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Monday, December 15, 2014

The precipice

Dan and I went to look at the place about a month ago. Plus Rob and I had both found it separately on Google and had talked about it a lot. But standing there with Dan looking at the place it looked pretty much impossible. Usually there is always some way to get down to the water to fish. Some root you can hang on to or some slope slightly less steep than the rest you can shimmy down. But this was different. Dan and I studied it for a long time. A ten or twelve foot cliff ran all along the bank.  In the gin clear water the river looked bottomless. The bank dropping off into blackness with a big eddy flowing upstream to curl back upon itself. It was the best wintering hole I'd ever seen AND about a hundred yards upstream warm water poured out of a pipe into the river.
IF, if you could get down there it was possible to stand at the base of the cliff. Eyes probed the cliff. Not a chance it was vertical. No inching along the bank from upstream or down either. At each end of the hole the cliff went straight down into the bottomless hole out of sight.
Dan and I talked of shovels and ropes and pick axes for a bit and gave up and went up to the pipe for a bit. I think we caught a couple carp in the shallow water up there if I remember right.
House and I made vague  plans to launch his inflatable raft and storm the beach. Meanwhile the place ate at me. And I came up with a plan. I bought a rope. A 300lb test rope. And cut 15 foot long rungs out of wood. I then drilled holes in the ends of each and began the long process of knotting up my rope ladder.
Today was just right, the third or fourth warmer than average day in a row. But I only had a couple hours to fish. Enough I told myself to scout the place out and see if it's worth the effort of floating the river in winter in Rob's boat. So over the edge went the ladder tied at the top to the base of a clump of small trees. It took everything I had to go over that edge. I've always said I'm safe bowhunting because I'm mildly afraid of heights. I wasn't mildly afraid of this, I was scared. If I hadn't spent three hours making the stupid ladder I would have backed out.
I'd remembered last year reading of Mark Blauvelt catching carp from a warm water discharge in winter on a flyrod. Since it was mostly a scouting trip I dug the flyrod I keep in a tube behind the truck seat out and took that.
Up close the water looks even better. No room to backcast, I roll cast out a marabou nymph and let it set there slowly sinking. It began a slow tour of the eddy. Nothing. Ten minutes later a drift stopped. Nothing special it just stopped. I raised the rod and was fast into a fish. It actually fought pretty well and up eventually rolled a shovelhead. The first I've ever taken on a fly.
Then a long time with no action. Just watching the river and enjoying the day. And hoping the rope held on the way back up. Then something on the line, not really a strike just something. I raised the rod again and a fish was on. This one slowly began it's own tour of the hole before finally giving in. A nice carp but foul hooked. Then a few minutes later another fish. This time a big one. It pretty much had its way with the six weight rod. Bending into a deep D shape and pulling its way all over the hole before just coming off. Probably another carp or a big buffalo but that shovelhead makes me wonder. In one spot some concrete rubble was down in the water. I roll cast out in front of it and let the fly settle. It twitched and I set. The line zigged and zagged as a pretty smallmouth struggled on the end of my line. But it was now time to go to work. Sigh I left with the thought of big wintering smalljaws dancing in my head. Looks like we are going to have to make that wintertime float trip after all....

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hunting and fishing with lil Jimmy, Earl and Lester

A long weekend with nothing on the agenda but whitetails and white bass. It just doesn't get much better than that. I guess this post could go in either the Southeastern or Southwestern Ohio forum. I spent about equal time in both. Driving gravel roads and winding two lanes where the two regions meet along the Ohio River. The whitetail hunting didn't quite go as planned. Oh I had my chances. The arrow going under the belly of one deer at thirty yards. And then a big buck, as big or bigger than any I've ever killed came walking right up to the tree. Just one little problem, he came walking up to the backside of the tree. Right up to it, like just a couple feet away. Then he froze undoubtedly smelling the traces of where I had climbed the tree a few hours before. I just sat there. He just stood there. If you have ever bowhunted you know how long that can take. Then he just turned and walked right back the way he came. Right directly behind me. But that's all part of bowhunting. I've bowhunted since before I could drive, It's just part of who I am. But I'm more of a fisherman that hunts rather than a hunter that fishes like my father. On the way up along the Ohio River and at mid day I'd head out trying for white bass and hybrids. Checking out some old spots and looking for some new ones. I'm not sure what the official temperature got down to but the thermometer in my new old truck said 31 at ten pm the first night with a clear starry night ahead. I made a point not to look again. Whatever the temperature the white bass didn't seem to mind. I was kind of hoping for some big wipers but it's best to be thankful for whatever kindness th fish gods feel like dishing out in November.

