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Fishing for Gators: Teaching Nature Appreciation
Well, as before, fishing's been a bit slow here in the Black Hills region for taking the family out, but that doesn't mean that there isn't anything to be learned, especially for a two-year-old who is inquisitive about everything in this world. This past week, we decided to take a trip to visit Reptile Gardens and let Aurora explore and look at all the animals at the center. It's always been a place that my wife and I liked to visit before we had Aurora, but having a kid now makes it even more entertaining. And it provides a place to see dozens of animals that she will probably not see in the wild and we can start teaching her about respect and appreciation for those things in nature that are in need of protection and understanding. You can't really start out on these lessons soon enough I've decided and the more comfortable she is around birds, reptiles, insects, and other types, the more she'll appreciate them and not be afraid of being near them in the future.
At our first stop, we saw that the Gardens was doing something new. Due to the pandemic, all normal shows this season (gator wrestling, bird, and snake shows) are not happening. Instead, they were giving visitors a chance to "fish" for alligators and crocodiles. They had long poles with an attached rope that would allow visitors to feed the reptiles from behind plexiglass with some big shiner minnows at the end of the rope. Needless to say, the success rate of catching a gator was better than the rate of catching fish right now! Aurora helped with the first fish, but decided to just watch the second one. It was fun for her to be so close to the gators for her to look at them, but be perfectly safe. From there, we went to look at several raptors and parrots in the bird show area, which Aurora thought was fun due to her current fascination with all things avian right now. Next was a visit to the prairie dog town and then to the tortoise enclosure. The bigger ones were being particularly active at that time and Aurora didn't want to pet and scratch their heads, but was content to touch their shells when they were holding still. Being Melissa's favorite part of Reptile Gardens, she got to scratch their necks while Aurora watched and learned that these gentle behemoths were nothing to be scared of. The last stop was inside the dome of the center, where she got observe dozens of alligators and crocodiles, lizards, snakes, amphibians, insects, and arachnids. And she took it all in, or at least as much as a two-year-old can take in. As she continues to grow and we come for visits, I'm sure she'll want to learn more about all the fascinating animals there.
As her fascination grows with the animals there, I can only hope that by teaching her about them and their habitats that she will come to show an appreciation for them and the importance of protecting not just the animals themselves, but also for protecting and preserving their world. Nature is full of strange and wonderful things, but there is a need for balance and our species isn't exactly known for keeping nature balanced. But places like Reptile Gardens or other nature centers in the country are important to show kids just how great nature can be and why it needs our protection. It can inspire them to want to take care of it, even it just means cleaning up trash while going for a walk. As outdoorsmen and women, we have a responsibility to help our kids and grandkids understand what makes nature so awesome and worth protecting. If we don't pass on that appreciation, things like fishing, hunting, etc. could go away or look very different in the future. So take advantage of whatever nature centers may be in your area. It's always worth a visit. And for me, how often can I say that I caught more gators than fish on my last trip!
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Black Hills Area Fishing Report
Well, the dog days of summer have kicked in big time in the area. Hot weather is here and here to stay for at least the next few weeks. Afternoon trips will have to be avoided to stay out of the intense heat in the area or perhaps spent in the lake rather than on it to cool off. Fishing activity has generally slowed down to almost a crawl on many lakes other than some trout ones. But for the intrepid anglers in the area, there are still catches to be made in the morning and evening hours when the heat is not as intense. With that in mind, here is what area lakes are currently looking like:
The walleye bite on Angostura has not changed much since the summer started-slow to nonexistent most days. Bass have proved more susceptible to being caught in weedy areas on topwater baits and there has been crappie activity reported in Horsehead Bay.
On Orman Dam, timing is everything right now as the walleye only seem to be on the prowl for a short time before shutting off, but there has been no consistent time when the bite is turning on and it's more about being in the right place at the right time. Those catching walleyes are having more luck with crankbaits in 20'-25' of water than with bottom bouncers at present.
If there is a bright spot in the area for fishing, Deerfield is seeing a pretty good trout bite lake wide on small crankbaits, flat fish, and flasher lures in 7'-14' of water. Perch are also biting near the bottom, but sorting is required as usual.
Pactola is also seeing a good rainbow bite with larger specimens being caught. The bays still have a decent bluegill bite going on the standard, kid-friendly bobber and worm setup.
Sheridan is seeing a perch bite along the buoy line at the north marina in 20'-25' of water on small jigs and worms. Some trout activity also reported in the Dakota Point area. Fish are deeper with the water temps hovering around 74 degrees.
Reports from Stockade indicate it still tough on the lake, with few catches of bass, pike, or bluegills.
The trout lakes are reporting good catches in the evenings as the fish hunt near the surface when it is cooler. Center, Sylvan, Lakota, Bismarck, Horsethief, and Roubaix are all seeing better catches after 5pm and on a variety of baits, from spinner and small spoons to worms and salmon eggs. To catch a fish right now for kids or the kid at heart, these are probably the best bets, especially from shore.
