Introduction to the river...
My little story is not meant to be an exact cast here, throw that, fishing guide to the Little Miami. Instead it's more the ramblings of a guy who has grown up around the river and seen most of it in a lifetime of fishing. There are individual sections on some of my favorite areas and a little background on each with a few fishing stories thrown in. Most of the people in the old photos are either relatives of mine or of places they worked or knew on the river. Again this is not a dry history from a textbook but more along the lines of local lore and legend. And while I've tried to be as accurate as possible don't take me as the gospel on these things. After all, it is just possible that the Loveland Frog, the Shawnahooc or “River Demon” might not exist. One nice thing about fishing the river is that you don't need a twenty thousand dollar bass boat and thousands more in equipment to have a quality experience. Steal your kids book bag, throw inside a peanut butter sandwich, a water bottle, and a small box of lures, grab a spinning rod and your all set. Do put on some old tennis shoes that you won't mind getting wet. After all, that is probably the best way to experience the river, wading wet on a hot summer's day. As for lures you don't need thousands, while the rivers bass may be picky according to size or presentation, a dozen or so lures will cover just about every situation. In my river box I carry eighth ounce jig heads and plastic grubs, inline spinners like the Roostertail in mostly shades of white or silver, the smallest size of floating rapala, a tiny torpedo topwater plug, and an assortment of small crankbaits. My selection for the flyrod leans heavily towards topwater bugs made out of deerhair because they are so much fun and catch fish. A more practical selection would lean more towards clouser minnows and crayfish imitations. As far as live bait goes, the Little Miami is a river's river and abounds with fish that will jump on a nightcrawler or live crayfish. In fact, a hellgramite or small crayfish might just be the best option for smallmouth on the river too. That's one of the nice things about the river. Not only is it perfect for classic flyrod fishing where you can get as fancy as you want and spend more on a flyrod than you might on a decent used car but the river is also ideal for just getting away and relaxing and fishing it the way Huck Finn might have. Wading in old jeans and catching channel cats and drum on worms. A day on the Little Miami is a step back in time to the way fishing used to be, when the object was to get away and enjoy yourself. If you look around you will also find yourself seeing things that you had no idea existed here in today's rushed world. Turtles digging nests in the sand, eagles flying overhead, a deer coming down to the river at dusk. Try it, you just might like it...
The Little Miami was one of the first streams named as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System created by Congress in 1968. To show just how rare an honor this is, nearby Kentucky has only one National Wild and Scenic River, while Indiana has none. Two other Ohio streams are recognised as National Wild and Scenic Rivers, Little Beaver Creek and Big & Little Darby Creeks. The Little Miami River flows a bit over a hundred miles miles through five counties in southwestern Ohio. The river's watershed though drains a 1,757 square mile area in 11 counties... Clark, Montgomery, Madison, Greene, Warren, Butler, Clinton, Clermont, Brown, and Highland. The river discharges somewhere around 1,700 cubic feet per second on average into the Ohio River each year though during the high water of winter and spring's heavy rains the river flow may rise to over 84,000 cubic feet per second. The river's main tributaries, Todd's Fork, Caesar Creek, and East Fork, are themselves high quality streams and offer world class smallmouth fishing.
"We're probably 90 percent to where we were 200 years ago when
Tecumseh was running around trying to save his homeland,"
executive director of Little Miami Inc.
Water quality 90 percent of what it was 200 years ago? Hard to believe isn't it?
Just a decade or two ago the Little Miami was full of old car parts and trash and the waste water coming from area towns was full of phosphorus poisoning the once proud river. Since then the Little Miami has experienced one of the most amazing turn arounds of any river in the world. Look at the Little Miami's sister rivers that flow thru southern Ohio and the quality of the Little Miami becomes even more apparent. The Scioto has no native mussel colonies in the river alive south of Columbus anymore. Sure you can find hundreds of old shells but no live ones. And the Great Miami? Well here's what the Hamilton Journalnews had to say: "...one of the more frequent overflow sites — on the West side of the river just south of the High/Main Bridge — accounted for more than 11 million gallons of wastewater going into the river in 2008. That wastewater contains bacteria and pathogens that pose serious health risks to people who come in contact with it, said Ned Sarle, who oversees the city’s compliance and enforcement for the Ohio EPA." Even smaller, cleaner streams such as the Stillwater River and Seven Mile Creek need significant reductions in phosphorus discharges, fecal coliform bacteria and excessive nitrate concentrations.
Nowadays, you dip a minnow seine in the Little Miami, kick around a few rocks and you have a net crawling with life. The Little Miami is home to 113 species of fish. Several pollution intolerant species of fish including slenderhead darters, northern madtoms, mountain madtoms, and black redhorse have expanded their numbers dramatically in the river since 1998. There are 38 species of mussels in the Little Miami (5 of which are endangered). Did you know that collecting shells from the river was once a thriving industry and that the Little Miami is probably one of the best places in the world to find a freshwater pearl? (collecting mussels from the river is now illegal BTW) Oliver Watson wrote in the Dayton Sunday News in 1925, that: "Of all pearl producing streams in America, the Little Miami stands first in point of production, quality and value. One reason is that conditions are more favorable for the formation of a pearl on account of the pure condition of the water and the strong limestone deposits which add materially in the coating and polishing process through which the pearl passes." Israel Hopkins Harris operated the Little Miami Pearl Fisheries company in Waynesville and in 1888, he gathered over 2,000 pearls which were put on display at the Paris exposition. This collection of pearls was awarded a gold medal and was viewed as the finest collection of fresh water pearls ever assembled. Many items of jewelry made out of pearls and shell from the Little Miami have been excavated from Indian sites throughout the midwest. The collection of pearls was also exhibited at the World's Fair at Chicago. Something to think about when your sitting on a sandbar in the Little Miami waiting for a channel cat to bite and look down and see a shell. Over the years Michael A. Hoggarth of the Department of Life and Earth Sciences at Otterbein College has done sampling of the mussel populations in the Little Miami and it's tributaries and is, the best I can tell, THE MAN when it comes to knowing what's up with mussels in the river. In a 2007 report on these populations he stated what I interpreted as some alarming conclusions. His report states that populations of mussels are completely gone in the lower reaches of Todds Fork that were listed as having good mussel faunas in 1990/91. This loss was attributed to excessive siltation. I do know from personal experience that as you travel out of Morrow on Morrow-Woodville and Morrow-Blackhawk Roads there are several fairly recent housing developments that have sprung up in just the last few years. And I see this pattern repeating itself all up and down Todds Fork's watershed. It's a shame that we cannot find a way to develop without ruining the diversity of our waterways for at least our lifetime, possibly longer. Cesars Creek, at least from the dam down to the river was also listed as having it's native mussel populations decimated. Competition with introduced mollusks, the asian clam and zebra mussel, appear to be the culprit in the loss of the mussels in Caesar Creek. Zebra mussels are among the most prolific of all animals. An adult female zebra mussel may produce between 30,000 and one million eggs per year. The introduction of these species could spell very bad news indeed long term for the native species in the river and change the food chain in the river as a whole. I'm afraid this could be a case of the genie being out of the bottle though and non-reversible. We may end up more total mussels in the river in a few years but much less diversity if they out compete native mussels. Hoggarth's study found that lower reaches of the Little Miami have more diverse mussel faunas, but this is due to the introduction of species of mussels that use the freshwater drum as host. The freshwater drum or sheephead is expanding it's range throughout the US and, as anyone who's thrown a nightcrawler on a hook into the Little Miami in recent years knows, is thriving in the river. The mussel populations in the middle stretches of the Little Miami are at best holding their own with many species doing less than that. Part of this is due, I think, to the degradation of the riparian woodlands bordering the river. Keeping a buffer of woodland along the river and it's tributaries is key I think to insuring it's health and a theme I'll end up repeating over and over. Many of the species of mussels in the upper reaches of the Little Miami and it's tributaries where there is less wooded land streamside to protect them from silt and chemicals applied as fertilizers have been severely reduced in number over the years.
The Little Miami is almost two rivers in one. The upper river from the headwaters down to roughly Waynesville flows thru what my copy of River and Stream Ecosystems of the World calls the central lowland province. The central lowland province is basically land that has been bulldozed by the glaciers during the last ice age. This area graded and and shaped by the glaciers is also known as the Till Plains. The lowlands are covered by a layer of glacial deposits that smooth the land's surface. These deposits also do something very important for the Little Miami. They hold vast amounts of water underground and keep more water in the river during late summer and fall than most rivers of the same size. This contributes greatly to the rivers overall health.
The Little Miami's lower half flows thru a series of gorges and deep valleys cut by the runoff of the same glaciers as they melted as the last ice age ended. The river here has larger rocks in the riffles and a little less sand and gravel than the upper river. The lower river is much more heavily wooded than the upper river, again different than most river systems. The lower river is right on the edge of the Interior Low Plateau, which is just a fancy name for the area south of the glacier's reach. This is also called in scientific literature the Drift Plain. The wooded hillsides of the lower Little Miami valley and it's tributaries add lots of organic material to the rivers food chain in the form of fallen leaves and woody debris. In periods of high water tons of broken down leaves and organic matter are washed into the river adding to the diversity of the river's food chain. The Little Miami's mean annual load of this dissolved organic matter is over twice that of the Ohio River into which the Little Miami flows. These same wooded margins to the river help protect the river from agricultural silts and runoffs. This is hugely important, for example a 1991 study found that an estimated 44% of the nitrogen and 28% of the phosphorus applied as fertilizer in the Mississippi River Watershed entered the watershed's river's and streams. Deposits of rocks, minerals, and silts washed into the river from elsewhere are called allochthonous inputs by the way if your the kind who likes to lay on a little bull$%# every now and then. No matter what they are called, these are bad news, smothering the tiny life that supports everything, which is another reason to protect the wooded lands still left along the river. The importance of woodlands bordering the river was underscored by an EPA study of small tributaries running into the Little Miami. This study found that the streams of the more heavily farmed Till Plains (upper river) had 1.7 times less riparian cover than those in the Drift Plain (lower river). This translated into about half as many larval forms of three taxa of aquatic insects: Empheroptera(mayflies), Plecoptera (stone flies) and Tricoptera (caddis flies). Obviously protecting the lands bordering the river is key to protecting the river as well.
Remarkably clean compared to nearby rivers, one problem the Little Miami does have concerning water quality is one shared by most rivers and streams nowadays which is the scourge of mercury. No matter how much is done to protect rivers from pollution from farming, industry, and waste treatment runoff, our streams are helpless against the buildup of mercury. Mercury is dumped all over the Little Miami's watershed every time it rains. You see, coal contains mercury and when coal is burned in power plants the mercury is released into the air. Bacteria in the river then take up mercury and are eaten by larger organisms which in turn are eaten by even larger ones and on and on till the mercury in billions of tiny organisms are concentrated into the river's larger fish such as sauger and smallmouth bass. The sad part of all this is that it is completely preventable. Scrubbers can be installed on power plant smokestacks which remove the mercury before it reaches the atmosphere. At the rate we are cleaning the river's water of other forms of pollution it may someday be safer to drink the river's water than eat the fish!
Some pics of a few minutes spent dipping a net in a riffle above Halls Creek. Every scoop was simply crawling with life from aquatic insects and worms to snails, mussels, crayfish, and minnows:
Several fish that are endangered are making a comeback in the Little Miami for example the mountain madtom(a tiny catfish) is actually expanding it's population in the Little Miami as is the pollution intolerant blue sucker which was absent from the river for 35 years. The northern madtom is found in only a few places in Ohio with the Little Miami being one. Another tiny fish, the slenderhead darter has experienced a virtual population boom since the 1980's as the river has gotton cleaner. In 1998 the EPA collected a brindled madtom from the Little Miami which had not been collected since 1954. Species that are considered threatened but have found a refuge in the river include the tonguetied minnow, bigeye shiner and american eel.
What the fish in the Little Miami actually eat has always been of interest to me and over time the Department of Natural Resources has built up a pretty good picture of this. Using their figures I have compiled this list:
Bottom-dwelling invertebrates (An invertebrate is an animal without a backbone, insects, nymphs, worms etc) are eaten by 35% of the fish in the river, these include sculpins, madtoms, many minnows, and most of the sucker and darter families.
Invertebrates from all levels of a stream are eaten by 10% of the fishes, mudminnows, a number of true minnows,and many of the sunfishes.
20% of the fish,(the real exciting ones) feed on fish and, infrequently, other aquatic vertebrates. These include crappies, basses, gar, muskellunge, green sunfish, warmouth, sauger, walleye, drum, and flathead catfish.
The rest of the totals are taken up by fish that eat algae, plankton, plant debris,or are omnivores such as carp that eat a bit of everything. It should be mentioned that this group includes the biggest fish in the river, the paddlefish, which feeds on plankton and can grow as big as a man.
The story of how the water actually gets into the river might just be one of nature's greatest miracles. For you see, all the water seeping into the river thru glacial deposits, every gallon that flows into the river from springs big and small, every drop of water that falls onto the river's watershed as rain, is part of an endless cycle so big it's almost impossible to describe. Every single drop of water on earth is part of this cycle. Every year over eighty thousand cubic miles of water is evaporated into the air from oceans, rivers, and lakes. (a number almost too big to have meaning, like billions and billions of stars) Plus every living animal on earth adds water to the air with each breath and thru transpiration plants give off vast amounts of water. All this water condenses into clouds and then falls to earth in the form of rain to begin the cycle anew. The amount of this water stored underground is vast also. It's estimated that under the United States the water supply is equal to ten years precipitation. Even underground the water is not lost from the cycle. Seeping downward, the water eventually reaches a layer of impervious rock and begins to move. Some of this resurfaces in springs like the famous Yellow Spring in the Little Miami's headwaters or seeps directly into streams and rivers.
The early explorers to the region were amazed at the Little Miami's clarity. Protected by seemingly endless woodlands and with no agricultural runoff, even in flood the river would run clear. Fed by an endless supply of dissolved organics from the great forest and with little silt the amount of life in the river must have been staggering. Even now the beautiful Little Miami is a jewel shining bright among the nation's rivers.
Reading the water...
Here we have a drawing of a productive stretch of river. Water quickens as a hole shallows and pours over a riffle that deepens into a run before the river deepens further into another pool. Long slow pools in the Little Miami typically have a soft bottom that does not provide much food for either bass or catfish. Often they run waist deep for hundreds of yards and when the water is clear you can see that are devoid of both cover and fish. But as the water speeds up at the tail of a pool the bottom becomes hard, mostly a mixture of smaller gravel and rock while the riffle/run below has bigger rocks mixed in. This area of hard bottom can run deceptively far up into the pool unseen from above the water, but as soon as the bottom begins to harden it can hold fish. Often the faster water in the tail becomes smooth as it shallows and is known as a slick. In spring, after the water is sufficiently warm enough for smallmouth to be active, all through fall, the tail of pools are the most consistent fish producing spots on the river. I usually start out with an inline spinner cast cross current and quartering upstream, fan casting my way across the tail. An inline spinner's blades will not turn correctly if cast directly upstream so be sure and cast both across stream and upstream. If the tail has a slick, a topwater twitched as it sweeps downstream can be exciting as can a deerhair bug fished with a flyrod. Be sure to throw a few casts up further into the hole in case the current has swept away the muck further up into the hole than it looks. The tail of a big pool is a place that I will often stop and fish again walking out at the end of a fishing trip as fish drop back out of a pool and begin to feed, replacing those you might have hooked earlier. Some of the best spots on the river, the destination spots, have a distinct tail/riffle/run/pool transitions from one pool to the next. These spots are also the food factories in the river. hellgrammites, caddisflies, snails, baitfish, and crayfish abound. The run or head of the pool is also prefered habitat for small mussels. If deep holes and pools are the living rooms and bedrooms of the stream basses world, think of the riffle and run as his kitchen and dining room. The run or deep end of a riffle is also a good place to search for feeding sauger, white bass, and channel cats. The water depth and speed can vary greatly over the length of a riffle/run and you can end up throwing half the lures in your box in one fifty yard stretch. Don't be afraid to keep switching lures here as conditions dictate. Our drawing also shows a shallow backwater. These are often small fry nurseries and are filled with tiny fish seeking safety in the shallows. Very late in the day or at first light can find bass patrolling the deeper edges of these backwaters. Deeper backwaters can also be a fun place to throw a dry fly for longeared sunfish and other panfish. At the bottom of runs weedbeds often begin, holes or breaks in these can hold bass but they are mostly one fish spots.
