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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Big fish...

One day last week Frank came to work with some photos of a really huge bass AND the offer to take a couple of us fishing there. After seeing this picture it didn't take long to decide going there might just be a good idea...

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Now Franks a very big man with huge hands so the fish is much bigger than it looks at first glance.



I arrived about a half an hour early and walked around to get a feel for the place. Here a gravel company had dug a series of big pits. Large enough that you could see someone on the other side but not tell who they were. In this spring of neverending rain the nearby river had overflowed and breached the high banks between and was now connected to the back pit. The closest pit was also overflowing running thru a fifty yard channel into the pit by the river. Here at this cut Frank had caught his giant bass. There was current and clear water running into muddy water, the right water temperatures and that magic mojo that only sets up once or twice in a decade. Franksaid he had caught several big fish here along with his giant last week and after looking the place over I certainly believed him. Not wanting to horn in on his spot without him I began fishing around the pits far side while waiting on him. On a small bench two small bass hit a spinnerbait then a better one. A good bass around four pounds...

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Soon Frank showed up and we went to his honeyhole. Standing where the channel cut thru from one pit to the next he hauled in one fish after another on a diving crankbait.

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Another good sized bass thumped my crankbait...

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As action slowed we explored another pit to rest the spot and wait on Josh. This pit was muddy and also breahed by the river and we caught nothing. Nothing that is till Franks crankbait struck something and he was into the fight of a lifetime. In the muddy water the treble hooks had snared a huge fish. Up and down the bank went this huge fish. Forever. After maybe five minutes it rolled up giving us a look at a tail ten inches across. Then back to swimming wherever it wanted with Frank holding on for the ride. Sometime later (a half hour, forty minutes? I'm not sure) it seemed to tire just a bit and began to roll closer to shore. Frank's Moby Dick didn't have the burnt orange color of a huge carp but was more of a blue green. We never got a good look or a positive ID but a buffalo seemed a good guess. The giant had the right color and buffalo get huge. Just as the great fish began to seem to weaken a bit the crankbait popped free. Just like that no big drama it was just on one second and off the next. Josh arrived and we went back to the spot. Where once again they hauled in several fish.

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For some reason my luck temporarily left and I caught only one fish. After a couple hours we left to eat and I decided to check out a nearby park for a future trip with the grandkids. Leaving there my way home led past the pits and with forty minuts of daylight left I decided to fish till dark. And some guy was camped on the spot with a lawn chair baitfishing. As i watched he caught a nice bass and released it.

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I walked down to where the channel emptied into the muddy water of the other pit. The level in the channel had already fallen since earlier and the outflow looked completely different than just a few hour earlier. The first cast into the mixing water caught a nice bass...

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Then one after another till a big fish hit my lure right before dark...

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It looked like by tomorrow the water would fall and the cut would be gone. Soon the big bass would spawn and leave the shallows. All the things that had added up to making this magic spot would be gone I was thankful to have been there.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Into the marsh...

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With the river in flood and the areas lakes dozens of feet above pool, if I'm going to find clear water around here I'd better head for Spring Valley Wildlife Area and the swamp. With a pair of knee high rubber boots and my camera I head out. Even here the water is high, along the bike trail muddy river water is lapping at one side while the other has the gin clear water of the marsh lapping at it. But the acres of flooded vegetation and cattail marsh act as a giant filter and except where my boots disturb the thick black muck the water is aquarium clear. The back side of the marsh is under water, muck and water cover the trails and no one has been there since the rains started weeks ago. This is of course where, safe in my tall boots, I head...

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The swamp is lovely and truthful in a way that belies classic beauty. Not beautiful in the sense a meadow with a feeding moose is or with the beauty of a sunset kissing mountaintops. But instead beauty in a small setting, the perfect square foot teeming with life.

