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Friday, September 26, 2014

September 22nd, A holy day on the river

A reprint from last year on locating fall smallmouth

Today is the Fall Equinox the single most important day of the year for river bass fishing...
The thing I probably get the most questions about in all of my fishing is how I locate bass in the fall. Fishermen say that they constantly hear how good smallmouth bass fishing is in the fall but that they just can't catch them or they are only catching dinks. Well here's how I locate smallies in the fall. Smallmouth migrate to the best possible places they can find to spend the winter. This may only be hundreds of yards or it might be ten miles or more. This is triggered by length of day. Dr. Mark Ridgeway, a research scientist for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources found that a smallmouth migration away from classic summer habitat begins, each year, within a week to 10 days of the autumnal equinox in September. This means that day length, not water temperature is the reason for smallmouth bass fall movements.
But there are two parts to the puzzle, just as you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, whether or not they then bite is related to water temperature. When the water temperature sinks to 60 degrees and below that seems to be a trigger point. From then till the river hits 50 degrees the smallmouth are in overdrive feeding the strongest they do all year. So the great fishing lasts as long as the water stays above about 52. If that's a week, its a week if its a month then the fishing is great for a month.
So between the smallmouth migration and water temps you need a couple things you might have not used all year. The number one tool for finding smallmouth bass wintering holes in the LMR is a good online satellite mapping site like Google Maps. Your looking for big bends and deep eddies with complex structure nearby. The deepest biggest holes you can find. Some of these can be places in town "fished out" during the summer, it doesn't matter your fishing for fish that might have came from miles away. Sometimes you just have to make a list of possibilities and head out to check them in person. Like I said the bass will migrate as far as it takes so you cant think well maybe this is good enough. Now until the water actually hits 50 to 53 the bass might not be right in that wintering hole. They will instead be somewhere on the first two or three riffles either upstream or down feeding like gangbusters. The two best places I know have both the deep complex structure and a really good hard bottomed riffle with a hard bottom and no silt between the feeding area and the hole even though in one case its 150 yards between the two. So obviously a thermometer is a great tool is seeing where things are at. Above 60 you can expect bass to be in transition between summer and fall patterns. And the equinox falls on either on September 22, 23, or 24 every year. On any other day of the year, the Earth's axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun. But on the equinox the Earth's axis tilts neither away from nor towards the Sun. So sometime within a week of that expect them to come pouring into those fall feeding riffles depending on temps. Not every smallmouth migrates at exactly the same time so you can still catch bass elsewhere in the river as they stop to feed while migrating but the real action will be in those good riffles close to wintering holes starting about the second week in September and getting better and better if the weather cooperates until the water cools below 50 to 53 degreees. After that you have to fish slooow down in the deep wintering holes to get much action. Sometimes a warm day will warm things a degree or two and you can sometimes catch a smallmouth or two on a hair jig fished almost motionless under a float. Just let the current swirl it around the hole and try to impart as little movement to the lure as you can. This can result in some of the best fish of the year but it also results in a big number of fishless days too.

Monday, September 22, 2014

celebrating the equinox

Hit the river for a few hours today. Theres this little chunk of concrete that I'm not sure what it used to be. Some little wing or coffer dam or just chunk of concrete dumped in the river, I'm not sure. But it makes a cool line of current slicing diagonally across the river. Any kind of current going sideways in a river makes my eyes light up. I threw a yellow chartreusey looking swimbait in the current and let it slide on a tight line. Nothing. Hmm. I switched to a heavier jig head with the same bait. Thump. ZZzzing went the drag. But it stayed deep never coming up so I'm thinking it's a big channelcat. After a few more runs it rolled up in front of me. Oh wow a smallie! It sure had me fooled didn't go airborne at all. But it fought like a champ and turned out to be a dandy, right at 19 inches. Ten minutes later another strike but this fish was classic smallmouth leaping skyward several times. Another swell fish at a tad past 18".