In the next drawing we see a smaller stream entering the main river flow. In flood these streams spew rocks out into the river and create their own rock bar and/or riffle in the Little Miami. These act just like the riffles between the pools in the river, speeding up the water flow and creating a hard bottom and another food factory. These are great place to throw either a grub or jig, letting it sweep downstream in the current off the end of the bar and into the bar's eddy. The water above the bar becomes in essence a miniature tail not unlike the tail of a pool and should be fished accordingly. As the water sweeps around the rock bar at the incoming creeks mouth it often creates a seam where fast water flows past slow water. This seam can extend for quite a ways downstream holding fish. Here a fish can hold in slower water and dart out and catch food as it passes by. Here you also often see gar holding in clear water.
In the third picture we have a bend in the river. Usually you can only fish such places from the shallow inside of the bend with the far bank being to steep to fish from. Very early and late in the day you can sometimes find bass herding minnows up on the shallow gravel of inside bends. If you cast ahead of these swirls with a small rapala or inline spinner you allmost always are rewarded with a jolting strike. The outside of river bends are typically the deepest spots in the river as the current hits here full force in flood, scouring out a hole. If there is any flooded timber in the hole, here is where you want to try and catch that big shovelhead. The now defunct railroad ofen dumped huge amounts of stone and riprap along outside bends to controll erosion. Here, with both current and cover, bass and catfish find good hunting so the fishings often great. The best example of this kind of cover is the "Big Rocks" just upstream from South Lebanon. These kind of spots, like distinct riffles/runs, are destination spots that you plan a fishing trip around. A plastic grub might just be the best lure choice here but plan on losing a bunch of them to the rocks.
Of course there a million other kinds of fish holding spots in the river besides the ones listed above. Bridge abutments, holes or cover in a pool etc., but they all usually have one thing in common, except in winter, when they congregate in deep pools, gamefish in the river prefer rock or gravel to a mucky bottom. Find that with some moderately deep water nearby and odds are you will find fish.
Matching the hatch...
In today's fishing world dominated by bass tournaments on huge lakes, there are literally thousands of imitations of everything that bass feed on in lakes. But check the box of the typical stream fisherman and your lucky to find much more than a half dozen different lures and some of these are still more at home in still water. There are some inline spinners like the roostertail and minnow plugs like the rapala that do a good job of imitating the minnows and chubs that live in the streams pools and backwaters but that's about it. But the small fish that inhabit the riffles and runs of our smallmouth streams and rivers have been completely ignored, for often these look nothing like the silvery minnows of the backwaters. For instance in my home water, the Little Miami River there are no less than 13 different species of darters and five species of madtoms that live in it's riffles. All these little fish use strong pectoral fins to hold their place among the rocks in the swift current. When viewed from above (like a foraging smallmouth looking for food) these fins are a very noticeable feature of most darters and madtoms.
These little fish seemingly come in an endless variety of colors ranging from quite dull to brighter than any aquarium fish. Many darter species change color also during breeding season to attract a mate. I've tried to come up with a few simple ways to imitate these little known but important members of the food chain.
Using acrylic paints, leadheaded jigs can be painted to give you a wide variety of color schemes to try during the days fishing. A coat of clear fingernail polish protects the paint from chipping on the rocky stream bottom. A round ball jig best imitates madtoms and pointier types more closely resemble most darter species. Having a few of both types in a variety of colors gives you more options to experiment with on the water.
Then take a grub or plastic worm and cut a triangle out of the tail with scissors. This triangle is threaded on the jighead ahead of another grub to represent the prominent pectoral fins of your darter or madtom. Often there are a few species on every riffle with pectoral fins that are brightly tinged with color and using a triangle cut out of a grub that contrasts in color with the grub used for the body of the jig can make a big difference.
As there are often multiple species of darters and madtoms on the riffle togethor, the smallmouth are used to feeding on a wide variety of colors. I carry several different colors of triangles already cut out in my tackle box as well as a variety of different colored grubs. By mixing and matching different triangles with different grub bodies you can experiment around to find the combination that works best on any given day.
The main constants are size and the prominent pectoral fins. I almost always fish a three inch grub on an eighth ounce jighead and just vary colors.
Darters and madtoms spend almost their entire lives among the rocks of a stream's riffles and runs, the same places smallmouths move into to feed. Fish your imitation along the bottom in short quick motions or let it sweep along the bottom in the current, as these little fish do not swim up high in the water column or in schools, but as the name implies dart from rock to rock. These little guys are almost never caught in traditional minnow traps but are only seen by using a seine right among the rocks of the riffle.
Another resident you will seine out of these riffles, and a main reason smallmouth move in to feed, is the crayfish. While there are some great crayfish imitations out there such as the jig and pig, these are mostly just simply too big to imitate the small crayfish that stream smallmouth love.
A modified double-tailed grub makes one of the best imitations of these little craws I know of. I first use the jig head like a crochet needle to pull living rubber through the grubs body to make legs. I then trim these to length with scissors.
Just like darters, crayfish can vary wildly in color and it pays to have different combinations of bodies and legs. Sometime a bit of bright orange or red living rubber can be key in triggering smallmouth when they are in a picky mood. Finding out more about the things that smallmouth feed on in your stream and adding baits that imitate them can add new dimensions to your stream fishing arsenal.
I keep a few shallow to medium running crankbaits in my river box. I try to stick to ones that mimic a generic minnow or sunfish. These can sometimes really produce in a long run of water that has fish scattered thru it.
Although it loses some fishing time to the grub, a marabou jig is an effective catch everything lure in the river. I turn to the jig especially early and late in the year and work them ultra slow. Often I will tip a jig with a minnow but even a waxworm or bit of worm. This can really help them produce in cold water.
A small minnow plug such as a rapala or bass pro's speed minnow is a must have in any river box. At times they will outproduce anything you can throw. You can fish one with a twitch and sit topwater retieve in an eddy or around structure or reel it back like a crankbait. Perfectly matching the minnow in the river's holes and some of the small minnows of faster sections, a small minnow plug is simply a fish producer in any smallmouth stream.
The tiny torpedo is a blast to fish anytime are willing to hit a topwater. The slicks at the tail of a pool and right where water slows entering a pool are prime places to use this fun little plug.
An inline spinner is probably the best lure to use when bass are active and up on a riffle feeding. Throw your spinner across and upstream and simply retrieve and hold on. The flash, size, and action I think represent a fleeing minnow and trigger a strike in active feeding bass. Make this lure your second purchase after some grubs for your river box.
I usually prefer a curly tail grub over a tube in the moving water of the river but I think very highly of this little tube called the slurpie as an imitation of the darters that inhabit the river. Fish a tube just as would a grub on light four or six pound test line and you will catch alot of fish in the Little Miami.
Unlike most bass fishing you don't need a thousand dollars worth of lures to be successful in the river. A few well thought out lures in a small box that you can carry in a pack or a pocket is really all the wading fisherman needs. I find a light daypack with a small box or two of lures, lunch, water bottle, and a rain jacket allows me to spend all day afield with a minimum of fuss or trouble.
I river fish sixty or seventy days a year most years and you won't ever catch me on the water without a three inch plastic grub. If I'm wading and not carrying alot of tackle I might only have a couple colors but one will be smoke metalflake. It just looks so much like a generic minnow in the water with just the right amount of flash and I have caught so many fish with it over the years that I just have alot of confidence in throwing it. I'm also pretty big on the various orangish brown combinations out there because I feel like they look alot like many of the darters and sculpins in the river and bounced along the bottom make an okay crawfish imitation. Seventy five percent of the time I fish a grub on an eighth ounce plain roundball jighead but I will go up and down in weight. If I find fish feeding in a run but not on the bottom (white bass alot, sometimes smallies) I'll go to a lighter weight to let the grub swim down the run on a tightline rather than hug the bottom.
I also think sauger, in contrast to most other fish, actually like a bit of resistance when they hit and If I'm catching more sauger than bass I'll fish a quarter ounce jighead. Ill also go heavier in swifter deep water like say below a lowhead dam. I think you almost have to work at fishing a grub wrong, just chucking it out and reeling it in will produce some fish tho most time I try to swim it slowly just off the bottom or let it sweep thru a run on a tightline, again just off the bottom. In slower water like a hole or around a bridge abutment I'll sometimes tightline the grub to the bottom and bring it back in a series of lifts or slow sweeps. This is also a good way to pick up a nice channelcat or two also. Some of the nicest channels I've caught have been on grubs. It certainly wakes you up to be smallmouth fishing and tighten up on a ten pound catfish! That is one of the grubs main strengths, in a river like the Little Miami you might catch any of seven or eight different species of fish on one on any given trip.
Three knots every fisherman needs...
A bowline knot, also known as a bowline hitch is used to let a bait swing freely in a loop giving it more action.
The Bloodknot is used to tie two pieces of line togethor in a knot that is both super strong and will pass easily thru your guides. Used to tie new line to old when refilling a spool or adding a tippet to a leader when flyfishing.
The Trilene Knot is in my book the most reliable way to tie a hook or lure on. It takes a bit of practice at first but soon becomes second nature.
A pocket full of fun...
I often can't sleep at night, a product of years spent working the late shift I guess. I'll turn on the Outdoor Channel and watch those guys dressed like Nascar drivers fishing exotic locations with $30,000 bass boats loaded down with more gear than my father's old bait shop had stocked on the shelves. And that kind of fishing is fun, I admit it. I have hundreds of lures and thousands of flies and dozens of rod and reel combos and have been known to head out looking like I'm heading down the Congo for a month instead of fishing the Little Miami for a couple hours. But do you really need all that junk to have a quality fishing trip? Of course not. You can have a great trip, possibly the best trip of the year and fit everything you need in a shirt pocket. You really only need three or four basic pieces of terminal tackle to catch fish almost every single time you fish a river like the Little Miami. First off get a pack or two of baitholder hooks in size two or four. You can substitute a similar sized hook of another style but baitholders are available almost everywhere and work great. You might want to add a pack of treble hooks in size eight too. Next get a pack of barrel swivels or two and some egg sinkers and your set. Rigging is simplicity itself. The egg sinker is slid onto the line and a barrel swivel is tied into the line about a foot down from the hook. This is idealy fished on a medium spinning outfit and six or eight pound test line. The rig is then tossed out, the rod set in a forked stick and a pebble from the riverbank placed on the line so you can leave the bail open without the line being carried away by the current. More than the tackle the key to catching at least some fish every trip depends on location. Where you want to set up is in a well defined hole just below a nice riffle. Right where the current first begins to slow. If there is an eddy and a deep pocket even better. Too many people fishing bait in the river just set up in the middle of a long slow hole away from the riffle, cover, or the main current. Most of the time this is a recipe for catching little or nothing. Thread on a nightcrawler and fish below a good riffle and you might catch just about anything in the river from all the catfish species, to the occasional bass or carp. In addition nowdays you are just about guaranteed to catch a drum or two (or ten). Any time the water temperature rises above the upper fifties a nightcrawler on light line just about guarantees some drum. Switch to minnows and you might just catch a nice sauger, white bass, or flathead. Baiting up with crayfish in the two or three inch range can also catch just about anything that swims. Change the baitholder out with the treble hook and bait up with a doughball made of wheaties and hamburger and your set for channel cats and carp. Trust me catching a half dozen five or six pound carp on light spinning tackle will change the way you look at these guys forever.
I must admit my favorite way to fish the river is wading the river casting for smallmouth bass with lures but even on these trips I often throw a dozen nightcrawlers in the daypack. About midday I'm ready for a break and stop at a nice riffle and throw this rig out while I eat a sandwich. It's amazing just how often this "break" produces the most memorable fish of the day...
Here and there along the river...
The bike trail...
The beautiful Little Miami Bike trail is one of the most pleasant places to spend a day anywhere and draws bikers, walkers, fisherman, birdwatchers and more by the thousands every year. Following close alongside the beautiful Little Miami river it offers a chance to see nature at it's finest. Stretching 78 mi from Springfield to Newtown there are countless places to get away from it all while still being in reach of the charming ice cream shops and restaurants that grace the many small towns the trail passes thru. For the first 9 miles to Xenia, the Little Miami Scenic Trail is operated by the Clark County Park District and the National Trail Parks and Recreation District. Due to budget concerns parts of this northernmost section have sometimes been closed. From the trailhead in Springfield, the Little Miami trail runs south to Yellow Springs. Yellow Springs is home to Antioch College and the must see Glen Helen Nature preserve. The "Glen" is home to the large yellow colored spring that gives the town it's name and visitors can view lovely wildflowers, huge old trees, cliffs with waterfalls and rock overhangs as well as an historic covered bridge. Nearby is Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve and John Bryan State Park, two of the most scenic parks in the United States. Located along the Little Miami Scenic River, Clifton Gorge is famous for its waterfalls and rapids that flow through a narrow gorge. Close to John Bryan State Park, the North Country Trail and Buckeye Trail enter From the west and Dayton. For the next 15 miles to Spring Valley, the Little Miami trail is managed by Greene County. At Xenia Station, it meets the Creekside Trail, as well as the Prairie Grass Trail, on which the Ohio to Erie Trail continues north to Columbus.
Little Miami State Park (nothing changes but the name) begins at Hedges Road in Spring Valley and follows U.S. 42 into Warren County. It passes through Corwin (near Waynesville, Caesar Creek State Park, and Oregonia, where the Buckeye Trail rejoins. Corwin and Waynesville are home to many fine places to take a break from the trail and enjoy the dozens of antique and specialty shops that dot the towns as well as enjoy a good meal in one of the fine restaurants. South of Waynesville the trail enters another wooded gorge and passes close by the lovely Corwin M. Nixon covered bridge, possibly the prettiest covered bridge you will ever see. At Fort Ancient, the trail runs under the awesome twin Jeremiah Morrow Bridges and Interstate 71. The bridges are 239 feet above the river, and are the tallest bridges in Ohio. The bridges are an amazing 2300 feet long spanning the Little Miami in a huge wooded gorge. The trail then passes through the towns of Morrow and South Lebanon to the Middletown Junction, where the Lebanon Countryside Trail begins and runs 7 miles to Lebanon.
The Little Miami trail continues south, past Kings Mills on the opposite bank. At this location the historic Peters Cartridge Company factory overlooks the bike trail. The site of several tragic accidents, the facility is reputed to be among Ohio's most haunted places! The trail passes under U.S. 22/State Route 3 at Fosters, across the river and under one of the prettiest bridges in the country. It continues entering Clermont County and beautiful Loveland, where it is known as the Loveland Bike Trail.
The trail crosses to the western, Hamilton County side of the Little Miami River, as it meets State Route 126 (Glendale–Milford Road). The trail passes by Camp Dennison and its former southern stopping point in Milford. A 2006 extension carries the Little Miami State Park along Wooster Pike to Terrace Park. From here, the Loveland section of the Buckeye Trail splits off, going to Eden Park in Cincinnati. A short Hamilton County Park District extension brings the Little Miami trail back across the river to the Little Miami Golf Center in Newtown. Hamilton County Park District intends to extend the Little Miami Scenic Trail to Clear Creek. From there, it will follow the Little Miami River to its mouth past Lunken Field in California. At the Ohio River, the trail will meet the Ohio River Trail and continue west to Cincinnati.
The Little Miami bike trail follows the right-of-way of the old Little Miami Railroad, maintained by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as Little Miami State Park. The long, thin state park passes though four counties, with a right-of-way somewhere 50 miles long and roughly 65 feet wide for a total of about 700 plus acres. Along the rest of it's length the corridor averages around 10 feet in width.
Above Clifton Gorge, the Little Miami is what the Ohio Department of Natural Resources calls "a small meandering stream". But in the gorge everything changes, pinched in between dolomite cliffs, the meltwater of the retreating glaciers cut straight down and in a series of cascades and deep whirlpools a river was born. Walk the trail that follows the gorge in wet weather and waterfalls from the many springs and seeps in the area cascade over the cliffs into the river below.
Due to the fact its reasonably flat right up until you step off into space it's almost impossible to convey in a photograph the scale of the gorge. All the photos I've seen do no better than my poor attempts, trust me this is one place that is a hundred times more impressive in person. In this stretch the normally knee to waist deep upper little miami rages along between the cliff walls at an average depth of 34feet.
Darnell's leap: In January 1778, Daniel Boone and his party of 28 were captured by the Shawnees. Cornelius Darnell was able to escape and with Shawnee in hot pursuit Darnell lept across the twenty five foot gap between the cliffs to freedom. Of course he could not make the entire leap but branches hung out over the 80 foot drop and Darnell went crashing across into them finally grabbing one as he fell and climbing up the cliff to safety! It makes me uneasy here to lean out over the safe rail of the overlook, I cannot begin to imagine the courage it took to even attempt the leap. In fact there have been dozens of tragic deaths in the gorge over the years. One of the earliest stories is that of a woman and child abducted by Shawnee Indians. As her husband struggled with one of the Shawnee both men slipped off the cliff, never be seen again. Even now someone is killed every few years by falling from the cliffs or drowning in the swift waters of the gorge.
