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Sunday, September 23, 2018

more hybrid action

It really is amazing how hard these things pull, especially like this morning when they are doing it in a fast moving riffle. On a curly shad on a 1/4 ounce jighead right after daylight.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Good days and bad days...

I've taken a few short trips the last three days so I thought I'd lump them all together in one fishing report. First trip was pretty much a bust, new spot, less than an hour, one ten inch bass, nuff said. The next day was pretty action packed though all the fish were small. A few bass and about 15 white bass and little hybrids where a creek mouth entered the river. The two biggest fish of the day were probably a couple skipjack that hammered a grub and then did what skipjacks do which is do cartwheels in the air. What a shame these things don't get to weigh ten pounds. Then today, (the autumnal equinox BTW) a couple decent hybrids on a curly shad on the next riffle up from where I caught all the little fish the day before.

Monday, September 17, 2018

a couple more stripes

A pair of stripey things today lying just outside the main current on a lower but still muddy river. Pearl with a black back curly shad on a 1/4 ounce jighead

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ya pays your dues and ya takes your chances....

So a couple years ago we moved 20 minutes or south. Now my circle of "home water" that is comfortably reachable in the evenings from my house now includes some prime hybrid streams along with the typical smallmouth water I'm used to. It's been a bit of a learning curve. The main thing that took a bit of getting used to hybrid fishing is that you can seemingly be in the right place at the right time throwing the right bait and still catch nothing. My smallmouth are homebodies. Big ones are hard to come by but thru a combination of past experience, a bit of knowledge and avoiding overfished locations you can sometimes "know" you are at least fishing over nice smallmouth. But the hybrids you hooked yesterday might be a mile away chasing bait today or even out of your creek entirely. Or the opposite might just as easily be true. You might fish a good looking riffle for an hour catching nothing when all of a sudden the fish show up. These fish are true nomads. It takes a bit of faith and zen like patience and possibly a bit of masochism. The last few days have been pretty typical. The first day, striper genius Rob Orr and I went on an expedition to find some clear water running into our up and muddy rivers. What we found was a head high jungle of weeds and briars to wade and machete thru only to find we had to wade out thigh deep in flooded grass to even be able to cast at all. A few small stripey fish came to hand but the big guys were obviously somewhere else. A pretty serious paying your dues type day. The next morning found me catching one tiny hybrid (or was it a white bass? I didn't check) and a few ten inch largemouth. But on the bright side an eagle flew low overhead and an osprey flew by repeatedly. Then today fishing one of the spots Rob and I hacked our way into a few days prior this stud of a hybrid just absolutely crushed my swimbait.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

high water fish!

So yeah the river is like a bit under four feet higher than the last time I fished it and an absolute mess. But it is at least not up in the trees any more. So I was arrowhead hunting in a little creek yesterday and it was perfectly clear. Six inches deep but perfectly clear. Hmmm... so I know this one creek that has some clear water and hits the river in the back of a long narrow channel that seems to be half river and half creek. I mean the creek is mostly knee deep and twenty feet across but this is waist to shoulder deep and barely moving. But it's a terrible walk and a long shot. But hey it is fishing. And moving water at that. I'll do almost anything to fish moving verses still water. Well I soon discovered a snag with my plan. The path that follows the stream is still under water so I ended up busting thru head high weeds. But sometimes I think the fishing spirits reward effort or at least look out for crazy people because it was worth it. Where creek met bay was about twenty feet of off colored but fishable water and about ten feet of clear water all about waist deep. I fished a Vic Coomer paddletail, silvery glitter with a black back and never had to change. One small largie, three small hybrids, a hybrid about 20 inches long, a hybrid about the twin to the one in the photo that I lost, and the dandy in the photo. In about 45 minutes of standing in one spot casting where the clear met muddy. Even if things are a mess they still gotta eat...

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rainy day SWATS....

