As I open the garage door to hitch up the boat the sun is already shining over the tops of the trees. The frost has not even started to melt off the windshield of the truck or the lawn. It is a typical frosty cold morning in late fall here in Northern New York. Weatherman says it will be a partly sunny day with light winds, temperature is supposed to get to forty-degrees. Right now I can see my breath, as I make sure everything is hitched up and the boat is ready to go.
The V8 engine in the Ford Expedition SUV roars to life and the defrosters are on full blast. After a few more sips from my steaming cup of coffee the ice starts to melt and disappear from the windshield. Pulling out of the driveway and onto the main road, thoughts of the past summer’s fishing wander through my head. There were a lot of good fish caught this year and hopefully a few more will come out to play today. It is about a fifty-minute drive to the small lake that I picked out for this last fishing trip of the season. This lake has a few areas with cottages, but most of the shoreline is wilderness. The highway takes me though areas where the leaves have all turned color and most have fallen, leaving the trees bare and cold. I can smell the pleasant aroma of leaves burning while passing through the small towns along the way. This is the time of the year when all the soft ice cream shops that were lifesavers in the sweltering summer’s heat have all closed for the season. The local bait shop and small seasonal antique shops have closed up as well. Winter is not to far away.
Starting down the steep access road to the lake, the vista though the trees looks like a picture postcard. Big fluffy white clouds hang in the blue sky with bits of golden sunshine peeking though. Some of the trees still have some red and yellow leaves adding color to the view. Several flocks of geese are flying high on their way south to their wintering grounds. All of this is reflected off the mirror smooth water of the lake like a page from an outdoor magazine. The boat ramp and parking lot are empty, not another boat to be seen on the lake. Looks like I may have the lake all to myself today.
Does not take long to launch the boat from the gravel ramp, have been here many times in the past thirty-five years and everything seems so automatic now. Thin ice crunches as the wheels of the truck drive over the shallow mud puddles in the parking lot. Going to be a cold one today.
The black Mercury 150 outboard fires up and acts like a horse that wants to run in the cool morning air. Easing the throttle forward the PolarKraft 178 SC boat planes off smoothly on the calm water. The cold air hits my face and takes my breath away. Trimming out the big motor and pulling the hood of my jacket down tight I run to a back bay that has held late season fish in the past. Easing off the throttle I can feel it start to get warmer as the heavy aluminum boat settles off plane and into the cold still water. A pair of Mallard ducks quack at me for disrupting their late morning feeding. The male’s bright green head is glistening in the sunshine as he and his mate swim past me making twin wakes on the smooth surface of the water.
There is a long rocky shoreline that drops off into twenty feet of water before me with some weeds growing out to about ten feet. I drop the Motorguide Tour 82 electric motor into the water and watch the display on the Lowrance depth sounder for any activity or bait fish. The water temperature is holding at forty-two degrees. First lure used is a Boogee bait; it is similar to a Chatterbait with a skirted jig and a blade attached to the front of it. It has a narrow head that works through the late season vegetation with ease. This particular bait has a gold blade, white and chartreuse skirt, with a white twin tail plastic trailer. These bladed jig baits have worked well for locating and catching fish all season long. First cast is a backlash. Cold fingers, cold line and too anxious to get going, I mumble excuses to myself as I pull out the backlash. Settling down I work the Boogee bait over the top of the weeds from the shoreline out. Even try working the outside edge of the weeds by slow rolling the bait after letting it fall to the bottom. Hopping it off the bottom and letting it fall gets no takers as well. Give a buzz bait, crank bait, and a jig a try and not one fish wants to come out and play.
After about thirty minutes I leave this area for an island that has always produced. Work around the island fishing the weeds in shallow water with the Boogee bait, the piles of rocks with a crank bait, and into the deeper water with a jig and pig without a single strike. A few hundred yards away there is a big weedy flat that has a small ledge and then drops into deep water. Instead of firing up the Mercury outboard, I kick the Motorguide electric motor on high and it pulls the boat over the calm water smoothly and quietly toward the tip of the grass bed where it starts to drop off into deeper water. There is a GPS waypoint in the bow mounted Lowrance LMS 520C of the exact spot I want to start fishing.
