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Monday, December 5, 2016

Fatties...

A couple "other" fish from a trip to the Ohio River that saw way too few and way too small stripey fish caught...


Wintertime smallmouth fishing

So if you know much about me you know I'm a stream fishing nut. Little creeks, big creeks, small and medium sized rivers, that sort of thing. Stuff you can wade or at most use a yak or a tiny jon boat on. I'll pretty much fish and fish hard for any thing that swims in these little streams but what I fish the hardest for and am the most nuts about is stream smallmouth. And just about the nuttiest thing I do is winter fish these little flows for smallmouth bass.
Right now as our rivers and creeks are dipping into the thirties I'm still out there trying to eke out that last bit of smallmouth fishing out of the dying year. I think over the years it has helped me become a much better stream angler the rest of the year as well. To consistently catch wintertime smallmouth you have to get to know your stream inside out.
You see, to survive the winter in a smaller flow requires a smallie to drastically change it's location and habits. It's been proven in numerous tracking studies that in small rivers and creeks a smallmouth will leave it's regular haunts where it has spent the rest of the year and travel as far as it has to go to find a safe place to overwinter. In what you might call a medium sized river like the Scioto River or the Great Miami River that might be a half a mile or even just a few hundred yards while in a small creek it might mean the fish travels all the way out of that creek altogether to a larger one.
There are no hard and fast rules here. A general statement like the above, "as far as it has to go to find a safe place to overwinter" is about the best I can do. There are extreme cases of smallmouth in really shallow streams in cold places like Wisconsin traveling thirty and forty miles. River fishing in general is like real estate in that it is location, location, location. And in no instance is that more true than cold weather smallmouth fishing.
So what does a smallmouth look for in a wintering hole? The short answer is somewhere the fish can be safe in all flows. Safe from swift current in flood conditions and safe from cold and ice in low water cold conditions. Usually this is the deepest hole around but not always. Sometimes a small but just deep enough and sheltered eddy can hold fish as well. Over the course of the year I try and file away candidates in the back of my mind to hit come December. But the only way to know for sure is to fish each of these candidates several times in late fall thru winter till you slowly build up a short list of spots that really do hold fish.
The bad news that ninety percent of the river doesn't hold fish is also the good news. Good news in that once you find fish you will have all the fish that were spread up and down the river concentrated in just a few locations. Yes the waters frigid and it takes finesse luck and patience but you know at least your fishing over fish and some quality fish at that.
Most of our streams also have some sorts of small warm water discharges into them. By warm water discharges I mean things that discharge water that is warmer than the rest of the rivers water. Things like cooling water from factory machinery, a power plant, even a waste water treatment plant. While these are often great draws when the water first starts to cool they lose their appeal as winter tightens it's grip. Like everything else in the river all water discharges  are not created equally. Most have outflows that discharge into water too swift or two shallow for the bass to overwinter in. The fish seem to know instinctively that a sudden rise in water level will overwhelm the discharge with swift cold water and either kill them from thermal shock or simply wash them away. Often in midwinter these places will be packed with rough fish but not smallmouth bass. Once in a blue moon one of these warm water discharges will be upstream of a true wintering hole and will improve your chances of catching a fish out of that hole all winter greatly tho.
Once we find our wintering hole and thru fall have still been catching fish there how do we approach the thing in December when the river is really getting cold? Well look for the spot on the spot. It might be two or three big boulders, a little hump off the side of a steep bank, a gravel hump that rises to within a few feet of the surface that catches sunlight and warms faster than the rest of the pool. Again there are no hard and fast rules here as well but there will be somewhere in that particular pool that draws fish fish to it when they are in the mood to bite. Sometimes the clues are not obvious and you just have to fish the whole pool long enough to find that subtle spot on the spot.
