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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The sound of a train not running...

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry

Another long day at work. Too long but at least with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. For tonight the schedule was gloriously free. Warm, muggy, it felt more like one of the first days of summer rather than one of the last days of spring. In the pack I threw the first things I could come up with, a peanut butter sandwich and a pop top can of pineapples, some water and ran for the door. Twenty minutes later I'm parked at the Fork. Todd's Fork? Anderson Fork? Flat Fork? East Fork? North Fork? Theres a dozen "forks" on the Little Miami and that's as close as I'm coming to saying where I was. Some of you will recognise it from the pictures, please don't tell the whole world about it... You cross the fork on a two lane blacktop then park on the other side next to an old railroad overpass. All that remains is the two stone structures made with a craftmanship that insures they will be there long after I'm gone. The old railbed is just a gravely hump overgrown into a thicket cutting across a big bend in the fork to hit it again a mile or so upstream. A small path cuts down the bank beside the road bridge to the waters edge. Here I wade in. The fishing no good here but it's easier walking up the streambed than on the banks. Upstream in the bend was deeper water but the sun was still hot. A fish halfheartedly slashed at my rebel minnow but I didn't hook it. A great blue heron lifted off with a "Kronk" and flew upstream. I'd flush it twice more before it had enough and left. There was a small island held it place mostly by the gnarled roots of an old sycamore. I love the old trees and never tire of looking at the twisted puzzles made by the contorted, tortile roots. It was shallow on each side of the little island but just upstream everything came back togethor in a deep riffle pourinng out of a long hole. A big turtle plops off a log into some slack water on the left side. Way upstream I hear the manic laughter of a kingfisher as it swoops down from an overhanging sycamore branch to grab a minnow. This long hole has several of these long branches overhanging the stream. Besides being the perfect perch for a hunting kingfisher they were the kind of place my grandfather used to look for to hang a "jingle line" for catfish. Fishing with jingle lines seems to be a lost art. You would hang a baitfish on a stout line and a big hook from a long springy branch so the bait would struggle just under the surface. On a still summer night it's sometimes deadly on good sized catfish.
I caught a couple small smallmouth bass from the riffle on an inline spinner then tied back on my rebel minnow. Throwing over into the slack water by the turtles log, I twitched the lure once. Splash, a nice strike. It turned out to be a nice spotted bass, maybe 13 or 14 inches long. After admiring the fish I began to wade op the hole. It was a long flat bottomed hole anywhere from waist deep to mid thigh. The best fish I caught out of the next hundred yards was a big rock bass that hammered the minnow plug by a jumble of woody debris. Now in the distance I could see my destination, the old railroad bridge crossing the stream. The bridge crossed on two high banks and was maybe forty feet above the fork. I dont know if I'd have liked walking it when new but that was out of the question now, about halfway thru a big section of ties was missing. It was a beautiful old bridge. Underneath one side was a small sandbar, while on the other, the stream, blocked by the stone structure had dug a deep hole. Deep and full of possibility. On the sandbar another old sycamore leaned back away from the stream, its trunk creating a perfect backrest with a soft sandy seat. I sat there a long time eating my sandwich and draining my can of pineapple. I noticed several swallows flitting in and out of crevices on the stone bridge abutments. And in a tree next to me a robin eyed me nervously with a worm dangling from its beak for its hungry chicks somewhere nearby. I read somewhere that the average robin family eats something in the neighborhood of 14 feet of worms a day. That's alot of work. It was still early and I leaned back against my tree and closed my eyes. When I opened them again it was much later. Long shadows hung over the water. I sat there a while watching the swallows swoop over the pool and flit in and out of their holes , no doubt also feeding hungry little ones too. Finally I got up and tied on a jig and began to fish the deep water. I caught two small fish about ten inches long and another maybe seven inches long a bit upstream. Then upstream in the next riffle I caught three that were from 10 to 14 inches long. Now it was getting late and the sound of frogs trilling filled the calm air. I pulled a sweatshirt out of my pack and slipped it on. I switched spools on my reel. From light six pound test to heavy braid and tied on a lipless crankbait and waded back down to the deep hole by the bridge. Nothing hit. Overhead the last of the swallows were replaced by the flittering of bats as they worked upstream and down in big ovals hunting insects. I probably stayed too long but the scene was so peacefull the last thing I wanted to do was go. Then, in the middle of a cast I was no longer paying much attention to, the line stopped dead. Then it began to move off slowly upstream, the rod bending double. The fish bore upstream almost out of the hole, then slowly swam back down stream past me. I followed. Several minutes later and quite a bit down the long flat hole I finally beached the big shovelhead on a small gravel bank. I snapped a few photos then held it upright for a momment by the tail till it could swim off again. I waded back downstream towards the truck. I turned on my headlamp but found I could see better without it and switched it off again, wading slowly into the coming night. Finally back at the truck I heard the hooting of a barred owl way back upstream as I climbed in and headed regretfully back to world of people...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Poets talk about "spots of time", but it is really the fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone." Norman Mclean