We own  bit of worthless hill country land not too far from the river on a gravel road that at best gets a half dozen cars a day. Well most years. This year a culvert at one end had washed out and the county hadn't gotten around to fixing it yet. They just dropped a dump truck load of gravel at one end blocking it off with a sigh stuck on top saying road closed. Out here things move at a different pace. I just put the truck in four wheel drive and eased on by and had the place o myself. Then every morning after not killing a deer I'd head out fishing being careful not to run over the old coon hound lying in the gravel soaking up the sun in front of the shack at the other end of the road.

To get in the spirit of things I searched up and down the dial till I found a bluegrass station. That's another good thing about this part of hill country Ohio, you can still find bluegrass on the radio.  Heading down a gravel road from the deer stand to the river with Lester Flatt on the radio. As Jeff Foxworthy says, you might be a redneck if...

But the bittersweet beauty of fall always does this to me. Time alone in the tree stand watching the falling leaves or crunching across a brown field to the river both make me nostalgic. I grew up sitting around a deer camp fire listening to my Dad and two uncles tell hunting tales. Now two of them are gone and the other too old to camp any more. The deer camp campfire is a quiet reflective place now.

But anyways  back to the fishing. If the fishing for the year was winding down no one had told the white bass yet. I must have caught at least thirty along with five or six Kentucky spots, a channel cat
and a huge bigmouth buffalo that inhaled a four inch swimbait. At first I thought it might be a striper but it bore off steadily and slowly instead of sizzling fast. But it also swam off like a fish in it for the long haul and we were both whipped by the time I let it go. So I have an old point and shoot camera tht must be six or seven years old stuck in my daypack. I took several photos of the buffalo as well as the better white bass and small hybrids. Well later I found out I'd neglected to put a card in the camera. No problem it has internal storage right? Well the little plug in for the cord that attaches the camera to computer is long since gone. So I've got a cool photo of a big fish that I don't know how to get off the camera. The photos you do see are with my new waterproof  camera, the one with the card in it...  Oh well.  So all in all it was a pretty good adventure and with another planned for the next week theres still hope for that big buck yet.

Friday, October 31, 2014

SWAT and postmodern smallmouth fishing

SWAT....Scientific Wild Ass Theory

I realize that people succeed at things all the time even though their reasoning for doing what they are doing might be completely off base. A guy kills a gigantic buck because he "knows" it is going to travel down a certain trail to feed on acorns. In all actuality it might be traveling down that trail to bed down in a briar patch for the day. But he killed a big deer this year, just like every year, so he must be right.

So having established that I may or may not know what I'm talking about here is my take on big smallmouth in southwestern Ohio. First off there are very very few smallmouth over twenty inches long in the rivers and streams of southwestern Ohio. One look at the list of Fish Ohio Awards for smallmouth bass will show you that. For most anglers catching a smallmouth that stretches the tape to twenty inches or beyond is a once in a lifetime event, if it even happens at all. I honestly think somewhere around nineteen inches is the maximum size most of our smallmouth can attain. It's entirely possible a smallmouth could live well and die of old age without ever getting to be twenty. The bar for a Fish Ohio Smallmouth should be nineteen around here out of a river if you ask me.

But I also think it's possible to catch several twenty plus inch smallmouth from the streams of southwestern Ohio year after year. If, IF, you fish differently. If you do not fish the classical method for stream fishing. Post Modern Smallmouth Fishing is the silly name I coined for my method. It's painfully simple really but that's also what makes it so hard to do.

To try and explain my reasoning I'm going to switch gears and talk about a fish that has influenced my thinking a lot, a brown trout. Not just any brown trout mind you but the forty pound leviathan caught by the late Howard Collins out of the Little Red River in Arkansas. For a long time this was the world record brown trout. I think it has since been surpassed by a fish from lake in New Zealand but that's neither here nor there. The Little Red hold some big fish. But huge outlandishly large ones over twenty pounds are rarer than a twenty inch smallie around here. So how did this fish then reach forty pounds?!?

Well some scientists think the giant may have employed a different feeding strategy than the other fish in the river. That instead of following the typical blueprint of feeding on a mixed bag of invertebrates with some fish mixed in as it got bigger, this fish found a spot where it could eat all it wanted to of just fish, There are all kinds of stories like this. A giant twenty six pound rainbow was found dead in the Frying Pan River, one of the most heavily fished rivers on earth. It's thought that fish found a perfect spot below a dam where it could sit in one spot it's whole life and gorge on shrimp. Look at the huge largemouth bass caught in California feeding on trout that act nothing at all like what a largemouth is "supposed" to act like. My point is you can find hundreds of examples of fish getting much larger than what is thought possible. And they all have in common the fact they employ an out of the ordinary feeding strategy.

