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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The lengths we will go to...

New Zealands's Stuff magazine reports that a spurned New Zealand woman sold the secret locations to her ex-boyfriend's favorite fishing spots online, netting $3,000, which she then spent on herself.

One of the things that the internet age has brought us is a brand new sport: spot hacking. I know I spend half the winter at it when the weather is just too bad to go out and actually fish. I can think of a few great successes. Once a few years ago a fellow posted a photo of himself and a 20 inch smallmouth bass. In the background was a nondescript photo of a section of riverbank with nothing notable in the background. Nothing that is except for a electrical tower and a set of wires crossing the river. And under his name he had posted his hometown, a Chris from Columbus sort of throw away tag line.. So I first brought that up on Google maps. Now his town wasn't on a river but it was five or six miles away from a good smallmouth river. So I then zoomed in on the river about ten miles downstream. Really tight, as close as Google would let me zoom. And then began crawling the mouse slowly upstream. A few minutes later Voila! Towers and wires crossing the river. The next day I drove out to test my theory. I parked the truck, grabbed my rod and headed over the bank to the river. And there he was, standing there fishing his hotspot! Sometimes it's just that easy.

Sometimes it's harder of course. You have to match bits of different photos and try to name unnamed features. Tying to match a piece of smokestack sticking above the trees with photos of power plants in the area you find on Google images. Or take tiny snipits of text from two or three different posts and add them together. It can become a sport all unto it's own. And I'm not alone, I know at least six or seven guys that I know personally that practice the art to varying degrees. And of course these are the guys you have to watch out for. Never con a con man as the saying goes and never trust these fellows fishing reports. Oh they caught those big fish for sure. That's a thing of honor.  But where they said or implied? Probably not. If I say what river I caught it in then it was that river. After all my favorite two rivers are well over a hundred miles long each so I don't have to worry about that. But give you details? Never. And every photo is checked for landmarks in the background before it's posted. Not everyone does this. I have a friend who last year posted some dandy fish he caught mid winter. But the river he said online was an hours drive from the river he caught them in...Caveat Emptor

And todays electronic fishing world has brought us the photoshopped trophy pic. You've seen them, the ones where the background is all blurred or just painted over with a layer of white. Sometimes it's even done in an artful manner. I once went fishing early one morning with a good friend. It was a picture perfect morning, mist rising, the sun just kissing the treetops. And he caught a huge fish, a trophy bass. Well back at home on the computer in the background of the photo was an obvious landmark. Anyone that lived within a dozen miles would know instantly where we were. A little bit of photoshopped mist and it became a calendar quality shot. Minus the landmark of course.

Then there is the opposite of the paranoid fishing zealot. The guy that makes us all cringe with fear when he posts. The fishing neophyte that lucked out and hit a good spot on a good day and managed to catch a few quality fish. Now he doesn't do that very often so he has to share his good fortune with the world. "Yeah you park behind Larry's used appliances and follow the path to the river. It's a super spot!" And he's just posted it on a website that gets thousands of views every week. My biggest fear in life is one of these jokers is going to unwittingly stumble on one of my most secret spots. It's enough to keep you up nights and make you shudder on a warm day. If you want the guys who are good fishermen to think your a good fisherman for God's sake don't go posting directions to where you caught that hawg.

The best use a serious fisherman can make of the internet though is to find spots on his own. Google maps and sites like it have made it possible to look at more water in a day sitting at home than you could in a lifetime on your feet. My favorite site is  Here besides the usual map and satellite views you can also get a topo map. I'd hate to add up all the time I've spent doing this. If it's in southwestern Ohio and it's flowing water I've looked at it at least once. Some spots dozens of times before I finally go there in person. So you zoom in close and begin slowly working your way up the river, noting the rock bars, the riffles, the bend pools. Now of course maybe only half of these will pan out in the real world. At least at first till you gain some experience at this sort of thing. But even half is way better than just going out blind. After all the old saying 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water is gospel truth.