A familiar loud screech makes me look up in time to see an Osprey locking in on a target. An Osprey can actually hover in mid air while it waits for its prey to get into the best position for them to grab. Ospreys only eat fish and are a common sight around the local lakes. The big raptor starts to dive toward the water with its wings locked in a half closed position looking like a fighter jet. It disappears under the water for a moment then reappears and flies off with a fish in tow, shaking the water out of its feathers as it goes. Something interesting about an Osprey, unlike other raptors an Osprey has four equal toes or talons. The outer toe is reversible so the Osprey can grip its prey with two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards. Over the many years I have fished this little lake there have been at least one pair of nesting Ospreys each year. They are wonderful to watch and will screech at you if you are any where near the nests they build. Mind you, the nests are usually 30 to 50 feet up on top of a tall tree or tower, but if you happen to move your boat into a bay near the nest you are in their home and they will let you know about it.
The GPS has me right on the edge of the ledge and the depth sounder confirms where the drop off is. With the colder water I am thinking a slow presentation might be needed. Decide to start here with a half-ounce black/blue Booyah jig with a black number one size Uncle Josh pork trailer. Have also slid a small one inch piece of a red shad Berkley Powerbait worm on the shank of the hook to keep the pork frog from sliding down the shank and flipping over onto the hook point. Plus with the Powerbait scent and red color it gives just a little extra attraction to the jig. A short pitch cast with the seven-foot jig rod allows the fifty-pound test braided line to feed out smoothly through the rod guides. The jig and pig drops down into the cold water to the base of the deep weeds on the ledge 15 feet below. I watch closely for any ticks or jumps in the line as the jig falls into the depths. Does not take long, even my numb fingers can detect a solid thump of something sucking down the jig and pig. I set the hook and soon a solid three and a half pound Largemouth comes to the surface. The cold water is not bothering this fish as it jumps and sprays cold water all over my face and glasses. Quickly unhook and release the fish and hope I have found a pattern for the day. After spending another hour working the deep weed line with jig and pig, the outer edge with crank baits, and running the Boogee bait and a buzz bait over the tops of the weeds and through the open pockets, no other fish want to come out and play.
Fire up the big outboard for a short ride to a rocky point off the mainland. It has some huge boulders under the water and just a little bit of grass still green on it. Decide to try a Bill Norman’s DD22 crank bait, chartreuse sides with purple down the back. Started right at the tip of the point making a long cast toward the rocky shore and slowly work the bait down the steep drop off, bouncing it off the large boulders under the water. The sun is up high in the sky and I can feel it beating down on my back and neck. It feels good and am finally starting to warm up a little. There is a rustling noise in the woods just past the point. A deer has come down off the mountain for a drink. Just as soon as I touch the pedal of the electric motor the movement of the boat startles the deer. It leaps back into the forest with its white tail flagging danger to any others that might be around. On the second or third cast I feel the deep diving crank bait hang in the grass. A sharp tug on the 7’5’’ cranking rod pulls the bait free and immediately something big grabs the bait. Using the electric motor to back away from the rocks I manage to get the fish to come up. It is a good Largemouth bass. A brief fight and into the boat comes a nice five-pounder with a huge belly. This one has not missed many meals over the summer and certainly is getting ready for the long winter months ahead. Fishing several other similar points with the big crank bait and jig and pig produce nothing. The wind is coming up now; glad I have a heavy jacket with a hood on today. Feels good to have something warm over my ears.
Decide to move into a small bay between two islands that have a good deep weed line, a rocky hump and some old dead trees under the water. The shoreline is all chunk rock and I start there first with a shallow running crank bait. No takers on the first pass, moving back over the same area with a jig and pig gets me hung several times in the chunk rock. I break off several jigs and decided to try a lighter black 5/16-ounce Arkie style jig with a green pumpkin colored Strike King Rage Chunk for a slower fall. About half way down the rocky shore I feel a solid thump and set the hook into another heavy fish. This one is not very happy and jumps several times trying to throw the jig before coming to the boat. After a quick picture and checking the weight I am releasing another five pounder.