The setting of the "The Blue Hole" a painting by Robert Duncanson in 1851 that now hangs in the Cincinnati Art Museum. The blue hole was called the “Spirit Pool” by the Shawnee, according to legend, because of a maiden who drowned herself here in a case of unrequited love. Some say you can still hear her moan and cry.
Famous steamboat rock, so named because, well, it looks like a big steamboat floating midstream.
The river here drops at a powerfull rate of 35 feet per mile. Just downstream in John Bryan State park the rock is slightly softer and the gorge opens to a quarter mile or so wide but still retains impressive cliffs.
Below Clifton gorge the trails enter John Bryan State park. The two parks are really separated only by name as they fit seamlessly togethor and you cannot tell walking the river when you cross the boundary.
John Bryan purchased, in 1896, 335 acres along the Clifton gorge area and called these acres "Riverside Farm." The Cincinnati-Pittsburgh stagecoach road served the area and settlers began establishing water-powered industries such as a textile mill, grist mills and sawmills in the gorge.
After the turn of the century water power was no longer as economical as electricity and the industries in the rugged gorge closed. At the top of the gorge in Clifton the only surviving mill still is in operation and is famous for its Christmas light displays, one of the best in the state.
John Bryan gave Riverside Farm to the state of Ohio in 1918, "...to be cultivated by the state as a forestry, botanic and wildlife reserve park and experiment station," which would bear his name. John Bryans park and Clifton gorge have been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Over 340 types of wildflowers and 100 plus species of trees and shrubs are found in John Bryan State park. The cool gorge has created an "island" that has enabled plants usually found much further north to survive after the last ice age. In the gorge are found two quite rare plants, Ground Hemlock (Taxus canadensis), found nowhere else in the county, and Asplenium ruta-muraria, found nowhere else in the State.
The best base for exploring these upper reaches of the river has to be the town of Yellow Springs. Located just a few miles from John Bryan and Clifton Gorge, Yellow Springs is named after the huge spring that adds it's water thru beautifull Glen Helen Nature Preserve to the river. The spring gets it's name from the rocks of the spring colored by the minerals in the water. Supposedly the waters of the spring cure all that ail you and spas and resorts were even built nearby in the early
1900's. Long before that however the village was founded in 1825 by Robert Owen. Robert Owen wanted to build a commune where everyone would work together for the common good. Well this seems to have worked better in theory than in practice as a year later the experiment had broken up. The town today has one of the funkiest little downtowns you will ever see. There are dozens of small shops offering everything from psychic readings, to handmade pottery, tie die shirts, used books, buddha statues or parkas made out of alpaca wool. A large portion of the tiny town's population seem to be right out of a sixties reunion as every other car is covered with bumper sticker stating "save the whales" or "make love not war". Yellow Springs is the best place I know to buy that one of a kind gift that you know no one else has ever seen much less bought. My favorite gift idea from our last trip there was the crazy cat lady action figure, complete with a half dozen cats and kittens in addition to the frazzle haired, house slipper wearing heroine. By the way, the quaint little tavern downtown might just serve the perfect steak fries. Adding to Yellow Springs charm are the legends surrounding Glen Helen. The beautiful valley, according to local lore was a sort of lover's lane for the Shawnee. Supposedly visitors have seen a ghostly Indian maiden or heard her call out for her long lost love. Glen Helen is a 1000-acre nature preserve owned by by Antioch College. Filled with cliffs, interesting rock formations, and the famous spring, the preserve is on my must see list for anyone in upper watershed.
"Blown to Atoms!" ... from the junction bridge to Kings Mills...
I can remember as a youngster walking across the railroad bridge at the middletown junction. My father, brother, and I walked down the old tracks of the Middletown and Cincinnati railroad from the direction of Hagerman's crossing and crossed the bridge here to mushroom hunt in the old abandoned fields at the junction. I say the Middletown and Cincinnati railroad just because they were the first owner of the line, it was also owned at one time or another by the Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern railway, the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pennsy's successor the Penn Central, Conrail, and the Indiana and Ohio. The exact dates and order of all that is not clear enough to me to try and sort out here, all I remember is being a young boy and being afraid to look down between the ties as I walked the bridge. It's now owned by the city of Lebanon and part of the rails to trails program. It's funny but the old bridge still stands and doesn't seem so high now. When the Lebanon Bike Trail was connected to the Little Miami Bike Trail they used the framework of the old bridge to cross the river. But now instead of open ties there is solid blacktop and is much less scarey crossing.
The original railroad junction had a triangular shape, to allow trains to travel either direction on the Little Miami Railroad. Now only the leg closest to South Lebanon is paved as bikeway. The other leg of the wye is rapidly being retaken by forest. As is the old river bottom we mushroom hunted in. Long before my time my grandfather farmed corn in this bottom, hauling it back up to his house atop Punkin Brown Hill in South Lebanon in a wagon. Inside the wye is a tangled jungle full of old pieces of rail and iron and stone relics of the railroad. Getting around in here is close to impossible, I've often said this will be my hideout when I've had enough and become an outlaw.
Below the bridge the river twists and turns in the sharpest series of curves on the river downstream of Fishpot Ford creating a series of pools and riffles and runs packed one above the other. This is also the site of the old dam.
I stopped in the wonderful Warren County Historical Society Museum to check some of my facts and the lady that helped me reminisced about swimming at the dam with her husband. Almost everyone of a certain age that grew up in South Lebanon or Kings Mills it seems has a story about the King's dam. I know it was my father's and his brothers favorite place to fish in their youth.
My father also said that most times when they got there his grandfather and several other older men were out on the dam fishing for suckers. Or rather snaring suckers. The technique was to use a bit of redworm on a tiny hook with one big treble tied right below that. This rig was fished with a big cane pole so that when the sucker nibbled on the worms you could lift straight up with the long pole and hook him. Nowdays right above the ruins of the dam is still one of the deepest spots on the river with a fish holding eddy on each side.
Several times I've slipped a dozen night crawlers in my pack with a rest stop here for lunch in mind. While taking a break from wading and casting I'll usually catch a couple drum and maybe a channel cat here. One of those drum is quite often the best fish of the day. Some guys look down their nose at drum but I'm pretty much of the opinion that any fish that hits both lures and bait so willingly cannot be all bad.
One of the nice things about the fishing here is the fact you might catch any of four or five different species of fish in a morning. This big hole would still be a great place to catch a big flathead If you spent the night here. Nowdays you would have to make the commitment to spend the whole night as the trail down from the bike trail would be simply awful in the dark as the old fields have grown up in an inpenetrable thicket. I've been unable to find out when the dam was built. In 1878 Joseph Warren King and his nephew Ahimaaz King bought the property of a gristmill located here already to construct powder mills along the millrace running through their new purchase. The water in the race was used both to power the mills and to fight the fires from the inevitable explosions. If you look at the photo that shows a closeup of a piece of the old dam you can see that under the concrete is an older layer made up of stones layed side by side on edge. I wonder if this was the old mill dam and was covered in concrete by the powder mills. Up by the bike trail the foundation of the old keg shop where powder kegs were built is slowly disappearing in the undergrowth.
Below the dam the river twists and turns and is a fine place to fish for smallmouth bass. You pretty much can go through the whole tackle box along this stretch as the water is constantly changing from riffle to run to hole to funny looking hybrids of all three. Or just simply tie on one good lure like a grub and fish it all the way thru. My father says in the old days this was a place to bring home a mess of channel cats by fishing chicken liver under a float thru the twists and turns. Though I haven't yet tried it, I imagine it still is.
I don't know if this is an exceptional place for wildlife or if I've just been lucky but it seems like I see a fox or a muskrat or a mink every time I fish here. I know this was one of my fathers favorite places to trap for mink back in the day. Last week I rounded a rock bar here and a big softshell turtle came hurtling down the bank and across the sand, splashing into the river. When I walked up to where she spooked I could see her tracks leading back to where she had dug a hole into the sand and layed a clutch of eggs.
Downstream the river straightens again and you can see the bridge abutments of the powder line bridge used by the Peters Cartridge Company. Here and below in the "Dry House Hole" there is deep water made for catfishing.
The original factory, built in the 186o's, made bullets for the Union Army during the Civil War, and was a target for Morgan's Raiders during their 1863 trip through Ohio though the raiders never made it to the factory.
The company spread much of more dangerous parts of its gunpowder manufacturing operation into smaller buildings up and down the river here after the explosion on July 15, 1890. At 3:50p.m., a train car collided with two cars loaded with 800 kegs of black powder. This set off a chain reaction that exploded another 800 plus kegs of powder and thousands of shells leveling the main factory in a blast that was heard all over the county. Papers all over the country carried the news of what must have been at the time one of the world's biggest explosions. One papers headline read "BLOWN TO ATOMS!" as no traces of several workers were ever found. On a rock bar there is a set of train wheels from this or one of the other numerous explosions that happened over the years. The riffle with the train wheels is named "the Drowning Run" in my mind as I was swept off my feet here wading one fishing trip and was pretty bruised and beat up and half drowned before I made it out.
The factory was rebuilt after the company sued and won a lawsuit for damages against the Little Miami Railroad. The shot tower where the tiny molton lead shotgun pellets were dropped to form round pellets was for decades the tallest structure in the county up until the replica Eiffle Tower was built at Kings Island Amusement Park. Most of the smaller buildings are fading back into the woods now and even the large factory is mostly a giant ruin even though it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Among the graffiti painted all over the ruins are several pentagrams and five sided stars. While most of these were painted by kids, local legend has several satanic rituals taking place in the ruins of the old factory. These stories along with the deaths of workers have the old powder plant being listed high on any list of Ohio's haunted places. Add in the indian burial mounds all up and down the river, the tragedy at Mather's Mill, and the strange lights at Ft Ancient and the Little Miami must be the most haunted river on earth.
In the 1930s during the Depression, Peters sold out to Remington, its competitor, and among my most treasured possessions is my grandfathers ring presented to him for twentyfive years of service to the company.
The old photos are of Kings before the big explosion when the King Powder Co. and Peters Cartridge both were in full swing....the aftermath of the big explosion. Also
a trolley that carried workers from the plants up to town.
My grandfather Ofa Coomer who worked at the Peters Cartridge Plant.
Tragedy and Beauty, a tale of two bridges...
In 1889 the Columbia Bridge Company, of Dayton, was contracted to build a bridge across the Little Miami at Mathers Mill at a cost of $5,400. What followed is one of the saddest tales that ever took place along the river. As construction neared completion it began to rain. And it rained off and on for two weeks. Even though the river became swollen with high water the work went on unabated. A temporary trestle was built on which the completed span was to rest while the permanent supports were erected. Finally this was built and on the morning of Monday, January 20, 1890 the underpinnings of the bridge were being cut thru and the bridge was being lowered to its final resting place on the new permanent supports. But just as the last few connections were being cut the high water swept away the temporary trestle and the bridge toppled into the river. William Debord was pinned under the wreckage of the bridge with just his head above the icy January flood waters. Several men held his head up for hours as workers struggled in vain to free him from the twisted iron work of what remained of the bridge. It was reported that a Henry Breen held Debord's head for at least three hours himself and several others took their turns as well as the doomed man slowly succumbed to injury and hypothermia. I cannot imagine the mental scars these men must have carried with them for the rest of their days.
Today a new bridge stands in place of the old one. And of course local legend has the place being haunted by Debord's ghost. Just upstream now is a campground and campers have claimed to have heard his ghost moaning in the night. I cannot say if this is true but it seems if any place has a right to be haunted it's certainly here.
Upstream just a couple miles from this melancholy bridge stands what has to be the prettiest bridge on the whole river the Corwin M. Nixon covered bridge.
Here at the bridge the state has a river access that includes a parking lot, a broad path down to the river and thankfully nothing else. There are a couple riffles right above the bridge that hold a few fish but are a bit shallow. Water penny beetle larvae are found abundantly in these shallow riffles.
The bottom here holds an abundance of crayfish and the last time I was there someone was seining the river right at access and making quite a haul.
The best fishing I've found is to wade upstream. Here the river splits pouring around a large island. At the top of this, in the riffle is built a dam of river stones. This dam has a opening about ten feet across that channels the current into the hole below.
Here I've caught most of the different gamefish in the river. A small crankbait produces a smallmouth bass or two most trips. And I've fished nightcrawlers here, throwing them out unweighted and letting the current wash them downstream. This has produced a channel or two, plus drum and several different species of sucker.
This far upstream, above such streams as Ceaser's Creek and Todd's Fork, the river is much smaller and easily waded but still full of life and full of fish.
Waist deep in fishpot ford...
From the outside the stone is a riddle;
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river,
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where fishes come to knock on it
When I take the trip to fish the ford I usually park in the nature preserve lot at the mouth of ceasars creek and walk down the bike trail. After about half a mile you pass the boundary of the ceasar creek nature preserve and the wide river bottom between the bike trail and river becomes a huge cornfield. I keep walking downstream even though a tractor path follows the preserve boundary down to the river and curves downstream to the ford. But the open gate has an old keep out sign that somehow seems more serious than most and I keep walking. Another half mile walk and a shallow grass covered drainage cuts across the cornfield straight to fishpot.
Here at fishpot ford the river is at it's best. You are now deep into the really good water quality and above the busiest of the canoe rentals. Luckily the best fishing on the little miami is early morning and at dark. About the time the canoes and kayaks show up here the fishing is pretty much done for the day anyways.
Fishpot ford gets it's name from John Sublett. John Sublett was one of the earliest settlers and lived with the Rev. James Smith familly at the mouth of ceasars creek around 1798. John Sublett built chairs and furniture in a log workshop but was most famous as a hunter and fisherman. John was famous as a hunter and fisherman in a time when everyone was a hunter and a fisherman. At the head of the riffle complex at the ford he built a stone fishtrap to catch the plentifull fish of the river. This stone trap stood for many years and gave the place it's name.
The ford itself was well known long before John Sublett though as the main Indian trail from Old Chilicothe to the Ohio river crossed the Little Miami here. General George Rogers Clark led his army across the river here also in 1780 in his campaign against the indian villages in Ohio. General Josuah Harmar also crossed here in 1790.
Simon Kenton was a captain in that army and Daniel Boone was a scout.
Here the Little Miami splits in two then rejoins and splits again as the river makes two sharp turns. All this twisting and turning makes for several fish holding riffles, pockets, runs and eddies. I usually bring along a knapsack with a lunch, for if the fish are biting it's possible to spend half the day right here and never wade upstream to the truck. I also usually bring along a pretty varied lure selection because of the varied water. Fishpot ford is roughly fifty miles upstream from the Ohio river and the water quality and diversity probably starts peaking thru here. One hundred and sixteen species of fish have been found in the Little Miami and a single rock in the river may be covered by a million algal cells of at least a hundred different species. An astounding eleven hundred plus species of algae and invertabrates make the little miami home. Twenty three of these were new to science when found in the river.
Just upstream from the ford is a nice hole that is full of down trees and logjams. If I were trying to catch a big flathead from the river this is one of the first places I'd head. I'll often slip a container of chicken liver in my pack and after fishing the ford below with lures switch and catch channel cats here.
The hole ends in a rockbar that's good for another smallmouth or two to a grub fished on an jighead. I call this hooterville run as just downstream on the far bank is a run down old fish camp with a handpainted sigh stuck up in the trees that states
"welcome to hooterville usa" I've never had the guts to climb the bank and see if I actually was welcome in hooterville though the sign allways brings to mind visions of the girls of Hee Haw laying around in cutoff jeans.
Just upstream you enter the boundary of the nature preserve. From here to the mouth of Ceasar Creek the river makes two more sharp turns and is good fishing all the way. Even if you plan on wading the entire way wear jeans instead of shorts as the river bottom vegetation is very thick and filled with stinging nettles and in some places the river is simply not wadeable. The preserve here also overrun with whitetail deer and it's common to see a half dozen on every fishing trip.
John Sublett hunted deer, turkey, and bear all along here and once killed a black bear on the ridges overlooking the river that weighed over four hundred pounds. He also trapped furbearing animals such as beaver and otter and trapped wolves on the ridge just south of here. The beaver and otters have came back strong and the river bottom here has lots of beaver sign and cuttings.
