, soon before we had to head back to the car, I hooked into something that felt like it was from the desired genus. As it neared the hole, I saw it was indeed a Crappie... another Black Crappie.

Black Crappie

As it got darker we had to call it and ended the day White Crappie-less. That being said, it was still a great day and we caught a slew of slab Crappie, some nice Largemouth, and bonus Sunfish to keep the action hot.

January 23, 2020

Outaouais Winter Camping Adventure

Alex and I have tried winter camping once before, with a pretty moderate amount of success. We spent one night in my ice shelter on the Saguenay Fjord. While we did make it through the night that time, it started raining and I got dangerously cold. We actually ended up squeezing into a dry bag to stay warm. That was a couple years ago, and last weekend we felt ready enough to give an overnight stay a second attempt.

There has been this lake on my mind for many seasons now. It's about 2.5hrs away from home and 5km (all uphill) from the nearest road. We decided to make it the destination for our second attempt at winter camping.


Ready for adventure!


We woke up at 8:00, and got to our parking spot by noon. The hike to the secret lake started with a short bushwhack down to a lake we would have to cross to continue on our path. The bushwhack was a bit tight in places but it was all downhill and the snow was packed enough to make for an easy descent.


A bit of bushwhacking.

Once we hit the lake crossing, we quickly realized that we were going to be in for a lot of work because of the weight of our pack and sled. We are not backpackers so we didn't exactly have lightweight gear lol. Indeed, we were bringing my ice shelter, 20lbs of propane, a full cot, sleeping gear, etc. Despite this, we made it across the lake with relatively few issues.



Lake crossing to the trailhead.

The real tough part lay ahead, about 3km of old logging road all uphill to the lake. Travel was slow with the weight of our gear pulling us back. We even ended up sharing the weight of the sled and switching between carrying the pack, on top of taking breaks every 100m or so.


We needed breaks every 5min or so...
Alex with the full extent of our kit

It ended up taking almost 3hrs to reach the lake. Not actually that long, but I promise it feels a lot longer when you're slowly slogging straight uphill with what felt like over 100lbs of gear. It was a huge relief to put our feet on flat, solid ice!

Alex took a break on the ice while I started scouting out the lake for a place to set up camp. We settled for a sheltered spot by some trees that wasn't too far from our access point. Alex was getting chilled after resting so we made short work of setting up the shelter.


Camp is set up!

We ended the day with a classy 3 course meal of canned soup, steak, and Uncle Ben's rice. We then set up our sleeping gear, got in bed, and realized it was only 6:30! Apparently winter makes for long nights when you're camping haha. We did eventually fall asleep after setting alarms throughout the night to check on ourselves in case of CO; extra protection on top of our CO detector.

The next morning we rose to a beautiful fresh snowfall! It had blanketed the trail as well as our shelter which now featured some crazy condensation icicles.


The morning after... check out that condensation!

We also rose to some good and bad news. The good news was that we had burned about half our propane so the sled would be lighter, the bad news was that the fresh snow made travel even more difficult. I realized this within 1 minute after packing up camp as we made our way back to the access point. We had a short amount (800m) of uphill to do before starting the long descent to our car, but the snow made it take a full hour! Partway up, I heard a snowmobile in the distance. Moments later, I heard it again but much closer and told Alex to jump out of the trail when I realized what was happening. We made it just before they flew by! It was a close encounter but I was overjoyed when I realized they had packed down our trail. The rest of they way out was quite pleasant but we were still happy once we got back to the car and headed home :)


January 07, 2020

Creatures of the Night: Burbot Smackdown

So my buddy Carl finally convinced me to go out chasing some Walleye the other day. I actually hadn't targeted them in a few years so it was about time, especially since one of my goals is to eventually catch a 28 incher. I haven't been going out of my way for one, but I'll take it if it ever shows up! Anyway, we headed east from Montreal to an area we had fished many years prior in hopes of finding some decent fish.

We showed up at the spot around 1:00 and fished for a few hours without getting a single bite, and marking very few fish on our graphs. Finally, as the sun slowly started to set, I had a fish shoot up off the bottom and hit my jig! Finally got my first fish of the new year :)



Not long after, another small-ish Walleye shot off the bottom and hammered my jig. The evening bite was on! These weren't big fish by any means, but that's kinda the name of the game around Montreal. Soon after, another fish came up in similar fashion and, after a short fight, I iced the second species of the day: a Sauger.