The Loons are out today and feeding heavily, their calls to each other have been ongoing all day. There are nesting pairs of these beautiful black and white birds in many of the lakes all over Northern New York. They are the most fun to watch when they come back from their wintering grounds to mate in the spring. They get up on top of the water and dance with their feet barely touching the surface and their wings flailing the air to impress a prospective mate. With the clear water reaching down to over twenty feet in depth it is easy to watch these big birds swim under water looking for fish to eat. During the summer it is interesting to watch the mother and father bird teach the gray colored little ones to dive and catch their dinner. For now the adult pairs are fishing together out in the deeper water and leave one of the nearly grown young Loons to fish alone in the bay.
The sun disappears behind a big black cloud, the temperature starts to drop and the wind picks up. Wondering where to try next I think of all the places that have held big fish over the many years on this lake and pick one last spot to try. It is a big hump that is just offshore. There is a rock pile at one end and thick weeds covering the top most of the year. This hump has deep water on one side and shallow water on the other facing the shoreline. Working a buzz bait down the shallow water and over the weeds produces nothing. A jig and pig down the deep edge and around the rocks does no better. Finally go back to the deep diving DD22 and off the end of the hump finally feel a heavy fish on the line. Get it to the surface and with one flip of its head sends the big plug flying my way and the fish disappears under the surface. I mumble something to myself about rushing the fish and taking my time.
Moving over a little closer to shore I see chipmunks working hard at getting their last minute supply of nuts. Rushing back to the eaves of the cottages where they make their winter homes. Red squirrels are barking as I approach the shore and the larger gray squirrels totally ignore my presence as they too are working hard to get ready for the approaching winter.
By late afternoon the coffee is all gone, so are the sandwiches as well as several breakfast bars. The cold is making me hungry and I rummage around in the cooler for some cookies. The wind is picking up and it is turning colder, but would like to try and get two more fish for a limit before calling it a day. Decided to stick it out on the hump for a little longer and finally catch a small keeper on a crank bait. The small twelve-inch fish looks strange with the big DD22 crank bait hanging off the corner of its mouth. A true case of having eyes bigger then its stomach. Making one more pass down the shallow side of the hump a beaver slaps its tail on the water in front of the big lodge that has grown on the shore over the past few years. It disappears under the surface and as the rings in the water disappear I see the newly chewed off branches from the local poplar trees that will be the food for the beaver family once the ice covers the lake.
Now it is late and I am getting cold, the wind has the lake whipped up into white caps and despite the fact I have not gotten my five fish limit, decide it is time to head back to the ramp. Running up the lake on plane causes the cold air to work its way through the seams of my jacket making me shiver and crouch down behind the console windshield. At least with moving into the wind the boat cuts through the waves neatly without splashing cold water over the gunwales. After what seems like a much longer ride then normal I pull back on the throttle to start the slow approach to the launch area. A little muskrat is slowly swimming past the gravel ramp on its way back home into the thick marsh that borders the ramp. It makes me shiver just to see the small animal swimming in the cold water. Hope he has piled on the calories for the long winter ahead.
The warmth of the heater in the truck makes everything feel a lot better. Takes very little time to load the boat and start for home. Start to think of the fish I did catch. Realizing how lucky I have been to be out on the water catching fish and enjoying all that Mother Nature presented to me once again while most of my friends are home watching football on TV. Cold and hungry…yes, disappointed in missing that fish…of course, but satisfied I have put an ending to another fishing season with a nice pair of five-pound Largemouths. If for some unfortunate reason I can never going fishing again, the memories of today will last me forever.
Next comes the hard part. Putting the boat up, cleaning reels, working on rods, sorting tackle, and watching fishing shows on TV until I can leave for Florida in February. I can get excited just thinking about what the New Year will hold.
The drive back home seems to take longer then usual as I really am not ready to call it the end of the season. Maybe the weatherman and Mother Nature will give out just one more good day?
By, Dave DeRemer/Baron