And New Underwood Dam is seeing some impressive bluegills coming out of it lately, with the fish suspended in 6'-8' of water.
So, there are places to catch fish at in the Hills, but none of the area's most desired fish seem to be cooperating as usual during this time of the year. The air is hot, the water temps are warm, and only much persistence will bring in some fish. So, plan those trips for the early morning or later evenings when it is cooler and you might just get lucky and find some fish to be caught, regardless of the species. Best not to be choosy about what's biting and just enjoy being outside and catching whatever is biting!
Learning the Ropes--The Art of Bass Fishing
For several years now, I have wanted to learn how to use other techniques for bass fishing other than using spinnerbaits and chatterbaits to target them specifically. I have tried wacky rigging with little success, but other techniques, such as Texas rigging, pitching jigs into cover, or when and where to use top water baits, have always been a mystery to me.
Now, there is who knows how many videos out there, but I prefer to learn on the water as I get more out of it rather than watching it on YouTube. And it is taken a couple of years to get our schedules synced up, but I was finally able to get out with a friend of mine who is one of the most experienced bass anglers I know, Mark Zacher. Plus, L had recently purchased a new St. Croix Mojo Bass rod paired with a Piscifun Flame reel that I was eager to break in on its first trip!
First, it was educational just to see and be on his boat, which is set up for bass fishing. His Nitro boat is rigged for it, from the rod storage to deck placements, sonar displays, and completed with two Power Pole shallow water anchors in the back, which I was very interested to see in action as I've never been on a boat that had these type of anchors.
At our first stop on Angostura Reservoir, I learned some proper top water techniques using one of his best poppers. He tried a different top water lure, but neither of us came up successful. Switching to wacky rigs, I learned some more about the technique and what I'd been doing wrong the past couple of years, such as using lighter weedless jigs for them instead of the larger ones that I had used before as well as waiting longer in between twitches and reeling up.
As we moved down the shorelines towards an area known as the flats, he also threw a Texas-rigged swimbait and succeeded in catching the first largemouth of the day. As we were covering water fast, I switched to spinnerbaits to cover water faster. Another lesson learned--when prowling the shores, do not hang out in an area for very long and keep moving. During this part of the morning, I also learned just how much farther a baitcaster reel can cast a lure versus a spinning reel, which I have known about, but hadn't been around anyone who was an expert on them.
I am not very good at casting baitcasters, only using them for trolling purposes. Well, Mark was easily casting 5' to 10' further than I was using a slightly heavier lure than his. It is easy to see it on TV, quite another to see them in person being cast successfully by an expert! And this was especially true at our last spot of the morning, casting shallow running crankbaits.
At the next stop, we trolled slowly through shallow water and high weeds. Here I was successful in catching my first bass on a top water lure! May not have been the biggest, but at least I would not get skunked on the day and the twitching technique did, in fact, work. Here I got to watch Mark place jigs with skirts he hand tied himself and using a plastic crawfish he helped pour with our local plastics maker Anthony Pendergrass of Titan Lures with such precision along downed branches in the water that I could only watch in admiration.
I doubt I could have made such pinpoint pitches using my spinning reels. He got one this way and lost another but watching the pitches and how he jigged or waited to pop the jig was another educational moment for me. It was also in this area where I got to see the Power Poles deployed for the first time. How more boats do not use these after being able to anchor in a spot and then STAY in a spot is beyond me? Even in my pontoon with my 15-pound anchor, I get swung all around if the wind is blowing. Even spot lock features on trolling motors do not keep the boat from swinging around a bit he said. Apparently if I ever get a bigger boat, I might need to invest in some of these anchors for sure.
As the temperature was rising and more and more recreational boats started hitting the water (4th of July weekend after all), we hit one more spot where we would use shallow running cranks. And here, as I said before, I saw just how valuable using a baitcaster was, as Mark was easily throwing 10' or more further than me. We both managed to catch some bass at this spot, but I may need to learn how to use a baitcasting reel properly. At least, I know a guy.........
While we did not catch as many fish as he had hoped and both my fish were on the small side, I was nevertheless grateful to Mark for the lessons I learned on this trip. I will certainly look to go out with him again soon once his tournament weekends have passed. I would not have learned proper techniques or tips on places to look for bass if I had been at home watching TV. These on-the-lake lessons were far more valuable to me as an angler who wanted to learn from an expert. While I enjoy teaching at my seminars or on my group trips, in case, I was the padawan learning from Yoda and I was thrilled to have the opportunity! I only hope that my training will continue again soon!
With the success of last summer's experiments in trolling small Salmo Hornet crankbaits out of my pontoon, I decided to try it again and see if the numbers could be repeated. Armed with my trusty Sonarphone T-Pod sonar bobber to give me the depth and sonar feedback on my phone, my new Fortis net from Clam Outdoors, and some 2" floating Hornets, I trolled along at varying depths of 7' to 9' along and above weeds, keeping the 3' diving cranks in the middle to upper third of the water column.
