Friday, August 31, 2012

Hurricane Isaac

As many you probably know, Hurricane Isaac hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a Category 1 this past week. My plan was to ride the storm out as most people say that a category 1 or category 2 storm is typically safe to stay for.  This all changed once Ocean Springs issued a mandatory evacuation for all residents south of Highway 90.  Doing as I was told, I evacuated to Kennedy, Alabama where I was largely untouched by Hurricane Isaac.

Last night we drove back to the coast, witnessing the massive amount of destruction the storm caused. Houses on and around rivers had several feet of water in them.  The amount of water that the storm dumped was unfathomable for this relocated yankee.  Witnessing some of the destruction caused by the storm was truly sobering and affirmed my decision to leave.

This morning, I took a drive around Ocean Springs to see how the town had faired. During my drive I passed Bayou Simmons in Gulf Park Estates.  All around the bayou, there were birds. Pelicans, Terns, Seagulls, and even a DOZEN Magnificent Frigate Birds which typically stay far out at sea were swooping down at the water grabbing fish. The fisherman in me associated birds with feeding reds and specks so I went home to grab my kayak.

magnificent frigate bird
Never have seen this many frigate birds in one spot.

What I found was quite opposite of my expectations. As I approached the launch, I immediately noticed that I was witnessing a unique phenomena.  In the shallows of the launch, flounder, baitfish, and crabs were beaching themselves.  Their gills seemed to be frantically working.  It almost seemed as if the fish were suffocating.  The flounder were so stunned I was able to literally grab them out of the shallows with my hand. Unbelievable.  I got in my kayak and paddled around the bayou finding more of the same phenomena. Fish everywhere struggling to breath. They would stick their mouths above the water and seemingly were sucking air.  I never pulled the fishing rod out as I thought to myself that these fish seemed to be trapped and anything worth catching on a line and hook was probably concentrating on breathing at the moment.  The fishing was not going to be good. However, the bird watching was breathtaking. The frigate birds were unbelievable, diving and swooping at the oxygen deprived fish.

Upon arrival at my house, I googled the phenomena. According to my search, what I was witnessed was a fish kill caused by several factors: 

1.) The salinity levels in Simmons Bayou had dropped drastically due to the report over 20" of rainfall during the storm. This was definately apparent when I tasted the water and when the actual temperature of the water (typically in the 80's this time of year) was much cooler than usual.

2.) High winds typically blow the oxygen rich water on the surface of the bayou into one spot causing the low oxygen water from the depths to rise to the surface. Typically this low oxygen water is accompanied by decaying plant and animal matter which is eaten by bacteria, thus lowering the oxygen levels in the water.

3.) With all the flooding water, it swept decaying plant matter which would typically decompose on land into the water.  The increased organism activity in the water further lowers the oxygen levels for the fish.

These causes were consistent with my observations that the fish were literally suffocating.  I don't claim to be a biologist, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its probably a duck.  While I understand that this is a natural phenomena which these animals have had to adapt to survive, it is very concerning to see this happening in the waters I enjoy fishing.  I never realized how difficult a hurricane can be not only on humans, but also on the surrounding wildlife. I hope that this phenomena is isolated and not widespread as I could see more disaster coming from such an event.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back to the roots....

Recently, I took a trip back to Michigan for a couple of weddings which fell on adjoining weekends.  The weddings were a week apart so rather than make two separate trips, I figured I would use that week to try fishing the waters I fished growing up.  In particular I was excited about my grandmothers property.  When I was a child, I remember the summer that my Oma (German for Grandma) finally let me row the aluminum boat on my own.  My mother would drop my off at 7:30 am and my dad would pick me up at 5:00 pm after he got off work.  During that time, I stopped fishing to only eat lunch.  I would fish all day, and get incredibly sunburned in that little aluminum skiff. And I loved it.

It's been a while since I've fished like that.  I wish sometimes times were still like that where I could do that most everyday of the week.  The bass, crappie, and panfish at my Oma's house used to be unreal.  I wanted to see if it still was as it's been probably about 5 years since I casted a line at my grandmothers. (living in Mississippi and finshing college away from home.

View of the pond from the back porch

Another wrap around leg....

See the swan?
My grandmother used to raise swans and so they still circle the pond frequently. The pond  is an old gravel pit and it is spring fed so the water levels stay pretty constant.  The swans are quite unusual actually because they never leave. Apparently migrating is something they require to be taught once. So when they take off from the pond, they never make it very far and end up in ponds in and around my hometown.  They are dumb and mean, but very beautiful and a unique aspect of my grandmother's pond.

On a free day my family didn't have something planned for me, I pulled my rod out and went for a walk looking to see if I could sight fish from shore.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find any fish big enough to throw a fly at in the main pond.  When I asked my Oma where all the fish went, she said they had a really bad freeze which killed most of the big ones, which was incredibly unfortunate.  It's hard to believe there aren't any big bass still in that pond, but thats what my Oma claims.  I wish I would have had a little more time to prove her wrong.

All was not lost. My uncle happens to live next door to my grandmother.  When I was younger I would never fish there because the fish were smaller in his pond. However, it was worth a shot.  As I walked up, there was a mother and her goslings swimming away.
Run away...

Instantly, I could tell the old rule of thumb regarding the fish in my uncles pond no longer applied.  Small fry were swimming in the beach he had made for the dogs. Huge bluegill chased my clouser as i stripped it to shore. I was unable to hook up with any and decided to move on.  It didn't take long for me to locate some larger fish though.

A short stroll to a ledge where my uncle throws his old christmas trees (bass heaven) and I was casting at 4 and 5 lb. fish. It was amazing. I managed to hook one and land it. I had to drag it up a steep ledge. However, I was able to release it unharmed.  I was using a chartreuse and white clouser minnow.

Minnows in shallows.

It was a nice little fish and reminded me of the days when I was younger and felt like the worlds best fisherman. It was at that moment I thought to myself, "Wow, do I miss this."

After a few more casts, I decided to move to another spot.  I actually didn't wear shoes for this trip and I think there were better choices.  I roughed it through some pretty thick brush to get around to the other side of the pond. It was funny cause I think I frequently make irrational decisions when it comes to fishing to save time. However, walking through this bush barefoot took longer than it would have to just put some shoes on. At Oma's though, you never wear shoes.

I finally made it to where I wanted to fish and waded into the muck.  I spooked a very nice bass and began casting excitedly almost immediately. I was amazed about how difficult it was to cast with trees directly at your back.  As I fished, I understood the advantages of spey casting.  After a frustrating 10 or 15 minutes I saw my clouser dissapear in the gin clear water. A bass came out of nowhere and inhaled it and the fight was on.

On several occasions the fish "burrowed" into the algae on the bottom of the pond and I was amazed at how difficult it was to pull him out of it with the 8 wt fly rod I was using. After an uncharacteristically long battle compared to what I was used to when I was younger, I landed the fish.  It is amazing how changing one technique (spin cast to fly rod) can have such a drastic effect on something that I thought I was an old pro at.

Released...Bass are not for eating.

I released the fish and decided to head back to get some good grandma cooking.  It was a fantastic trip down memory lane that afternoon. It makes me mad that I never learned how to fly fish while I lived in Michigan.  All the experiances I missed out on that Michigan has to offer.  It makes me glad my family still lives there.  I may have to head back to try fly fishing at another place, like the Au Sable for trout or on Lake St. Clair for a Smallmouth.