After a bit I worked my way downstream. Here the river twists around a sort of island and cuts a deep narrow slot with super fast water rushing thru it. I threw the swimbait and brought it down the run. ZZzzzing....and then wrapped around something hung up. D%#$ it, that was a nice fish. I threw back and ZZzzzing...went the drag again. Again hanging deep not going airborne. Another big smallie??? Nope this time it was a hybrid. In the next hour two more would wallop the swimbait in this fast slot of water. Not long fish, but as I'd describe them later in a text, looking like giant bluegills they were so round. What a great way to celebrate the fall equinox.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Zen and the art of Jig Fishing

  Jig fishing can be a bit like the rabbit hole, you can go deep. So lets drag out our inner Alice for a few minutes and go deep.

  In fly fishing just about the most effective technique you can employ is to nymph fish with a "dead drift". That is a drift where you try to let the nymph drift along freely with the current. Not sinking like a rock but not being pulled along by the line either. But instead floating along like it was unattached to anything at all. But in conventional fishing there are very few ways to do this effectively.

  This is what I strive for when fishing a grub in deep runs. That is, a free and natural drift down the run. I stand not upstream nor downstream but roughly across the stream from where I expect a fish to strike. I then make a short cast across and upstream. I then flip closed the bail and do not reel, or at least reel as little as possible. Instead of being retrieved the grub should sweep down and across from me on a tight line. Well not really a tight line. Instead try for a line with no slack but not tight. If the lines tight it will pull on the grub and it won't drift naturally. But if the lines too slack you will not be able to detect the strike. Reel just enough to maintain a taut but not tight connection to our jig.

  Now a jig's by definition a hook with a big hunk of lead attached so it's going to sink not drift right?
Well, we have to stop for a second and at least subconsciously match the size of our jig head to the force of the current we are fishing. Too light and the jig will zip along too fast over the fishes heads. Too heavy and your jig will just hang up on the bottom. In most medium sized rivers something in the 1/8 to 1/4 ounce range will let you fish the faster deeper runs that often hold the very best fish.

  But I will often search out the deepest fastest water in miles of river. Here I might even go to a 3/8 to 1/2 ounce jig head. It's amazing how often these spots hold trophy fish. And how little these areas are ever fished. After all, a huge smallmouth is still only twenty inches long. It doesn't take a very big spot to shelter it from the current, a calm spot barely bigger than a shoebox in all the turbulence is all we are trying to find. A single big rock or a pile of smaller ones is really all we need. A place where a big fish can lay and then murder any unsuspecting prey floating along in the current. Or even better our jig.

  Now I know it's hard to fish a jig like a curly tailed grub wrong. You can just chuck it out and reel it back in and catch fish. Or better yet slow your pace and swim it back just off the bottom. But a grub fished like that is almost a completely different lure than our dead drifted one. Our grub is drifting along with the current. The tails working but because of the current, not our reeling it in. Just drifting along just like a helpless juicy delicious minnow being swept down the run. For me this is much more effective than bouncing a heavier lure along the bottom of the run. I think the look is just more natural. Not only does the size of the jig head effect your drift but you can also change the quality of your drift by the soft plastic you use. Sometimes quite dramatically.

  As a general rule I try to match the soft plastic I use to what I might expect to be swimming there. But it's sometimes better to forget that rule and instead match the size and shape of the bait I'm using to the drift I want. If you put on a three inch grub you get one drift. If you put on a four inch one you get another. I carry a couple sizes of grubs, A couple sizes of paddletail swimbaits and a curly tailed swimbait like the curly shad. If you jig fish long enough you can tell which style is giving you the freest drift in the particular run you are fishing.

  Different sizes and styles of bodies will also change the depth in the water column you are fishing. Often instead of tying on a lighter jig head I will instead go with a bulkier bait like a curly shad if I'm dragging bottom instead of drifting. This lets me still fish a heavier jig which in turn lets me feel the bait batter.

  Pretty simple isn't it? Cast across and let the bait sweep down on a tight line? Reel in and repeat. Nothing to it. Well, the problem with this is staying connected and yet unconnected to the lure at the same time. I'm not sure there is a shortcut here for experience and time on the water. The good news is that the lures soft plastic body will often feel lifelike enough that you will catch some fish you didn't even hook. Fish that just hung on long enough till you felt a weight on the line that eventually turned into a fish. Try this different twist on an old favorite. It might just completely change the way you fish many parts of the river.