At the mouth of Ceasars Creek a nice rock bar lines the far bank while weedbeds extend out into the mouth of the creek. In most flows a school of gar hang around the mouth and big carp can be seen slipping in and out of the creek. An inline spinner allmost always produces a couple smallmouth while nightcrawlers produce sheephead, carp, and catfish.
The short stretch of Ceaser's Creek from the mouth up to the parking lot at the preserve is excellent fishing for smallmouth bass. The creek is simply beautiful and a great place to bring a flyrod as the creek is only thigh deep and but wide enough for a good backcast. Here the Smith familly tapped sugar maples in late winter and the father drove a wagonload of maple sugar and bacon from pigs fattened on acorns from the surrounding woods a couple times a year to Cincinnati. He slept in the wagon at the market where fountain square now stands before returning.
Upstream from the parking lot the creek flows down two and a half miles from the Ceasar Creek dam. This section of stream flows thru a deep gorge and has ok fishing for small bass in a beautiful setting. At one point large cliffs cut into the hillside and beaver sign is common along the creek. Here I also heard a loud ruckus while fishing and looked up just in time to see a large coyote leap off the bank trying to catch a goose standing on a small midstream island.
The quarter mile of stream right below the dam holds a large amount of fish. I've caught largemouth, smallmouth, kentucky spotted bass, sauger, pumpkinseeds, catfish, carp, sheephead and white bass here. And just this last spring lost a big muskie right below the dam. A few years ago while carp fishing I caught a five foot long paddlefish on light spinning tackle, then a month later landed one four feet long.
My guess is these filter feeders accidently suck up the bait as they strain the water thru huge gill slits.
The dam holds back 2800 acres of water up to one hundred ten feet deep. I don't pretend to know much at all about the lake even though I fish it alot.The lake holds large numbers of crappie and sauger and is making a name for itself as a muskie lake
Will o' Wisps and Warrior Ghosts...
You are lost in the desolate forest
Where the stars give a pitiful light.
But the far-away glow of the Will of the Wisp
Offers hope in the menacing night.
It is lonely and cold in the forest,
And you shiver with fear in the damp,
As you follow the way of the Will of the Wisp
And the dance of it’s flickering lamp.
But know, as you trudge through the forest,
Toward that glistening torch in the gloom,
That the eerie allure of the Will of the Wisp
Summons you down to your doom.
It will lead you astray in the forest,
Over ways never traveled before.
If ever you follow the Will of the Wisp,
You’ll never be seen anymore.
By Jack Prelutsky
Probably no where can you go and find more ghosts than along the Little Miami at Fort Ancient, much less fish at such a haunted locale. All that science can really say for certain is that from the end of the last ice age till now man has lived there, Paleo-indians, Adena, Hopewell, Fort Ancient peoples, woodland cultures and finally Scot's Irish pioneers. The hill overlooking the river here is the site to visit if you are interested in native american cultures in Ohio. Two and a half miles of earthworks in places up to twenty plus feet tall, indian mounds, indian burials, villages, farming and religious sites. You name it and Fort Ancient has it all.
Down on the floodplain, where now the canoe livery sits was the site of a pioneer settlement now completely gone. This ghost town had a blacksmith shop, hotel, post office, and was a stop on the Little Miami railroad.
On the opposite bank of the river the Cross Key Tavern, built in 1802, still stands. The Cross Keys was also a stop on the stagecoach line. Local lore has the tavern haunted by a woman that stayed there while the Cross Key was operated as an inn, probably sometime around 1810. Supposedly she found her bed so comfortable that after she died she returned to haunt that bed. Legend also says the antique shop at the top of the hill has tried selling the bed but it keeps getting returned by unhappy buyers. This antique shop itself was originally a church built in the 1850's. Ive heard the abandoned cemetery beside the shop is haunted itself. Across the road from the grave yard, in Camp Kern, is the Kern Effigy, A stone pathway built by the Hopewell that supposedly resembles a giant snake though I have a hard time seeing the snake.
My Dad, brother and my great uncle Albert Sandlin fished the river along here in the seventies and saw their own ghost of sorts, a ball of light floating downriver hanging a few feet above the water. My great uncle mentioned seeing the mysterious light on a previous trip and then it reappeared on a night both he and my brother were fishing the river. My brother described it to me as a circle of soft light about the size as the bottom of a five gallon bucket floating slowly over the river.
Science says these lights are made by the gasses formed by decaying vegetation in swampy ground. Down here at Fort Ancient the steep hillsides would shelter a gas ball from the wind that might break it apart allowing it to linger on a muggy summer night.
Legend tells a different story, calling them Will o' Wisps or Jack o' Lanterns and claims they are the ghosts of unbaptised children caught between heaven or hell. Other legends say the lights are the souls of men who have sold their souls to the devil. Certainly a better place than Fort Ancient, with it's ghosts town and indian burial grounds, could not be found for a haunting.
Here the river runs in a series of long runs and holes better suited for catfish, crappies, and sauger fishing without alot of the classic smallmuth riffles. My smallmouth fishing here consists of walking five or ten minutes between fiffles and runs then fishing each one thoroughly. But with the exceptional water quality each spot usually yields some fine fishing making the effort worthwhile. Also just above the bridge is a large island that provides some fine bass fishing as the water pours around it in riffles. Pollution-intolerant caddis fly larvae are quite common all along this section of river. I've found that in early morning before the canoe crowd is out in full force this is a great stretch of river to fish with a flyrod. The long and smooth heads and tails of each pool are tailor made for a deer hair bug twitched on the surface. This seems to produce some very nice sized fish every year also. I tie a simple deer hair bug as big around at most as a nickel, really about half as big as the average bug you see on sale for fishing largemouth bass. Fished on a six weight rod they cast better and produce many more smallmouths than a bigger bass bug.
If you park at the ODNR parking lot alongside the bridge and walk down the bike trail for ten minutes or so you will come to a stone bridge over a small creek. The curved arch of the bridge is just big enough to walk under and looks like it should be home to a troll or two. This small creek has created a nice rock bar out in the river speeding up the current and providing a fine area to fish. I usually fish this water fast at first picking up a fish or two on an inline spinner then slowing down and going back over the water with a plastic grub or marabou jig. A jig here for me has produced white bass, sauger, bass, drum, and once a decent channel cat. The secret to finding the best water is finding areas with a firm bottom of gravel or rock instead of softer muck.
Often the very hottest days of summer, those ninety degree scorchers, can produce some fine fishing for smallmouth. Just fish the fastest water you can find that is close to deep water. Fish these riffles with a fast moving bait like a spinner or small crankbait early in the day and you will get bit. The fast water provides food and oxygen, the warm temperatures amp up the fishes metabolism and the nearby water provides midday sanctuary.
For a few miles each side of the Fort Ancient bridge the hillsides are covered in just about the finest forest left in sothwestern Ohio. Early visitors to Little Miami river valley in the late 1700's and early 1800's described the valleys as having the most magnificent forests they had ever encountered. Considering the entire country was cloaked in forest these woodlands must have been quite majestic to earn such praise. Along the river just upstream form here I found a few years ago what I'm sure was bobcat scat on the end of a log about chest high off the ground. Deer are frequently seen crossing the bike trail in early mornings and in spring the gobbles of wild turkeys ring thru the woodland.
Up atop the hillside at the Fort Ancient museum there are relics also of paleo-indians dating back 12000 years. Large clovis spearpoints that would have been used to hunt the mammoths and mastadons that roamed here after the last ice age. Some mastadon skeletons have been found in Ohio of animals that were eleven feet tall and estimated to have weighed ten thousand pounds. Imagine hunting that with a spear! Other megafauna that would have lived in the Little Miami valley in those days would have included the dire wolf, giant beavers and ground sloths, saber toothed cats, and the meanest monster of them all, the short faced bear. The short faced bear stood up to twelve feet tall and weighed up to 2500 hundred pounds.
In the earliest years of the eighteen hundreds the woodlands from here upstream to past Waynesville were known for their fine black bear hunting. Although by the end of the seventeen hundreds indians still had villages along the Little Miami, the Hopewell and the Fort Ancient peoples were long gone. The earliest white explorers to Fort Ancient tell of finding mature trees hundreds of years old growing atop the earthworks. One theory holds that the little ice age that so devastated europe from 1300 to the mid 1800s caused the Fort Ancient people to adapt from their settled ways into the woodland culture Shawnee. Another theory was their culture was wiped out by disease sweeping up from the south caused by contact with the first Spanish exlorers to North America. To me some combination of the two seems logical.
The Fort Ancient people who lived all along the length of the Little Miami and the Shawnee shared many ways of doing things and artifacts from both cultures are very similar. The Shawnee, many archeologists believe, are the most likely descendants of the Fort Ancient people. Since most of the Scot's Irish settlers of Kentucky and Ohio ended up with traces of Cherokee and Shawnee blood in their geneology, I like to think so, having the blood of these Scot's Irish hillbillys running in my veins. Maybe some tiny tiny fraction of my own heritige dates back to these amazing people.
Although called Fort Ancient, this place wasn't really a fort at all, the walls are broken by 63 large gateways that would have been impossible to defend. It is thought that instead this was the religious center for villages from the surrounding countryside, their Mecca of sorts. I rather like the idea of Fort Ancient as a place of pilgrimage and worship instead of a fort. Any theory that has one of my favorite fishing spots being holy makes perfect sense to me. These ancient peoples would have grown corn and squash here and gathered wild foods such as ramps or acorns from the surrounding forests. Pearls and shells from the Little Miami were much used in jewelry and they would have traveled the river in dugout canoes trapping and catching it's plentiful fish. Whether or not their spirits now haunt the river scaring fishermen as glowing balls of light is of course another thing entirely...
Downstream of Fort Ancient is Blue Shin. What a great name! I have no evidence of what gives Blue Shin it's name but one of the early settlers close to here was a George Shinn, I'm guessing it's named after a family member but if you know better please let me know. Long deep holes and nice riffles dot the river from here all the way upstream to Fort Ancient. Morgan's Canoe livery operates a campground here that offers great access to some of the river's best fishing.
My father fishing Blue Shin in the late fifties.
The once booming town of Foster was named after the Foster family. James H. Foster came to the area in 1841 or 1842 and built a mill and hotel on the east side of the river. Soon there were 48 busineses and houses crammed in between the steep hillsides that flank the Little Miami here. These included a sawmill, cobblers, hotel, blacksmith shop, and five bars. Forty seven buildings and five bars! Now that's what I call a wild river town. This tradition was carried on by the Train Stop Bar which for decades had an ape in a cage that would smoke cigarettes and guzzle beer. And at least in his early days box, my uncle Virgil was a pretty good boxer and was talked into fighting the ape. My guess is alcohol was involved in that decision. Anyways Virgil supposedly did pretty good at first sticking and jabbing till he made the monkey mad. Legend has the ape jumping up and grabbing the bars of his cage and kicking my uncle almost senseless. In the late 1800's Foster was a popular destination for picnics and fishing and relaxing. Around 1886 Augustine Hoppe bought the mill and the land enclosed by the millrace was called Hoppe's Island. Here there were picnic tables and a parklike atmosphere and according to old reports you had to show up at daylight to get a picnic table on a weekend. The Foster's Viaduct, a big bridge spanning the gorge and bypassing the tiny town, pretty much put Foster out of business. Now only the Train Stop bar and a couple other buildings remain. The riffle right below the viaduct is one of the fishiest looking spots on the river but is also one of the easiest spots to get to so the fishing is only hit and miss here. Large rocks, gravel and boulders make up the river bottom in this big riffle with a wide variety of macroinvertebrates present. Many pollution-intolerant species are found here, including a large number of caddis fly larvae. Upstream of Foster the river makes a sharp curve creating a rocky bar and riffle and the fishing is much better, protected by the ten minute walk. This was one of uncle's favorite spots and he used to tell me tales of catching lots of channel cats here on chicken liver. Although I haven't fished here much for smallmouth I did try it three times last year and did well each time on an eighth ounce jig head and plastic grub. I think this area between Foster and King's Mill's has potential to be some of the best bass fishing on the river and plan to spend alot more time here in the future.
The old photos are of the old mill dam and covered bridge, plus an old photo of the arches of the viaduct being jacked into place. My great uncle Matt of South Lebanon worked on the Viaduct's construction.
The covered bridge that was a victim of the 1913 flood. The old stone foundations can be seen in the river between the two bridges there now.
Waynesville and Corwin...
What's Waynesville and what's Corwin? Well, Corwin was constructed to service the railroad as it crept up the Little Miami so everything on the railroad side of the river is Corwin while the other side of the river is Waynesville. I'm going to do what everyone else does and make the people of Corwin mad and just call the area Waynesville. Waynesville slash Corwin may be one of the best bases to fish the Little Miami in it's whole length. There is tons of parking, nice restrooms, restaurants to eat at, and yes, great fishing. Waynesville has historically been a milling town and still has the old mill dam.
Right below the dam is a good spot to catch sauger, though in summer it's also a popular swimming hole. A series of mills operated here from 1800 till steam finally put water power out of business. The millrace was then used as a swimming and picnic area in the 1930's and 40's under the names "Wayne Park" and then "Old Mill Stream". In 1952 L. D. Baker and Tom Norris opened a mill race fishing concession. In the 1960's an old country store was added and in the 70's a swimming pool. Up until 2010 the Der Dutchman restaurant and gift shop was located on the millrace till a fire closed the restaurant. Just downstream from town the river flows under route 73 and makes a couple sharp bends. A path leads from the bike trail alongside 73 to the river providing easy access. The bends have created several gravel bars and eddies that provide some interesting fishing. The gravel bars seem to change every winter with high water but allmost allways create some great fish holding spots. Last time I was there the current had gouged out a hole over my head two feet off the bank right alongside a riffle and I caught seven smallmouth without moving on a marabou jig pitched into the hole underhanded.
Downstream the river slows and is lined with downed trees that hold plenty of catfish, panfish, and rockbass. Legend also has it that while his army was camped here during the Indian campaign in 1793, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne's paymaster hid the soldier's payroll somewhere along the river here during an attack by the Indians. The money has never been found! Something to think about when wading the river looking for a smallmouth. This area was well known to the first white explorers to contain alot of wild game and in his wonderfull book, The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow, Dallas Bogdan related stories of bear hunting here in 1797 and states the early hunters found deer, bear, and wild turkeys plentiful in the area. Nowadays history is working to repeat itself as deer and turkey are becoming common and recently a bear was photographed nearby.
One of the oldest towns around, Milford was built on a survey belonging to John Nancarrow, a Revolutionary War veteran from Virginia. Nancarrow owned 230 acres but never lived in Milford. In money trouble, Nancarrow sold his land to Phillip Gatch in 1802 for $920.00. In 1806 Gatch sold 125 acres to Ambrose Ransom and two days later Ransom sold 64 1/2 acres to John Hageman. John Hageman was the first permanent settler and named this area Hageman's Mills after a small mill he set up in 1803.
By 1815 Hageman had moved west and the name Milford was in common use. The name says it all. Milford was the first safe ford north of Cincinnati. The water is still shallow here with extensive rock bars all up and down this stretch of river. . Although there is ample parking and access and the river splits the town in two, the Little Miami isn't the town's overiding feature as it is with all the upriver towns. I guess Milford's bigger size and proximity to the city is the reason for this. The river here with all its riffles and rock bars has great smallmouth fishing and is ideal to wade. Downstream at the Bass Island access, deeper riffles provide excellent habitat for dobsonfly larvae and stonefly nymphs.
Upstream of Milford at Fletcher Road the bike trail crosses the river on a high railroad trestle known as the Hippie Bridge because of the cool graffiti and it's use as a party spot by the cabrewing crowd. There is fine fishing here for all the fish in the river as the river varies wildly within a quarter mile up and downstream of Hippie Bridge.
To my eyes, Loveland may be the prettiest town on the whole river. It is, at least, the one who's made the biggest attempt to embrace it's heritage as a river town. Indeed even though the bikeway runs the length of the river, Ive heard several people refer to it as the Loveland bike path no matter where all along it's length they mention. And no wonder, since here, restaurants, ice cream shops, bike shops, coffee and tea shops, and the LMI Scenic River & Trail Center line the trail thru town. Right in town at the mouth of Obannon Creek may not be the best place to start your fishing adventures on the Little Miami. Not because it's not fishy looking but because it's crawling with kids wading, dog's fetching, and people just generally enjoying the river. Upstream at the first riffle before the really deep water begins will always be special to me, for here I lost the biggest smallmouth I've ever hooked. It was late fall when the bass hit a grub and jumped clean out of the water giving me a good look at it's size. I had the big bass on long enough to be sure I was going to land it when the line just went slack. No theatrics, just a slack line and no fish. A few kids were watching from downstream and it was all I could do not to throw a mini hissyfit in midstream. Not that it would have helped any. I won't say what I thought the bass weighed so I won't be called a liar, let's just call it very large.
