ATHELSTANE, Wis. -- I'm at the stage of life where I rarely need an alarm clock to get up early. In fact, on Sunday mornings, I am up and getting ready to leave my house long before 3 a.m.
There were times when I awoke to the songbirds celebrating the sunrise on the Gun Flint Trail. The morning chill was handled with two heaping cups of cowboy coffee and some heavy-duty doses of homemade bread and honey.
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So this early morning and get-out-of-bed shtick worked nicely again for me when I stepped outside my room at Popp's Resort in Crivitz, Wis.
The sun inched its way over the trees and kissed the surface of the water, and a slight breeze joined the action, just enough to bring to mind the image of a birthday candle about to be blown out.
The Popp's tradition continues to draw Chicago-area anglers to this locale for the great fishing on High Falls, Twin Bridge, the Peshtigo River and Caldron Falls, as well as the Menominee River. My first introduction to the Menominee was with my late father. But his big thing was to scout for walleyes on the Peshtigo River and settle for afternoon crappies on Caldron Falls.
I had arranged to be with friend and guide Mike Mladenik again for yet another foray into excellent smallmouth bass fishing on the nearby and wonderful Menominee.
And while smallies bass had become my favorite species to chase, and I've caught hundreds of trophy-sized brown fish, I continue to learn the tricks Mladenik uses on this glorious river to locate and connect with big bass.
Mike informed me that most of the fish had already spawned and moved a tad away from their nesting spots.
"Better use a wacky worm for these fish," he noted.
As a side note -- a wacky worm is nothing more than a plastic worm impaled on either an offset or circle hook. The hook is simply run through the middle of the worm. Wacky worming is a technique, not a brand name. But in this case I was equipped with 4-inch Yum Dinger worms. I also had a rod rigged with a 4-inch Little Action Mac worm as well.
It took just over an hour to locate a pod of fish, but when the strikes started it was a rush to excitement.
The shoreline bite began with smaller fish grabbing the worm, but when we found some grass beds away from the shoreline, the sizes increased.
Here's something crazy that plagued us for a while.
On the first day, Mladenik and I caught and released dozens of nice fish. And we lost dozens as well.
"In all the years I've guided for smallmouth bass I have never lost this many fish," he said.
Even when the bass didn't jump, all they did was offer us a fast head shake, and then they were gone. We thought we lost almost as many as we hooked and brought to the boat. Our hooks were super-sharp and we did not horse these beauties at all.
Our smallies ran between 2½ and just over 4 pounds.
We subsequently switched to surface baits in the early afternoon.
Mike explained he has had tremendous success with poppers and "dog-walking" types of artificials. We did quite well with fish that exploded behind the lures and then grabbed them.
My next outing with Mike will be in October for the fall bite which normally produces bigger fish and more memories I can store in my thick noodle.
•Contact Mike Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.