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Jim Gronaw: The highs and lows from my family to yours for 2019

As 2019 comes to a close, we often think back as to what we accomplished, or more often, didn’t accomplish during each and every season of outdoor pursuits.

For some of us, it might have been one or several new “personal best” catches for a number of species. To others, it might have been that year we finally got to visit a special fishing destination and make a “bucket list” catch.

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Yet others just wanted to spend a little more time with friends and family on the water, with any actual catching of fish to be viewed as a bonus for the day.

All and all, 2019 was a very special year for us as we saw a variety of highs and lows along with some notable catches and a few laughs along the way. Here are a few of the “ups and downs” from this season’s angling adventures.

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HIGHLIGHT: Winter Panfishing and the Numbers Game.

Despite the cold and the effects of old age and arthritis, I still get a kick out of fishing during moderate to mild winters where no one else dares (code for “common sense”) to venture, fish, and yet still have success. Knowing that winter bluegills and crappies can squish into tiny areas in huge numbers has allowed me to catch and release over 1,000 panfish in three out of the last four winter seasons. Lots of action, lots of fun and a few delicious fillets to go along with this game.

Toss in a few surprise bass and it’s a good gig all around.

LOWLIGHT: Winter Panfishing and the Comfort Game.

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Yup, that’s right, those same 100-plus fish days in January and February lead to cracked and bleeding fingers and toes that never seem to warm up. My left, or “fish” hand is always wet, the tiny wax worms can hardly be felt, and watery eyes are stinging and blurring my vision, as if that’s not already an issue.

Late evening naps and a nice hot shower seem to make it all better. Then there’s a meal or three of tasty fillets.

I can safely say that 70% of my largest fish, year after year, are caught when it’s cold and dreary and few venture out.

HIGHLIGHT: Fathers’ Day Bass Beatdown.

One very enjoyable day fishing with my son Matt at a host of area farm ponds for largemouth bass with a variety of plastic worms and other baits made June a special month. Matt and I caught and released several dozen bass throughout the day, and I filmed it all and put it up on my YouTube channel for memories sake. Most fish ran 1 ½ to 2 pounds, but Matt collared a nice 4-pounder for the day’s top critter.

Way to go, Matt! Fish were active and light spinning gear and aggressive fish made the day go fast.

LOWLIGHT: Action Camera Off.

As per usual, the largest fish of most trips this season did not get filmed, and some didn’t even get photographed as I continued to fumble and fiddle with Go Pros and Akasos action cams with my highly limited IQ involving all things electrical, or modern, and social-media-like.

Yup, when my buddies wanted a few shots of their special catches for their yearly brag book, I was usually empty-handed. Way to go, Jimbo!

HIGHLIGHT: Personal Best Bluegills.

For the first time in a lifetime of angling, I caught and released a legitimate 12-inch bluegill in Maryland waters. I had caught 12-inch plus coppernose gills in North Carolina and hybrid sunfish locally just over 13, but this was a pure-strain, female bluegill. It eclipsed an 11 ¾-inch bluegill I had caught earlier in the year as my previous best.

And to make it even more way-cool, I caught it on one of my homemade jigs, without any bait tipping.

Both fish were filmed and featured on my channel. I might just have to think about a replica mount.

LOWLIGHT: Local Hotspot Over-harvested.

Yes, I knew it might happen, and it did. One of my favorite public venues for big bluegills and crappies got “exposed” and the masses quickly moved in and kept nothing but the biggest panfish they could keep. Doesn’t take long for a small body of water to get completely depleted of its top-tier panfish when angler glut and over-harvest ensues.

In two short years, my favorite lake for 10-inch bluegills and 12- to 15-inch crappies crashed and burned and I will likely not see any semblance of this quality fishing there again in my lifetime.

Chalk one up for the meat-hogs.

HIGHLIGHT: Top-end Bottom Feeders.

Yeah, I wrote about our Monocacy River gigs with my friend Alvie Sickle. We found some isolated water where some borderline Boone and Crockett carp and channel catfish roamed and cashed in on some late summer, big-fish opportunities with our limited, but determined, kayak skills.

Carp over 20-pounds and 30-inch cats made the wading and the paddling worth it as dough balls and cut baits prevailed.

LOWLIGHT: Sloshing for Top-end Bottom Feeders.

Big fish and excitement aside, I slipped and fell and got pretty-well soaked in an effort to get the big uglies. Just part of the game, I guess! Steep banks for kayak access didn’t make an old man feel much better but at least we had a good time, right?

Next year, I’m hooking up with younger, stronger fishing partners who can carry and launch kayaks for aging anglers. Yes, I’ll buy them a soda later on.

So, let’s end with a highlight.

I got to fish with new friends and all my family members with lots of kids fishing fun at our Fishers of Kids, a Christian-based, summer angling program we have done for several years. I got to see my granddaughters Elena and Abby tangle with big trout, including a gorgeous, 24-inch rainbow trout that Elena and her dad wrangled on shore back in November. Great times, great memories.

You’ve got to take the highs with the lows. It’s all good!

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