Weather plays a huge part in whether or not your going to catch fish in winter. If the weather is constant and hasn't changed in a week you can usually catch a fish or two if you put in enough time. Let it warm up for three or four days in a row and the water warm three degrees or more and you might just catch several nice fish. And to be honest let there be a sudden cold snap and I'm still going fishing, just probably for saugeye instead on smallmouth bass.
Often in winter the water is as clear as it ever gets and you will double your odds at least by using lighter line. Sometimes your simply not going to get bit at all if you should be using six pound test in a small clear stream and your using ten. The same goes for lure weight. I winter fish for smallies almost exclusively with one of two different jigs. One is a hair jig of some sort tied on a light jighead. But the last few years I've mostly been using a three inch grub. The grub has the advantage of letting me tinker and adjust the size of the jighead all day long. I pour my own jigheads and being a river fishing junkie I pour a couple thousand every year. If you have ever poured jigheads you know they don't all come out perfect. There are rejects where the mold wasn't hot enough or the lead wasn't hot enough or you just messed up pouring it or whatever, you end up with some heads that are missing the collar or are only partial full. The better shaped ones of these I will save instead of repouring with an eye towards this time of year. I end up with an assortment of lightweight heads in all different weights. I tinker with these trying to find the right combination of jighead and grub for each different spot on the spot that will let me fish it the most effectively. Which means as slow as possible. Just a little bit of current or a difference in depth can make a difference in how much weight or lack of weight we need. Many of my spots on the spots are either boulders or concrete rubble and if I drag or work the jig along the bottom I'm going to get hung up. But if I can find the magic combination I can sort of float the jig along just of the bottom very slowly. This is much like the results achieved in lakes with the "float and fly" technique of fishing a jig under a float.
Light line also helps you cast lightweight jigheads as well. Plus most of the time I can position myself pretty closely to where I want to fish in a small stream. I often wonder if my camo deer hunting bibs and jacket I wear winter fishing helps with catching these close up fish in gin clear water as well.
I try to use as heavy a jig I can get away with simply because you get a better feel with a heavier weight. But a "heavy" wintertime grub might be a 1/16 or a 1/8 ounce one and often it's much lighter.
And although sometimes winter smallmouth will really thump the jig they are just as likely to take it without you feeling anything more than a mushy weight on the line.
Being a lifelong fly fisherman it came natural to me to experiment with the various small strike indicators nymph fishermen use when fishing really tiny jigs. Come December and January it's not unusual to find a foam pinch on indicator or even bit of yarn tied on my line. If I was honest with myself this may help as much with keeping my head in the game and giving me something to tinker with during the sometimes long waits in between bites as it does in helping me catch fish. Keeping your head in the game is a big thing in winter smallmouth fishing.
Midday is often best but I find that evening still holds an attraction for smallmouth. I work days so right after work I'll speed straight to the river so I can still get in an hour or hour and a half of fishing in before the short winter day is over. What I've found is that often right at dark there can still be a bit of an evening bite even though the water may only be in the upper thirties. I have found that the silence of the winter woods combined with the sun setting over the river have rewards all their own even on those all too frequent winter evenings that the fish don't cooperate. Just tonight across the river a doe walked the riverbank as the sky slowly turned brilliant red. AND I caught some fish, Walking out in growing darkness I was at peace with the world...