But then it possible to turn that on it's head too. Me, I'd rather catch one 19 or 20 inch smallmouth than a hundred smaller ones. It's what I live for. I'm not after the 90%.  And let's face it, a really big 20 inch smallmouth is something like one tenth of one percent of the total population in a river around here. It takes well over a decade, sometimes more like two for a fish to grow to that size. So back we go to those mapping sites. Now, instead of obvious classic spots I'm looking for that out of the way not so obvious spot that might hold just a few fish. But hey look, it's away from any good spot to park so there's little pressure. And it's not so fishy that some guy on a float trip is going to beach his yak or canoe and get out and fish. It's pretty ordinary except that it gives the few fish there that magical thing they can't get anywhere else. Time.

All of this also takes time as well. Lot's of it. You can spend a lifetime developing a library of tried and true hotspots. And an even bigger list of hoped for hotspots you just haven't tried yet. But will. Just as soon as you get time.  But to quote one of my favorite writers:

"Angling is extremely time consuming. That's sort of the whole point." - Thomas McGuane

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

20 inch Little Miami River smallmouth

So I got off work and it's raining cats and dogs. So I head home instead of to that one river where I've been catching fish lately. I get home and guess what? It hasn't rained a drop. So I head out to that other river that's closer to my house. For a week or so I've been thinking about how this place on this river has the same thing going on as this other place on this other river.
Which is to say fast relatively deep water rushing over a bunch of big rocks. My father and grandfather used to fish here years ago for channel catfish for that very same reason. Current and rocks. So I start off throwing what Ive been catching fish on. The infamous smoke metalflake grub. And I fish the heck out of it. Then thump and a pretty smallmouth jumps and spits out my grub. Ok this place has potential. And so I fish...................maybe an hour with no strikes. I begin to experiment with my favorite soft plastics. A chartreuse metalflake grub, A motoroil with red flake grub. Then a river rock swimbait, Then a curly shad. No dice. I'm feeling the curly shad is too buoyant and not getting down in the fast water even with a quarter ounce head. Rather than retie I bite about a half inch off the curly shad. Now I have no idea if that had anything to do with it or it was just in the right place at the right time but Wham! The drags purring nicely. Then the fish rolls up. It's funny but every now and again you get a glimpse of a fish and know what it is. Well it was obvious this was a fish in 20 inch class. So I'm pretty nervous. But no drama no problems I lip it and measure it. 20.25! It was skinny though, I think the smallie I caught last week weighed more even though it was at least an inch shorter. But I could care less. I've caught at least one 20 for four years in a row but every time it's been in September and October. I was pretty positive the streak was going to end this year. We are moving (closer to my favorite spot ) and it's looking like maybe that will be in September or October. In the middle of big smallmouth time. I try real hard not to be a keep score kind of fisherman. Most trips I can only give you a general number of fish caught. I lose count on purpose because it's not about how many or how big. But I've got to admit that deep down the streak means an awful lot to me. So I'm pretty thrilled with this fish..

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Some things you keep to yourself. Halcyon is one of those places. You will never get a shot up or down the river. Just blue sky or maybe a bit of foliage. It's really more of a spot than a place really. A writhing seam of current too swift to stand up in normal flows. You don't wade, or fish upstream or downstream. Instead you stand on the bank and make short casts as the seam runs by from right to left. So under that swift water is a bed of rocks anywhere from fist sized up to two or three feet across. Over top of these stones runs chest deep water. Very fast water. The fish are stuck to the boulders and I think are mostly unfished. The trick is to use stuff you would never use for stream smallmouth to get down to the fish. I pretty much stick to 3/8 ounce jigheads and would rather throw 1/2 ouncers than 1/4's here. You make a 30 foot cast slightly upstream wait for about two seconds then tighten up to the jig and let it sweep down without reeling till it is below you. Then crank it in and repeat. After a while you develop a kind of feel for what your jig is doing. That is after you lose a few zillion jigheads. What you want is your jig floating downstream with your grub or swimbait working in the fast current and sweeping just above that rocky bottom. So all a smallie has to do is move a few inches out of it's pocket to take it. These fish are some of the highlights of the last two evenings fishing. When your on a bit of a run you have to ride it and see where it takes you sometimes...

