With a username like @CaptainColeslaw I knew that talking to Gino Colella would produce a great interview. We discuss western Pennsylvania fishing. Gino adds a great science perspective to his view of western Pennsylvania fisheries and the methods he uses to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass. Keep reading to learn more about Gino.
Where did the username @CaptainColeslaw on Instagram come from? There has to be a story behind that.
Hahaha, what an opening questions! My username is something I take great pride in, but its origin has underwent a pretty steady evolution over time. Way back in high school, I would try to type my last name “Colella” into Microsoft Word and would automatically, albeit religiously, auto-correct it to “Coleslaw.” As silly a thing as that was, it caught on with my peers, who began referring to me on the daily as “Mr. Coleslaw.”
Years later, when I was finishing college and becoming a high school science teacher, many people from my past reached out to joke that I, legitimately, was an actual “Mr. Coleslaw” at that point. Around that same time, my first Instagram name was “MrColeslaw,” but ironically enough my students from my earliest teaching gigs would hunt me down on social media just to creep into my personal life, a big no-no in the teaching world.
All that said, what I mainly used my Instagram account for was blogging about my outdoor adventures, whether they be hunting, fishing, or just plain exploration. With that in mind, I decided to open my profile to the public for any and all users to view, whether they were my students or not. I made my profile exclusively for blogging about the outdoors with very little of my personal life influencing my posts, making it more “educational” than “blackmail” for my students followers.
To further emphasize the vision I had for my account, I aptly changed my username from “MrColeslaw” to “CaptainColeslaw.” It has caught on with my students too; it captivated their interest for the outdoors and allowed me to tie my outdoor passions into my classroom’s biology curriculum. It otherwise achieved exactly the vision I had in mind…and Its here to stay!
You make an annual trip to Pymatuning Reservoir. What do you like about this fishery?
I lived 20 minutes south of Pymatuning, so I grew up fishing it for walleyes with my dad at a very young age. The older I became, the more I realized its potential as a lake for much more than walleyes. It’s an incredibly popular impoundment for everything from walleyes and catfish to crappies and bass…and everything in between.
The lake is so large and aptly managed that it has different creel limits for many species compared to the rest of the Commonwealth, so it’s one of the few lakes I fish anywhere where I will take a few fish home for supper. That’s why it becomes an “annual” trip at the end of summer for my best friend Chris and I. Chris is @nottodaymcvey on Instagram and he’s a must follow. As a late summer fishery, it tends to be productive for a variety of species, including bass.
For its massive surface area, fishing Pymatuning leads to a shallow water fishing experience. There is lots of open water, but its shallow, weedy, and warm. It doesn’t get much deeper than 20 feet in any of its 17,000 acres of coverage. With lots of surrounding farmland and stream drainage, this leaves the water an almost chronically-stained color which is home to millions of plankton-hunting shad and alewife.
Many people actually complain about the overabundance of baitfish and how it can slow the fish bite later in the year, but we’ve used the baitfish to our advantage. When fishing our late-summer trip, we use nothing but wide-bodied, deep-diving crankbaits around major point structure in order to catch fish…any fish. Our tactics have successfully helped us catch crappies, smallmouth, largemouth, white bass, and even catfish in large numbers. You can cast them, or you can troll them…but silver and chartreuse cranks running between 5 to 12 feet have always been the money maker.
I also noticed you fish a western PA river Kiskiminetas River. Can you describe for us the fishing on this river?
The “Kiski” River is relatively new to me personally. I started fishing it in August 2016 when I moved to Westmoreland County for work. The first thing I realized is that it’s a very shallow river, and in its upper stretches it is almost exclusively between 4 and 1 feet deep although nearly 100-150 yards wide in places, meaning your best tools for mobility are kayaks and chest waders depending on the time of year.
There are deeper pockets both upstream and downstream, but reaching them requires finesse. Taking a motorized boat out on this river will surely lead you to trouble. If you learn to maneuver the river though, there is bounty. The cobblestone-laden river bottom, peppered with small boulders their corresponding eddies, screams smallmouth habitat. There are plenty of fish in the 8 to 12 inch range, and I’ve come across quite a few fish in the 2.5 to 3 pound category as well, with a few even fatty outliers.
What are your favorite baits to throw on this river?
When it comes to bait choice, any other body of water on the planet calls for crawfish imitations a staple first-try pattern. On the Kiski, I’ve haven’t found such luck with them, and I’ve fished it steadily for two full years now.
As a science teacher, I look at it from a biochemistry perspective. Crawfish require water with a clean, neutral pH…meaning water that doesn’t have acidic or basic characteristics. The Kiski River in the past has experienced tumultuous pollution abuse due to deep-ground salt mining along its banks. This led to iron seeping from the ground and polluting the rivers with rust-colored Iron oxide, which makes rivers look yellow/orange in color. This pollutant actually removes oxygen from the water, making water more acidic. Although the river is much, much cleaner than it was 100 years ago, if you kick the sediment the river you still see a distinctly-rusty color to it, leading me to believe that the sediment is, to this day, still too acidic for crawfish to reside in.
