A short time later I realized that it was unusually nice weather for November so I packed up my antique float tube and went out to Mulberry and launched. 4 hours later I had 3 nice cats, very cold fingers and a bad case of leg cramps, but November was checked off. Well, the snow started and I soon forgot the challenge.
A few weeks back I again read “I’ve caught cats out there in all 12 months of the year.” Well, Saturday looked like it might be in the 50’s with calm weather for the 3 day in a row, so I decided it might be my best chance to check off December. During the week I contacted 3 guys I had fished with before and they all had commitments, (probably they didn’t want to spend a cold afternoon in a boat with some kind of a nut)
My wife Julie asked me if I had found someone to go with and I said no. She doesn’t like me to go alone, so she persisted. “”What about the guy you just met who said “we should get together and go fishing sometime.” You should call him.”” “Julie,” I said, “you don’t understand. The water is going to be in the low 40’s and the fishing can just brutal. And he said he didn’t ice fish because he got tired of the cold. If I invite someone I just met to spend the whole afternoon in a boat on a cold lake on the chance that we might catch a fish that ought to be hibernating (or whatever they do), he’ll think I’m crazy!” My sweet wife looked at me with a half-smile and said “And?”
Well I had to work Saturday morning and when I got there my boss had doubled my work load! Just before I left the office I go the bright idea that I should check the forum. Maybe Tube Dude had gone to Willard again and I could glean something useful from his cold water tactics. Jackpot! He had gone out to AF harbor on Friday and he had gotten half a dozen cats and a dozen white bass. There was hope! I managed to get out by 1:30 went home and found most of the stuff I needed. I got to the Lincoln ramp a bit before 3, two hours later than I had planned.
There were 2 empty trailers in the lot and a couple of bank fishermen on the end of the south jetty. Time would show that both of the trailers belonged to Duck Hunters. I used to do that when I was younger, but it can be really cold and I’ve gotten wiser, I think.
Dave and I had defied conventional wisdom about a month ago and found some cats in 2 feet of water, so I thought I would try that again. If they were going to leave the deep, maybe a warm calm afternoon would bring them in.
The water was 43.5 F in the channel and 43 in the main lake as I headed East and then South from the jaws. About 3 P.M I set out one rod with a small split shot and smaller than usual chunk of freshly thawed WB. The other was a slip bobber with a piece of shrimp. The transducer said 1.8’ when I anchored, but out of habit I put one on the shallow side and one on the ”deep” side.
Now it was time to relax, I knew this could take a while. I started searching for lights and organizing for the “evening” in case I had to stay till after dark to get my kitty. I had barely opened the glove box and found my spare headlamp, the main one is still “lost in the move,” and I heard something. The shallow rod had been clobbered, the line pulled out of the release, and was zipping past the open bail. I grabbed the rod, cranked the reel a couple turns yanked, whif, nada, I had missed the fish! A good solid hit, that might well be my only shot and I had missed it.
I decided with the way the line was peeling off the reel, it must have been a cat. If it was a white, it was a really aggressive one. Darn it! I checked the bait and flipped it back out in the same area. 10 minutes passed and nothing. I went back to organizing and bam, the bobber rod got hit. I set the hook and felt a fish, I knew this one wasn’t a cat even before the white came clear out of the water from my reactive hook set. Well, at least I had fresh bait! Besides I had decided that I might try to get enough whites for a meal for Dave and maybe some to take home. It had been more than 20 years since I had kept enough whites for a meal at home.
Another couple of hits on the split shot rod and I got another white. Both fish were large enough to fillet and fatter than in the spring. By 3:30 or so I had put about 5 whites in the basket, things were looking up, but no kitties. I had imagined what I would need for two good meals of white bass and decided on about 30. If I got into them I would stop at 30 and hunt for a cat.
