If your a long time reader of my blog you know I can rattle on ad nauseam about the complicated food chain in our local rivers. And that one of the best resources for finding out about what's actually down there is the EPA studies done on virtually every stream in Ohio. The best place to find all this cool stuff is at http://www.epa.ohio.gov/dsw/document_index/psdindx.aspx. Under the appendices to each study it will list every species collected. Usually each river is sampled at four or five intervals over it's entire length.
On my favorite streams, the LMR and the GMR, there are at least a dozen different darter species. Plus five or six madtom species and mottled sculpins. In some places these little guys can make up over a quarter of all the total fish collected. In other words a major source of food for smallmouth bass. The majority of these little guys live in, around and under the rocks in riffles and runs. They use large prominent pectoral fins to help hold their position in this swift water.
My two favorite lures for imitating these guys have the last few years been the Jewel Sculpin and a three inch plastic grub. The Jewel Sculpin has these prominent pectoral fins while the three inch grub has that beautiful curly tail which attracts everything that swims and smallmouth in particular. So why not combine the best of both worlds?
After reading in the tackle making threads on www.ohiogamefishing.com about creating molds out of plaster of paris for soft plastics I decided to try and make my own. The process is pretty much self explanatory but here is the link if you want to read more about it. I painted my mold with two part epoxy when done and sprayed it with cooking spray right before pouring in melted plastic from some old baits and the finished lure just about fell out of the mold. A little trimming of the roughest edges with some scissors and I should have a swell bait. Just another reason I can't hardly wait for spring to get here...
Caught this guy this evening right before dark. On the upper end of a big deep wintering hole. Didn't get out during the last few warm days but I was hoping the river hadn't cooled off too much for smallies. From the looks of the forecast it's back to saugfishin after today for a while. The rivers up a tiny bit but still clear and pretty.
I spent most of spring wishing. Wishing the rivers I love would go down. No terrible floods just enough rain spaced out just enough to seriously crimp river fishing, my fishing. Like all things tho, given time things seem to have a way of settling back down. Till now looking back, I fished about as much as I always do and caught about what I always do. But it's sure hard not to panic at the time. When it's like the third or fourth weekend in a row you cannot wade. I did spend a lot of time camped along the river this year, I'm awfully thankful for that. Watching deer wade the Little Miami as night falls. Having a beaver slap his tail as I got up to stoke the campfire on the Great Miami. To me that's one of the greatest joys of life. Sleeping outdoors staring into the fire or lying on your back watching for a shooting star, When you fish as much as I do, the fish themselves sometimes blur a bit and run together but a few things stand out that I'll never forget. A little ten inch smallie in a tiny creek jumping clear of the water and taking my pop-r on the way down. The feeling of being towed around in a belly boat by the biggest largemouth I've caught in many years. And being there when Dan caught his two spectacular fish, the prettiest river largemouth I've ever seen and the biggest striper ever seen around here. A policeman pulling up and stopping right behind me as I caught a hybrid right along a little gravel access road. He sat, watched me land it, snap its photo and release it. Then just started up his car and drove off without a word. And a day spent catching little longeared sunfish on a dry fly. Each one making you stare at it like you've never seen one before, they are that beautiful. Building a rope ladder to reach an unreachable fishing hole. And like the year before chasing the great white carp on a fly rod without catching it. You see this one place I fish has some carp mixed in the population that look white compared to all the others you see and every year I make big plans and tie special flies to catch one. But like always it eludes me. But it's the fish we don't catch that keep us coming back isn't it?
Three times (If I remember right) I caught a nice channel cat right at dark on nights I was camping out and kept it for supper. Wrapped in foil and cooked over the campfire it was feast for the gods. And every time setting there by the fire cooking the fish, I remember, like I always do, a similar time in the rockies when my cooking fish drew in a martin that kept circling camp and rising up on its haunches to sniff the air.
This year one of my favorite places seemed a bit empty. The previous year a group of three boys and a girl were almost always there. Fishing, wading, building fires, swimming, just killing time in that way you could back when your young and summer seems like it will last forever. I must have seen them twenty or thirty times. Having the type of summer you only see in movies anymore. Now they are gone, the entire year passed without them. Off to start new lives, new schools, new jobs, new families I imagine. That piece of river felt a bit deserted and I kept finding myself looking for something whenever I went there.
