Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hitting for average.......

Spring is a time of year that represents change - old man winter has faded away for most of the country and the signs of new growth have emerged.  Lawn mowers are out in force, flowers are in bloom, and the annual spawning period has begun.  Depending upon your area of the country, the spawn hits at different times for different species.  April also signifies the start of the major league baseball season and for many folks like myself, a time to watch some of your favorite teams and players compete against one another in what is often considered the national past time.

One of the fundamental statistics in baseball for hitters is their batting average.  The batting average is a preliminary indicator of how often a player is likely to get a hit per game.  So, if a hitter has a career average of .333, they are projected to get on average one hit for every three at bats; however, this does not take into account any current hitting streaks or periods where the player is intentionally walked.  For the angler, hitting for average is a concept that is often over looked.  Take a fishing tournament for example, the first goal of each tournament angler is to get a limit, in most cases that means five fish.  If you spend all your time searching for the "big one", you may find yourself in last place with only one fish or worse no fish and possibly out of the tournament or have any chance of placing.

How often as an angler have we spent so much time searching for big fish only to go home empty handed or the memory of "the one that got away"?  My last post spoke about the importance of having a backup plan, and I have seen anglers forget this one simple concept.  I have spent many a day on the water and am fortunate enough to say that I have only had a handful of "no fish" days, and when they did occur, I can reflect back and kick myself for not having a secondary approach or backup plan.  Stubbornness is also a likely factor to be quite honest, because as an angler, you don't like to admit that you were wrong.

Yesterday, I had taken the day off for a scheduled Heroes On the Water event, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to water temperatures being a little colder than expected and not conducive to a comfortable day on the water for our veterans.  So, a few of the Central VA HOW volunteers got together and went fishing anyway at the planned location.  It was a breezy day with air and water temperatures in the low 60's, but the air temperatures crept into the low 70's by mid-afternoon at Bear Creek Lake.  I had planned my outing around one specific type of presentation - soft plastics which at first might seem limited; however, I had my backup plan in place with three different soft plastic bait profiles and associated presentation techniques.

I had read recent reports of fish being caught on a variety of shapes and sizes of lures with the most common being soft plastics.  Bear Creek Lake has plenty of submerged trees and brush, so I opted to leave all of my moving presentations at home.  I rigged up three different rods the night before: first, a finesse presentation on my spinning rod and reel with a Confidence Baits Draggin' Head and Floating Bird rig; second, a heavier casting rig with a dark stick bait and weight; and third, a mid-weight casting rig with a small profile skirted jig and trailer.  I started the day working the heavy cover near the shoreline with no bites initially, but I kept at it switching rods and presentation speeds.

Around 11am, I go my first fish.  It was a spunky little male 13" Largemouth Bass that was snuggled up against the shoreline on the back side of a downed tree laying in the water next to a point.  I had placed the Floating Bird at first on the up current side of the wind blown point to avoid any unnecessary slack in the line.  After 15 minutes of working that tree over pretty good, I made a cast on the backside of the tree into the bank and just hopped the Floating Bird into the static water.  Immediately, the bass hit it and stayed hooked.
At the time, I was using the Mummichog color which is kind of a mocha color with some gold fleck in it.  The water was fairly clear in the shallows, so I opted for the most natural color I had.  I kept working that pattern - shallow calm water on the backside of structure.  I was getting several subtle hits, but very few hooksets.  I had a couple more on the line, but they came unhooked before I could get them to the kayak.  Based upon the time of year, I think the primary spawn window is close, and the bigger females were not shallow yet no hungry today.  All the bass I caught were the smaller males preparing to guard the beds.  I kept working the same pattern the rest of the morning and landed another little male on the same color Floating Bird.
As the day wore on, the bites were becoming fewer and farther between.  I also noticed that the wind had started to stir up some of the sediment along the banks from the wave action slapping the shore.  This action had created some areas where the water had a defined line of clarity next to pockets of cloudy and murky water.  I decided to switch colors to a darker profile and opted for the Blueberry Floating Bird.  Keep in mind that I was also casting the other two presentations throughout the day.  I had even switched to a 3" stick bait in green pumpkin just as a change of pace, but every fish I landed was on the Floating Bird using a subtle hopping motion.

When you are out in nature, you never know what surprises lay before you on the water.  As I was pedaling along the back of Bear Creek near the marsh, I saw some movement in the back of one of the shallow creeks.  The fish was waking the surface pretty good, and I could tell from the size and color that it was a carp.  I made a cast towards the carp just to see what would happen.  I figured a 30" carp on a lightweight finesse spinning comb would be fun.  The wind caught the line a bit creating a bow in the line as it to landed directly across the carp's spine.  The water erupted in a violent explosion as the carp took off like a shot out of a cannon.  Too funny.  I turned around and made my way back into the primary area of the lake and saw another movement that caught my eye only this one was moving with a different purpose........
Now, this little snake was not a threat.  He was 20" in length at best, and he seemed rather intrigued with my Hobie Revolution 13.  I steered clear of him and watched him turn and make his way to shore.  A few more weeks into the spring, and I am quite certain that the little snake may not have made that crossing so easily.  Big Largemouth love snakes.

I kept fishing the areas mentioned earlier and was consistently getting hits with a few landed here and there but never any real size to them.  I had several of the cookie cutter bass to my credit for the day......
....., but the most surprising one of the day was right before I had to call it a day.  I was fishing a small pocket on the shoreline and felt a solid hit.  I set the hook but didn't feel anything.  I was watching my line and noticed that is had moved again.  So I set the hook yet once more but still felt no resistance.  Strange.  Just then the line started moving again.  What was going on here?  Were the fish barely grabbing the tail of the Floating Bird and removing it from the bed maybe?  I know the males do that sometimes just as a means of "housekeeping" and keeping the bed clear.  I made one last hook set attempt and immediately felt resistance, but this fish was fighting harder and more erratic darting from side to side under my Hobie.  I finally get the fish to the surface and into the kayak only to see that it was not a bass.  Rather it was a ...............

....bluegill!!  A bluegill had been the guilty culprit all along.  Too funny!!  Anyway, that fish signified the end of a relatively productive day.

Remember the concept of hitting for average?  Well, today, I had focused on one lure type, but I had varied my lure profile size and presentation all throughout the day.  If you look at my average for the day, I had a total of 7 fish landed (6 bass, 1 bluegill) and 10 misses.  That's an average of 7 for 17 or .412 for you baseball fans.  That's pretty good in my book considering the windy conditions, the time of the year relative to the spawn and how finicky the fish were behaving.  No to mention the fact that I was on the water for a total of 6 hours which translated to a catch rate of greater than one fish per hour.

In the end, the lesson learned here is that we all have float plans and goals when we head out on the water.  The question you need to ask yourself is: Have I given myself the best chance at hitting for average?  Just something to consider the next time you are planning a fishing trip.

Until next time, be safe, tight lines and take a kid and/or a service member fishing!!

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