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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Black friday surprise

Imagine my surprise when this guy inhaled one of Vic's grubs instead of a saugeye. He hit on my second cast of the night. By the time I landed him it started to rain. Plus there's no good way to hold one this big and I ended up soaking wet and completely covered in buffalo slime. So I don't know how the saugs were biting tonight I didn't stay long enough to find out. But I'll trade it any time for a battle like that...

Friday, November 27, 2015


Loving this warm weather. Catching them mostly right before or after daylight on a Vic Coomer 3" red with glitter curly tail. The carp actually swallowed the grub. Seems like in fall and winter they are more likely to strike a lure, at least for me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Christmas wishin'

Dropped by Queen City Outdoors today and was looking over some of the new stuff in stock. Lots of new Shimano reels. Some amazing high end super high quality Hardy product that had me drooling as well. And what I'd like most from Santa, Fenwick Aetos fly rods. I've been a good boy Santa honest I have. Blatant plug here because I love this place and the people. If you get to pick out your own Christmas present be sure and drop by my friend Scotty's store...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A bit of thanksgiving...

It's nights like these that make me sleep all day. I've spent the evening fleshing and tacking out the hide of a small buck on a wooden frame. Treated with borax, it should provide the material for a whole box of bass bugs. I like the fact that my two favorite things dovetail so nicely into each other. The end of the best of the fall fishing heralds the rut and the best of bowhunting. Then the deer itself ends up fueling a winters dreaming of spring at the tying vise.
January first is the start of the new year but in many ways the years fishing ends sometime around middle November. Yes I fish all winter, heck a couple years ago the years best fish was caught in December. But the cold bundled up fishing of winter blends easier into the cold bundled up fishing of early springtime and in many ways belongs to next year. The sudden abrupt change from great fishing one week to fishing all day for one bite the next seems like an ending of sorts. Few things in life make me sentimental, dogs, my granddaughter and end of a years fishing are the short list off the top of my head.
It's been a pretty special year on the water. If you spend as much time outside quiet and alone as I like to do special things are just bound to happen. Early spring was highlighted by a trip to a little rugged creek high in the mountains of North Carolina. Here tiny brook trout each looking like a jeweled miracle came willingly to a nymph fished on a little 4wt. The little creek more fell than flowed off the mountainside. Stair stepping down in a series of knee to waist  high waterfalls and at the base of each one or two perfect six to ten inch trout perfectly in scale. The beauty of the experience was surreal and I'd find myself just stopping, trying to let it soak in so I can remember when I'm too old to climb to places like this. This was also a three day stretch where, alone in the mountains, I didn't speak to another human being, not easy to do in todays world. April brought a halcyon day that had me catching a 25.5" saugeye and a 19.5" smallmouth about an hour apart. What I remember most was being scared wading the riffle to get to the fishing. But a stout stick and going painfully slow got me across the high 50something degree water and to fishing heaven. But so far the year as a whole had been slow compared to other years and I began to think it was looking like a slow year all around. Then the end of April and into May brought a flurry of fine smallmouth fishing almost as good as fall. And I hate to say in my frantic attempts to fish every minute of it the whole experience has blended into one long blur. Lots of great fish including a river crappie pushing 14" but I'm almost ashamed to say no singular moments that stand out now months later. A lesson learned for the future I hope.  May into June brought a 19" smallmouth and some swell hybrid fishing on some new stretches of river I'd never gotten around to exploring though it's close to home. Then the agony of high flooded streams, luckily happening after the spawn. I resorted to fishing for largemouth in the ponds of a wildlife area and daydreaming of my beloved rivers. July was everything June was not. The months beginning found my wife and I camped on the beach on a barrier island off the South Carolina coast. The fishing was anything but spectacular, mostly small rays and sharks. But that was more than made up for by being there every morning as the sun rose over the ocean with the sea birds passing overhead and sharing the beach at daylight with a couple small deer. One morning while trying in vain to catch a flounder at a river mouth a dolphin passed thirty feet away hunting fish himself. While not a stellar smallmouth month, July was filled with other great fish. I caught Fish Ohio channel catfish, saugeye, bluegill and crappie and seemingly a FO hybrid every trip. July and August are the height of my overnight camping season too and I spent a night or two camped on either the LMR or GMR almost every week. One of my favorite places involves first about a mile kayak paddle up a slow section of stream to get to. This section is so placid and I've done it so many times I feel safe doing it in the dark. Several times I'd leave after work and end up paddling the river at midnight. Which never failed to be memorable. From the startling slap of an unseen beaver's tail to the beauty of the night clouds scuttling over the moon. The same stretch during the day had a mother wood duck doing a broken wing imitation right in front of me for hundreds of yards as she "led" me away from her hidden chicks. And then on another morning a doe swimming the river, climbing out and seemingly disappearing right into the foggy air. Camping on the river always leads to one of the best things you can do outside which is sit by a campfire staring into the fire listening to the sounds of the night and the river. One of the coolest sounds you will ever hear is the sound of an owl calling at night echoing over the water. Another night was highlighted by the greenish glow of a big meteor sliding in silent splendor across the night sky. July also gave me a few glorious trips when the river jumped up from rains further upstream. Where the clear water of a tributary met the muddy water of the river hybrids and white bass set up in a feeding frenzy. Suddenly baitfish would start to fly everywhere in waves as the striped fish tore into them. Every cast into the melee was rewarded with a strike. Some of the neatest fishing I've ever experienced. Bait was packed so tightly where the clear and muddy water met that as you fought a fish you could track its progress by the minnows skipping away from the fighting fish.
I hated to see July go but August was kind to me as well. Giving me a 30" striper out of a small southwestern Ohio stream as well as some swell hybrids and a 19" smallie. August also had a weekend camping trip that saw my grandson catch his first fish.
September found me with some good friends on the Clinch River. Not used to the glorious striper fishing down south it was amazing just to watch the line steadily peel off as 37 and 38 inch stripers thrilled us with long runs. Then back home for more hybrids and smallies and an overnighter where I caught big channels on a handline wrapped around a pop bottle all night.
From about mid September thru October was probably the best fishing of the year, as it is most years. I caught a huge channel that was one of the years best fish stretching the tape to 29" and had a hybrid trip that had me hooking 20+ hybrids that were 20" or better. But the best part was the smallmouth fishing. I think in a four week period I caught five 19" plus smallmouth culminating in a fat toad that was 20". An oddball catch was a big grass carp out of the river that I hooked right under the chin on a grub. No idea if he was trying to eat it or that was just where I happened to snare him. Warm weather had fishing going strong right into the first week of November when one night a giant shovelhead engulfed my swimbait. The monstrous 43+ inch fish had his way with my light spinning tackle and I think surprised us both by not getting off and actually letting me land him. It just seemed to be the icing on the cake of a year that saw me fish around 150 days. Along the way I met a small army of deer and beaver, pileated woodpeckers and kingfishers, cormorants and snakes. Glimpsed an otter and had a muskrat almost climb onto my boot in the middle of the night. Heard sandhill cranes call thru morning fog and osprey scream. And saw more eagles in southern Ohio than I ever have before as well see fox, coyote, raccoon, and a possum. And weirdly enough found four rubber ducks along the river, each one months apart from the other. Any one else finding rubber ducks???
Now it's bit more hunting and the once or twice a week ritual of putting on every stitch of clothing I own and chasing saugeye. But like I said before part of me feels that belongs more to next year and this years fishing has passed, I'm sorry to see it go. Thank you fishing gods for a pretty swell year...