Friday, July 18, 2014

wild and wet

So it's cloudy, cool, raining on and off softly. Perfect weather to catch some smallmouth. Or so I thought. Well fast forward three hours. I'm wet, really wet. Starting to feel a bit cold. And how many strikes have I had? Exactly zero. But I did land a smallmouth. I hook a line. I begin to pull it in hand over hand to get it out of the river and it begins to pull back. It's an 11 or 12 inch smallmouth with a tube halfway down it's throat and 35 feet of line trailing behind it. It looked and acted in great shape when I released it.
So anyways I've thrown minnow plugs, crankbaits, swimbaits, grubs, skirted jigs, pretty much the whole kitchen sink at them and Zippo. Nada. It's getting along towards evening and there is this one last hole. It's about a cast and a half across and twice that long. And the current roars in and roars out. And just for good measure there is all kinds of concrete rubble and boulders in it. I mean who couldn't catch a smallmouth in a place like that on an evening like this? Me. So sometimes when smallmouth have lockjaw I've found I can still catch a few by throwing as close as I can to big boulders in fast current. Even better is bouncing my lure off them. So I tried that. A few casts in and I throw right up against this big chunk of concrete rubble. My swimbait sinks a second or two then Thump! I set the hook and it's no smallmouth. I've got a medium action rod and 8lb pound test. Both of which are right at the breaking point as line slowly but powerfully pulls off the reel. This fish just slowly circles the hole as my rod is bent into a c shape. My arm is really starting to get tired. The fish then swims upstream thru the boulders into the run. I'm wading in like waist deep trying to clear the rock as it just slowly kind of goes wherever it wants. And then circles. My arm is really tired now. Then the fish swims back upstream to where the water is pouring over a slab of concrete that's acting like a 6 foot long lowhead in the riffle. Well it swims right up under it!. I guess like a lowhead the water going over had carved out a hole. So there I am with my line going right up under this big slab in the middle of a rushing deep run. And I can feel the fish just kind of throbbing on the line. So I wade closer and it's getting deeper. And closer and now I'm like mid chest. I'm on tiptoes inching towards this rock the rod up over my head and fast approaching neck deep. When it swims back out and begins to circle around me. I try to wallow out between it and the rock but it's too deep. It starts back up there and I remember reading a story about a guy fighting a giant trout that said you pull in the direction you don't want the fish to go so it will pull the other way. So I put the rod over as far as I can towards the rock and pull the fish towards the rock. Sure enough the fish lumbers away downstream towards the main hole. I follow as best I can. Now the problem is that below this hole is like 100 yards of six inch deep riffle. If the fish gives up and goes down the riffle there is no way I'll be able to keep it on. And the fish (and me) is looking tired. But we are both in the middle of this pool and no where to land the fish. Finally it's pretty whipped and right there. I grab it's jaw in waist deep water. Which of course gives it new life and me less skin on my hand but I hold on and wade ashore. After a few pics I find a quiet backwater to release it in. It lays there wore out but working it's gills and looking okay. After all it's a shovelhead and tough as nails so it will make it. Me I'm not so sure about. I set down half out of the water like two feet from the fish. After a minute or two it slowly swims back into the pool. I set a while longer. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Back in Action...