Mushin: a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the state of "no-mindness". That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything.

That's really what we are after. Nothing other than the lure floating along down there.

The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art..." Eugen Herrigel.

That paragraph on archery may be the best paragraph ever written on jig fishing. Use that big mind of yours to decide where to fish. What seam you need to set up on. Where to stand, what to use, etc. Then just let all that flow down the river. Take a deep breath and the slowly relax and exhale. And let it all go. Flip open that bail and cast that jig and then lose everything. Don't think about about how your buddy might be doing, how your marriage is going, work, none of that bullshit. Just be in the moment with that jig. Feel the calm spots in the current, feel the bottom, feel the lure free floating.

Sometimes, if I think no one is around. If I think no one is around to see me that is, I'll cast, take a deep breath close my eyes and just imagine my lure down there. I know it's more effective to watch your line, watch the river, watch everything. But sometimes when I'm having trouble getting that connection with my lure it helps. Close your eyes and picture that lure down there on the end of your line. Lose everything but that lure. Once you have that your ready to fish.

Hopefully then our Mushin becomes Zanshin. Zanshin refers to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. The literal translation of zanshin is "remaining mind". Like a deer feeding in the woods. Watch a deer which thinks it's alone in the woods. Even though that deer might be completely relaxed it is still totally and completely in the moment and aware. This is what allows a deer to react to the twang of a bowstring so well that the deer is no longer there when the arrow gets there. Too tight, too keyed up, too much wanting to catch that fish gets in our way. I know I've been there. Just relax, exhale, lose everything but the jig and the rest will take care of itself.

Let's face it. It's just fishing. We are going to let that fish go anyway. Why do think they call timeouts before free throws? To let that guy at the foul line think about it. Let him get in his own way and miss that shot he can make in his sleep. Don't put that pressure on yourself. Then we might fail. Just another failure we don't need. Let's face it your probably out here to forget that job you don't like, hiding from that life you never imagined for yourself at eighteen. Another failure is the last thing you need. But if you just let it all go and become the jig you lose all that. Even if you don't catch a thing you have succeeded. And at the same time opened the door for more. Opened the door to catching that trophy smallmouth you've dreamed about. But forget about that and become the jig. Then you'll step thru that door when your ready and not even noticed that you have.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A shovel on a lure

Life and Death on the LMR

So I'm heading down this rock bar and I see lots of creepy looking little legs rolling around in a ball. All over in a about a six foot circle I guess this thing was going. Finally the action paused long enough for me to see it was really two things. A big wolf spider and a huge wasp. A pompilid wasp if I remember my bugs right. So the wasp would hover around the spider which would roll kind of over on its back. Then in action too fast for me to follow they would roll all over the gravel. I'm guessing the long legs of the wasp kept the spider from biting it but like I said it was too fast to follow. I watched for a bit but didn't want to get too close. Supposedly spider wasps stings are supposed to be the most painful of any wasp, hornet or bee so I didn't want to but in too much. After the wasp stings the spider then comes the really creepy part. The sting doesn't kill the spider instead it paralyzes the spider. The wasp then digs a burrow, stuffs the immobile spider inside and lays a single egg on it. The egg hatches and the larvae gnaws a hole into the spider and feeds on the still living but paralyzed spider. Just goes to show you even for something as creepy as a spider there are monsters lurking out there...

Things took a less ominous turn after that as I saw a little green heron. This week I've seen snow white great egrets, cormorants and some terns. The birdwatching has been better than the fishing frankly.

Over the last couple weeks Ive caught the occasional smallie and ky spot but on the whole the stream bass fishing had been slow. I've actually probably caught as many shovelhead on lures as bass. I'm not sure what the deal was but I caught a shovelhead or two almost every outing. Nothing huge but some nice fish from three or four pounds up to maybe seven or eight. Finally today the cool weather seemed to have an effect on the bass. In a swift run on a paddletail swimbait I caught the best smallie I've had on in at least two or three weeks. It stretched the tape a bit past eighteen and a half. Hopefully a sign of things to come.