Now it really starts to get interesting. The sun had basically completely set but the marks kept coming on the graph. I hooked up and noticed a different fight on my jigging rod, with more head shakes than the previous few fish. As it turns out, the roughfish that many fishermen dislike (hate is a strong word lol) seem to have followed me. The fish that came out the hole was one of my favourite wintertime targets: a Burbot. I came here for classic gamefish but I was catching roughfish!



The bite continued that way until we got tired and called it quits. Most of the fish were about the same size so I didn't bother to take any other photos. Also, the bites were coming so fast that I didn't want to waste time with photos! We caught about a dozen Burbot that evening.

The bite was so good that Carl and I decided to return the following day, this time with Alex. We had to wait for Alex to finish work but figured we could make it just in time as the sun was setting, mission impossible style. Alex had never caught a Burbot before so I was really hoping she could get her lifer. As it turns out, that didn't take long. In fact, she caught one probably within 5 minutes of sending her bait down.



After that fish, the bite seemingly died. I was relieved she got her fish but was getting worried that they wouldn't show up for some reason. Apparently, all we had to do was wait. Once it got darker, the fish started moving in. They were weren't shooting up like the day prior but were still happy to take a deadstick or lightly-jigged presentation. I'll spare you the details, but we ended with 13 Burbot and 1 Walleye in a few hours. I also caught one that was slightly larger than the others, but still not the 10lb beast I've been looking for.






Needless to say, it was a late, but pretty epic, start to the ice season!

January 01, 2020

2019 Reflections & 2020 Resolutions

A new year is upon us, meaning it's time to set our goals for 2020 and reflect on 2019's accomplishments. In 2019 I didn't set many New Year's resolutions, only to catch 2 new QC species and to keep track of how many types of fish I caught over the year (not just lifers).

2020 Resolutions:
In 2020 I only have 1 fishing goal: to catch 1 new QC species. There are so few left (only 7), that they are getting extremely difficult to come by. I have some plans to target Round Whitefish through the ice in January, but I may end up having to travel a little ways south to search for Grass Carp. Who knows, maybe I'll get desperate and fly out west for Cutthroat Trout and Spoonhead Sculpin or drive way up north for a Fourhorn Sculpin. Catching 2 new ones would blow my expectations and help me towards my goal of catching them all before I turn 30.

EDIT: I thought about it a bit more, and changed my fishing goals slightly to ones I think should make for a more interesting season. I still want to catch 1 new QC species, but I'd also like the challenge of at least trying for a few of the others. Yup, this year I want to target Round Whitefish, Cutthroat Trout, Spoonhead Sculpin, Deepwater Sculpin, and Grass Carp at least once each. Copper Redhorse and Fourhorn Sculpin are the only two I don't expect to target because the former is protected throughout its range and the latter is only found in the Arctic Ocean, which I don't plan to visit this year.


Most likely Suspect #1 (Roughfish.com)
Most likely Suspect #2 (Connecticut Fly Angler)

I guess I kinda lied about the 1 fishing goal, I would also like to explore the remaining parts of the Richelieu River that I have yet to fish so I can produce a sort of fishing guide for the river. I plan on doing a Richelieu River campaign to accomplish this, and recording all of my catches in scientific fashion.

The real big goal for 2020 isn't related to my fishing life, but rather to "real" life. But we can keep that boring stuff off of this blog ;)

2019 Reflections:
I managed to smash my goal of 2 QC lifers and ended up with 5, 4 of them on hook and line! Almost all of them were top targets of mine and some were totally unexpected. First, in May, I scooped up an American Brook Lamprey that was swimming by while I was trout fishing. It was pretty cool to see a non-parasitic lamprey in person.



Next, in June, I spent some time fishing with a buddy from school and hooked into my first ever River Redhorse! I even caught a couple more in the following days and each one surprised me with the power of their runs.



In July, Alex and I went on a short road trip to Connecticut where we met up with Rowan of Connecticut Fly Angler. He was kind enough to guide us on one of his home waters and put me onto my lifer Redfin Pickerel, a species I had been chasing since this whole lifelisting quest began.



In September, I headed to a spot where a friend had caught Eastern Silvery Minnows in years prior, but where I had always been unsuccessful. Something about the Fall weather changed all that and I found a nearby spot filled with the target Hybognathus.



