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Chasing Rainbows

We got up at 4:15 a.m. to be on the water at 5. Unfortunately, the fish didn’t seem to care that we were there.

Then the rain started. It wasn’t all over. Mostly it was to the west and a little bit overhead.

In the east, where the sun hadn’t yet moved above the horizon, the sky was mostly clear.

And then came the magic. With the sun beaming up from below the skyline, my friend Norm Klayman and I watched the formation of the most spectacular rainbow that either of us had ever seen. 

Normally, I don’t bother taking photos of rainbows. Even with digital, I’ve learned that cameras just can’t do them justice. But with this one, I had to try, even though it was far too large for me to photograph in its entirety. The picture (above) turned out better than I expected. Still, it doesn’t compare to what we saw with our own eyes. 

If someone had asked me to get up at 4:15 to go see a rainbow, I might have said, “No, thank you. I’ve seen plenty of them.”

Yet I’m always ready to get up at such hours to go fishing. And if I hadn’t gone fishing on this morning, I would have missed a sight that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Of course, that rainbow isn’t the only example of how nature has provided collateral enrichment during my time on the water. I could tell you about hundreds more. Probably you could do the same.

Here are a few more of my favorite nature-inspired memories:

From "Chasing Rainbows" in Why We Fish


Another World Record Spotted Bass Caught in California

Photo courtesy of Lou Ferrante

For the second year in a row, it seems, an angler fishing a California tournament has boated a world-record spotted bass.

This time around, Nevada fisherman Lou Ferrante used a Yamamoto grub on a darter head in late February to catch a 10.95-pound spot at Bullards Bar Reservoir, a 4,700-acre fishery in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Previous record is 10.48.

Of course, Ferrante’s trophy must be certified by the International Game Fish Association, the official record keeper. Taken in about 20 feet of water, the spotted bass actually weighed 11.20 at the Great Basin Bassers tournament, but the scale used was not certified. At a certified scale in Truckee, it weighed 10.95.

In February 2014, Keith Bryan caught his 10.48 in a California Trails pro/am event at 12,400-acre New Melones Lake in central California.

Perhaps appropriately, a tournament angler also caught the record spot before Bryan. Fishing Pine Flat Lake, Bryan Shishido bested a 10.27 during an American Bass Big Valley team tournament.

Not long ago, California Sportsman included Bullards Bar and New Melones in an article about five fisheries that could yield “the biggest spotted bass ever.” Others included Lake McClure, Whiskeytown, and Shasta.

Why do spots grow so large in these lakes? They’re gobbling up stocked kokanee (landlocked salmon) and trout, a tactic similar to what hefty largemouths employ in southern California lakes.

“Spotted bass in most of our reservoirs have figured out ‘We don’t need to care about shad balls. We don’t need to come to the banks to feed, We can just eat kokanee,’ and that’s what they focus on,” said Bub Tosh of Paycheck Baits. “They school up like yellowfin tuna. You’ll stumble across a little wolf pack of giant spots and it’ll stop your heart.”


Grass Carp Gobble Up Lake Austin's Grass, Reputation


Gut contents of a Lake Austin grass carp. Photo by Brent BellingerAs grass carp gobbled up all the aquatic vegetation in Texas’ Lake Austin, they also obliterated the reservoir’s reputation as one of the nation’s top bass fisheries.

“When the grass was around 400 to 500 acres for a couple of years, the bass fishing really took off,” said John Ward, marketing director of the Texas Tournament Zone (TTZ). “The fish were fat and healthy. We had a great sunfish and crawfish population, and plenty of ambush spots for the big girls to grab them.

“Now sunfish and crawfish numbers are significantly down. You see more schools of bass chasing shad balls instead. The worst feeling is when you finally get a big girl, and it’s a 10-pound head with a 5-pound body. They just can’t eat like they used to.”

Understandably frustrated anglers blame mismanagement and/or the powerful influence of lakefront property owners who don’t like hydrilla. For example, one said that Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) “grossly overstocked this lake with grass carp.”

He continued, “In less than a year, we have seen complete devastation of this great fishery. The grass is 100 percent gone. Reeds that used to line the lake in places have been uprooted and chewed off at the stalks.”

But the reality is more complex and less malevolent. What happened was the inevitable result of an unavoidable set of circumstances involving weather, two exotic species, and reservoir management priorities.

“This trophy fishery was maintained along with grass carp stockings for many years,” said Texas biologist Marcos De Jesus.

“This extreme drought scenario has thrown a monkey wrench in our management efforts, but we are learning from this experience to avoid a similar outcome in the future.”

Managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority, Austin is a 1,599-acre riverine impoundment on the Colorado River. During normal times, cool discharges into the flow-through fishery combine with a sustained population of grass carp to keep hydrilla in check. Also, less problematic Eurasian watermilfoil thrives, serving as another control. But starting in 2011, drought diminished flow, allowing water to warm and igniting an unprecedented growth spurt in hydrilla. By spring 2013, hydrilla covered nearly a third of the reservoir.

If not kept in check, hydrilla can block flow, pushing water onto highly developed shorelines, De Jesus explained. Consequently, more dramatic control was required, and it could only be done with grass carp. Herbicides are not an option for Austin, which also serves as a municipal water supply.

A stocking of 9,000 carp in May 2013 supplemented 17,000 introduced in 2012, providing 55.5 fish per acre of hydrilla. And, as anglers watched in dismay, the fish quickly gobbled up all of the lake’s aquatic vegetation, except for shoreline plants protected by cages.

“Now we are in a situation where the carp are keeping everything at bay,” said the biologist. “Every time it’s been down to zero, though, it bounces back. We’re now looking at creating habitat (brushpiles) and doing some carp removal.

“Fishing always has been our priority,” he continued, pointing out that electrofishing revealed bass still are plentiful.

“But they’re now suspended in deep water, and people will have to transition to other fishing styles. We were all spoiled. We all loved that lake, and this change was not one that we wanted.”

Brushpiles will help, said Ward, who added that TTZ will help organizes anglers to assist. “But nothing can replace natural habitat. As long as you have 20,000-plus grass carp in a 1,600-acre lake, grass will not grow.

“It’s the aquatic vegetation and the healthy habitat it provides that brings out the potential for big bass in Lake Austin.”

(This article was published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Galveston Grass

Photo by Robert MontgomeryBeneficial marsh grasses like this will grow more plentiful as restoration projects enhance fish and wildlife habitat in Galveston Bay. With the Galveston Bay Foundation and Vanishing Paradise providing oversight and assistance, much of the work will be financed by the  RESTORE Act, using funds provided by BP to compensate for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago.


Restoring Galveston Bay

Activist Angler is down at Texas' Galveston Bay, looking at efforts to improve the wetlands, sea grasses, and oyster reefs.  Galveston Bay Foundation and Vanishing Paradise (VP), an initiative by the National Widlife Federation, are making certain lots of good work is being done with money from the RESTORE Act.

Following a tour of the projects, we found time to do a little fishing with Captain Chris Howard. Andy McDaniels, VP national sportsmen's outreach coordinator, is holding the redfish.