Loveland is named after James Loveland, who ran a store and post office near the railroad tracks downtown. Loveland was promoted by the railroad as a resort town, who gave it the nickname "Little Switzerland of the Miami Valley." In the 1920s, The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a promotion that offered a free plot of land in Loveland, along the Little Miami River, for a one-year subscription to the paper! The Enquirer also plays a role in the creation of Loveland's most famous attraction, Château Laroche, or just simply, The Loveland Castle. The Castle is a huge replica of a medievel castle built on the Little Miami by Harry Andrews starting in 1929. Harry was a boy scouts leader and spent a lifetime adding to the castle. The Castle is built on two free lots of land that his scouts obtained by selling one-year subscriptions to The Cincinnati Enquirer. It's amazing and worth a trip in it's own right to see. And like any good castle it is supposedly haunted. Speaking of hauntings and the paranormal, I almost forgot to mention that mythical monster that haunts the Little Miami along here, the fearsome Loveland Frog or maybe lizard depending on who you talk to, though the most popular version has the monster named the Loveland Frog. A barely huminoid creature with green skin all bumpy and hideous like (you guessed it) a frog! Oh and bulging eyes and a huge frog mouth too.
According to Wikipedia:
"The first claimed sighting was in May 1955. A businessman is said to have seen three or four 3-foot (0.91 m)-tall frog-faced creatures squatting under a bridge near Loveland. They were described as having wrinkles instead of hair on their heads, lopsided chests, and wide mouths without lips, like frogs. One of them is said to have held up a bar device that shed sparks. A strong odor of alfalfa and almonds was reportedly left behind."
So there you have it, it's on the internet so it has to be true. The fearsome frog has been seen off and on ever since, even to the point of being shot at by the police as it fled back into it's home, the Little Miami. And (yes there's more) the frog even has it's own page on Monsterquests the TV shows own website and a google search turns up around 100,000 results, more proof positive that the slimy reptilian haunts the waters of the Little Miami. The Miami Indians and their allies the Shawnee that lived along the Little Miami also had a legend about the Shawnahooc or “River Demon” that lived along the river who just happened to look alot like a lizard or frog. Coincidence? I think not. And while it may be okay to keep a few crappies or channel cats for dinner, Shawnahooc, I've heard, is fond of the river's smallmouth and you run the risk of invoking his wrath if you keep any smallmouth. I dunno, something about it taking three or four years for a smallmouth to mature and recruitment and conserving the resource. It sounds to me like it's best to release all smallmouth from the river just to be safe.
On a more serious note Loveland was very hard hit by the great flood of 1913 with several old bridges washed away. Some of the most graphic photos of the horrific 1913 flood that exist are of Loveland including those you see here.
"At a certain season of our life,
we are accustomed to consider
every spot as the possible site
of a house." ...Henry David Thoreau
The miles between the junction bridge below South Lebanon and the campground riffle at Morrow are as close to home water as it comes for me. Every grown male in four generations of our family has fished there. Most are buried somewhere in this watershed. And the heart of this home is South Lebanon. South Lebanon is idealy suited as a base for some quality river fishing. Good access, good water, and the comfort that comes with the familiar.
The new Oeder Park and the rebirth of Turtle Creek's water quality have combined to make these the "good old days" for fishing in South Lebanon. Cincinnati Milacron used to dump copper ans ammonia into Turtle Creek which joins the river here at South Lebanon. Finally in 1998 Cincinnati Milacron ceased dumping crap into Turtle Creek. A 2007 study of the river by the EPA using their scale, which measures the ability of the physical habitat to support a biotic community, now rates the Little Miami thru my home waters as anywhere from excellant to exceptional. Less than a decade ago these waters would have rated half as well.
A two minute walk from the park and the truck and your across Turtle Creek watching minnows skip wildly as smallmouths chase them up on the rockbar. A white or silver roostertail fished straight out from the mouth of Turtle Creek is money.
Turtle Creek was named not for plentiful turtles but after war chief Little Turtle of the Miamis. General Harmar marched an army up the Little Miami in a mostly unsuccesful bid to quell the Indians in 1790 but couldn't conquer Little Turtle. Little Turtle defeated General Arthur St. Clair a year later. General Mad Anthony Wayne marched a third army up the Little Miami and finally fared much better, defeating the Indians at the battle of fallen timbers. Later in life Little Turtle preached peace with the US and even met General Washington in 1797.
From the mouth of the creek looking downriver you can see just ahead the big bridge where ST. RT. 48 crosses the river. The water in between is way too shallow for quality fishing when the river is in it's best shape but is a great place to cross. I usually head across and down to the bridge for right below the bridge starts a fine run. River right looking downstream has a broken rocky bottom and in July and August gets alot of shade early in the afternoon. A little deep for a spinner or rapala here so I mostly fish an 1/8 ounce jig head and plastic grub. The first hundred yards below the bridge has consistently produced some of my best river smallmouth. My dad says this stretch of river was called the "stoneygrounds" and was a popular fishing and camping spot. Nowadays I pretty much have it to myself.
River left here is a broad long shallow rock bar that I wade while casting across river to the far bank.I continually find myself poking around on this shallow bar trying to wade as softly as I can to watch the multitude of minnows streaming by underfoot. My father also says in the old days you could seine dozens of crayfish from a shallow river bar like this. For many years this was no longer the case but now this rockbar is simply covered in crayfish. Turn over two or three rocks and an inch or two long crayfish will shoot away backwards to hide again a few feet further on. The explosion of life in the river here has mostly taken place in just the last few years as the water quality has simply jumped off the charts.
Oeder Park isn't the only easy access to river in South Lebanon by a longshot. Upstream in Rogers Park there is a canoe access with ample parking to fish the riffles around the big island in the river here. Looking back across Rogers Park towards town in summer with the river knee deep it's hard to imagine the big floods that have covered the hundreds of yards across the ballfields and up into town along here. Growing up along the river I have a few times seen water up across the ballfields and into town but nothing like the big flood where my father rode all thru town in a canoe. The really huge flood of 1913 that took out bridges and destroyed homes and lives here has kept the riverbank mostly ballfields and park and has in a way protected the river from the town. Pictures of various floods over the years in town...
Across the river where the old train depot once stood there is more parking for the bike trail that follows this side of the riverbank. The old railroad dumped literaly hundreds of tons of concrete and rock rubble into the river here to protect the rail line from riverbank erosion. These stones and slabs range anywhere from basketball sized to car sized and give this section of river it's name "the big rocks". The extreme downstream end of the big rocks has several rock bars that jut straight out into the river and each has a strong eddy behind them that's home to some pumpkinseeds and channelcats. The seam where this eddy hits current holds a few smallmouth and sauger when the river is in good shape and once provided me a three pound smallie on an inline spinner.
Upstream the river deepens in front of the big rocks and the current, depth, and cover provide homes to smallmouth and rockbass. Here I throw a small crankbait or spinner with small trebles instead of single hooked lures like jigs or grubs because panfish and rockbass are as common a catch as bass. I've heard that oldtimers used to fish here freelining a minnow with a long cane pole, catching bass and catfish. Dunking a minnow here and there among the rocks makes perfect sense here and is on that long list of things I've always wanted to try but have just never found the time.
South Lebanon started out as Deerfield and is actually the oldest town in Warren County. The town was layed out in 1795 and lots in the pioneer town were given away for a bit just to get people to settle and clear land. After 29 lots were given away lots were then sold for two dollars each on average, though records show a James Cory bought three lots for a grand total of five dollars. Around 1800 Deerfield was the most important place north of Cincinnati as early pioneers often left their families here as they cleared farms in wilder places up and down the river.
Deerfield/South Lebanon has been home to some extraordinary business ventures such as one of the first canning operations in the country. In my youth I can also remember the buildings of the old "mushroom factory" that raised mushrooms till mushroom farming in old mines became popular. My own family ran a large fur operation and bought fur from hunters and trappers for miles around. South Lebanon also was famous as the home of Cash's Big Bargain Barn, a furniture store ran by the fundamentalist preacher Cash Amburgy. Family legend has it that my great grandfather threatened to kill Cash because my grandmother was a member of an early church that practiced snake handling and he was afraid for her safety. Probably South Lebanon's most famous resident was one of it's first. David Sutton was one of Deerfields earliest settlers and became Warren Counties first clerk of courts. During the war of 1812 he raised a company of soldiers and rose thru the ranks becoming a general in the militia. He also served in the legislature in 1816, 1818, and 1823. He died in 1834 and was buried in Deerfield. He also ran a tavern on one of those two dollar lots and I sometimes wonder what he would of thought of people wading the same river he knew with hundred dollar fishing poles throwing five dollar lures. Though now boasting its own huge shopping complex just outside of town, downtown South Lebanon remains remarkably similar to the South Lebanon of my youth. Thankfully still a place where it's no great surprise in the grocery store to overhear two guys talking about their coon hounds, how the garden is doing or how the fish are biting.
My father and grandfather with some nice cats out of the river.
My great grandparents, long time residents of South Lebanon
Pioneers buried in the cemetary at South Lebanon
Morrow and Todd's Fork...
"wait without hope,for hope would be hope for the wrong thing"
Morrow is an excellent place to start a fishing trip. I've started several trips by enjoying an ice cream cone standing on "the point", downtown at the mouth of Todd's Fork looking over the Little Miami and the Fork deciding where to spend the day casting for smallmouth. Unfortunately Morrow is a better place to base a fishing trip than to actually live at anymore. The ice cream parlor is just about the only building not boarded up or run down in the downtown. The wide street that holds the beautiful old train depot is usually empty except for a few pretty young moms forlornly pushing rickety old strollers or maybe an old man sitting on a bucket out on the point fishing. Other river towns such as South Lebanon or Waynesville are practically booming in comparison.
Although I've never seen it, local fishing lore has a nice musky caught right here at the mouth of Todd's Fork every few years. I do know that in winter on a warm day you have a chance to catch some nice saugers here. The biggest saugers I've taken in the river have been caught here. A plastic grub on a jig head or a minnow are the first choice for sauger in the river. Sauger have the odd habit of actually liking some resistance when biting and using a much heavier jig head or sinker than you would use for any other fish can sometimes up your success rate.
If you ever find yourself out on the point looking out on the river turn and look just up Todd's Fork at the old railroad bridge. Twice I've seen the river pouring over this bridge in floods. Now turn and look directly across the little miami at the river bottoms on the far bank. If you follow a line in your mind level with the old railroad bridge you can see why the town of Fredericksburg is no longer there, just a few run down old houses including the one that held Cook's bait shop when I was a kid. But before there was even a town of Morrow, Fredericksburg was founded on the far bank just after 1800. Giant floods such as the 1913 flood would cover anything there to the rooftops. Just upstream, before you get to the 123 bridge across the river, the first bridge across the little miami was built here in 1818.
Morrow itself didn't really come into existance as a town until the tracks of the Little Miami River Railroad Company reached here in 1844. After that Morrow boomed along with the railroad then died along with the railroad. The town itself was named after railroad president Jeremiah Morrow, the two time governor of Ohio who was Warren Counties most famous citizen. Morrow was friends with Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams. Morrow was a jumping off point for sportsmen riding the train out of Cincinnati to fish the Little Miami. My own father worked for the railroad on a section gang out of the Morrow depot that was responsible for the track from Morrow downstream to Fosters. Just upstream of the 123 bridge is the ruins of an old dam and millrace. The first mill around here was built up Todds Fork by William Smalley. Smalley was captured twice as a young man by indians, once for five years,and served as a guide and translator for almost every indian campaign of the period. Records of General St. Clair's campaign along the Little Miami show Smalley as shooting 21 indians in battle. He also served General Mad Anthony Wayne as a translator at the signing of the treaty of Greenville. William Smalley guided and hunted for the surveying party of Col. William Lytle and was paid seventy five cents a day. Lytle later sold Smalley 600 acres nine miles up Todd's Fork for $200 that he sold after building a house and a grist mill and sawmill for $5265 in 1833. Smalley was infamous for his odd appearance owing to his indian captors slicing the rims of his ears away from the rest, these hung down off his ears askew for the rest of his life.
A small island splits the river just upstream of downtown Morrow at the ruins of the old mill, creating a series of riffles. Redworms fished on tiny hooks produce big catches of suckers as they move up on the riffles in early spring. Snaring suckers off the riffle was done alot here in the past also. I've caught several nice smallmouth here fishing a roostertail in the smooth fast water as the river gathers itself in the tail of the big pool above before pouring over these riffles. Some years, depending upon how the river has dug out or filled in the hole over the winter,the eddy below the island can produce catfish on chicken livers pitched in and allowed to drift around the eddy on unweighted hooks.
Right above the riffles and ballfields on the edge of town stands a mighty sycamore but if you walk a few hundred feet further upstream is a true giant, a behemoth that must have been growing here long before the town when mountain lions (called "painters" by early pioneers)and wolves roamed the riverbank. Old records show there was a bounty paid for both in early Warren County history. In William Smalley's time there was also a bounty paid for indian scalps for a few years during the indian wars. The bounties varied from $96 to $135 dollars, enough money to buy land for a small farm. Here around this giant tree is an ideal spot to catch a big carp on a doughball or crappies in any brush you can find in this big pool.
The woods along the river here has a few albino squirrels I've seen while walking the bike path that follows the old railbed along the river. The hills then rise sharply and a few small trickles form tiny waterfalls as they fall off the steep bank into the river. If you can pick your way down the steep bank without breaking your neck the mouths of these mini streams form tiny rockbars just big enough for aa adventuresome angler to rest while catching some channel cats. The woods here is especially lovely in spring as it is covered in wildflowers with dutchmen's breeches and trilliums putting on quite a show. In this same time of year the gobbles of wild turkeys also often fill these woods.
Going back to Morrow and heading up Todd's Fork opens up miles of some of the best smallmouth fishing in the state to a wading angler. During summer weekends when canoes fill the river, the relative quiet of Todd's Fork can be a welcome escape.
A book could be written on fishing this wonderful stream alone. Just out of Morrow, First Creek joins Todd's Fork almost within sight of town. This delightful little stream has several lovely waterfalls and was followed by the Shawnee who captured Daniel Boone as they took him to villages in Ohio fron Kentucky.
The giant sycamore pictured is in downtown Morrow. It was hard to get an exact measurement because of the vine growing up one side but at five feet off the ground it's somewhere around twenty four feet around!
Stubbs Mill and Halls Creek...
From the road the bridge looks new and modern, but if you follow the faint path alongside the bridge to underneath you find the big support columns holding up the bridge are layed up out of old stones from the river and the bridge is very very old.
Under the bridge it is often possible to have a nice little fishing trip if you only have a spare hour just by fishing right here. Here at the bridge there is a good riffle and behind each column the river has dug out a nice eddy. A few years ago a friend of mine caught a nice three and half pound smallie here on a small rapala before I even got a lure tied on. Between the first column and the bank is some slow water that never fails to give up some longeared sunfish to my flyrod, in my mind the prettiest fish that swims.
Its appropriate that Stubb's Mill road crosses the river here on such an old bridge for the road is named after the mill built on the river here in 1802 and ran by Zimri Stubbs. The old stones of the bridge create a perfect nesting spot for swallows and they put on quite a show in early summer as they raise their young. The sleek swallows remind me of fighter planes as they swoop up and down the river catching bugs.
At the time Zimri ran the mill here, this section of river was part of Mount's Station. Mount's Station was a huge block of land granted to William Mounts as part of the Virgina Military District. The Virginia Military District was created between the two Miami rivers to reward soldiers with land grants who had served in the revolutionary war.
Downstream of the bridge, river road closely follows the river two miles downstream to South Lebanon. In the last few years this section of road has experienced the odd
phenomenon of "eagle jams" as cars stop to look at a bald eagle perching in the trees above the river. This is probably the best section of the entire Little Miami to see an eagle from the car as they are frequently seen here.
Above the riffle at the bridge is a long run leading up to a fine riffle to fish. Here on each side of the river are the first of the several gravel pits that line the river between here and the town of Morrow. On the right bank looking upstream the big sycamores are filled with huge nests of a great blue heron rookery. Their cries fill the air in late spring and early summer as the great birds come and go from their nests.