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The swamp feels alive. Even smells alive like a wet dog just inside out of the rain.
Except for the water there is little clarity in the swamp. All is rustle, glimpse, and splash. The best way to see anything is to slow down, stop, insinuate yourself into the landscape and let life come to you. Sit quietly on a log with your feet in the muck and watch an open pool. After a bit the eyes of frogs appear on the surface, small birds flit thru the brush. After a long time a snake or a muskrat might swim across the pool. The Earth is a water planet, the TV doesn't call it the blue planet for nothing. And here in the swamp that water wells up out of the land, bubbles to the surface and is filled with life. If you can sit on your log long enough, all day and evening perhaps, dozens of small dramas, life and death struggles, play out before you. Every step I take in the swamp, I must tell myself to slow down, notice everything before taking the next step. For every step opens up tiny windows thru the cattails and willow. Two inches to the left brings a sora into view. Another step and a turtle slides off a log, startled by two steps too close togethor...

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Little Miami Railroad

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Possibly the one thing man has done to most effect the river has been to build the railroad. Indeed several of the small towns up and down the river owe their very existence to the railroad. And with the railroads decline and eventual closing so has the fortunes of these small towns declined.
Incorperated in 1836, the railroad was conceived as the best way to get goods from the capitol and central Ohio to Cincinnati and the Ohio River. This was considered so important to the states future that the railroads first president was govenor Jerimiah Morrow and he served without pay. In 1837 there was a great economic crisis
and the fledgling railroad was unable to buy steel rails and the first bit of track laid actually used wooden rails for a year. The track reached Milford in 1841 and Loveland a year later. Tracks were laid to Xenia in 1845 and Springfield in 1846, a full decade after the company was formed. There the railroad met the track of the Columbus & Xenia railroad and central and northern Ohio were finally linked to the Ohio River. Afterward for decades the Little Miami River Railroad was one of the most profitable railroads in the world. Over time though as the country spread westward, north/south rail lines began to lose their importance to east/west lines and the LMMR declined. In 1870 the LMMR was merged into the Pennsylvania Railroad. The LMMR was operated by the Pennsy till that railroad too eventually declined and went bankrupt and merged into Conrail. With the merger the line was idled except for a few miles closest to Cincinnati which are still in use today. For years the track was unused untill it was converted into the wonderfull Little Miami Bike Trail which follows the railbed the length of the mainstem of the river. My greatgrandfather, several uncles and my great uncle as well as my father all at one time or another worked for the railroad. Even in their day though the railroad had allready passed its glory days and stations at South Lebanon and Kings Mills had already been closed. My Father said he remembers the mail sack being hung on a pole in South Lebanon and was snagged by the trains as they passed without stopping.
Miles and miles of riverbank have been profoundly affected by the railroad as thousands of tons of rock and rubble were dumped along the riverbank by the railroad to controll erosion. Probably the best places to see this are just north of South Lebanon at the "Big Rocks" and at Fosters. My grandfather had a extensive collection of old glass and ceramic insulators that had been left on telegraph poles alongside the abandoned track. Several of these old poles can still be seen poking out of the bushes all along the bike trail. Other neat old reminders of the railroads glory days are the wonderfull old stations kept up bu towns like Yellow Springs or Loveland as well as old markers or signal & water towers at such places as Fort Ancient and Roxanna.
The Little Miami was marketed by the railroad as a sportmans paradise and excursions were offered to fishermen from Cincinnati to towns like Loveland and South Lebanon. Even now the old railbed offers access to thousands of fishermen, hikers, bikers, and birdwatchers every year who use the bike trail to see the wonders of the river.

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Evening along the river...

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wild foods...

Today I set out to gather some wild foods for supper. 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.

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I dug the ramps in a cool hollow above the Little Miami filled with lovely wildflowers. I jumped three does walking in that milled around up on the ridge the entire time I was there. I would think they had left then would stand after digging some ramps or looking at a wildflower only to have them snort again. I dont think they ever did move off of the same hillside. After thirty years of being around deer, I can never tell just what they are going to do in any situation.

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Rue Anemone


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Toadshade Trillium


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waterleaf

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After collecting enough ramps for supper, I went to an old farm left to ruin to look for some morels. In a low swampy hollow there is the remains of an old spring house. Just the old foundation mostly crumbling down and the old pipe drove into the bank to gather spring water. Here in the grass I found some pretty yellow morels poking up here and there. Hard to find in the grass, I found one squished under my pack when I went to leave.

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Later, at dads, we took a walk thru his woods and found another mess of darker morels on a bank scattered here and there. Not a bad haul for one day poking around in the spring woods.

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