Finally, and possibly one of my most difficult catches ever, is the Atlantic Sturgeon I caught while on a weekend trip with Alex in New Brunswick. We dragged the boat all the way to the Maritimes knowing that they existed, but that catching one would be extremely unlikely. Unexpectedly, I hooked up with one before even getting all of our rigs tied!



I was also able to successfully keep up with my goal of keeping track of each species I caught throughout 2019. As a result, I know that I landed 104 different types of fish on hook and line in one year, with just about half of them (51) being lifers!



I hadn't set any non-fishing related resolutions for 2019, but it turned out to be a pretty big year in that domain as well. Alex and I celebrated our 5-year anniversary, I was able to temporarily work at my dream job doing shift work in the arctic, and I finally graduated university! I have some equally big (or maybe bigger) goals for 2020 so I'm excited to see what the new year has in store for me.


Alex and I
Iron Ring Ceremony!

December 30, 2019

Costa Rica Surf Fishing

This is part 2 of our Costa Rica adventure. We spent a lot more time at the beach during the second half of our trip, which meant a lot more saltwater fishing. Of course, I still found time to fish some of the local streams :)

We spent our nights at Alex's sister's AirBnB in Playa Matapalo, but made time for some day trips to some of the areas within 3hrs of her place. Her place was beautiful, and was a short 5 minute walk to a beautiful secluded beach. More importantly, there were plenty of critters lurking around to keep me occupied.

The first order of affairs was to head into Quepos, to stock up on groceries and hopefully do a bit of fishing where her sister's husband had seen some White-eye, a cool topminnow I was interested in. Unfortunately, they were uncooperative, but I did see an awesome variety of saltwater species in the estuary. I didn't have any good bait but still cast a jig out and managed to hook this new Jack species on my ultralight: a Green Jack! As you probably know, most Jacks rip drag, and this guy did the same to my 4lb test and size 1000 reel. To add to the commotion, I drew the attention of some locals who began shouting advice... in Spanish. A guy named Luis shouted "Hey bro!" and came down to the rock to offer his aid. After some attempted conversation in Spanish, he took my knife and helped dispatch the fish for bait. That was my plan, but seeing him go for the knife caught me off guard lol.



Before leaving the city, we had time to stop at another part of the estuary just behind our parking lot where I noticed a lot of gobies darting between the rocks. It didn't take long to get one on the tanago hook and soon enough I was holding another lifer: the Estuarine Frillfin. There was also a cool abandoned car in the lot!

Estuarine Frillfin
Abandoned Car

After catching the goby, it was time to head home so we jumped in the car and drove back down the coastal highway. We unpacked our groceries and I was soon impatient and ready to get back to some fishable water. This time, I brought Alex's nephew with me and we headed to the Matapalo estuary to see what my swimming in its tidal waters. There didn't seem to be many fish around other than the typical uncatchable livebearers, but I did manage to catch this snapper by jigging near a fallen log. It turned out to be a Pacific Dog Snapper, another new species!


I eventually got tired of holding her nephew so I brought him home before heading to a small stream in town. I climbed down under a bridge, crossed over the ever-present Leaf-cutter Ants, and began fishing. The Tetras came instantly, but I also noticed some Cichlids and Livebearers in the mix. The Livebearers never took (of course), but I did catch this beautiful T-bar Cichlid after a few failed attempts :)


By the time I caught the cichlid, it was nearly dusk and I had to get back for early dinner so we would have time for our planned evening activities. We wanted to see the sun set over the Pacific and enjoy a campfire on the beach. We barely made it in time for sunset, but the fire and "cervezas" were fun. We ended the night with a quick round of coconut soccer on the wet sand.




The next day, we went on a day trip down the coast to Uvita. The first stop in town was at a great waterfall/swimming hole just a short ways inland. I knew from a friend that there were Pacific Machaca and Mountain Mullet in these waters, and it didn't take long to find them! I tied on my trusty spinner and, soon enough, I caught my first Pacific Machaca! Unfortunately, despite many attempts, the Mountain Mullet were unwilling to bite. I even tried some canned hot dogs I brought along specifically for these fish :p There were many swimmers in the water which may have put them on edge.