I'm always filled with sadness when fishing here, knowing what amazing history was destroyed by these gravel pits. For here on the banks overlooking the river once stood a great serpent mound 1300 feet long built by the Fort Ancient Indians. This great mound was destroyed by the digging of the gravel pits. Just behind the pits stands the new high school which was also built on the site of the Stubbs Earthworks, a large ceremonial center for the Hopewell Indians. This was also the site of "Woodhenge", a huge circle 240 feet in diameter that was outlined by hundreds of huge posts made out of tree trunks by the indians. A small creek named Bigfoot Run winds around the pits and across the school property before entering the hills. In the creek I have found reduction flakes from arrowhead making in the water of the creek.
On the ridge overlooking Stubb's Mills is a new subdivision. Luckily the builders of the subdivision let the experts examine the area after uncovering numerous relics.
It was discovered a large indian town once stood here. In the soil was found millions of reduction flakes made by flintknapping. Some of these flakes were from stones as far away as Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and even obsidian from Wyoming! I've read a theory that the Indians completely changed the surrounding woods here. Girdling unwanted trees with stone axes and keeping the undergrowth down with periodic fires, till the woods was full of just nut and mast bearing trees for food and the undergrowth all new growth that would attract game like deer. This whole section of river in prehistoric time must have actually seemed quite settled with open fields for growing corn, mounds and earthworks, houses and open parklike woods. I imagine the first settlers at Mount's Station must have turned over relics like bits of pottery with every furrow they plowed.
Above here the river is a long deep pool stretching for half a mile to the riffles below the mouth of Hall's Creek. I often imagine indians paddling canoes or swimming in the languid waters of this big pool next to their village. Around any wood in this pool is a good place to try for crappies and sunfish. I have encountered a few kentucky spotted bass here but not enough to come up with any sort of pattern.
At the head of this big pool begin the riffles of Hall's Creek. Hall's Creek enters the river from the left as you wade upstream amidst an outstanding series of riffles and runs in the river. This is one of those sections of river where you might expect to catch four or five different species of fish in a morning using something like a small hair jig or plastic grub. Right at the mouth of Hall's Creek the river makes a sharp turn and has dug a deep hole known locally as the whirlhole. Along the outside bend the current has eaten away at the bank forming a large cliff that swallows nest in.
Opposite the cliff in early spring marsh marigolds carpet the river bottom completely in yellow. One morning while walking down to the river I walked up on a young doe standing among the flowers, beams of sunlight streaming the sycamores. It was one of those perfect small momments you never forget.
The whirlhole often yields nice catfish. I'll never forget the big channel cat I caught here on a grub that had me thinking for a minute I'd hooked a record smallmouth. Softcraws or nightcrawlers can be very productive fished here. And the run leading down to the whirlhole often yields a nice bass or two to a jig sweeping down with the current.
Often while fishing here I'll search the rockbars thrown up by the river and up Hall's Creek itself for fossils. The whole of the Little Miami watershed is rich in fossils but a few years ago a cloudburst was centered here that dropped eight inches of rain in a few hours. This caused Hall's Creek and the other nearby creeks to blow out and exposed tons and tons of rock rich in fossils.
Actually the entire Little Miami watershed including tributaries like Todd's Fork and Ceasers Creek and Hall's Creek were cut by an even greater flood, the melting of the great glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The torrents of meltwater cut the steep valleys and layed down the gravel beds mined all along the river.
As the water cut the valleys of the Little Miami drainage it exposed the layers of rock formed in the Ordovician Age, about 500 million years ago. Then a great shallow sea covered this area and now I often find the fossils of cephalopods here at Halls Creek. Cephalopods were squidlike creatures that thrived in the ancient sea. Some types of cephalopods were the largest animals of the Orodovician world. Fossils have been found measuring over thirty feet in length and even ones of seven feet have been found close to here. Most fossils of cephalopods I find along the river are one to three inch sections of their segmented shells, but here at Halls Creek after the big storm I found a complete shell of a small cephalopod allmost eight inches in length. Trilobites, bryozoans, and brachiopods are also found in the rocks of the river valley.
My wife once remarked that while doing laundry she never had to look for other women's phone numbers and the like in my pockets but instead had to watch out for wierd things like rocks or pieces of bone. It seems I'm constantly picking up something while bumming around the river.
Here at Hall's Creek I've come a mile upstrean from Stubb's Mill and usually get out of the river here and hike back down the road to my truck at the old bridge. After all, encountering Heron rookeries, Indian mounds, old pioneers, great floods and fossilized sea monsters along with the occasional smallmouth bass makes for a pretty full morning.
Over the hill from Ault Park and just off route 125 and east of downtown is a jewel in the Hamilton county park system, Otto Armleder Memorial Park. Over three hundred acres of soccer fields, dog parks, and rollerblading trails hide the fact that the whole backside of the park straddles the Little Miami River. And not just any stretch of river but a very interesting one containing a number of bends, riffles, and the biggest rock bars on the river. Unfortunately the proximity of the dogpark means there seems to always be a labrador retriever splashing up and down the riverbank. But get there early in the morning before people come pouring into the park and enjoy some of the best fishing in the whole river for that piscatorial dinosaur, the gar. Armleders extensive shallows with a rock instead of muddy bottom are prime territory to catch one of these scary monsters. That long bony bill filled with sharp teeth makes gar very hard to hook with conventional techniques. I use medium spinning tackle and cut bait. The trick is to cut the bait into a one inch square and use a small hook. Use just enough weight to keep the bait in place or even none if possible. The bait is cast out and the bail left open and the line secured by a tiny rock so the gar can pick up the bait and run with it. Typically the fish will take off on a lightning fast run and you need to wait. And wait, and wait, its almost impossible to wait too long to strike when gar fishing. You want the fish to swallow the bait as its nearly impossible to land one otherwise.
They are strong and able fighters and I've had them jump completely out of the water during the battle. By the way don't use a stainless steel hook as you are just going to cut the line to release the fish. The enzymes inside the gars stomach will disolve the hook rather quickly. Almost any fish you catch of whatever species that is hooked deeply has a much much higher chance of surviving if you cut the line than try to rip the hook out. Armleder has some wide very shallow stretches that are not great fish holding spots but the bends hold all the major fish species in the river. There's also a very nice little known canoe launch that will let you explore more of the river too. The huge gravel and rock bars make Armleder a super destination spot in the spring and late summer when wading birds are migrating thru. There's a nice shaded trail that follows the riverbank that almost lets you think you are in wilder country too that offers fine river views to the fisherman or birder.
Magrish River Lands Preserve
If your roaring across the Little Miami on Kellogg Avenue and see the sign for Salem Road take it. Down around the looping exit ramp and you turn into the Magrish River Lands Preserve, less than a minute away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Magrish itself is only a 45-acre park but it butts up against California Woods on one side and the opposite river bank belongs, the best I can tell, to Lunken Airport. The river then flows under the Kellogg Avenue bridge and out to the Ohio River. Here sits a giant marina busy with boat traffic from the giant Ohio River but upstream of that sits Magrish and quiet, quiet, quiet. Well almost, just when you think you are way upstream somewhere away from the big city here comes a plane from nearby Lunken Airport buzzing overhead. The airport makes up for that though (almost) by helping keep Magrish a little bit isolated and off the beaten path. You might share the place with a lone birdwatcher but your just as likely, during the week at least, to have the place completely to yourself. And even though your in the city, there's somehow alot of empty space to have completely to yourself because for a long ways upstream there is nothing in the floodplain . Up river a bit towards state route 125 I caught the largest fish I've ever caught out of the Little Miami, a huge carp I guesstimated at somewhere between thirty five and forty pounds. People that live here and fish the river daily tell me that the fish seem to wander in and out of the Ohio. This makes for quite a bit of mystery, one day the river here is full of fish, the next seemingly empty. But this also makes for a great diversity of fish too with white bass schooling one day and something different like hybrid stripers the next.
The history of this place is really the history of Cincinnati itself, for the cities original settler, Benjamin Stites, settled here on 20,000 acres. Stites owned the riverbank from the rivers mouth to upstream of present day Lynken Airport. Benjamin Stites was a trader who seemed to buy and sell a bit of everything when a band of Shawnee stole his horses and some goods near Washington, Kentucky. A party set off to try and recover them and followed the Shawnee across the Ohio and up the Little Miami. Supposedly Stites was so taken by the beauty of the Little Miami river valley that he decided then and there that he would someday settle here. He helped persuade John Cleves Symmes, a New Jersey congressman to purchase territory between the Miamis from the federal government, divide it into parcels, and sell the land to settlers such as himself. In 1787, Symmes contracted with the United States Treasury Board to buy one million acres of the region. Symmes’s first buyer was, of course, Stites. And the rest, as they say, is history. Being subject to floods of both the Ohio and Little Miami rivers has kept this little island of peace possible as the great city of Cincinnati has grown up all around it.
The Snake...Roxanna and Spring Valley...
So you've walked all the way down to fishpot ford, bushwacked back up to the truck, then a week or two later maybe you found the old kings dam in the thickets below the old junction. You might have even sniffed out a riffle or a hole or two that it seems like only you know about. Your starting to think you know the river about as good as anybody. But there's those pesky rumors, your buddy that can't fish a lick, but who is one of those hard core macho kayaker dudes, tells you about the place where the river bent hard back on itself then back the other way again and again till he wasn't quite sure which way was east or west anymore. You ask where and he seems vague, mutters something about no roads and strainers and changes the subject. Six months go by and you overhear some guy's nightmare canoe story, how they ended up coming out after dark and how the river twisted and turned just like in the kayaker's story. There's no place like that on the Little Miami right? Idly you ask where he took out at and later with a little help from google maps your looking at this...
Welcome to "The Snake". So how do you get there? It sits a mile or so above the road at Spring Valley Wildlife Area's unknown little access ramp. Right behind that old gravel pit, you know the one with so many no trespassing signs your not sure if they would have you arrested if they caught you cutting thru or just shoot you. You could walk the riverbank, well, I've done that but it's decidedly unrecommended. In early, early spring maybe but later it's three quarters of a mile of head high stinging nettles that felt more like three hundred miles by the time my itching beat up body finally stumbled out of the nettles and straight out to just sit in the river and cool off. Hmmm, so can't you just park over there by those big tanks on 42 and bushwack across that field and hit the river on the other side? Well a drive by shows a tall chain link fence topped by barbed wire. Ok, so you will just walk up the bike trail a mile or so and cut back down the riverbank, won't that work? Well theres more no trespass signs and more of those d#@n nettles. A canoe seems the most practical way to get in but then you have to stop and beach the thing 12 or 15 times to even begin to fish half of the spots you want to because you pull it up on a bar to fish and fifty yards later there is another gravel bar to fish and then fifty yards another and another below that and on and on. It's not like further downriver where a spot screams "fish right here". Instead there is one pretty good looking spot that should hold a fish or two after another all the way thru. I've been there a half dozen times or so and haven't even started to learn the place yet.
I can tell you there is alot of sand and gravel bars made out of smaller stuff than downriver. The rocks are closer to marble size than fist sized and the bars run way out into the river and they seem to move around a bit everytime I go. If I'm in the gorge below South Lebanon and I find a rock bar I know there is a good chance it was there in my father's day, up here I'm not sure if it was there before the last storm.
There is a lot of fish here though. And if you like the flyrod bring it, although the rivers a third of its size down at say Fosters, all those rock bars give you room to backcast and here the rivers full of strainers and stumps that hold rockbass, if the smallies don't cooperate, that willingly bop a fly. However you manage to get in, (parachute maybe?) bring bug spray, lunch (it's gonna take awhile), and wear jeans to try and protect yourself from the nettle jungle. Or better yet believe me when I say the fish are bigger downstream, the wadings easier, the access is easier, and just put the snake on that list of places your going to fish "someday" and leave it to us crazy people.
Downstream of the snake the river flows thru the Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Theres a nice little access road that seems known only to the dove hunters that hit the sunflower fields in the fall. But between the sunflower fields and the river sits a classic riverbottom that has some majestic trees. You can find big sycamores scattered all up and down the length of the river but there is a grove of real giants here.
Further downstream the river flows by the marsh in Spring Valley Wildlife Area, one of the best birdwatching spots in the state if not the whole eastern US. More than 230 species have been seen here. Yep that's not a typo, 230, alot of states haven't even listed that many in the whole state. The marsh also holds beaver, otters, deer, muskrats galore, and decent fishing for panfish and largemouth bass. Theres a nice trail around the marsh and a long boardwalk runs out into the cattails at the upper end.
It's high on my list of places to critter watch and just explore, with everything from baldcypress trees in the water to overgrown fields and upland woods. The river here has a few bass holding riffles, some long pools, and lots of wood and trees in the water. I can usually count on having the water to myself and like to just kick back here and catch some channels and drum on nightcrawlers and enjoy the quiet.
Chasing the snowman (a bit of fiction)...
A short story set at the Big Rocks-
He was an old man and he had never really done anything. Anything that he thought had ever amounted to much anyways and now he was going fishing. He pulled the old pickup off the two lane blacktop and unto the berm. Here was a spot just wide enough for the old truck and he had parked here more times than he could count. Across the road a small path led down the bank and over the old railbed to the river.
When he was young he used to walk the rails, carefully putting one foot down in front of the other with outstretched arms. Like a tightrope walker, he would see how long he could stay up before he had to step off. He remembered how he used to look up the track and see the heat shimmer in waves above the steel and gravel in the summer sun. Waves of heat that made the water of the river seem shockingly cold when later he waded to fish for smallmouth bass.
Now the tracks themselves were gone. The steel rails and the ties all ripped up. Both his uncles had worked on the railroad and he remembered how his uncle used to call the ties sleepers. He said they were called sleepers because it took a whole crew of men to keep them lying in their beds. The earliest dream he could ever remember was a nightmare where all the sleepers woke up and somehow became terrifying monsters. Wooden zombies that chased his young psyche. Now the railbed was covered in blacktop, a new bike and walking trail that ran almost the length of the river. Young families peddling happily past, couples out for a walk, professionals punishing themselves running past in expensive jogging suits, many more people got enjoyment from the river now. But part of him missed the railroad, missed the waves of heat rising from the tracks.
He climbed heavily out of the cab and gathered his things from the bed of the truck. A white five gallon bucket containing his fishing gear and bait, an aluminum landing net and a single fishing rod.. It was a very good fishing rod, top of the line seven or eight years ago when he had bought it. He owned several fishing rods. All of them were very good, none of them were new.
The old man started down the path, the gravel crunching under the soles of his boots. The path was mostly gravel because of the abandoned railway. Two small gnatcatchers flitted thru the bushes around him buzzing with seemingly more curiosity than anything else. They had always been one of his favorite birds and it was a good omen for the days fishing. He sat the bucket down and stood there for a moment watching the little birds hopping from branch to branch all around him. It was one of those perfect spring days that we so often picture in our minds but rarely actually see. After a long minute or two he picked up the bucket and continued down the hill to the river. That was one of the things he liked about this spot, it was good fishing but had a bank that an old man could still get down.
Soon he came to the river. The path ended on a gravel bar that extended out into the river. To his left the river poured over the end of the gravel bar and ran waist deep and fast for fifty yards before beginning a series of smaller pools and riffles stretching out of sight. Where the river gathered itself before spilling over the bar had always been one of the best smallmouth spots in the river. The old man had spent many summer evenings knee deep in the water casting a small spinner for them. Right at dark he often picked up a sauger here also. It had been a very long time since he had waded out into the fast current here. Some days he still cast a spinner to the good water he could reach from shore. The water level had just recently went down and the old man sat down his things again and walked over to a patch of wet sand and mud. It interested him to see who else was about on the river recently. The wet ground was covered in raccoon tracks and one line of deer tracks heading down to the water. The deer’s hooves were splayed wide in the soft ground and were clearer than usual. From the firm edges and still damp bits of sand kicked up he judged the track had been made this morning. Upriver a heron rose with a loud "kronk" and with heavy wingbeats flew a hundred yards further upstream before landing again. It stepped around nervously for a few seconds then flew upriver out of sight.
The old man stopped looking at the rushing water to watch the heron fly and stared upstream for a long time. Upstream the river was wide and deep. A long curving hole with the outside, and thus deepest part, was on the old man’s side of the river. Because the outside of the bend, the part that ate away at the bank, was on the old railroad's side of the river, on the old man’s side of the river, the railroad had dumped tons and tons of rock and concrete rubble along the bank. Huge slabs of stone and concrete from as small as a washing machine to as big as a small car lie on the bank and out into the water. His dad and uncles always called this hole "the big rocks" for obvious reasons. They had named every hole and riffle in the river and he often thought of making a map with all the names written on it.