The streams are blown out. I mean really blown. Usually I'll hit things like incoming streams or places where the river overflows into a gravel pit when the river gets too high. Well today it's even too high to hit those. Or at least I can't summon the will to try. I think tomorrow the peak will have passed an I can reach a few of those. But today I thought I'd just ramble on a bit about the coming fall smallmouth fishing. I feel like there is a lot we have learned over the years about smallmouth movements in the fall and fall is the very best time around here to catch a trophy. But there is a lot we still don't know, or at least I don't. And it's the mysteries in life that make it interesting so I'm going to talk about those first. For instance a place I call the wall. The wall is this piece of current directing structure in a small stream I fish. The wall is shaped like a giant slice of pizza set on edge in the river. On the upstream side the wall is maybe six feet tall with four feet being underwater and two feet out of the water. Over the course of about twenty feet it tapers down to the point which is all completely under water. The wall holds a few shiners all summer once in a while you can see them if you peer over the wall into water. But in the fall when the water cools into the sixties an amazing thing happens. The wall is probably fifty miles upstream from the Ohio river but come fall all these shad in uncountable numbers just overrun the wall. And hundreds of shiners where there were just a few all summer. At it's downstream end where the point of the wall disappears underwater a steady stream of shad and shiners just pour over it's tip all day long. Enough that one year I took a small dip net the kids use when playing in the creek and filled half a five gallon bucket full of them to freeze for bait in no time at all. Well of course when the river hits 60 and the smallmouth put on the feedbag this becomes the best spot around to catch a big one. But the questions remain. These shad, did they come fifty miles up from the Ohio? To spend all fall pouring over a twenty foot long wall in a stream you can cast across? What about the shiners? They seemingly go from a dozen to a thousand overnight. I can't find literature on shiner migrations in the fall. They are mostly spotfins which means they spawned months ago so it's got nothing to do with that. Is this just a stopover on some movement to a shad and shiner wintering hole? But it seems to me there were a dozen deep holes they could have done that in before they got all the way up here. I just don't know what's going on and it feels a bit like a miracle every year when they appear out of nowhere.
And then there is the biggie when it comes to Ohio stream smallmouth in the fall. Do they migrate? How far? Why do some travel and some not? There is no doubt in my mind some little creeks and some sections of other creeks empty of smallmouth before winter. I can find lots of literature on smallmouth migration in northern states. Instances of fish moving twenty, thirty, fifty miles to overwintering sites. I'd like to know more about here. Southern Ohio's a sort of middleground, the winters can be nasty but the rivers are never going to form ice over a few inches thick. I'm guessing it's more of a strategy to protect the fish from high flows when it's metabolism is slow and it's less able to react. But there aren't places that protect a fish from high water in the smaller creeks? I'm sure there are. But there is no doubt fish move and concentrate here in Southern Ohio prior to winter. Come the last week of October fish a riffle adjacent to a wintering hole under the right conditions and magic will happen. But a few fish seem to stay in place and not move. I'll talk to guys who catch some fish where they have all summer. I just don't think they are going to get the magic. I do think one reason some guys catch big smallmouth sometimes in fall fishing where they have fished all summer without catching one is that they happen to be there just when that fish is travelling thru heading to it's wintering hole. But all of this in conjecture and SWATS (scientific wild ass theory). I'd love to see more real science and some studies on smallmouth movements on smallmouth in central and southern Ohio.
So anyways will all that being said, I do love fall smallmouth fishing and I do catch some big smallmouth every fall and here is my spiel I give every fall. Use what you can and disregard what doesn't work for your stream. Every stream is different, every river, hell every section of river has it's own set of rules but I do think if you keep these things in mind it will help you catch bigger fall smallmouth....