Wow what a beautiful day. I'd take about 300 days a year of this weather! And I got the stitches our of my cut hand. So I did what anybody would have done and went from doctors office to the river. The river was a bit off color but a great level. I caught my fish on a chartreuse metalflake grub and a chartreuse with a black back curly shad. In three hours I only caught five fish but they were really nice on average. I fished a swift riffle that didn't have much of a hole below it, maybe chest deep. The hole was more of a long deep run as the current was pretty fast in it. I caught three or four smallmouth right up against the riffle among some jumbled up big rocks and two saugeye which were down in the swiftest part of the run. Both saugs were like twins and right at the Fish Ohio qualifying length of 21 inches. Two of the smallies were nice one a bit over 16 and one 17+. I also lost a nice fish right in the same place I caught the two better smb's but I never saw it. The other SMB's were pretty small. All in all a perfect day, I'm gonna miss this

Chillin with the SMB's

Wow this weather just keeps getting better. And the fish are loving it. As soon as work was over I made a dukes of hazard exit from the parking lot and sped towards the river. I decided to gamble and drive a bit to a good spot. Three cars pulled off. Oh no. But just downstream is a backup spot that has payed off big in the past. I got there and the river level was perfect. There is this big chunk of rubble in the water and the water pours around it and creates this forty foot long line drawn in the river. Twisting braided super fast current on one side and slow water inches away. So four casts in and I catch a pretty 14 inch fish then a small fish then nothing. I throw and let the lure sweep down with the current reeling only enough to keep in touch with it. Thump and the rod bends way over. Out of the water explodes this big big smallmouth that just seems to hang there for a moment before it spits out my curly shad. Sigh. Nothing for a long time then a pretty 15 inch fish. Right at me feet is a small eddy where the long seam starts. Its covered by a foamy lid the size of a card table. Wham right there with like a rods length of line out a big smallie smashes the swimbait. After a bit of excitement I land a gorgeous fat 18.5 inch fish. I text Dave, telling him its looking special and I cant fish long but he should come up here. Somehow he shows up like 45 seconds later, it scares me sometimes when he does that. So we fish for like a half hour and nothing happens. He's giving me dirty looks for dragging him out here, muttering something under his breath about fishing the last three days and he was going to take tonight off till I called. Dave then snares a little minnow on his jighead. A little fellow not much bigger that a crappie minnow. Off comes the swimbait and on goes a smoke metalflake grub. Finally just as I was starting to fear for my life I felt another thump and a pretty fish leaps out of the fats current. It turns out to be 17 1/4. Finally feeling safe now that he knew I wasn't lying I gathered my stuff and headed out. Man I hope this weather holds. We deserve it after the year we have had so far.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

everything you never wanted to know....

...about flathead catfish in rivers like the LMR or GMR. So I cut my hand rather badly at work. Bad enough that I can't go fishing. At least for a few days anyways, plus there's a brace to keep the stitches in place that makes it impossible to cast. So next best thing, lets talk fishing.

The thing I'm asked about the most are catfish, mostly questions about catching shovelheads on lures. Every time I post a thread with a nice one in it I can expect a couple PM's about it. At least four or five times as many as I would about a trip where I'd catch a nice smallmouth. Heck the last trip with the five shovelheads got me more emails than the two 20 inch smallmouth last fall combined! I guess because the way I go about it is just so different. So here's what little I know about flatheads:

In the winter when there's not much fishing to be had my hobby is collecting studies done on smallmouth bass and/or flathead catfish. Especially radio tracking studies, I have a folder in my favorites full of the things. Much of them are gibberish and pseudoscience mumbo jumbo, pages and pages of stuff thrown in to make some graduate student look smarter than he is and earn a degree. But wade thru all this and a clear pattern begins to emerge. Over and over again, in small to midsized rivers all over middle America, shovels use the same types of habitat in each location.

