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Friday, October 31, 2014

SWAT and postmodern smallmouth fishing

SWAT....Scientific Wild Ass Theory

I realize that people succeed at things all the time even though their reasoning for doing what they are doing might be completely off base. A guy kills a gigantic buck because he "knows" it is going to travel down a certain trail to feed on acorns. In all actuality it might be traveling down that trail to bed down in a briar patch for the day. But he killed a big deer this year, just like every year, so he must be right.

So having established that I may or may not know what I'm talking about here is my take on big smallmouth in southwestern Ohio. First off there are very very few smallmouth over twenty inches long in the rivers and streams of southwestern Ohio. One look at the list of Fish Ohio Awards for smallmouth bass will show you that. For most anglers catching a smallmouth that stretches the tape to twenty inches or beyond is a once in a lifetime event, if it even happens at all. I honestly think somewhere around nineteen inches is the maximum size most of our smallmouth can attain. It's entirely possible a smallmouth could live well and die of old age without ever getting to be twenty. The bar for a Fish Ohio Smallmouth should be nineteen around here out of a river if you ask me.

But I also think it's possible to catch several twenty plus inch smallmouth from the streams of southwestern Ohio year after year. If, IF, you fish differently. If you do not fish the classical method for stream fishing. Post Modern Smallmouth Fishing is the silly name I coined for my method. It's painfully simple really but that's also what makes it so hard to do.

To try and explain my reasoning I'm going to switch gears and talk about a fish that has influenced my thinking a lot, a brown trout. Not just any brown trout mind you but the forty pound leviathan caught by the late Howard Collins out of the Little Red River in Arkansas. For a long time this was the world record brown trout. I think it has since been surpassed by a fish from lake in New Zealand but that's neither here nor there. The Little Red hold some big fish. But huge outlandishly large ones over twenty pounds are rarer than a twenty inch smallie around here. So how did this fish then reach forty pounds?!?

Well some scientists think the giant may have employed a different feeding strategy than the other fish in the river. That instead of following the typical blueprint of feeding on a mixed bag of invertebrates with some fish mixed in as it got bigger, this fish found a spot where it could eat all it wanted to of just fish, There are all kinds of stories like this. A giant twenty six pound rainbow was found dead in the Frying Pan River, one of the most heavily fished rivers on earth. It's thought that fish found a perfect spot below a dam where it could sit in one spot it's whole life and gorge on shrimp. Look at the huge largemouth bass caught in California feeding on trout that act nothing at all like what a largemouth is "supposed" to act like. My point is you can find hundreds of examples of fish getting much larger than what is thought possible. And they all have in common the fact they employ an out of the ordinary feeding strategy.

So this is where my SWAT kicks in. Read any study on smallmouth bass feeding habits in streams.
Minnows in cold weather, then ever increasing numbers of crayfish from spring till fall. In some studies seventy five percent  of some smallmouths diet consists of crayfish. And what do tracking studies of smallmouth bass tell us? That smallmouth bass in streams are extreme homebodies except when migrating to and from their wintering holes. This is true in every study I've seen.
Often a smallmouth will live out it's entire life in just one or two pools.

Well what if a fish that is naturally inclined to be an extreme homebody could find all it's requirements met in just one spot?!?  Not just the vaunted spot on a spot but for this fish the only spot,Say a deep pocket under a sycamore tree or behind a big slab of concrete rubble. So there is cover and a respite from the current and a super feeding lane right beside it filled all the time with juicy high caloric shiners?

If the resting spot is sufficiently protected somehow say by cover so that it is inaccessible to anglers then that fish has a chance to grow to it's full potential, say nineteen inches. But let's throw that super feeding lane filled with shiners into the mix. Instead of scrapping around like your typical bass eating hellgrammites, darters, minnows, crayfish, bugs etc, our fish can just set there and wait for the conveyor belt to bring along dinner. And do so without expending all that much energy. And so grow larger than the typical bass by employing a non typical feeding strategy. Now we aren't talking huge differences like the fish mentioned earlier, we are talking five percent, from nineteen to twenty inches.

Now I'm not saying huge smallmouth don't eat crayfish or hellgrammites. All the better in my book if our super seam has a nice cobble bottom that lets our big fish gobble down some crayfish as appetizers while waiting on the conveyor belt to bring the next meal.