So its 4 am and I'm fishing a lipless crankbait in a big river eddy. Thump, I set the hook and a bass rockets out of the water. This smallie looked like it jumped two feet straight up then tail walks across the surface next. And it was a very big smallmouth in the 18/19 inch range. I was expecting maybe a big cat so I had the spool of braid on. When the bass was close it came up headshaking and I pulled it right up the shallows and onto the bank. It flopped and came off but was on dry land. I pounced on it and had it in both hands when it flopped again. This time it landed in shallow water maybe a couple inches. I pounced again pinning it to the bottom as I landed on all fours. It's squirming and flopping and I'm trying to get ahold . The bank sloped very gradually and even when it came loose it was aground half in and half out of the water. I'm crawling thru the water the fish is flopping and long story short it end up getting away and I end up on my hands and knees in ten inches of water, soaked to the skin...

It was a long day at work, I couldn't get the big smallie off my mind. That night I was up for work several hours early and back again. I had a fish on for a second or two. Not long enough to tell the size. Then it was real slow for a long time. On a deep slow retrieve I felt weight and set the hook. No smallmouth this time as the rod bent into a deep c shape and line began to peel off in earnest. But the fish was hooked solidly and there was no drama this time. Just powerful exciting runs until I finally grab the lower jaw of a dandy shovelhead.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Night time is the right time...

Walking back to his truck that night, he turned, grabbed my arm, said, "Here I am full and round and true. Nothing more or less. I am fact rather than parenthesis"
...Harry Middleton.

Once the bass are done with their postspawn funk and water has settled into it's summertime flow it's pretty easy to catch at least some smallmouth in the LMR. Water temperatures are high, the bass's metabolism is high and they are constantly eating. Hit a riffle or run and throw a rebel craw or an inline spinner and you will catch some fish. Just on problem though, they are likely to be small or medium sized fish. So where do those big ones you were nailing last fall spend their summers? Actually you are probably fishing the right spot just at the wrong time. I catch dozens of bass every year with scars from near death experiences. Patches where a big shovelhead has grabbed one, funny bumps and bulges where something toothy like a saugeye or a mink has chomped on them when they were little. Fish with big holes poked in them by a great blue heron. Face it, it aint easy being a fish. And fish don't get big by doing dumb things. And the biggest fish in the river have found out that the safest time to be out prowling around for food is after dark. Once they get too big to be an easy meal for a big shovelhead, it's relatively safe for a big smallmouth to prowl around at night. Now he's big enough to become one of those terrors stalking the night for smaller fish.
Riffles and runs are usually the best spots for locating active smallmouth during the summer. Food such as minnows, crayfish, and insects are plentiful in these areas and dissolved oxygen is higher, so bass love these places in summer. Even during the heat of the day on the hottest days, you can catch smallmouth on the riffles, you just don't catch the big ones. Bigger bass can catch bigger food and even though his metabolism is ramped up a bigger fish can fill up on enough minnows and crayfish during low light to last during the heat of the day. So during the day a big bass is backed up into a treetop in a big bend, up under an undercut bank, or tight to a big rock in a deep hole. If you make a great presentation you will probably get bit but that's not easy. Try coming back to those same spots your catching bass well during the day at night. Pick somewhere you are familiar with of course. Only a fool would mess around on a strange stretch of river at night. Besides riffles, if you find a good hole with lots of structure or a big rock bar in a good bend give those a try too. A topwater plug fished in the calm water of a pool in the middle of the night can draw big bass like a magnet.
Simplicity is the name of the game when fishing at night. I'll often bring just a half dozen lures I can carry in my pocket. It seems to me if a smallie is going to hit at night I can catch him on any reasonable lure choice rather than have to experiment around and fool the fish like you sometimes have to during the day. I wear a headlamp and bring an extra flashlight with me. If your batteries go dead or something happens to damage your light the last thing you want is not to bring a spare. A great hoice for night time is a lipless crankbait. A big one, say a half ounce or three quarter ounce model works best for me. This is often all Ill throw if im fishing a big bend pool. Big smallmouth, shovelheads, and saugeye will move up shallow on the rock bar to feed at night and you can catch all three on a lipless crankbait. I'll often use baitcasting tackle when doing this kind of fishing because of the likelihood of catching a big cat. I must have caught at least two dozen shovelhead last year on the Little and Great Miami rivers fishing a lipless crankbait at night. And two saugeye that qualified for the Fish Ohio award program as well as some of the nicest bass of the year. During the summer bass are homebodies and if you tangle with a big smallie during the day and lose him you can keep hitting that area during the night and up your chances of hooking him again. Just like during the day, the better the spot you fish at night the better your fishing will be. And since I'm not going to be as mobile as I would be during the day it becomes even more important to pick a good spot to try at night.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Taking the rivers temperature

