Why is it that some of the most pleasing fishing you can do is also some of the simplest? I’m not stepping on bass-anglers with that comment either, but chuckin’ baits up near shore and dragging them back right now will get you bit on most of the weed-choked shallow systems that I fish this time of year. The fishing is that good. As a kid, I grew up bass fishing. For a southern MN boy, they were the most attainable of the “big” fish. Walleyes lived up-north, you needed a float-plane to fish for pike, and sunfish were for “kids.” From age 10 up and through my teenage years while I most often fished for largemouth bass, I was far from a kid. Catching bass back then, esp. big ones, made your chest puff out a bit.
Ever since those years, every time I see the cottonwood seed fly in late May and early June, I think back to summers where I’d fish constantly on small ponds and lakes. Just like trout-anglers like to see big fish rise to a dry-fly, a bass-nut wants to see those fish eat top-water. There probably isn’t a better time to do it than when that cottony mess continually accumulates on your line and fouls your casts. At our peak, we’d boat more than a hundred largies over 4lbs in a summer, mostly on frog patterns, but on a variety of soft-plastics as well. When that bite slowed or we just grew tired of it, we tossed hand-poured versions of the original Slug-Go, as the Senko had yet to be invented, or at least introduced to us. It should be no surprise then that I wanted that experience for my son Isaac as we set out on a small lake in Wisconsin a few days ago with our dilapidated half duck-decoy-tag-along, half-canoe of a watercraft.
Our first time this year in a tippy-canoe with a little bit of wind made me think twice about taking any photography equipment with. Even the cell phone stayed back on shore. Trust me when I say we had enough fish to keep us more than happy, including a few fish in the 4lb range, and another one lost boat side (first bite of the day) that was a particularly long and spawned out female which probably was bigger. What a way to start out, 3rd cast and the fish was on! Lots of “Geez dads and “oh man’s,” Isaac declared before it rolled boat-side, too big to effectively jump, giving a half-hearted roll-over before it somehow threw the hook.
The best part? The pattern hasn’t changed in decades. I pre-rigged 3 rods and we fished 3 baits all afternoon, each one being most effective for specific areas. We fish weed-choked, soupy systems. Not lily-pads, I’m talking algae, pond weed, and all kinds of messy stuff. For that, you need a top-water weedless bait of some sort. That day, lots of smaller males were way back in the grass, blowing up on dragonflies and eating developing tadpoles and young frogs. I’ve become a fan of the single-hook weedless rigged soft plastic frog imitations for bites like these. If I can keep the bait riding high and the fish will eat it at that pace, I get better hookups than I do with the dual-hook soft-body style baits I used to use more of when I was younger. You also have the added advantage of letting that bait settle and sink into some of the holes and pockets in the weeds. A white buzzbait was perfect for areas adjacent to the slop where developing grass was coming up but not quite to the surface. This day, a buzzbait caught most of the fish, and I can’t think of a more fun way for kids to fish. Finally, perhaps the most versatile bait that day, and the bait which caught the biggest fish, was a texas-rigged soft-plastic sinking worm in Watermelon Red-Flake. This was for the weed-edges, especially the deeper edges of coontail. Count it down a few feet and start slowly working it back. Also, don’t overlook beaver-lodges. The deeper areas created by the animals coming and going, directly adjacent to shore held some nice fish too.
That’s really all there was to it. Isaac did most of the casting, and for a kid, throwing out a frog and keeping the rod high with a steady retrieve is about as easy and rewarding as it gets. We fished for a little more than an hour, then he wanted to see if we could race a beaver with the canoe and win. That’s part of the wonder too. I take for granted all of those experiences, which to a youngster are brand new, or at least super cool even if they’ve seen them before. I loaded the canoe and he chased frogs around after we finished up; I can’t think of a better ending to an already incredible day.