I knew that I needed to get going if I was going to find enough whites. I threw out a small crank to see if that would produce faster and bam! I got one almost immediately, and almost immediately it spit my crank. Just then my remaining bait rod got hit and I hooked the fish, it too spit my hook and left. But a second later another fish took it and I got that one. As tossed it back out I thought, “maybe they want it moving.” So, I started slowing moving the bait along the bottom. It hadn’t gone 3 feet when I felt a tick and set the hook. Another decent white. Another cast, two cranks of the reel handle, another tick another decent white. This was more like it!
I got about 6 in the next six casts and realized they were piling up on the bottom of the boat. I tossed the split shot rig back out and went to putting them in the basket. I fully expected a hit before I could get them in, but nothing happened. It seemed that they would take it right away if it was moving but after it sat on bottom, it took them a long time to find it.
On my way back to the bait rod I saw the crankbait on the floor so I put that rod away and flipped the bobber rod out on the shallow side where all the action was. I barely got it set down when it got hit. I hooked the fish and started reeling when the split shot rod went bendo in the holder. I switched hands with the first rod, hooked the fish on the second and set it back in the holder. When I resumed reeling the bobber rod, the fish was gone. I set it down and grabbed the other one and that fish was gone too, but the bobber went under again. There were whites out there everywhere!
For the next 30 or 40 minutes it was crazy. I had at least one fish on all the time and often 2, although most of the time I could only get one in. The casts became shorter and shorter. One time I was only out 8 feet or so with the ultralight split shot rod, I was reeling in a fish on the bobber rod and the other one went bendo. I reached down and set the hook launching the white into the boat with one motion. Just like a tuna, the hook came out and fish landed in the pile building in the back corner of the boat.
I let the bait drop back in the water and cranked on the bobber a couple of turns and the other one went bendo again. They were right next to the boat! I flipped another one in on the light rod and landed the one on the bobber rod. Both were hooked deep, so I go a breather!
When I got the bobber fish unhooked I thought "let’s see what happens with the bait only down a foot or so” and slid the stop almost to the swivel. I set the bobber back in the water next to the boat and reached for the ultralight and the bobber ticked, but just sat there. I laid down the light rod, butt on the chair and the tip over the side. As I reached for the bobber rod the other tip bent down. A second later I had a rod in each hand and had flipped both fish into the pile. This was really crazy. I felt like those old tuna fishing movies.
While unhooking those two, I surveyed the plie I half counted, half guestimated, that I had 15 or so on the floor and I remembered about 5 in the basket, OK, I need 10 more to make 30. So I started counting 1, 2, 3, 4 oh, that one came unbuttoned and missed the boat. I had a good rhythm now: drop, tick, filp, unhook. Drop, tick, flip, unhook. It was almost like ice fishing! Let’s see that makes 3, 4, 5, 6, “oh man I can’t get the hooks out fast enough. I should re-bait, there’s only a sliver of WB skin on that hook”, “naw they don’t care.” Where was I? 4, 5, 6, 7, or was that 8? No that makes 6, 7, 8.
Just then as I flipped one over the side it came unbuttoned right at the point of the arc to where it flew over the side and landed right on top of the pile. I looked over at it laying on top all those others, I was starting a second layer. Their tails were all flopping like tuna and an alarm went off in my head. “STOP! What, I still need 2 more. STOP! I laid the light rod down, flipped in the fish on the bobber rod and laid them both out inside the boat. After a deep breath, the thought came back to me. “This is probably your best chance to catch a catfish in December. It will be dark in half an hour and your fooling yourself if you think you’re going to get a cat this way.”
So, despite what they say about “don’t ever leave fish to find them,” I did it. I left both baits in the boat and started putting the ones on the floor in the basket. As I did, I counted. 36, and 5 in the basket, I must have 40 WB or so. When they were in the basket I put larger baits on two rods already rigged to drag for cats. I mounted the electric, pulled the anchors, pointed the bow northward and started slow trolling.
