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Monday, October 5, 2015

just a wonderful trip

(fine print/ disclaimer...This was on of the best trips I've ever had in a river around here, some of it's going to sound like bull but it's not)

After telling my granddaughter her bedtime story and tucking her in, I left her Mamaw's capable hands and headed to the river.  It was going on eleven before I got to my spot. I'll let ya in on a secret that for some reason you just don't hear much about. hybrids love the night. If you have a spot you can catch a couple in during the day odds are you can catch  half a dozen at night. Well this spot was just about my best numbers spot for hybrids and tonight the weather, time of year, karma and lord knows what else combined to turn hybrid fishing into something akin to springtime crappie fishing, Well if crappies were two feet long and fought like possessed demons I guess. I honestly lost track of how many I caught which is probably a good thing no one would believe it anyways, I did catch at least 15 or 20 that were the size of this guy or bigger I guess.

My lil point and shoot that Ive carried for years and years finally kicked the bucket and it took me half the night to figure out how to take a decent night shot with the other one. I ended up throwing most away. They looked pretty much like these and worse.

Somehow a photo that went off when I miss set the timer actually took a clear photo. It's goofy but at least you can see how the fish were running size wise. I cropped out the close up of my butt.
By about three or four in the morning I was pretty whipped. The farmer that owns the land here has an open faced barn that's stuffed full of bales of straw. I set the phone alarm for six and crawled up between some bales of straw and took a fishing nap. The hybrids were waiting when I got up and were still scruffling with each other to hit my curly shad. I also landed this guy...

I actually landed it before I realized it wasn't a shovelhead but instead a huge channel, one of the years best fish.
Downstream of here the river makes a huge bend curving back on itself for well over a mile, so much so that a half mile walk straight behind you across a giant field gets you well over a mile downstream as the river flows. And down here was a huge deep hole I've been thinking of as a wintering hole for smallmouth all summer. So right after first light I headed out.
Dan, Dave and I call most fishing spots by a sort of alphabet shorthand. One spot might be call WD while another UG or even something more descriptive like the Death Riffle. Anything to keep it's real name secret in case of a conversation overheard or a text miss sent. Well Dave had named this big wintering hole the A Hole. (after the name of a nearby landmark of course)
I fished for quite some time without finding the fish. I was standing throwing a grub into a fast shoot out in front of me when I noticed a little calmer spot of water in the riffle off to my left. I made a little underhand pitch cast and let the grub sweep into the little eddy. Wham fish on. And then another, and another. Last week I took some seniors from a retirement home fishing and I'm thinking the fish gods were pleased because they were more than generous today, Again I lost track but I'd say twenty smallmouth is probably close with the biggest a bit over 19".  I think that's either 7 or 8 this year that's been within an inch of the magic 20 but no go again. But if this is the way the fish gods are going to tease me about it I'm okay with that.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

jacket weather...

Actually todays best fish didn't get it's photo taken. I'm guessing 18"+. I hooked it in the roof of the mouth on a three inch grub on a standard 1/4 ounce ball head jighead. The hook popped out easily enough but the fish started bleeding like a stuck pig. Very strange as it was hooked nowhere near the gills. Rather than stress it any more I released it immediately. All fish were on a smoke metalflake grub including the channel and the shovel. The shovelhead hit in about three feet of water in a chute of water that was zooming along, no way you could have stood up in it. Needless to say in the swift water on 8lb line the shovelhead was a blast.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The last few days in fish:

A few fish from this last week...

Probably the best story from the past few days is actually that of a carp:

So I'm walking up the bike trail, along some of that wooden fence that there must be fifty miles of along the LMR and GMR. I look over the fence at the river. Here it's a head high drop down to the river. Right below me is a big carp in the shallows. On a whim I pitch a grub down and reel it up right in front of the carp and let it sit there.. He tips up and slurps it in. I'm thinking to myself you idiot what have you done? The carp zings around the pool. I'm thinking I'll fight it a bit then break it off I guess. Then it runs under this limb that's lying half in the water half on the bank and fouls itself. Well the limb bends and gives and won't let the carp break the line. Oh crap I can't leave it like this. It's like 60 yards either way before I can get down to the water and for sure can't do even that holding the rod, I loosen the drag as light as it will go in case the carp frees itself. Then I lower the rod as far as I can by the tip and drop it over the fence and haul butt for a spot I can get down. Five minutes later I finally get there, untangle everything and release one very tired carp...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Buddha Channelcat and the circle of life