Several rainbows were reeled in on the first couple of trips along the shorelines. I anchored in an area where I was having the most success trolling through and cast Northland Tackle's Buckshot Rattlin' spoons around and found much success as well.
Unlike last year, however, none of the bigger rainbows were around. Compared to the trips later last summer, the fish averaged 15"-16". But the bite was strong, and I could not complain. Casting gave me a break from the constant back twisting I must do when trolling two rods as well as test out my new reel, a Viper II in 1000 size from Piscifun matched with a St. Croix Triumph light action rod. They performed flawlessly, with long, accurate casting and a good drag when something ran on it.
Overall, it was a very good morning of catching fish on the Hornets and enjoying some time on the water. With the trouble I have been having finding fish, it was a welcome time to be outdoors. And as I have been saying many times over the last few months, any time outside is great right now. So be sure to enjoy it when you are outdoors. Maybe wet a line and try something different. These little Hornets are certainly worth trying out on panfish as well as trout. Might even tie into something bigger!
Enjoying Being Outside
On a recent trip with my wife and daughter, a friend of hers came with us and brought her son Eli, with for some fresh air and the chance at catching some fish. He was excited to go fishing for sure. I took all of us to Pactola to the spot where Melissa had had luck before and there was plenty of shoreline for the kids to walk around on and hoped the fish would cooperate. We had also planned a picnic as well to enjoy the time we had there.
After giving Eli some instruction on casting, I let him do his thing and between his mom and myself going over how to hold the line, flip the bail, and cast while letting go of the line, he managed some nice casts in between walking along the shores with Aurora in tow. We caught a few trout, but Eli did not manage to catch one this time. I am hopeful on the next trip; I'll get him on some fish.
More than anything, the trip was great to just get outside again and enjoy some friendly company in the outdoors. The fresh air was good for us all and kids got to wear out some their energy from being cooped up at home all week.
With many people still staying or working from home as the pandemic continues and states start to open back up, it is still important to take advantage of outdoor recreational time when you can. There is no better way to practice social distancing than being outside and breathing in some fresh air.
With warmer weather here, it is great time to get outside and go fishing, hiking, camping, or any other outdoor activity or even just sitting outside on your deck or patio. It can do you a world of good and these days, we could all use it.
Black Hills Fishing Report
With the passing of Memorial Day weekend and the unpredictable that came with it, the weather has steadied itself as June approaches. The onset of warmer temperatures has spurred on the bite at many locations across the area and promises to hold for at least the next week.
With visits to the parks up more than double from last year and the numbers of fishing licenses up as well, it could be a good week and weekend to wet a line at an area lake. With that mind, here is the current conditions for the Black Hills area:
At Angostura, there have been lots of boats out, but not much in walleye activity. Warming water temps could spur on a bite, however. At present, most activity has been concentrated on the flats area of the lake where staying in place and slow jigging in 8'-14' has had most of the success. If walleye isn’t your game, a good smallmouth bass bite is happening in the bays and shallow weed areas on spinnerbaits.
On the other side of the Hills, Orman Dam has seen plenty of boat activity as well and a good bite has been going, though exact techniques aren't known, though most boating activity has been concentrated in the Fruitdale area north of the canal. Catfish in the canal, smallmouth, and silver bass bites are also going strong for shore fishermen in the evenings.
Pactola is seeing a lot of activity from both shore and boat fishermen. At present, the rainbow bite is still going on, though it has gone down from previous weeks as fishing pressure as steadily increased in many areas. Spoons and spinners are the best course for targeting them and some bigger ones are still being taken. Bluegill and crappie bites are happening in the southern bays and marina on minnows or worms and boaters are catching lake trout on smelt or chubs, though most are small side. Some pike activity is also reported in the northern bays.
On Sheridan, boat activity has greatly increased, though not much fishing at present other than reported rainbow bites near the dam and increasing perch activity. Warmer temps should help spur the perch bite on soon.
Deerfield is seeing shore fishing activity with reports of perch biting on jigs and worms and rainbows hitting silver or gold spoons. Some larger specimens (18" or bigger) are also being caught with the smaller ones. No lake trout reports there at present.
Stockade is seeing an increase in pike and bass activity as the weather has warmed. Spinnerbaits, jigs with crawfish imitations, or wacky worm techniques are working at present. Panfish bite reports have been nil so far though activity on that front should pick up soon as well.
At the current time, New Underwood Dam has the best bluegill bite in 6'-8' of water on jigs and worms, though sorting is needed. Some catfish are also being taken on shrimp or stink baits. For the trout lakes in the area (Sylvan, Center, Horsethief, Lakota, Bismarck, Roubaix, Legion), activity is picking up as well with the weather and more tourists are beginning to show up at these places as well so weekday fishing on them is much easier with less traffic. Spinners, dough baits, or salmon eggs have been the ticket for them.
With steady, warm weather here for the time being, it is a good time to get out and take advantage of some social distance fishing or take in some sun. As the water temps continue to rise, fishing activity may very well increase as well. Be sure to take advantage of the weather and have some fun on the lakes!