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Sunday, February 27, 2011

matching the "hatch"

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Some funny looking "saugeye"

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With the weather finally breaking I headed out to Paint Creek Lake to try and catch some saugeye. The lake itself was still mostly frozen over with hundreds of gulls and geese standing around on the ice waiting for open water.
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I was aiming instead for the spillway, locally famous for it's saugeye fishing in late winter. Fishing for several hours produced no saugeye for me and only a couple for all the fisherman there. But I did manage to connect on some fish. Crappies in an unlikely spot, right below the dam holding over rocks with no brush around, hardly classic crappie water. But hey in late winter any kind of action is good action.
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Paint Creek itself is one of Ohio's prettiest streams, lined with beautiful cliffs cut by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice. Even without the fishing, its a great destination just to see such a gorgeous stream. An added plus this trip was an adult bald eagle perched high in a streamside tree.
Sullivantia, one of Ohio's rarest wildflowers, blooms in the gorge in mid-summer. In some early history of the area, a Shawnee named Waw-will-a-way was unjustly accused of scalping a white man. This Indian encountered three white men in the Paint Valley bent on revenge for the scalping. They shot him in the chest, yet he killed one and severely wounded the other two before he succumbed. He was buried at the junction of Paint and Rattlesnake creeks. The creek also has several caves in the tucked into the steep cliffs that were once used as shelters by prehistoric peoples and according to local legend by some early outlaws. I took a bit of time away from fishing to explore a huge rock overhang that would make a wonderful shelter in rainy weather. There are literally miles of amazing rock formations in and around the park. Nearby Seven Caves is worth a visit to with awesome rock formations, it's famous caves and beautiful old trees. Once a tourist attaction it is now a quiet park located just a couple miles below Paint Creek state park.


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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