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to the truth, not going all the way, and not starting...  Buddha
When people ask me how to become a better smallmouth fisherman in rivers one of the pieces of advice I always give is to go channel cat fishing in their river at least once a month for the rest of their lives. I'm usually looked at like I've got two heads so let me explain.
Your average smallmouth bass (8 to 12 inches long) is a crayfish eating machine. As the summer progresses he eats more and more crayfish as they hatch and grow till by the end of summer possibly 75 or 80% of his diet in some streams is crayfish. I'm absolutely convinced that the very biggest smallmouth, those 19 and 20 inchers we all dream of, got that way by making the switch to a diet of predominately fish as they get bigger. Studies show big smallmouth are the most picky about the crayfish they eat and prefer small crayfish about an inch and a quarter long. But those same big smallmouth love big minnows up to five or six inches long. So unless your stream is just absolutely crawling with crayfish, which most of the LMR and GMR is not, it's simply a case of more bang for the buck. There are more calories in a given weight of fish than crayfish and the bass prefer bigger minnows and smaller crayfish anyways. Again this only applies to big smallmouth not average ones.
Well channel catfish, like smallmouth, start our eating whatever they can, invertebrates, insects, snails, crawfish, green algae, aquatic plants, seeds and small fish, terrestrial insects. But here's the interesting part, at about 18 inches in length, channel catfish switch to a diet of mostly small fish. Bigger channel catfish have a diet composed of over 75% fish.
Lets recap. Average smallmouth bass-75% crayfish diet. Adult channel catfish-75% fish diet.
The average adult channel catfish has much more in common with a trophy smallmouth bass than your average smallmouth bass has.
20 inch smallmouth bass in your average stream are extremely rare. So rare that in many studies if one is captured while sampling it's not even used in the study statistics. It's considered an anomaly that would skew the results.. So how do you learn how to fish for a fish so rare that even if you knew how to do it you might only catch one every couple years? Certainly not by fishing for them after all how do you learn by not catching one?
Well what your stream has, if it's any kind of smallmouth stream at all, is channel catfish. And it's about a thousand times easier to catch a five to eight pound channel catfish than it is to catch a 20 inch smallmouth bass. And I maintain that you will learn more about catching a trophy smallmouth from your once a month channel cat trip than you will a dozen trips where you caught six or eight 10" smallmouth on roostertails or tubes.
There are of course important difference between channel catfish and big smallmouth. For example smallmouth are extremely loyal to their home stretch of river and in summer never leave it. Channel catfish on the other hand, while having a home range, will often leave it for a few days after a big rain and explore wildly up and down the river much like a shovelhead. I find it interesting that in one study channel catfish were labeled a mobile species while bass were labeled a sedentary one. Completely the opposite of how they are often perceived. Channel catfish when inactive and not feeding might bury themselves in a logjam in a bend pool or back up under a rock. But when actively hunting for food a bigger channel cat will seek out the same kind of places a giant smallmouth will after all they are after the same food. Learn to target and catch actively feeding big channel catfish and learn how to catch trophy smallmouth bass.
And besides if you want to learn how a river works your going to have to learn how its catfish work. It's my opinion that channel catfish are the most important predator in the river. I've used the analogy of Yellowstone in the past. Flatheads and really big smallmouth are like the grizzlies. Top predators but in limited numbers, not enough to change the whole makeup of the place. Average smallmouth and small catfish are like the coyotes keeping the rodent population in check and eating the occasional rabbit. But adult channel cats are the wolves eating the deer and elk. When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone everything changed. The elk numbers dropped and numbers of things like beavers and rabbits and trout went up. Wait, what? Beaver and trout? Well less elk meant less overgrazing along stream banks, more riparian cover for trout, more food for beaver. More beaver mean more small streams dammed which mean more overwintering holes for trout, richer deeper water and more food for trout. More rabbits because there are wolves? Wolves eat coyotes, less coyotes mean more rabbits. Everything is connected just like in the river.
Did you know that numbers of rough fish like carp are down in the Little Miami compared to 1990?
I think it goes back to our wolf analogy. Cleaner water means more food. More crayfish and darters in the riffles where small channel catfish feed, more insects and tiny invertebrates and plankton for catfish fry. More little catfish mean more big catfish. Which in turn prey on baby rough fish. Channel catfish are the wolves, the fish with the power to change things. Wipe out the big shovelheads and the trophy smallmouth and the river would still be recognizable. It might seem a lot less exciting to our imaginations but for the most part it would look unchanged. But wipe out the channel catfish and the web of life in the river would change drastically and completely.
Here are some great studies on channel catfish if you wish to learn more about this awesome fish:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

And the beat rolls on...

Love this fall fishing. Biggest was 19.25 but shaped like a football.
On Vic's soft plastics fished in swift water right below a riffle.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fun with Darters...

In the sections of the Little Miami, Whitewater and Great Miami Rivers that I smallmouth fish there are at least a dozen different species of darters. according to EPA shocking surveys they are the most common baitfish in some sections of stream. I've been playing around with some of Vic's new paddletail swimbaits in pearl and some permanent markers. So far I've had great luck on them and find them just plain fun to play around with as well...

The start of the fall bite...


Hitting it pretty hard this time of year since from now till say the secomd week of October is the best time to get that big hawg smallie. No monsters but some pretty nice ones so far.