Tube Dude said the magic depth for him on Friday was around 5 to 6 feet. It took a good ten minutes to get out to 6 feet and to my amazement, not a single whittie found my baits. Once at 6.5’ I turned west heading generally for the point. 10 minutes turned to 20 with nothing but the slow erratic bouncing of the rod tips and the low hum of the electric. I was going stir crazy! After all that excitement, it was now completely dead. The moon was just rising over the Wasatch and I looked back at the sunset. It was gorgeous! I came too long enough to take a couple of pictures of the moon rise and the sunset and then back to nothing.
At 30 minutes I thought, “you’re not going to find a cat, you played too long with the whites.” “You need to do something different.” Then I remembered Tube Dude saying that he covered a lot of water and his cats were far between. So, I decided I would stick it out, dark or not, I would stay at it until I got one or got too cold to stand it.
About the time it I was approaching the point the wind started to pick up out of the West. “This is it,” I thought, "I’ll be cold to the bone in ten minutes.” It was only blowing 8 or 10 MPH, but it was dark and I knew it wouldn’t take long. I kicked the electric up to compensate for the wind drag and hunkered down a little lower. Abruptly, the wind died down. I wasn’t shivering yet, I could stay with this if the wind stay calm.
I had been at it 50 minutes and nothing. Then I saw a slight twitch on my heavier ugly stick rod, then a bump, and pop, the line came out of the release. I closed the bail, waited for the slack to come out and struck. Fish on! and this was no white bass. After 20 seconds it started the slow head roll of a cold water cat had I thought “you’re going to make it, you’ve hooked a cat! Wait, sometimes walleye do the slow head roll thing too.
Just my luck, I’m out here to check off December and I’ll probably get a walleye.” When I saw it in the moon light sloshing on the surface, still a long way from the boat, I knew it was a cat. I gingerly lead it the rest of the way in and netted it. An unimpressive, skinny, 23 inch cat, but I had made it! I took a picture and looked at my phone, 6:34 P.M.
I dragged the baits around another 15 minutes or so. Last week we had a big fish dinner at my house and I had used the last of my catfish from this spring. I wanted a couple of good meals worth for the winter. Finally, at 7 P.M. I pulled the gear and called it a night. When I lifted the basket into the boat I thought man those are healthy white bass, this thing is heavy! I took a picture of the basket and thought, “are you sure there are only 40 in there?”
As I left the parking lot I called my buddy Dave to see how many whites he wanted for his mom and dad. “About 4 should be enough for them,” He said. “FOUR! I’ve got 40 in the basket.” I could almost see his silent chuckle over the phone. “Ya, four should be fine for them.”
I called my wife to tell her I was off the water and stopping by Dave’s to give him some fish on my way home. “Did you get your catfish?” she asked. “Yes, just before I quit I got one, but that was enough. BTW, I have a lot of work to do when I get home!”
Dave laughed several times as he looked at the basket and told me I’d had a good trip, but all he took was 4.
I got home about 8:30 P.M. and Julie and my son Zach had just arrived with some Wendy’s fast food they had picked up on the way home from shopping. I scarfed it down and got started on the cleaning about 8:45. I finished just after midnight. Thank goodness for electric knives! I got my 3 meals worth for the winter, just not catfish. As I was cleaning I was counting, just over 50 fish cleaned, four given away one sacrificed to bait and one that missed the basket. In the commotion I got almost double the thirty I wanted.
So what I thought was going to be a “brutal” late fall day at Utah Lake ended up with 3 first for me. In the 20 plus years I have fished Utah Lake I have never gotten into one of those “all-out” white bass bites. A few good trips with 20 or so, but it took half a day. I always figured it was because I have a strong tendency to avoid the crowds, and they always seem to be present when the whites are on.
Anyway, 3 firsts: First December catfish, first time in an all-out white bass bite, and the first time I single handedly (well, sometimes double handedly) put 50 fish in the boat in one trip. BTW, I probably won’t ever do that last one again, that’s way too much work when the cleaning starts!