So this is where my SWAT kicks in. Read any study on smallmouth bass feeding habits in streams.
Minnows in cold weather, then ever increasing numbers of crayfish from spring till fall. In some studies seventy five percent  of some smallmouths diet consists of crayfish. And what do tracking studies of smallmouth bass tell us? That smallmouth bass in streams are extreme homebodies except when migrating to and from their wintering holes. This is true in every study I've seen.
Often a smallmouth will live out it's entire life in just one or two pools.

Well what if a fish that is naturally inclined to be an extreme homebody could find all it's requirements met in just one spot?!?  Not just the vaunted spot on a spot but for this fish the only spot,Say a deep pocket under a sycamore tree or behind a big slab of concrete rubble. So there is cover and a respite from the current and a super feeding lane right beside it filled all the time with juicy high caloric shiners?

If the resting spot is sufficiently protected somehow say by cover so that it is inaccessible to anglers then that fish has a chance to grow to it's full potential, say nineteen inches. But let's throw that super feeding lane filled with shiners into the mix. Instead of scrapping around like your typical bass eating hellgrammites, darters, minnows, crayfish, bugs etc, our fish can just set there and wait for the conveyor belt to bring along dinner. And do so without expending all that much energy. And so grow larger than the typical bass by employing a non typical feeding strategy. Now we aren't talking huge differences like the fish mentioned earlier, we are talking five percent, from nineteen to twenty inches.

Now I'm not saying huge smallmouth don't eat crayfish or hellgrammites. All the better in my book if our super seam has a nice cobble bottom that lets our big fish gobble down some crayfish as appetizers while waiting on the conveyor belt to bring the next meal.

In fact finding these super seams is to me more important than what the fish are actually feeding on. I might be just like that guy earlier when my big fish might be gorging on darters or crayfish or what have you right before it nails my swimbait fished as a shiner imitation. I've come to realize my limited lure selection is really what fishes effectively in these seams and not really a representation of what's actually there underwater at all. After all most streams around here have ten different shiner species, ten different minnow species and as many darter species as well as the multitude of invertebrates that smallies like. Our big smallmouth probably isn't selective.

A grub or a swimbait fished on a jighead allows you to fish fast super seams that are just too fast for most crankbaits or spinners. By varying the size of both the bait and the jighead you can adjust the lures path so it fishes naturally down the seam. Not so light it rips along over the fishes head or so heavy it catches on the bottom.

Things that create super seams are the ends of rock bars thrown out by feeder streams in flood, concrete rubble, dams or the remnants of old dams, bridge abutments, rocks dumped in the stream to control erosion, a single huge other words anything that obstructs current flow enough to create  strong line between slack water and fast current. In my experience the more distinct and abrupt the line between fast and slow water the better. And this seam must b a permanent feature. A big smallmouth takes at least a decade to get that way so I don't often fish wood when targeting trophy smallmouth.

All this varies a lot I know from standard smallmouth fishing practices. You know, where you fish riffles and runs with lures like spinners and tubes and crankbaits. And it's probably less effective than standard smallmouth fishing. The guy covering four or five different riffles with a rebel craw will catch more fish most days than I will. But most of the time (it's fishing , there are always exceptions to every rule) I will catch much bigger fish on average, just not as many.

Don't get me wrong I love conventional smallmouth fishing. There's not much better than wading a stream catching spunky smallmouth, covering water and also enjoying the sights and sounds of the river. But at least once a week I try to throw in a trip with one of those super seams as a destination. There I can slow down and fish one spot hard hoping my big fish will feed. As long as I do this I know a couple times a year I'll measure a smallmouth that hits the holy grail of twenty inches. Whether or not it got that way how I think it did is another thing completely..

