I had a chance to briefly get out to some floodplain ponds along the Patuxent River in Maryland. The Patuxent is a very long river with a relatively small drainage area (wholly contained in Maryland), so it doesn't get horribly polluted. It has a wide floodplain that was historically forested, which also aided in the cleanup of any runoff or sediment. However, the coastal plain portion of the river and its floodplain lays over hundreds of feet of deposited sand and gravel layers, which have been actively mined for decades. As these mines (pits, really) dip below sea level and become impossible to keep dry, they are abandoned and reclaimed by the Patuxent. In a lot of cases, the land itself is converted into park land.
Some high school guys showed up to fish in a canoe. They chose to beach the boat on a beaver lodge and cast from there - I was either too nice or too mean to tell them that they'd be better off staying in the canoe and casting to the beaver lodge and all the structure underneath it.
These pits, many of which contain high water flow in and out of the River, turn into deep, gravel lined ponds with forested shorelines. Because there is little to no flow during the summer (and the gravel helps to heat the water, the ponds tend to get totally covered in aquatic vegetation and algae. I tried to fish this particular set of pits in the summer of 2007, right before I started this blog. I don't remember catching any fish at all, but I remember that my fishing line was stained green with algae after just an hour of fishing. I was so disgusted that I have not returned once in almost 4 years. Until this week!
I was working in the area and thought that maybe - just maybe - I could get a jump on the aquatic vegetation since, after all, it's March and SNOW was still in the forecast. I tried several lures on some obvious sites - beaver lodges, downed trees, submerged branches, and gravel piles that I could see deep in the water (thanks, polarized lenses!). I got a ton of nips, near bites, and even misses from fish flying out of the water, but not a single hookup. I relaxed my hookset a bit, changed to this BPS goby lure (cheap version of a Yo-Zuri Goby), and changed up the retrieve. And it worked!
Green sunfish or warmouth? Either way, there were lots of 'em. Most a little - but not much - bigger..
I ended up using a retrieve, I don't know what it's called, that I used to snag my 19" spotted bass last summer. It works on unmotivated fish who are just barely hungry/ornery enough to not let a free meal slip away. Fish were not hitting on the impact, but would hit immediately after the first pop/twitch, usually missing. I would then do an intermittent retrieve, allowing the lure to rise to the surface and roll just a bit. I would then see sunfish and bass rising from the bottom to stalk - but they refused to strike on those short hops. About every fourth hop, I would run the lure in about a foot and a half. That turned out to be the killer. Fish weren't super sure they wanted to eat it as it floated and twitched there, but there was no way they were going to let it swim away.
There were probably 5 other anglers out and nobody caught anything. Once I had this technique down, I was catching fish over and over again. About an hour after I figured out the lure/retrieve combination, I had caught and released 5 or 6 (7?) largemouth, most of them 10-12", along with at least 20 green sunfish or warmouth -hard to ID them - kind of surprised not to catch bluegill, crappie or perch. I caught several bass and sunfish that bum-rushed the lure from "the deep" as other fish were sitting near the surface, pondering a strike.
Great way to spend an afternoon - and marks the earliest in the calendar year I've caught a bass (any species) in Maryland. I hope to get back there once more before the vegetation closes over the ponds!