Often overlooked and similarly undervalued, rough fish are some of the best fighting, interesting looking and sometimes challenging fish to catch. A good portion of my shore angling is spent targeting carp, different species of suckers and catfish just to name a few.
Many different types of water bodies hold rough fish and each requires its own plan of attack, what works one week may not the next and as with any fishing, seasonal patterns are very important. The saying “here today, gone tomorrow” often applies and when the bite is hot and the weather nice, it’s time to go chase ‘em down!
With the water warming and weather in our favour, we were in pursuit of carp and freshwater drum along with anything else that might be biting. They typically head into smaller tributaries and marshes to spawn and forage in early June and that’s where we were heading. As we arrived to the marsh shortly after daybreak, the chorus of frogs and different birds calling was unbelievable, a welcome change from the mourning doves and typical songbirds around home. Pelicans soared overhead, different ducks were looking for nesting sites and some western grebes were hunting in the water. A plan of attack had been determined on the drive up and we each set up a different rig and got to fishing.
My first setup consisted of a small clip-on float and a #2 hook tipped with a chunk of crawler and piece of artificial corn. It wasn’t too long after casting out to the shallows that my float began twitching ever so slightly. I patiently waited for it to go under and for whatever fish was playing with it to commit. After a few more bumps and wiggles on my float, it got sucked right under, I reeled in the slack line and set the hook and the fight was on. The fish took off with a strong run to start the battle, every time I would take back some line only to have it peeled off. It tried relentlessly to shake the hook as I could feel the fish thrashing about below. The fight wore on and I was able to get it close enough to shore to see it was a carp, after a few more runs the fish began to tire and was played out enough to net successfully. Some quick pictures and measurements and off it went to fight another day.
We were seeing the carp breach occasionally and hoped they weren’t all surface feeding on bugs, many would do complete vertical leaps out of the water like a micro-sized killer whale providing ample visual entertainment. My two fishing partners for the day were using bottom rigs and had cast out deeper. After a few missed hook sets one of them had a solid take and was battling his own brute of a carp. I reeled in to prevent tangling, help net the fish and watch the fight, it really is entertaining watching someone big or small battle fish with this kind of tenacity. Soon enough the carp was to shore and in the net, a nice 31 inch fatty, the biggest he had ever taken the time to measure. A quick re-bait and another cast to the same general area and soon after he hooked into something a lot bigger. The battle went on for over ten minutes with just tiny glimpses of the beast through our polarized glasses when it got close to shore. Each time we thought it was close enough to net it would peel off on another drag screaming run. After countless gives and takes the line finally snapped and the disappointment was obvious. Score one for the fish. Nonetheless after a few fish on the end of his line he was hooked and it was evident he needed an upgrade in gear if this kind of trip was to become a regular occurrence.
After we had each landed a few carp from 26 to 32 inches, I changed over to a jig and a minnow to see if there were any drum about. Casting to a few different areas, I landed a handful of pike and had a couple of bite offs, after about twenty minutes I went back to trying some different bait combinations under a float in hopes of another carp battle. It was then that a reed caught my eye in the distance moving differently than the rest, it was pulling my attention away from my float. After watching closely, what I perceived to be a reed was actually an American Bittern, neck stretched out and beak straight up in the air, occasionally leaning over plucking bait fish in the shallows. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get close enough for a picture, such a beautiful bird and very wary of humans.
With the day wearing on and arms getting tired from all the action, we began getting ready to pack up. There was still time for one more bite however, and when that happened boy were we in for a nice surprise! The hook was set and the fight was on, right off the hop we got a glimpse and this wasn’t a carp, the body was way lighter in colour, although the shape was very similar. First pass at the net and it wanted nothing to do with it, the next time it was close to shore there was the recognizable beady black eye of a Big Mouth Buffalo, I slipped the net under and up came my friends’ first ever big mouth. We were all pretty pumped, it was a good finale fish and our time was up. New personal bests and new species on hook and line, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. We had put ourselves and our gear through the gauntlet landing multiple species of rough fish, it wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last.