Pacific Machaca

We also took the opportunity to go for a quick dip in one of the more secluded pools before heading off to our next destination.


That next destination was the Marino Ballena national park, in the nearby town of Dominical. The plan was to drop Alex off there with her sister's family and I would go explore some fishing spots further north. Unfortunately, it was high tide, and the main attraction of the park, the whale tail-shaped sandbar jutting into the ocean, would be submerged by the incoming water. Instead, Alex and I made the best of the situation and both headed to my fishing spots ;) The point I wanted to fish was difficult to access, so we instead went to a small beach called Playa Dominicalito. It had a super cool surfer vibe and we enjoyed exploring our "secret" beach.




I also had time to cast a line out into the surf, but had low expectations as surf fishing has never been successful for me. Fortunately, I was actually able to get bites here! The first fish that came up appeared to be some sort of Drum species, and the second was another Snapper. The Snapper turned out to be a Yellow Snapper, and the Drum turned out to be nearly impossible to ID, but I settled on it being a Squint-eyed Croaker. Who knew there were so many sciaenids swimming in the eastern central Pacific!?

Squint-eyed Croaker
Yellow Snapper

We spent a couple hours at the beach before heading back to the AirBnB to end the day. I don't quite remember, but I imagine I spent the afternoon at the local creek watching the "Jesus" lizards run across the riffles in addition to more time failing at catching livebearers.

The next day, Alex and I planned to head up into the mountains to explore a cloud forest in Los Quetzales national park. The park entry turned out to be free, possibly because most of the trails were closed, but also rather disappointing for the same reason. We hiked around for about an hour until we had exhausted the small amount of open trail, and didn't really see much.

With our newfound free time, we decided to try hiking up to one of the peaks we had passed on our drive up. This turned out to be a great decision. Alex almost died from the thin air, but we thoroughly enjoyed our view from above the clouds! We also spotted a Spiny Lizard on the way back down which was pretty neat :)

Cerro la Asuncion

A blur of a Green Spiny Lizard
Driving through the clouds

We hiked back down to the car and began our descent down through the switchbacks and back to sea level. On the way down, we stopped at a local bakery (panaderia) for some fresh bread, which was delicious. I also had fun coasting down the steep curves of the highway and pushing the limits of our car's ability to stay on the road. We made a quick stop back at the local creek where I caught the T-bar Cichlid for Alex to catch her lifer Tetra before going back to the AirBnB for supper and bed.

The next day would be our final day in Matapalo, and the before-last day of our trip. I decided to spend the morning in Quepos trying to catch some of those saltwater fish that evaded me a few days prior. This turned out to be a great decision and I caught an additional 6 lifers with my sabiki rig! The fishing was essentially like sabiki fishing for saltwater fish always is: a lot of rebaiting and dropping the rig around whatever structure I could find. I'll only include a couple pictures, but the new ones were: Pacific Flagfin Mojarra, White-spotted Puffer, Panamic Frillfin, Elongate Grunt, Starry Grouper, and Oval Puffer. The Mojarra quickly became annoying and I also had repeat catches of Yellow Snapper and Estuarine Frillfin, almost incessantly.

Panamic Frillfin
Elongate Grunt

Oval Puffer
Starry Grouper

After a few hours of fishing, I drove back to Matapalo and we spent the evening collecting coconuts and body surfing at the beach. The coconuts did not want to drop so I borrowed a ladder from the neighbours and had to pry them off with a large branch! Also, the coconut water turned out to be under pressure so each one we opened sent the liquid flying everywhere. We collected the sweet water and enjoyed it with our final true Costa Rican dinner of arroz con pollo (chicken with rice).




Our final day was spent driving back to San Jose, exploring yet another waterfall, some more driving, and then eating some Costa Rican McDonald's before flying home on a red-eye. When we arrived at the waterfall, the signs indicated the park was closed, but a nice man and his family allowed us to park on his farm and showed us the way down to the water. There turned out to be two falls, both of which were picturesque but rather hard to get to. The water was cold and something smelled a bit off so we took our pictures and headed back to the car soon after.


That about ends our Costa Rican adventure, the rest of it was spent in McDonalds and airports. It was a beautiful country, with tons of fish, and so much land to explore. We almost always felt safe and I would totally return someday! Thanks to Alex's sister and her husband for hosting us and thanks to all the locals who were so friendly to us!