He knew the names were on the verge of being lost, that in this day of fast cars and highways, none took the time to know one river the way they had known this one. People loved to talk about all he had seen in his lifetime, all the new things that had came along. It’s funny, he thought, that when they said that all that came to his mind was all the things that had been lost. His grandson could program the DVD player and according to his daughter-in-law was a genius on the computer but the old man doubted he could even find his way home from here. Actually he had thought VCR instead of DVD player and had to correct himself. For everything gained there was something lost, the old man was sure of that. The old man sighed, picked up his bucket and headed upriver.
A faint path followed the river and wound over and around the huge rocks. The old man walked very slowly, carefully looking before every step. In one spot the path went right up and over a big slab of concrete and it took him a long time. He stopped when he was back on the ground and leaned back against the stone, his breathing slightly heavy. Up thru the trees he could hear a couple kids laughing as they whizzed by on the bike trail. A big carp jumped in the hole and the old man smiled. He didn’t believe it had anything to do with the fishing, but he liked it when fish were jumping. Another good omen he thought.
It took the old man twenty minutes to work his way about a hundred yards upstream from where he first came down to the river. Here a huge slab of concrete lay on its side like a huge table. An equally huge sycamore hung out over the slab. They had both been there on the riverbank long before he had been coming there and he had been coming there a very long time.
A large root of the sycamore twisted up out of the sandy soil right against the slab and the old man used this as a step to climb up on the tabletop. There was just enough room for him to sit on the edge with his legs hanging over without them touching the water. He sat down his things and carefully unloaded his bucket and then sat down. Beside him he arranged a small box of hooks, a pair of needlenose pliers and his bait jar. On his other side he placed the landing net within easy reach.
He rummaged around in his pockets and soon came out with a small swiss army knife. This knife had a tiny set of scissors and he used these to snip his line loose from where it was tied to the first guide on his rod. Even with knobby fingers drawn up with arthritis he expertly tied on a small treble hook. He had always been good at doing little things with his fingers and could still do many things better than most people. He remembered then how his brother used to ask him to tie on lures when they fished together on dark nights. He pulled the knot tight slowly testing it by grabbing the line a foot or so above the hook and pulling as hard as he could. Satisfied he reached for his bait jar. He knew something plastic and less fragile like a tupperware bowl would have been more practical but for some reason he was attached to the old jar he kept his bait in. He couldn’t remember where he had first gotten it but he had kept it for years now. It was about the size and shape as a small coffee can, light green glass with a galvanized tin screw top lid. He unscrewed the lid and pinch off a marble sized piece of bait. He had that morning made a dough of wheaties corn flakes, hamburger and mustard. With that he had at one time or another managed to catch most of the bottom feeding fish in the river such as the different kinds of catfish and freshwater drum and carp. When he was young he had taken some good natured ribbing from some of his bass and trout fishing buddies for his carp fishing but he had always felt a fish was a fish. It had always been his philosophy that all other things being equal the guy that had also caught catfish and drum and even bluegills from a place would do better on the flashy gamefish too in the long run.
Upstream from where he sat was the deepest slowest part of the entire hole. He sat watching this deep water as he molded the doughball unto his hook. About twenty yards away the current curled back on itself along the back and almost stopped. There he cast his doughball. The old man carefully lay the rod beside him on the concrete slab. He flipped the bail so a big fish could take line without pulling in his rod. He pulled a quarter out of his pocket and lay it on top of the loose line to keep it from pulling off the reel in the slight current of the hole.
The old man breathed deeply, the wet musky smell of the river and the mud making him smile. He looked up at the blue sky watching the warm breeze sway the tops of the trees now busting with tiny new leaves. When he looked down the line was no longer under the quarter and a great deal of it was rushing away downriver. He carefully picked up the rod spinning the handle to engage the bail and set the hook. The rod bounced up and down in place and then the line rushed out even faster than before. The old man held the rod high letting the bend in the rod cushion the line and soon the fish turned planing diagonally across the river. A couple more minutes and a big carp was lying half on its side finning in the water at the old man’s feet. He carefully and slowly reached over and found the landing net by feel, never taking his eyes off the fish. He slowly lowered the net in the water and then leaned forward and scooped up the fish. Or tried to, as the net went under the fish it suddenly came back to life and shot out into the river, line screaming off the reel. Three more minutes and he scooped again this time netting the fish. The fish was heavy for the old man as he swung it up onto the flat stone. It flopped wildly and it took the old man a little too long to unhook it and return it to the river. It just sort of lay there working its gills and fins for a moment before scooting out of sight into deeper water. The old man was tired but happy as he slowly rebaited and cast again.
He leaned back on one elbow enjoying the spring sunshine and his thoughts wandered back once again to the long gone railroad. When he was a younger man he often became restless and spent many days just walking the tracks for miles. He remembered how one winter how it had been bitter cold with snow and ice for a couple weeks and then the weather broke warm and sunny. That day he set off down the tracks and found a set of footprints made out of ice and snow on the bare wet ground and ties. Sometime in the past week someone had walked that way and compacted the snow allmost into ice so that when things warmed all that remained were their footprints. At least that's what logic told him, his heart saw them as some special magical tracks of a snowman getting the hell out of there as it warmed. He followed the snow tracks for miles and turned for home knowing he would be walking in the dark before he made it home. It was then he saw that all the tracks of snow he had followed all day were gone in the evening sun.
The warm spring sun made the old man sleepy and his last thoughts before nodding off were of the snowman tracks and how he hadn’t thought of them in years. Sometime later the line slipped once more from under the quarter and zipped off unnoticed. The line caught on the bail and the rod pulled of the rock and landed in the river with a small plop. The old man never stirred for he had quietly passed there in the warm spring sunshine.
The big one that got away...
A whole day free. The wife had to work, no babysitting chores, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend it. There's this hole, you see, where the river makes a sharp turn digging a nice hole then a riffle and a long slow hole. It's one of the most consistent fish producing spots I know. You can almost count on catching at least a half dozen bass every time you go there, I'd even caught a couple big catfish there on lures while bass fishing. The hole has one more thing going for it, it's really not that easy to get to. You have to walk a hundred fifty yards down a dry creek bed and then the hole fishes best from the far side so you have to wade the river above to do it right. I've never seen someone else fishing there during the day much less at night, so that's where I headed.
I got there early afternoon and took my time, gathered enough firewood for a nice fire and set up a nice little basecamp. I'd packed in a few special things too. A couple empty 2 liter pop bottles, some strong nylon rope, and a handfull of big 5/0 hooks. The makings of a trot line. Plus the two big baitcasting rods. You know the ones with the clickers and star drags, big enough to handle the fish you dream of catching, not the ones you actually do catch.
I then went to work, fishing worms on my light spinning rod, and soon had a couple drum and a pumpkinseed for bait. I tied each two liter bottle to heavy rocks with enough slack to let them float about chest deep and sunk them about 40 yards apart just below the rock bar where the hole first gets deep. Then I stretched nylon cord between the two bottles with a half dozen of the big 5/0 hooks on droppers spaced out evenly. I baited these with cut pieces of drum and the punpkinseed and as a finishing touch blew up and tied two balloons as floats along the main line. It was beautiful. I was sure would catch a giant. With a couple hours left till dark I then hid the two baitcasters up in the bushes and began lure fishing upstream thru the faster water with my spinning rod.
The bass fishing was fabulous, by dark I'd probably landed a dozen bass along with a couple more drum on a smoke metalflake grub. I then built a fire, changed into dry shoes, put on a flannel shirt and threw out the baitcasting rods to wait on a big catfish. The word wait should probably be followed by a couple lines that are just blank to convey more of the meaning of the word as the wait for a big catfish to bite can sometimes be epic. Every half hour or so another drum would hit just to keep things interesting. Plus two softshell turtles, one small and cute and one big enough to make me be extra carefull not to get withing range of that beaklike mouth. Sometime in the middle of the night I heard a tremendous splashing in the direction of the trot line. Grabbing the flashlight I got there just in time to see a very big fish roll once on the dropper baited with the pumpkinseed. Then before I could wade in to land it, the line went quiet. Too quiet, the big cat had come loose and gotten off. I had two nice runs on the rods but came up empty with the bait gone so I put on a nightcrawler trying to catch some smaller drum for bait. After a few minutes the line tore off in a rush and I was fast into a nice carp.
But no catfish, at dawn the score was 10 drum, 1 carp, 1 small gar, and a grand total of zero catfish. On both sides of me owls cried during the night. First the eerie unworldy cries of a screech owl then the familiar cry of a barred owl. I hooted back at the barred owl and he flew closer calling out off and on all during the night. At dawn I moved up above the riffle to the smaller hole above. Instantly a drum was on and they bit as fast as could rebait for about an hour. I even managed to catch a decent smallmouth on a nightcrawler fished on the bottom. I think I was even more surprised than he was.
Finally I went back downriver, took up the trot line, gathered my things and waded the river and headed up to the creek that was my way out. Just then a great fish broke water above me. Not in that way that big carp breech but in a huge tail slapping roll. It looked gigantic. Sneaking slowly up the bank, I crept up behind a weed bed and peeked over the bank. In the shallows were eight or ten big fish. Carp I thought, but they didn't look just right. Carp in the river are a gracefull streamlined fish and these were stockier rounder fish. I watched for a bit then it hit me. Buffalo! The world record is 88 pounds though much larger ones have been caught by comercial fishermen. I think the state record is a bit under fifty pounds. In this pod of fish there were two that were very big. I'd never caught a big one and am no person to judge their size but the largest looked a bit shorter than the 37lb carp I'd caught earlier in the year and at least as broad across the back. Since buffalo are a rounder, deeper bellied fish this was a very big fish. The water here was shallow and clear. The fish would spook if I made much commotion at all, so I hooked on a nightcrawler on an unweighted hook and crept forward behind the tall weeds. After a minute or two one of the big fish and a smaller one swam my way. I cast the worm out ahead of them and waited. They both swam right over the bait and the line twitched and began to move. I set the hook and was fast into a fish...the smaller one of course. Not that he was small, I guess around ten pounds but by the time I landed him in the shallow water every fish had left the pool. All in all a very fine fishing trip.
When I awoke today and looked outside, it reminded me of those bad movies on the sci-fi channel. You know the ones where you can never tell whether it's day or night, just a general gloom hanging over everything. Not raining, though it smelled like rain, humid and heavy with possible severe weather towards evening. So I did what any right thinking person would have done and took the day off work to go wading a river fishing for smallmouth bass.
I packed a light raincoat and a water bottle in the huge pocket in the back of my fishing vest and was out the door in minutes. It's about a ten minute drive to the river and on the way I settled on the where to go. I pulled in a muddy pulloff just downstream of where a country road crosses the river. The bridge is old, very old with the abutments made out of stone instead of poured concrete. Under the bridge I paused to watch swallows go in and out of their nests in holes in the closest bridge abutment. From there they shot gracefully up and down the river looking like tiny fighter planes. The river has thrown a small rock bar upstream from the closest column and a small stream of water makes a right hand turn between the bar and the stone column carving out a chest deep hole surrounded on one side by a weed bed and the other by the mossy old stonework as it swirls around to connect with the mainstream in a deep eddy. I cast along the old stones a small spinner reeling slowly letting it sink just overtop the stone rubble of the bottom. There was a thump and a smallmouth cleared the water in a somersaulting leap. A nice start to the day.
Every good riffle it seemed held a few smallmouth and the weedbeds and eddies were full of willing sunfish and fiesty rock bass. If you have never seen a longeared sunfish its hard to describe, no saltwater fish even comes close to the wild and bright colors. It seems shocking really when all the other fish around here wear tastefull camo and this little warrior comes looking like a vegas showgirl. Wikipedia describes them thus..."The coloration includes orange, green, yellow, or blue speckles on an olive back, yellow sides and a yellow to orange belly and breast". In other words they don't know quite how to decribe them either, you just have to see one for yourself.
I fished about a mile and a half upstream scaring into flight a pair of wood ducks and four mallards. About halfway I could hear something or rather several somethings raising hell across the river. It didn't take long to spot the great blue heron rookery in the tops of some giant sycamores. They weren't there the last time I'd fished here, maybe two years ago and now there were a couple dozen of the giant stick nests in the tops of the big trees. The young herons were loud in the heavy still air as they called to mom and dad for more food. Just upstream a bittern flew out of a weed bed as I approached and I also got a glimpse of an eagle so it was a fine day to birdwatch as well as fish.
I ended up stopping in the nearest small town for lunch and fishing the river the whole day, a short but fierce storm hit about two hours before dark slowing the fishing a bit but by then I'd caught more than enough anyway. I'd watched carp and turtles in the shallows, watched smallmouth bass catapult into the sky when hooked, saw dozens of species of birds, looked at beaver and deer sign and had let a whole day just slide downriver in the current. It was a very good day to play hookie....
The perfect day...
I went out in the yard today and exclaimed "oh wow" and turned around and almost ran inside to get my ultralight spinning rod and little box of lures. Seventy two perfect degrees, no humidity, after a long hot summer, these first perfect days of fall are breathtaking. Unfortunately there's also that nasty problem of making a living so I didn't have much time. So I headed straight for the bridge. Ten minutes from the house the Little Miami runs under an old bridge and is perfect for a short jaunt on the river. It was so nice I really didn't care if I caught a fish or not, so in the funny way things like that go I caught fish like crazy. After eight or ten fruitless casts with a small crankbait I switched to a smoke metalflake grub on an 1/8th ounce jig and it was game on. Fished slowly in the eddy under the bridge there would be a thump then the throb of a smallmouth on the line. This went on for an hour. A just reward for seizing the day I told myself and the kind of thing we hope for at the start of all those other trips that never quite pan out. Finally after catching a nice smallie pushing three pounds I sighed and headed back to that other world and work...
of plants and animals along the river.
Finally off the endangered species list, the bald eagle has actually now started nesting on the Little Miami. The bald eagle is also often spotted on the big lakes of the Little Miami's watershed such as Ceaser's Creek or East Fork Lake as well as the many gravel pits dug into the floodplain. Eagles and their cousin the osprey are one of the river's true success stories and no matter how many times I spot one while fishing the river it never fails to thrill. In november, (so I wouldn't disturb the residents) I poked around for a while under an eagles nest in a big sycamore just off the river. There were unidentified small bones, pieces of three or four different turtle shells, some fur, and three or four eagle feathers which now grace the desk I'm writing this on.
Every now and then when cutting across some river bottom in spring I'll spot a morel mushroom poking up thru the leaf litter. Time to drop everything and devote the rest of the day to hunting for more. I know dedicated mushroom hunters have all kinds of signs to tell them when to mushroom hunt but I think it varies with every spot depending on how the sun, shade, moisture, and Lord only knows what that's a bit different in each spot. These signs and notions of when to hunt are called "SWATS"(Scientific Wild Ass Theories) by the way. I do know that nothings better when coated with egg, rolled in flour and fried. The actual mushroom above ground is just the tip of the iceberg, just the fruiting body that puts out spores. Most of the mushroom, the network spreading out thru the soil and leaves can live for years and a spot you've found them in before is worth checking out every year.
When reading about morels I found there was alot of disagreement on how many types there actually are. Wikipedia says there are anywhere from 5 or 6 to 50! Though most mushroom hunters just say the yellow, white, or black ones. There are, as everyone know poisonous mushrooms out there, but morels are pretty easy to ID and anyone with a decent guidebook should be safe gathering this prize of gourmet cooks everywhere.
This gorgeous little fish is the most common sunfish in the Little Miami . In Ohio's ponds and lakes you will find the nearly identical pumpkinseed (which doesn't have the gill flap of the longear), though both are called pumpkinseed's in the local fishing lingo. In quiet backwaters or big eddys the longear readily bops a dry fly or sponge spider and makes for great flyrod fun. Hardy longears are also often caught and used for shovelhead bait. Longears spawn multiple times once the water temperature reaches the low 70's between mid-May and mid-August. A single large female can lay over 22,000 eggs, a strategy that works well when everything in the river thinks you are delicious.
Trilliums are perennials which sprout each season from small irregularly shaped bulbs called rhizomes. Like all spring woodland flowers, their early growth takes advantage of spring’s sunshine before the trees leaf out. The early pioneers and native Americans thought that potions made out of trilliums were aids in pregnancy and childbirth and were also supposedly key ingredients in love potions. The trillium was also used as food by the Native Americans and the early pioneers.
Trillium is an example of a plant whose seeds are spread by ants. Trillium seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes and put the seeds in their moumd's garbage dump, where they are protected until they germinate. This is called myrmecochory, or ant-mediated dispersal. Trilliums are a common wildflower of the woods all along the Little Miami but are especially common in the big woods around Oregonia.