I think just about the most important thing you can carry to the Little Miami is a thermometer. If you use it that is. And not just a one time, whats the river doing today, kind of thing. Though thats a good idea, let's take it a step further. I'm by the mouth of O'bannon creek a lot. And I've learned a lot. Often the river will vary by three or four degrees from the creek. And the creek will affect the river for a long ways downstream. It might take the river seventy five yards to nullify completely the effect on the river of just O'bannon Creek. And every tributary is like that, some even more so. The big ones like Todd's Fork or Caesar's Creek or East Fork have a lasting effect on the main stream. These tributaries also make a huge difference somedays in the water clarity of the river. If it hasn't rained upstream but we have had a big thunderstorm you can stand at the mouth of a creek like turtle creek and see a band of muddy water exttending way downstream. This helps me imagine the band of cooler or warmer water made by the tributary at other times too. On sunny days its possible to feel a big temperature difference as you wade out of the shallower backwaters into the current of the main river. These shallow backwaters act like a car with the windows rolled up in the sun trapping heat. The Little Miami, especially in the headwaters gets a big percentage of its water from springs. This too has a guge effect on the temperature of the river. In winter pools that have springs in them can draw bass like a magnet. Likewise areas where springwater enters the river can draw bass in the heat of the summer too. And in early spring on a warm sunny day the river can raise several degrees in the evening or drop several degrees on a cold night. In other words don't jut take a temperature reading once and assume thats what it is the rest of the day. It can vary from hour to hour and from place to place. A general guide to temperature and smallmouth behaviour:
45 degrees and below- bass are very inactive. You might find one willing to take something like a hair jig presented under a float but your more likely not to.
46 to 50 degrees- bass become slightly more active more likely to strike a lure.
50 to 55 degrees- smallmouth begin to move out of their wintering holees and move towards spawning areas. Look for them at staging areas along this route. Rocks, deep pockets out of the current are good places to try.
55 to 58 degrees- Bass begin to gather close to and on spawning areas. Often they will readily bite now.
58 to 64 dgrees- Smallmouth are on the spawning grounds nesting 65 to 70 degrees Smallmouth are in postspawn mode. Are often hard to locate and catch. Males may still be guarding fry then too.
70 degrees and above- Bass move into their summertime haunts and become relative homebodies for the summer and early fall season using mainly just one pool and adjoining riffles. 65 degrees and cooler in fall- Bass begin to move back towards their wintering grounds and feed heavily till water cools below 50 degrees

Friday, May 3, 2013

Two Photos

Two fishing pics from this past week that I like alot...

She thinks we're just fishin...

The last two days in fishing... The first day found me at a gorgeous local lake(the name of which I just happen to forget). There were several serious Ohiogamefishing forum guys fishing there. I soon got a text. "what are you doing here?" I'm not here. "Good because we were never here". I soon found out why. Though the fish were small, mostly 10" to 14" inch bass, I caught twenty seven in the three hours before dark. All on a spinnerbait fished over top of submerged weedbeds. Fishing out of kayaks in deeper water they did at least as well. Sworn to secrecy, there are no photos but these ducklings... The next evening found me fishing with my favorite fishing partner of them all. My grandaughter. The fishing wasn't too exciting but fish were caught, landed with her special net, petted and released. All decked out for adventure in pink hello kitty boots. a stained shirt and drowned in bug spray she sword fought with cattails, held the camera at arms length to take self potraits, stomped in the mud, baited her own hook, threw sticks and did her usual splendid job of saving papaws soul...