In fact finding these super seams is to me more important than what the fish are actually feeding on. I might be just like that guy earlier when my big fish might be gorging on darters or crayfish or what have you right before it nails my swimbait fished as a shiner imitation. I've come to realize my limited lure selection is really what fishes effectively in these seams and not really a representation of what's actually there underwater at all. After all most streams around here have ten different shiner species, ten different minnow species and as many darter species as well as the multitude of invertebrates that smallies like. Our big smallmouth probably isn't selective.

A grub or a swimbait fished on a jighead allows you to fish fast super seams that are just too fast for most crankbaits or spinners. By varying the size of both the bait and the jighead you can adjust the lures path so it fishes naturally down the seam. Not so light it rips along over the fishes head or so heavy it catches on the bottom.

Things that create super seams are the ends of rock bars thrown out by feeder streams in flood, concrete rubble, dams or the remnants of old dams, bridge abutments, rocks dumped in the stream to control erosion, a single huge other words anything that obstructs current flow enough to create  strong line between slack water and fast current. In my experience the more distinct and abrupt the line between fast and slow water the better. And this seam must b a permanent feature. A big smallmouth takes at least a decade to get that way so I don't often fish wood when targeting trophy smallmouth.

All this varies a lot I know from standard smallmouth fishing practices. You know, where you fish riffles and runs with lures like spinners and tubes and crankbaits. And it's probably less effective than standard smallmouth fishing. The guy covering four or five different riffles with a rebel craw will catch more fish most days than I will. But most of the time (it's fishing , there are always exceptions to every rule) I will catch much bigger fish on average, just not as many.

Don't get me wrong I love conventional smallmouth fishing. There's not much better than wading a stream catching spunky smallmouth, covering water and also enjoying the sights and sounds of the river. But at least once a week I try to throw in a trip with one of those super seams as a destination. There I can slow down and fish one spot hard hoping my big fish will feed. As long as I do this I know a couple times a year I'll measure a smallmouth that hits the holy grail of twenty inches. Whether or not it got that way how I think it did is another thing completely..

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Icing on 2014's cake

(this is from 10\10\14, playing catchup on fishing reports)So I headed out right at daylight with high hopes. Dark weather, right time of year, right water temps. So I headed to what I feel is probably my best spot. It takes some getting to but is usually worth it. Five minutes in and a fish clobbers my grub right at my feet. A huge fish. Probably the best fish of the year. It jumps seemingly right under the rod tip and seemingly waist high then greyhounds off across the top of the water and is off. I sit on a rock and let the experience sink in, it happened so fast. That might have been the chance for a hawg this fall. You only get one or two chances. I mentally cuss. A lot. I go back to fishing. It's slow maybe a fish every half hour to forty five minutes. I leave six hours later having caught two largemouth, three smallies and two small hybrids. Wet cold and feeling a bit defeated after the loss of the fish I move locations. forty minutes later I get there. A pretty seam of fast rushing water. Sigh. Let's try this again. First cast. Wham! a pretty 16" inch smallie. Then the next cast, Thump and a big gorgeous fish rockets skyward. Please please please don't let this one come off. But no it's uneventful and I lip the fish. Shaking a bit I measure her. 20 inches even. Suddenly it's not so cold and miserable.  God I love fall fishing
It's been a bit of a crazy week or so since I last posted. I've fished a lot but not had internet access so I thought I'd just lump them all in one big post. There are photos of the LMR, the GMR. the WWR and the big Ohio, all from the last 7 or 8 days. The biggest highlight for me was being a guest on Erin Shaw's Nature's Corner cable tv show talking about stream fishing. I'm not sure when it will air yet tho. I did manage to catch one gorgeous smallie just a fraction under 19" plus some other nice ones over the last few trips. I hate for fall to end. I was skunked once but there is always that anticipation of knowing the big one might be just a cast away. And I also have to force myself to slow down and enjoy how beautiful it is right now. It's too easy for me at least to get caught up in trying to get in one more cast, one more fish before it all slows down to winter saugeye weather. The rivers are never more lovely than they are right now. Anyways, here's some pics of my world this last week, hope you enjoy them.


Fish of a lifetime

Went to the Ohio River with my friends Dan and Dave last weekend. And got to shoot this photograph of Dan with the fish of a lifetime. I know it's a good fish for any where, even down south or the salt. But for around here it's unheard of. 36" inches long and 21" around! A truly incredible fish. Congrats Dan...