After the spawn flatties settle into two main kinds of places to spend the summer. One, the most obvious one, is in the scour hole below a dam if the river has lowheads. This has everything a big flathead would want. There is deep water, shallow water to hunt in, almost always debris and cover to hole up in, current and lack of current, and lots and lots of littler fish to eat. Everything a big flathead could ever want in one spot. Kind of like having a Cabela's store in your neighborhood if your a fishing nut like me. The other prime spot to find a big flathead, especially in a free flowing stream like the LMR is an inside bend that has a steep eroded clifflike bank. Every one of these holes that has woody debris in it will have a couple resident flatheads. (if they aren't caught out that is)

A day in the life of a flattie in the LMR consists of spending most of it tucked up under logjams in these bend holes. Like up to 20 hours a day some days! But then comes the exciting part. During a precious few hours that big cat will come out and begin to cruise looking for a big sucker, a drum or (gasp) a tasty smallmouth to chow down on. Make no mistake, a shovelhead eats sushi almost exclusively. I know we have all heard the stories about the monster shovel caught on chicken liver, well that's the exception not the rule. Chicken liver is channel cat and hybrid striper bait not shovelhead bait most of the time.

Which brings us to the two ways to go about catching a flattie, the sensible way and the way I go about it. Both work great if ya know what your doing just a little. The sensible way is with stout stout tackle and live bait. You fish deep inside bends with cover and deep in the scour hole during the day. And shallow on the rock bar across from the bend and shallow on the edge of the scour hole at night. Now I'm never going to land a big cat on light tackle and lures fishing that woody debris during the day so I concentrate on two other areas. I fish below a dam in the shallows and on the shallow rock bar across from that deep bend on rivers with no dam. And I fish at low light or at night when that big cat is most likely to be out of cover and hunting. In one study I saw, flatheads were consistently most active right around dawn. All things being equal I try if I can to fish for them from about two hours before dawn to about an hour afterward. That's when I have the most luck. But they can be active at any time during low light.

I think the biggest mistake I see most guys doing is fishing too deep at night. They have that big surf rod that will cast clear across the GMR. So what do they do? They get below the dam out on the platform and throw their bait right out in the middle. Okay that's the best spot during the day but at night they are throwing way past all the fish. All the active ones anyways. Dan the pioneer of my kind of catfishing once remarked that its amazing how those guys up on platform never catch as much with three or four rods thrown out as he does with one. But his one is fishing where the active fish are and theirs simply aren't. That is why those old timers that used to set jingle lines off of overhanging tree branches caught so many big fish at night too.

Most studies show that during the summer shovelheads are pretty much homebodies, they stick to one section of river and have three or four holes they regularly hide out in when not hunting. If they move during mid day it's often in a straight line down the channel to their next hideout. The exception to this is during periods of high water. For flatheads this seems to be their version of spring break or more likely summer vacation. During periods of high water flatheads will come out of their holes and travel upstream. Sometimes a long way, sometimes for miles. Then as the water recedes they will slowly drift back downstream till they end up back in their home range. One of several reasons I guess that fishing is almost always best as water is rising in a river. Also a good reason to hit a lowhead dam right after high water since that lowhead would act as a roadblock to any vacationing flatheads traveling upstream.

Almost every single study had flatheads liking woody debris in a bend hole much better than rock during the summer tho both are sometimes used. When the water starts to cool in the fall that reverses and shovels like rocky debris better during cooler months of the year.

I catch the majority of my catfish on two types of lures. Soft plastics like swimbaits or grubs fished on a jighead and on lipless crankbaits. I catch a few on other types of lures like minnow plugs but those two lure types catch the most for me. But I think the key is where and when rather than what. I do think maybe the most practical setup might be musky tackle and lures but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun. If you fish shallow rock bars at night you have a pretty good chance of landing even a nice sized cat on "bass" tackle. The key is not trying to horse the fish. Treble hooks just don't have the big gap like a big live bait hook does and if you try to horse the fish a big cat will pull off every time.

So that's it in a nutshell. Fish a couple different types of lures in just a couple different types of spots at just a few times of day. It's about the only type of fishing I know that can be really called a system.