As a result, fish in the river key on other bait. In particular, shiners and alewife are common, and in many instances I’ve watched smallmouth actively chase them along the surface. Since then, all I throw for smallmouth are streamlined minnow imitations, varying from zoom flukes to suspended jerk baits. The river is also an excellent fly fishing spot for smallies, but again your need to replicate minnow patterns. I’ve had days where I’ll throw silvery streamer patterns and catch 10 to 15 bass in an hour just wading from riffle to riffle, but if I throw on a brown woolybugger I won’t get a single touch. In short, replicate minnow patterns and you can’t fail.
What are your other favorite PA places to fish for smallmouth?
No body of water will even come close to my favorite smallmouth fishery than the Upper Allegheny River. It’s cool water, crystal clear, and well stocked with seasonal food sources which are easy to replicate as an angler. The abundant diversity of different types of food has led to extremely healthy dining habits for the river’s smallmouth, leading to an extremely large population of fish as well as a steady population of pig-sized specimens.
In turn, a river with so many healthy smallmouth leads to a river with healthy populations of other large gamefish. The Allegheny’s smallmouth population will forever be the one which means the most to me, not only as an angler but as an ecologist a heart.
How about for largemouth?
My favorite Pennsylania largemouth fishing spots are both found in Western PA. Shenango River Lake is one of my favorites. The lake has essentially no weed cover, but it does have plenty of rip-rap, sunken trees, and deep water channels for big bass to lay. Fishing this lake for bass isn’t particular easy, but it does allow you to use baits such as crawfish and lipless crankbaits in a way where you can get to deeper fish later in the year without the concern of snagging up most of the time. That said, there are also some tremendous topwater bites on this lake due to the shallow gravel shoals found around the entire impoundment. These humps warm up first in the year, which attract baitfish and predators as well.
Lake Latonka in Mercer County is a private lake in western Pennsylvania, which also makes for some awesome largemouth fishing. Fish in this lake are protected from the general public, but with permission and the right licensing you can gain access. The fish of this lake are aggressive, abundant, and large… and key in on bluegills almost exclusively as their staple diet. The lack of small bluegills in the lake clearly shows that it takes a large bluegill to survive in these waters, making small lipless crankbaits, fat bodied cranks, and swimbaits money when fishing these waters…although soft plastics will do a job as well, although you may run into more small fish this way.
What do you consider your overall favorite western PA bass baits?
Being I key primarily on smallmouth bass personally, I always carry watermelon-colored soft plastics, small finesse jigs, primarily in black and blue, and 3 to 5 inch suspending jerk baits. These baits are also favorites when fishing for largemouth, but I’ll never fish a largemouth water without some pearl-colored flukes, drop-shot gear, and walk-the-dog-style topwaters in my tackle box. I’d even be confident to say that the largest 10% of my largemouth, on all bodies of water anywhere, came from walking the dog on the surface.
You went to Florida last March and looks like you did some shore fishing. What lakes did you fish?
Interior Florida is a special place when it comes to largemouth fishing…truly. I fished many small lakes and impoundments, including Lake Osborne and Lake Ida. I also targeted channels and aqueducts connecting water sources through everything from sugar cane fields to cities as large as West Palm and Ft. Lauderdale. The number of bass, at the very least, is staggering; for every 10 Pennsylvania largemouth I’ll catch in a year, I’d catch 20 times as many fish if I was in Florida year-round.
I was there for a week, and in total easily caught 50 to 60 largemouth. The locals love talking bass fishing as well, although they tend to be more concerned with equipment compared to fish biology…for you literally can catch fish at any time of the year. As a Pennsylvania angler, who has to deal with fluctuating water temperatures and seasons, understanding fish movements and feeding patterns has always been my plan for success. Taking that knowledge to Florida with me for the first time, and bass fishing was just a straight up week-long rally! The size of the bass is incredible too. I caught one momma who would have easily weighed 8 pounds if she hadn’t spawned out and there were plenty more fish in the 4 to 5 pound range. For a bass fisherman, I was as close to fishing paradise as I could have ever imagined, and can’t wait for the next time I go!
Fill in the blank for me, in 2018 Captain Coleslaw’s bass fishing will _______.
…mainly be from a Kayak. Being so new to Westmoreland County, there are plenty of new and amazing lakes I can’t wait to fish in close proximity to me, but most are small bodies requiring a kayak or electric motor. It will be a new experience, especially in lake ecosystems, learning the area. But I’ll be up for the challenge if it means fishing unpressed waters and tacking new opportunities.
Thank you Gino for the great interview. Will be following you on Instagram @CaptainColeslaw.