Now its down to tying flies and making jigs and dreaming of spring. Oh of course I'll throw on every bit of clothing I own and try to tempt some saugfish but deep down we all know that's not the same. And I'll try to get out and catch that first hybrid, that first smallmouth of the year in a couple weeks. Looking down into that clear empty looking winter river, even while I'm fishing, part of me is wishing it was spring...
47 degrees on December 23rd is pretty good. 47 degrees at 1 am is great. So with the river as clear as glass and the toasty nighttime temp I headed to river after work, getting there about 1230. Maybe three casts in a small saug hit my grub. Then a bit later a better one that got off as it thrashed around at my feet. Then the weight of a good fish. A saugeye that measured right at the qualifying length for a Fish Ohio award. All hit it surprisingly shallow water just below a rock pile that stuck out of the water creating a pretty seam of current. After the last fish it began to rain a bit so I headed to the house damp and happy.
Dan and I went to look at the place about a month ago. Plus Rob and I had both found it separately on Google and had talked about it a lot. But standing there with Dan looking at the place it looked pretty much impossible. Usually there is always some way to get down to the water to fish. Some root you can hang on to or some slope slightly less steep than the rest you can shimmy down. But this was different. Dan and I studied it for a long time. A ten or twelve foot cliff ran all along the bank. In the gin clear water the river looked bottomless. The bank dropping off into blackness with a big eddy flowing upstream to curl back upon itself. It was the best wintering hole I'd ever seen AND about a hundred yards upstream warm water poured out of a pipe into the river.
IF, if you could get down there it was possible to stand at the base of the cliff. Eyes probed the cliff. Not a chance it was vertical. No inching along the bank from upstream or down either. At each end of the hole the cliff went straight down into the bottomless hole out of sight.
Dan and I talked of shovels and ropes and pick axes for a bit and gave up and went up to the pipe for a bit. I think we caught a couple carp in the shallow water up there if I remember right.
House and I made vague plans to launch his inflatable raft and storm the beach. Meanwhile the place ate at me. And I came up with a plan. I bought a rope. A 300lb test rope. And cut 15 foot long rungs out of wood. I then drilled holes in the ends of each and began the long process of knotting up my rope ladder.
Today was just right, the third or fourth warmer than average day in a row. But I only had a couple hours to fish. Enough I told myself to scout the place out and see if it's worth the effort of floating the river in winter in Rob's boat. So over the edge went the ladder tied at the top to the base of a clump of small trees. It took everything I had to go over that edge. I've always said I'm safe bowhunting because I'm mildly afraid of heights. I wasn't mildly afraid of this, I was scared. If I hadn't spent three hours making the stupid ladder I would have backed out.
I'd remembered last year reading of Mark Blauvelt catching carp from a warm water discharge in winter on a flyrod. Since it was mostly a scouting trip I dug the flyrod I keep in a tube behind the truck seat out and took that.
Up close the water looks even better. No room to backcast, I roll cast out a marabou nymph and let it set there slowly sinking. It began a slow tour of the eddy. Nothing. Ten minutes later a drift stopped. Nothing special it just stopped. I raised the rod and was fast into a fish. It actually fought pretty well and up eventually rolled a shovelhead. The first I've ever taken on a fly.
Then a long time with no action. Just watching the river and enjoying the day. And hoping the rope held on the way back up. Then something on the line, not really a strike just something. I raised the rod again and a fish was on. This one slowly began it's own tour of the hole before finally giving in. A nice carp but foul hooked. Then a few minutes later another fish. This time a big one. It pretty much had its way with the six weight rod. Bending into a deep D shape and pulling its way all over the hole before just coming off. Probably another carp or a big buffalo but that shovelhead makes me wonder. In one spot some concrete rubble was down in the water. I roll cast out in front of it and let the fly settle. It twitched and I set. The line zigged and zagged as a pretty smallmouth struggled on the end of my line. But it was now time to go to work. Sigh I left with the thought of big wintering smalljaws dancing in my head. Looks like we are going to have to make that wintertime float trip after all....