Just remember one thing unless your really old like Blake that trophy flathead you catch is probably as old as you. Don't you dare keep it. Smallmouth bass and Shovelheads should never be kept. Keep a couple channel cats or a saugeye to eat. Throw back that big cat or big smallie!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


With the long weekend promising to be beautiful and for once the river not completely blown out I did the sensible thing and took Monday off too. The first day was my granddaughters birthday. I consider it papaws job to get her muddy as much as possible and today succeeded in grand style. We rented a big rubber raft from Morgans and loaded in the whole family and took her on her first float trip, a big adventure for an 8 year old.
Then the next day I took the kayak for a camping/float trip down river. Highlights were a fawn feeding at dawn on the opposite bank, a green heron on a limb overhead, a night completely filled with lightning bugs, spotlights of morning sun shining thru the trees and some exceptional fishing. Especially the shovelhead fishing, I caught one on live bait, one on a nightcrawler and three on lures, one of which squeeked in right at the fish ohio qualifying length. All of them were nice fish.
I didn't catch any big channels but they made up for quality with quantity. The first evening, wanting a fish dinner, I grabbed the container of worms and headed for the channelcat Hilton. The current divides going over a riffle then comes back together. In between these divided currents is a spot maybe ten feet across where the current stops. Here you can see a blanket of foam just setting still as current whizzes by all around it. I tied on a hook and nothing else. I'd hook on a nightcrawler and lob it into the spot. It would slowly revolve then I'd feel a tap tap as a channel munches down. But they were mostly too small though I must have caught 15 of them before finally catching two big enough to eat. I also caught a big carp that took a three inch grub halfway down his throat. I've had that happen a few times over the years even catching one years ago on a crappie minnow. I guess bigger carp will supplement the greens and bugs with some sushi once in a while. Kinda like those chimps that eat fruit all year then one will grab a baby antelope I guess.
The smallmouth fish was slower than the catfishing though when I did manage to catch one it would be good sized. I think I caught some on a jerkbait, one on a crankbait, a few on a spinnerbait and some on both a grub and a curly shad swimbait. So in other words I couldn't find a pattern.

The only downer to the whole trip happened the last evening. I'd made camp and was quite a ways down river but could still see camp. I saw a man and a woman walk down and begin casting on the rock bar I'd made camp on. But it was a man and a woman, I mean who causes trouble with their girlfriend/wife along? So I kept fishing, when I returned I found camp untouched except for my back-up rod. I'd leaned it against a willow five feet from the kayak and tarp. Well it was gone. I couldn't hardly believe it, I wonder if it was her or him that stole it. Funny thing was they were the only two other people I saw fishing the whole trip. Oh well live and learn.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The smallmouth and the pullet surprise......

So I'm hauling butt, running late with only around an hour till dark. finally the trail breaks out onto the river bank with a lovely view downstream. I catch movement on the bank opposite. Ok so this a pretty heavily wooded section on the LMR down in a bit of a gorge. A deer I expect, a bear or bigfoot not out of the question. But Not this, Not here. For calmly picking its way down the rocky shore, a long long way from anywhere was... a chicken! I've seen otters, eagles, minks, beavers but this was a first. Unfortunately chickens, I've found, are impossible to see in a photo when photographed at a hundred yards across a river.
The water level wasn't bad but the color is still pretty bad. On a small rock bar filling up an inside bend I picked up an 8" drum on a swimbait. Oh well at least I wasn't skunked. I fished for a while with no more action. Closer to dark I tied on a clone dancer. This is a beautifully finished vibrating crankbait I'm liking a lot. It was given to me to try by my friend Scotty at Queen City Outdoors. I cast it out and reeled it back rather quickly trying to create as much vibration as possible. In a big eddy above a riffle a pretty smallmouth hammered it. After a bit of a battle I snapped a few pictures. Then it flopped right out of my hand just before I could measure it. Not wanting to stress it any further I just realeased it as quickly as I could. I'm guessing somewhere around 17 inches. On the way out a pretty doe let me walk right by her as I hurried down the bike path towards the truck. It sure is nice to be back on the river again...


Podcast of my radio interview on WLW

Click here if ya want to hear it!