Jack in the Pulpit:
The jack in the pulpit has always fascinated me. From its strange flower to the burning calcium oxalate crystals present in the plant everything about this wildflower is just a bit wierd. Adding to the wierdness is the plants ability to produce female flowers one year and male flowers the next. The how and why of this is not completely understood but seems to depend on how many resources the plant has available to it that particular year since it takes much more to produce seeds as a female plant. The plant contains calcium oxalate crystals which cause a very powerful burning sensation when eaten. This burning goes away when the bulb is dried though and they were gathered for food by native americans. This otherwise powerful protection doesn't seem to help with birds though as I once killed a big tom turkey stuffed full of jacks. The strange flower of the jack in the pulpit can vary quite a bit in color from a light green to being heavily striped with purple. These flowers do not attract butterflies or other insects with a sweet necter but instead are pollinated by flies attracted by an odd smell. A preparation of the root was reported to have been used by Native Americans as a treatment for sore eyes. Preparations were also made to treat rheumatism,snakebites, and bronchitis. Jacks can live to be from 20 to 100 years old and are common in the larger woods all along the Little Miami valley. All in all a very strange little plant indeed.
Another strange plant of the Little Miami's woodlands is squawroot or bear corn. This odd little plant looks like a cross between a pine cone and a mushroom but in reality is is a small perennial parasitic plant. Squawroot is parasitic on the roots of woody plants, especially oaks and beech and is more common higher on the ridges lining the river than down in the floodplain. The plant gets it's name bear corn from being gathered by black bears in springtime before alot of green foods are available. The name Squawroot is attributed to its being used by Native American as a treatment to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Later in summer the plant turns browner and becomes tougher and dried out. Squawroot does not have chlorophyll and is unable to engage in photosynthesis, this is called achlorophyllous.
Maidenhair fern was used by Native Americans for alot of medicinal potions for everything from cough medicine to keeping hair shiny and healthy. The Cherokee had a legend that if a maiden handles a sten and the lacy leaves do not flicker her virtue is assured! It was also thought that the ferns could help prevent baldness when used in herbal remedies. Sadly this has never been proven to work in either case. Maidenhair fern likes rich woodlands and thrives in the bigger woods along the middle Little Miami river valley because of its rich limestone soil. Never common anywhere, finding a patch of these lovely ferns is always a treat.
One of the most common mammals along the river, muskrats get their name from the two scent glands which are found near their tail which give off a strong "musky" odor which the muskrat uses to mark its territory. Muskrats in the Little Miami den mostly in the bank but in marshy areas such as Spring Valley Wildlife Area build houses out of cattails and mud. They feed on cattails and other aquatic vegetation as well as the occasional mussel. Their fur is prized for its warmth and was sometimes trimmed and dyed and called "hudson seal" fur. The muskrats fur contains natural oils that repel water and is the key ingredient in the floating fly pattern called the Adams, the most widely used dry fly in the world. Muskrats serve as food for mink, foxes, coyotes, eagles, snakes, and large owls and hawks, otters, snapping turtles, and large fish such as muskie in the Little Miami and make up for this by breeding like rabbits. In more than one Native American creation myth it is the muskrat who dives to the bottom of the primordial sea to bring up the mud from which the earth was created. Muskrat was used for food by early explorers and pioneers and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit created a dispensation allowing Catholics to consume muskrat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. Because the muskrat lives in water, it was considered equivalent to fish. Muskrats are most active at night or near dawn and dusk and can often be seen swimming in the Little Miami at those times.
Dragonflies and damselflies:
Dragonflies and damselflies nymphs are especially important in the rivers food chain where they act as fierce predators of small insects and then in turn are eaten with relish by many fish species. In some larger species the nymphal stage can last for up to five years but most species carry out their life cycle in one year. Damselfly adults fly slower than dragonflies which are the true speedsters of the river's insect world. Dragonflies can fly forward at about 100 body-lengths per second, and even backwards at about 3 body-lengths per second! Though dragonflies are predators, they themselves are eaten by many predators. Birds, spiders, fish, water bugs,lizards, frogs, and even other large dragonflies have all been seen eating damsel and dragonflies. But the dragonflies speed and agility in flight make them a hard catch. Plus of course their excellant eyesight, dragonfly eyes contain up to 30,000 individual lenses which all seem to find mr whenever I try to get close enough to one for a photograph.
Mayapple contains podophyllotoxin which is used topically in the treatment of viral and genital warts. The root and plant contain Quercetin, Kaempferol, Podophyllin, Isorhamnetin, Gallic-acid, Berberine, Alpha-peltatin, that are being studied for their healing, anticancer and other properties. These compounds make the mayapple poisonous in all parts except the ripe fruit which can be eaten. It really doesn't taste very good though, trust me I've tried some.
The top and root produce nausea and vomiting, and even inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which has been known to prove fatal. In moderate doses, it is a drastic purgative. In other words, don't eat it! Mayapple was once called the witches umbrella and thought to be employed by them as a poison and in Europe its close relative is called mandrake and was believed in folklore to be alive and it's screams when pulled from the ground would render a man permanently insane. What mayapple is besides all this is a pretty little plant common to moist woodland all up and down the Little Miami valley.
Goldenseal is often used as a multi-purpose remedy, and is thought by many herbalists to possess many different medicinal properties. In addition to being used as a topical antimicrobial, it is also taken as a digestion aid, and supposedly removes canker sores when gargled. I have used goldenseal by boiling the root in water and applying the liquid to an itchy and inflamed eye. I thought it helped, but I'm not indorsing its use so don't sue me if you use it. I'm just saying I tried it, that's all okay? Goldenseal may be purchased in salve, tablet, tincture form, or as a bulk powder. Goldenseal is often used to boost the medicinal effects of other herbs it is blended or formulated with. Goldenseal roots can be dug and dried and sold by the pound but for just a few dollars per pound, I'd think it would be hard work to average minimum wage doing this.
Old time ginseng hunters used the presense of baneberry as an indicator of woodland suitable for ginseng. With ginseng becoming very rare in the Little Miami woods baneberry is still worthy of attention for it's own sinister reasons. Baneberry contains cardiogenic toxins than can have an immediate sedative effect on human cardiac muscle tissue. These toxins are present in the plants lovely berries and children should be watched around the tempting berries. These berries also give the plant it's other common name, dolleyes.
Great blue heron:
The Little Miami valley is one of the best spots for viewing this amazing bird. Several breeding colonies exist along the river and it's tributaries and in summer every hole you come to seems to a bird or two that spooks at your approach. An excellent predator, the heron stands stock still till a small fish or frog comes along then the long neck shoots out spearing it's prey. Large and well equiped with it's large beak to defend themselves, herons in one heron rookery along the Little Miami even share a big sycamore with an eagle. The eagle took over the large nest of one heron to raise it's young but all the other herons of the rookery stayed, sharing the tree with the imposing raptor.
A common and cool bug of still backwaters in the river. The water strider uses surface tension to remain atop the water. One odd fact about striders is that if a water strider beaks thru the surface it often can't break thru the surface tension again to free itself and drowns. Thats one reason they cannot be collected in jars by kids like most insects in the river. Waves in the jar caused just by their carrying it soon drown the poor bug. The strider uses its long middle and back legs to "swim" across the surface and feed on small insects trapped in the surface film. Water striders grasp their prey in their short forelegs and suck them dry. They do not bite people if your wondering...
Snakes along the river...
There are roughly eight or ten species of snake you might expect to find along the Little Miami. None are poisonous, though Spring Valley Wildlife Area is home to a few massasauga rattlesnakes in it's marshes which border the river. Even there, you probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than encountering this endangered snake. When you do encounter a snake along the river it's probably one of the two snakes pictured here, the common garter snake and the northern water snake. If someone tells you they saw a water moccasin in the river they have more than likely seen a northern water snake which is quite common all up and down the river.
Unless you venture out right after a rain it's hard to find a patch of mud along the river that does not contain raccoon tracks. This adaptable mammal thrives seemingly everywhere and forages up and down the riverbank for crayfish, small fish, garbage from houses and vegtables from farms and gardens. Although they look cute and cuddly, they are in fact as tough as nails and I have seen them run grey fox off a food source and heaven help the small dog that corners one and starts a fight. During the daytime, raccoons sleep in hollow trees or logs and other animals' abandoned dens. They are nocturnal and are often seen right at dark or by nightfishermen on the river. Even though the raccoon does not really hibernate it lays up it's den for weeks at a time during the cold winter. Long prolonged periods of bad weather in winter can be hard on raccoon. They counter this by storing large amounts of fat which add to their cute roly poly looks. During late summer nights spent trying to catch a catfish on the river I've seen raccoons foraging in the moonlight on the opposite bank and every time they remind me somehow of rowdy youngsters, young Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns, wandering from adventure to adventure.
Ramps or wild leeks are next to a good venison steak my favorite wild food. Every spring I head out with a lunch and water bottle stuck in a backpack determined to return with the pack filled with ramps. Most people eat only the onion like bulb but I gather the tops as well. Dehydrated, they make the most wonderful spice of them all. I never grill anything without sprinkling a pinch of dried ramps on first. And baked potatoes are never better than when slathered with butter and a pinch of ramps.
The bulbs can also be dehydrated and later added to soups and chilli. But the way I like the bulbs best is fresh and fried with potatoes. The strong garlic flavor is something you either love or hate. Ramps can be found in rich damp hollows of the bigger woods along the river in spring but as summer starts like many woodland plants the tops dry up and die back.
Butterflies and Moths:
Butterflies and Moths abound all along the Little Miami. It would be easy to spend a lifetime studying nothing but the species that call the Little Miami watershed home.
There are an estimated 2,500 moth species in Ohio and 136 species of butterflies. With its highly varied watershed reaching into eleven counties, most of these species can be found somewhere around the Little Miami. Probably the poster child for local butterflies and moths would be the zebra swallowtail butterfly. The zebra swallowtail's larvae feed on the pawpaw tree which is a very common understory tree of the Little Miami's woodlands and the butterfly reaches it's highest populations here. Beautiful and showy swallowtails of all kinds flit along the bike trail that follows alongside the river. And the moths...when I was young I sent off for a battery operated blacklight and when it finally arrived I set it up in a riverbottom along the Little Miami. What an epiphany as moths by the multitudes came flying in out of the dark. Tiny plain ones of a hundred different kinds, a half dozen underwing species, big hawkmoths, huge cecropia moths, and my favorites, pale green giants with tails, the luna moths. All unseen without the light, part of another world hiding right here all around us.
The thickets and woodlands bordering the river are more often the home of the grey fox than it's more famous brother the red fox. While the red fox loves nothing more than the open fields and pastures away from the riverbank, the grey fox is right at home. The gray fox's ability to climb trees is shared only with the Asian raccoon dog among canids. Its strong, hooked claws allow it to scramble up trees to escape predators such as the coyote, or to reach food sources. The grey fox is omnivorous and eats everything from rabbits and mice to fruits, wild grapes, and the myriad of small creatures that abound along the river.
When I was young there were almost no deer at all in the Little Miami watershed. Now they are among it's most common residents, a huge success story for conservation. In the quiet of the evening, when the canoes have stopped coming and the river is silent except for the sound of water, in secluded spots your almost certain to see wary whitetails slip down to the river for a drink. Or see a big doe cross the river in a riffle way upstream or crash off as you walk out in the darkness. Among the most beautiful creatures on earth, deer now grace the river valley in numbers approaching those present before the coming of the first settlers.
In 2008 my wife and I attended the big pow wow held every year at Fort Ancient. That year the sounds of the drummers and singers were almost drowned out by another chorus. For the big woods around surrounding the mounds and walls held countless millions of periodical cicadas. Indeed studies have found densities as high as 1.5 million cicadas per acre and there's alot of empty acreage along the river here. At the base of big trees we found hundreds of empty nymph cases of hatched cicadas under each tree. There are several broods in the hundred mile river valley and they do not all hatch the same year. One brood hatched in the upper watershed four years before these Fort Ancient cicadas. After an emergence it's seventeen years before another outbreak so your not going to see many of these wonders of nature in your lifetime. The abundance of cicadas during an emergence is not uniform. Some local areas in the Little Miami Valley have great numbers while others only a few miles away may have very few. Collectively these cicadas stage one of the greatest spectacles that can be witnessed anywhere in the natural world. The emergence of periodical cicadas has an immense effect on the forest ecosystem. Just as they all emerge at once, all these bugs all die in just a few weeks of each other. The death of so many cicadas coming all at once gives a sudden burst of fertilizer to the woodlands and cicadas falling in the water are gobbled up by hungry fish. Almost all the mammals in the woods feed on cicadas in a breakout year, I've read they even become a favorite food of animals we think of as strictly vegetarian such as squirrels at such times and bird numbers also increase as thousands of birds move in to feast on the bounty. For just a month or two every seventeen years, everything changes and we realise again what a different world than the one we think we know exists all around us.
Turtles, frogs, and toads:
The classic reptile of the woodlands around the river is the box turtle. The box turtle gets its name from its centrally hinged lower shell which enables both the front and rear parts of the shell to be drawn up tight against the uppershell. Long lived, their biggest danger comes from cars. The bigger woods around Fort Ancient and Oregonia seem to me to hold the greatest numbers of these gentle turtles. Opposite in temperment is the softshell and snapping turtles that inhabit the river, striking out with lightning speed at a fisherman who manages to hook one. But the most famous turtle in the river has to be the painted turtle. They are very fond of basking and can be seen by the dozens on logs and along the banks of the Little Miami, plopping off into the river at the approach of a canoe or fisherman. Ohio is home to 15 species of frogs and toads and I cannot pretend to know them all. There are a few though everyone has seen who pokes around the river. Looking like a small bullfrog the northern green frog can be distinguished by the lines of folded skin running down it's sides. Like any good frog worthy of it's name the northern green frog eats just about anything it can fit in it's mouth and is an important part of the river's food chain. The much larger bullfrog is a monster haunting all the small creatures of the riverbank. With their huge gaping mouths, bullfrogs have been known to eat everything from bugs and smaller frogs to small birds and snakes. I remember fishing a buzzbait up along the bank in the middle of the night hoping for a big bass and catching a big bullfrog that attacked the big lure. The American toad is nocturnal and can be found through throughout the watershed anywhere from urban yards to woodlands. The 2 or 3 inch long inch long amphibian comes in a variety of colors, but is most commonly brown. There are dark blotches all over its body. Inside these blotches are 1-2 "warts" These warts are actually glands that produce a nasty tasting liquid, protecting them from predators. The toad is a great predator of insects and the average toad will eat up to 3,000 insects a month. The toad does not drink water, but absorbs it through its skin.
Like the whitetail deer, in my youth there were no wild turkey at all in the Little Miami watershed. Nowadays I pass a field on my way to work that in late winter holds fifty or sixty of these great birds every day. By 1904 the last wild turkey was gone from Ohio. The bird was reintroduced in the fifties and in 1966, only nine counties were opened for gobbler hunting. During that first season, 12 birds were checked in. Now statewide spring harvests of over 20,000 gobblers are routine.
Before 1950, Canada geese were only known as migrants in Ohio. In the 1950s, the Ohio Division of Wildlife initiated a program to establish resident flocks within the state and the rest, as they say, is history. Seemingly every pond and puddle and stream holds a few geese and they nest all up and down the Little Miami. Indeed they have done so well my father has taken to calling them sky carp. Still a flock flying in a vee across an early morning sky is as beautiful as ever.
North America’s largest rodent, the beaver is now thriving up and down the Little Miami and it's tributaries. The beaver does not build it's famous dams in the river but instead dens in the bank. On almost every fishing trip or walk along the riverbank you will find sign of beaver in the floodplain along the river.
Bloodroot blooms before almost anything else along the river, with blooms opening even before the leaves completely unfurl. Bloodroot like jack in the pulpit is one of those plants whose seeds are spread by ants, a process called myrmecochory. The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the fleshy part and put the seeds in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate. Bloodroot was used as a dye by early pioneers and as a remedy for warts. Bloodroot is also being studied as a possible treatment for oral cancers but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has listed some of these products among its "187 Fake Cancer 'Cures' Consumers Should Avoid".
In the last few years a new predator has returned to the Little Miami after long absence, the wonderful otter. I'll never forget my wife and I standing high on a riverbank watching a family group frolic in the shallows. Otter seem to just enjoy life and even the adults spend alot of time at play. In 1986, the Ohio Division of Wildlife began to reintroduce the otter to the state. Since then they have spread over two thirds of the state.