Thursday, December 1, 2016

December 1 smallmouths

No monsters tonight but a half dozen decent smallmouth in December, I'll take that anytime. 1/16th ounce jighead and smoke metalflake grub and six pound test were the ticket in a cold very clear river...


Monday, November 28, 2016

catch up

I've been in the deer woods the last few days. Finally got a buck for the freezer. Not a big one but I was happy with it. When it comes to deer hunting I'm more of a meat hunter than a trophy hunter. This year was as hard as I've worked to kill a deer in a long time and it made for a good season. Anyways all that sitting it trees has got me behind on posting fishing pics. Yes I was up at 5 am and out the door like everybody else black friday. Fishing that is...
A pretty smallie from a stream close to home. The pattern was the same as it has been all week. A smoke metalflake grub fished on a very light jighead.
Then a trip to the mighty Ohio River. I was fishing a tributary mouth catching a few white bass and the occasional green fish till almost dark. Then on the flat adjacent to the mouth fish started blowing up busting what I think were shiners on the surface. I was fishing right inside the mouth and took off running. For about forty five minutes all thru sunset and about 20 minutes into dark fish continued to blow up everywhere. It was just about the best forty five minutes of hybrid fishing I've ever experienced. No monsters but every cast that didn't get a fish was a huge letdown knowing they would stop at any minute. But most casts did get a three or four pound hybrid. Not many pics I was too busy trying to get them off and fire another cast out there before the feeding frenzy stopped. I was shaking with excitement and fumbling around trying to do everything fast with all those fish blowing up. Funny the last week of November has been one of the best weeks of the entire year.






Thursday, November 24, 2016

The pig, some cats and the water slide...


Fished right after daylight this thanksgiving morning where a little pipe puts a bit of warmer water in the river. Downstream is a steeper bank with some big concrete rubble and rock dumped in to control erosion with deep slow water out n front. The fish were actually right off the bank where the warmer water swept very slowly down over the rubble and curled upstream in a small eddy. I fished a three inch smoke metalflake grub on a 1/16 ounce jighead. The big smallmouth and the smaller of the two shovels were caught maybe ten feet apart and the bigger shovel was another twenty feet down the bank. I wonder what makes one shovel so much darker than the other? Possibly one just moved into this bit of deep warmer water from somewhere else? I also learned (relearned actually) that after it rains it pays to be careful standing on muddy wet concrete. The skid marks in the one photo are left over from me helplessly sliding in slow motion down the tilted concrete into knee deep water ending today's fishing adventure. But it was worth it. It's been a pretty good week for nice smallies.




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

11/23 smallies

Still managing a few nice ones. When you mold a lot of jig heads you end up with several that say didn't quite fill up all the way or most of the collar isn't there or something similar. I actually save a lot of those for this time of year. It's very hard to find a lightweight jig head that still has a big enough hook to match up well with a bass sized grub or swimbait. It seems most light jigheads have correspondingly small hooks. By saving these "reject" jigheads I can fish a grub with a full sized hook slowly in the slower water the better fish are often in this time of year. Tonight I caught these and a few smaller fish on a three inch clear with silver grub on what I'd estimate was a 1/10th or 1/12 ounce jighead.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Climbing down the ladder of success

So it's been a go to wintertime smallmouth spot for about three years now. There's just one little problem. Well one big problem actually. You see the hole is at the bottom of a ten foot cliff. It sits in a bend in the river and the river eats away at the bank digging a vertical cliff about nine or ten feet tall. I keep thinking every year that part of the bank will collapse a bit more somewhere along it's length letting you get down but so far, three years in, it hasn't. You stand on top of the cliff and look down into the clear water and just look at the bottom dropping off into darkness full of possibility. Darkness that is one big giant eddy where the river slowly revolves around back upstream. Even in times of flood the very upper end still curls around upstream and almost stops. Just the kind of place a big smallmouth will travel a ways to get in to spend the winter. It ate at me nights wondering what that deep hole held. So I devised a plan. I went to Lowes and bought some wood and stout rope and went to work in the garage cutting foot long pieces of wood and drilling a hole in each end and tying knots after every hole so that I ended up with about a twelve foot rope ladder. Now every winter I tie the rope ladder to the base of a tree up top and climb down. Today the trick was a clear with silver glitter curly shad fished slowly on a jig head. I guess I caught five or six about a foot long. This time of year I feel each fish is special and even though I've probably fished 150 plus days this year I looked at each of these a little longer than normal admiring each before releasing them. You just don't know how many days like this are left in the bank this year as winter tightens it's grip. And then about dark the slow drift of the curly shad was stopped by a solid thud and the rod bent double. I didn't realize till I got home the fish held it's tail bent away from the camera so you don't get a good look at the length but you can see her fat belly. The walk out in the dark didn't seem nearly as cold as the walk in during the daylight did...