Monday, March 31, 2014

The best of both worlds

On Friday, Kelly and I drove north for some kayak fishing on our favorite creek that flows into Pickwick Lake. It would have been nice to stay closer to home, but in order to escape the rain and thunderstorms in our neck of the woods, the drive was necessary. We felt like the 30% chance of isolated t-storms farther north was better than the 80% chance locally... and it turned out to be a pretty good gamble.

Not only did we use the kayaks, but we both took a fly rod as well as a rod for conventional lures... the best of both worlds. We had success with both methods, but no lunkers were landed on this outing... although we saw some true river beasts. The kayak lets you get really close before fish get spooked, and in such a clear creek, you get to see some pretty impressive fish... even if you don't have the good fortune to catch them. I saw a Largemouth that was easily five pounds while Kelly claims to have seen a bass that would have been seven or eight or more... and I tend to believe her. She said the only larger bass that she has ever seen in person were in the display tanks at Bass Pro Shops. I also saw some sizable Longnose Gar that were staging to spawn... two big females in the neighborhood of 5 feet long with several smaller 3 to 4 foot males hanging around them.

I tried in vain to tempt a bass to bite on the surface, but only drew interest from tiny Bluegill that couldn't take my size 4 Stealth Bomber. Kelly fished a smaller popper and managed to take the first fish of our year on the surface... you guessed it... a Bluegill.

I managed to catch another species of Lepomis that we don't encounter too often... mostly because we don't bait fish with worms around here. I landed this 6" Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus), or "Shellcracker" as we call them in the South, on the Rapala X-Rap.

Nobody told this shellcracker he's supposed to eat snails.

The other noteworthy event from this trip was that Kelly landed the first Smallmouth of the year- caught on a Rapala Husky Jerk.

14 inches of bronze for 2014!

Things are definitely starting to heat up. We'll be wading and fly fishing with poppers (and Stealth Bombers) in a matter of just a few weeks now... and after the winter we've had, I can hardly wait.

Kelly reminded me that I was actually the one who caught the first surface fly fish of the year... which was a small Bluegill (obviously not very memorable), and that she also caught an 11" bass on the surface. My memory is failing me... or I just selectively remember the really good stuff. I guess I need to consult with her to get the story straight before I click "publish" from now on.

Monday, March 24, 2014

First bass of 2014 on the fly!

It's seems like it came much later than last year, but looking back at the first bass on the fly for 2013... we actually beat it by one week and one day. Winter has really dragged out this year, and it looks like we have at least a few more days of cold weather ahead.

It was just warm enough on Saturday that Kelly and I decided to go wade our local urban creek. We chose a spot on the stream that I have affectionately called "Dowisetrepla." If you're a fan of HIMYM, you know what I'm talking about already. For the rest of you... you'll just have to click the link. Let's just say we take showers when we're finished wading in this particular spot... better safe than sorry.

So here it is... in all 10 inches of its glory...

The fish was caught on a black bead head woolly bugger (I believe a size 8) using my vintage Browning Boron fly rod. I plan to do a post at some point in the near future on my Browning fly rods... so if you like those sort of posts, stay tuned. I also tried a small Stealth Bomber in vain... apparently no one was brave enough to break the surface to eat yet.

Kelly opted for the ultralight and the 4" Powerbait worm, which turned out to be a pretty good decision. She caught several more (and larger) than I did as is expected.

I knowingly handicapped myself in hopes of being the one to land that first bass of the year on the fly (while quietly reassuring Kelly of her ultralight choice and suggesting that my use of the fly rod was futile).

Last year she got it, but not this go around.

I win.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lure review: Rapala X-Rap and X-Rap Shad

Still waiting for ideal conditions to break out the fly rods and poppers for bass, we once again resorted to the dark side last weekend and fished conventional lures. We had a pretty good day on Saturday, fishing from the kayaks in a feeder creek of Pickwick Lake in northwest Alabama. We didn't catch any big ones, but Kelly caught 13 bass and I caught 9... outfished by a girl as usual.

One of my goals for the day was to test out some new (to me) lures made by Rapala. I admit not noticing when these lures were first released because I pay more attention to fly fishing than this sort of stuff. I only recently discovered the X-Rap by accident because I was looking for Rapala Husky Jerk lures in a retail outlet... and there the X-Rap was. It has been called the "perfect lure" by some fisherman. From what I can tell the X-Rap hit the market about a year and half ago... so I apologize for my belated review, but here we go anyway. (Post publishing UPDATE: According to a friend who worked at Bass Pro, this lure was introduced in late 2005... so this review is really, really belated. Oh well.)

Accodring to the Rapala website, the X-Rap has all of the following features...

  • Slashbait® Action
  • Suspending on Pause
  • Textured Translucent Body
  • Internal Holographic Foil
  • 3D Holographic Eyes
  • Internal Long-Cast System (XR04 excluded)
  • Stainless Steel Through Wire Construction
  • VMC® Black Nickel Hooks
  • 3D Holographic Eye
  • Flash Feather Teaser Tail
  • Hand-Tuned & Tank-Tested

I believe the lure lives up to all of those descriptors... except for the first and possibly most important of them all... the registered trademark "Slashbait® Action."

According to the website, "the angler defines the cadence for maximum effectiveness." So, maybe I just wasn't doing it right. I tried several different retrieval techniques, but for me it just din't move so magically in the water. Don't get me wrong, I liked the action that I did see, which was reminiscent of the greatest Rapala lure of all time (in my humble opinion)- the Husky Jerk ("Tennessee Shad" color pattern to be specific). I have declared my affection for the Husky Jerk previously on this blog, and from what I can tell Rapala may be phasing this lure out. They're becoming increasingly hard to find in retail outlets. They're also holding their value on Ebay... I know I've been looking, and they're worth their weight in gold if you ask me.

The X-Rap seems to be the logical successor to the Husky Jerk based on circumstantial evidence... similar body shape, action, and suspending qualities as well as being on the first page of lures on the Rapala website while the HJ has been pushed down to page 6, the next to last page. I should also mention that the X-Rap has a higher pricetag than the HJ ever did... and we're not just talking about inflation here. Aside from the overall more modern realistic look of the X-Rap, I find this to be one of the most notable differences.

The X-Rap works!

I also tried out the X-Rap Shad (a new and improved version of the ol' Shad Rap), which has a different profile but mostly similar features to the X-Rap, although they don't claim it to have the same "Slashbait® Action"... instead it is called "Xtreme Attitude Action"... which I find to be quite silly. This crankbait has no more extreme attitude than any other similar crankbait I have ever fished. Don't get me wrong, I like it a lot... I just don't think the silly description of its action is necessary. It does have good action and swims very well... no need for overstating what it does.

The X-Rap Shad works too!

The best fish of my day was landed on the X-Rap Shad. The color pattern I used was "Olive Green"- the closest I could find to my favorite "Tennessee Shad."

Upside down... the kayak angler's perspective

I would definitely recommend both the X-Rap and the X-Rap Shad to other bass anglers. As with all lures, they may not be the best choices on any given day or in any given situation, but they outfished everything else I tried last weekend (lipless crankbaits, plastic worm, and spinnerbait). The only thing that kept up with them, and actually beat them, was their Husky Jerk cousin that Kelly was fishing.

Sometimes you just can't beat a classic... Rapala, are you listening?