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Icing on 2014's cake

(this is from 10\10\14, playing catchup on fishing reports)So I headed out right at daylight with high hopes. Dark weather, right time of year, right water temps. So I headed to what I feel is probably my best spot. It takes some getting to but is usually worth it. Five minutes in and a fish clobbers my grub right at my feet. A huge fish. Probably the best fish of the year. It jumps seemingly right under the rod tip and seemingly waist high then greyhounds off across the top of the water and is off. I sit on a rock and let the experience sink in, it happened so fast. That might have been the chance for a hawg this fall. You only get one or two chances. I mentally cuss. A lot. I go back to fishing. It's slow maybe a fish every half hour to forty five minutes. I leave six hours later having caught two largemouth, three smallies and two small hybrids. Wet cold and feeling a bit defeated after the loss of the fish I move locations. forty minutes later I get there. A pretty seam of fast rushing water. Sigh. Let's try this again. First cast. Wham! a pretty 16" inch smallie. Then the next cast, Thump and a big gorgeous fish rockets skyward. Please please please don't let this one come off. But no it's uneventful and I lip the fish. Shaking a bit I measure her. 20 inches even. Suddenly it's not so cold and miserable.  God I love fall fishing
It's been a bit of a crazy week or so since I last posted. I've fished a lot but not had internet access so I thought I'd just lump them all in one big post. There are photos of the LMR, the GMR. the WWR and the big Ohio, all from the last 7 or 8 days. The biggest highlight for me was being a guest on Erin Shaw's Nature's Corner cable tv show talking about stream fishing. I'm not sure when it will air yet tho. I did manage to catch one gorgeous smallie just a fraction under 19" plus some other nice ones over the last few trips. I hate for fall to end. I was skunked once but there is always that anticipation of knowing the big one might be just a cast away. And I also have to force myself to slow down and enjoy how beautiful it is right now. It's too easy for me at least to get caught up in trying to get in one more cast, one more fish before it all slows down to winter saugeye weather. The rivers are never more lovely than they are right now. Anyways, here's some pics of my world this last week, hope you enjoy them.


Fish of a lifetime

Went to the Ohio River with my friends Dan and Dave last weekend. And got to shoot this photograph of Dan with the fish of a lifetime. I know it's a good fish for any where, even down south or the salt. But for around here it's unheard of. 36" inches long and 21" around! A truly incredible fish. Congrats Dan...

Friday, September 26, 2014

September 22nd, A holy day on the river

A reprint from last year on locating fall smallmouth

Today is the Fall Equinox the single most important day of the year for river bass fishing...
The thing I probably get the most questions about in all of my fishing is how I locate bass in the fall. Fishermen say that they constantly hear how good smallmouth bass fishing is in the fall but that they just can't catch them or they are only catching dinks. Well here's how I locate smallies in the fall. Smallmouth migrate to the best possible places they can find to spend the winter. This may only be hundreds of yards or it might be ten miles or more. This is triggered by length of day. Dr. Mark Ridgeway, a research scientist for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources found that a smallmouth migration away from classic summer habitat begins, each year, within a week to 10 days of the autumnal equinox in September. This means that day length, not water temperature is the reason for smallmouth bass fall movements.
But there are two parts to the puzzle, just as you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, whether or not they then bite is related to water temperature. When the water temperature sinks to 60 degrees and below that seems to be a trigger point. From then till the river hits 50 degrees the smallmouth are in overdrive feeding the strongest they do all year. So the great fishing lasts as long as the water stays above about 52. If that's a week, its a week if its a month then the fishing is great for a month.
So between the smallmouth migration and water temps you need a couple things you might have not used all year. The number one tool for finding smallmouth bass wintering holes in the LMR is a good online satellite mapping site like Google Maps. Your looking for big bends and deep eddies with complex structure nearby. The deepest biggest holes you can find. Some of these can be places in town "fished out" during the summer, it doesn't matter your fishing for fish that might have came from miles away. Sometimes you just have to make a list of possibilities and head out to check them in person. Like I said the bass will migrate as far as it takes so you cant think well maybe this is good enough. Now until the water actually hits 50 to 53 the bass might not be right in that wintering hole. They will instead be somewhere on the first two or three riffles either upstream or down feeding like gangbusters. The two best places I know have both the deep complex structure and a really good hard bottomed riffle with a hard bottom and no silt between the feeding area and the hole even though in one case its 150 yards between the two. So obviously a thermometer is a great tool is seeing where things are at. Above 60 you can expect bass to be in transition between summer and fall patterns. And the equinox falls on either on September 22, 23, or 24 every year. On any other day of the year, the Earth's axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun. But on the equinox the Earth's axis tilts neither away from nor towards the Sun. So sometime within a week of that expect them to come pouring into those fall feeding riffles depending on temps. Not every smallmouth migrates at exactly the same time so you can still catch bass elsewhere in the river as they stop to feed while migrating but the real action will be in those good riffles close to wintering holes starting about the second week in September and getting better and better if the weather cooperates until the water cools below 50 to 53 degreees. After that you have to fish slooow down in the deep wintering holes to get much action. Sometimes a warm day will warm things a degree or two and you can sometimes catch a smallmouth or two on a hair jig fished almost motionless under a float. Just let the current swirl it around the hole and try to impart as little movement to the lure as you can. This can result in some of the best fish of the year but it also results in a big number of fishless days too.