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. I think we are right at the point where some smallmouth in our streams migrate and some "concentrate". In small streams there just isn't the big holes or deeper backwaters that allow smallmouth protection from high water events in cold weather. These fish have to migrate, sometimes all the way out of that little creek and into the river. Some rivers like the Little Miami or Brush Creek probably have fish doing both, migrating from shallow sections like in much of the upper river and just concentrating in the sections that have enough good wintering holes like say the lower middle section of the river. Bigger rivers like the Great Miami or the Scioto and even some of the long riffle-less sections of smaller streams like Scioto Brush Creek have more "concentrating" fish. That is the fish concentrate in big slackwater eddies and pools. Either way you are looking for the same habitat. Which is, to paint it with a broad brush, somewhere that protects a smallmouth from current in all flows. It cannot be somewhere that protects a fish most of the time but really blows out in a flood and it can't be somewhere so shallow that the fish is too exposed in frigid weather either. Most of the time this is the deepest hole in that river section but not always, I know of two spots that give up big winter smallmouth that are only eight or nine feet deep most of the time, but they always have at least a portion of them out of the current all the time.
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 river 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 can't 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, more than likely they will not be. 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.
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. That's when the sun will be shining directly on the Earth's equator, bringing almost the same exact amount of daylight and darkness all around the world on that day, which is known as the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere and the spring equinox in the southern hemisphere. 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 degrees. 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.
Another thing to keep in mind when fishing thru the fall is that as the water cools crayfish become less and less active. So as the smallmouth feed heavily preparing for winter their favorite meal becomes less and less available. Because of this the bass begin to transition to more of a "minnow" bite that a "crayfish" bite in the fall. Personally I think the very biggest smallmouth in southern Ohio are always on a bit more of a minnow bite all year round. Research has shown the the biggest bass select smaller crayfish over larger ones every time. Smaller less experienced bass are not as picky and will fight a bigger crayfish. So that 20 incher we are after has to catch three or four small crayfish to get the same amount of food as she will get with one big shiner. So not only does she have to put out more effort by catching 3 things instead of 1 but those 3 things fight back. And an ounce of crayfish has less calories than an ounce of an oily baitfish and it takes more calories to digest because of the crayfishes exoskeleton. Given the choice I think a trophy bass prefers sushi. Obviously some sections of rivers and a lot of our creeks are crawling with tons of crayfish and everything revolves around them but a lot of our streams have considerably less crayfish and ton and tons of minnows. Think about the streams where you wade and see nothing but scads of crayfish and others where you spook huge schools of minnows out of the shallows as you wade. Next summer think about fishing the two differently. And in the fall use more minnow baits like spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, minnow plugs, and soft plastics that swim like curly tailed grubs, curly shads and paddletails.
I'd like to add something that worked wonders for me last year. Last year we had no hurricanes blowing out the streams in September and we had warm weather lingering late. For a month instead of switching straight from summer patterns to fall patterns I fished a grey in between area. I fished the very bottom ends of big tributaries that emptied into our bigger rivers. I looked for bridge abutments, big culverts, walls leading into and out of small road bridges. Concrete things that made strong seams where fast water met slow water. The stronger the contrast the better the fishing. I don't know if it was the lingering indian summer or it happens every year but it seemed these attracted big fish. Fish i'm guessing passing thru on their way to spend the winter in the river. I felt like I'd catch a big fish and then come back two days later and catch a different big fish that was feeding there before passing on. By fishin the bottom of these streams I felt I had a shot at every big fish in that whole creek for a few weeks. Or at least I think that's what was going on, more I don't knows. More magic. That's the best part about fishing and especially chasing big fish, the learning and trying to find more pieces to the puzzle.
And one more bit of advice on a post that's already too long...
That's the " No Tryin Bout it" riffles. My grandmother used to say when something had to be done "there ain't no trying bout it". Meaning you couldn't say you would "try", you had to do it. You ever wade one of those riffles where you reach a spot where you think, well I should have turned back but if I do now i'm getting swept downstream? Turning and squaring up to heavy current to turn around will get you swimming faster than just about anything if you have waded too far into fast water. Sometimes you reach a point where there ain't no trying bout it you are going to have to go ahead and wade on across or get wet. Well those are very best kind of riffles to find next to a potential wintering hole. Very fast and waist deep water with a current seam next to a wintering hole, that's the fall smallie fishing equivalent of winning the lottery.