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Bad Year ( a short story)

actually a reprint of an old story since it's that time of year:

The first morning a forked horned buck walked right under the tree. Materialised actually. He just looked up and there he was, standing there in the middle of his shooting lane. And there the buck stayed for the better part of an hour before walking off. Then ten minutes later a twig snaps and there he is again. It was one of the few times he could ever remember when a deer overstayed his welcome. By the time the young buck walked off he was stiff and exhausted from not moving.
Then finally off to the cabin for four days. The first morning rain was forcasted so he brought out an umbrella contraption his father had given him. He climbed the tree fine with the rain shelter bungee corded to his stands frame. Fifteen minutes later he was still struggling to mount it solidly to the tree. In theory a u shaped hanger strapped to the tree and below this hung a camo umbrella hung with a small bolt and wing nut. The problem was the umbrella wouldn't open completely and still hang off it's bracket. He was still trying to mount it into it's bracket when on the ridgeline a deer began to blow. It's only fifty yards or so to the ridgeline so the deer must have been very close. Later climbing down he walked up there and found a rub on a pine tree five inches thru. Right then down over the bank a grouse began to drum. The guidebooks all say that grouse drum in the spring to attract a mate. But he heard their odd drumming here every fall. At a distance it sounds like someone trying to start a small lawn mower but not quite getting the job done. Vvvrummp. Vvvrummp. Then a pause and then vvvrummp. A few times he had actually been lucky enough to see a grouse drum. Each time the bird would hop up on a log lying on the forest floor and just stand there looking things over. Then finally puff up and drum stiff bowed wings against it's body, vvvrummmp. Then the bird stands there a bit looking over his little piece of woodland before repeating the whole thing over again.
That evening he left for the tree right after lunch planning to hunt till the rains came. Well the rain never came and six hours later he climbed down stiffer and even more exhausted than the forkie had left him. A beautifull doe ghosted out of shadow looking like she was coming his way then just disappeared like smoke back into the woods. Just that way right at the end of his vision in the woods ran a staggard line of small pines thru the thicket. This created a line of green and shadow that drew his eye waiting for the deer to appear. Over the last few years he had taken several nice deer from this tree and every one had stepped out of that line of green and velvety shadow. His tree was perfect easily the best stand on his property. A maple just the right size to climb that he felt safe climbing to the end of his pull up rope in. Right in front of his tree close enough that he could lean way out and touch was an oak. A perfect oak that reliably produced lots of acorns to draw deer. Plus like many oaks it had small branches, twigs really growing up the length of its trunk from allmost right at ground level up to the first big branches. High up in the maple he was hidden behind the oak to any approaching deer. The next morning found him up the same tree again. About eight thirty a limb popped out towards the pine thicket and here came a buck. The wind swirled wildly about but the deer was coming fast and he thought it should be under his scent. But then the buck froze. Two steps from where he could shoot it. It stood there then raised it's head sniffing the wind. Up and down twice went the bucks head like a horse snorting at the reins. Then the buck just turned and began to sneak away. It slowly, slowly raised it's tail and snuck back the way it had came. Then just squirrels and chipmunks to pass the time till it was time to climb down. It was warm, too warm for november really and the chipmunks and squirrels were everywhere taking advantage of indian summer. After lunch he headed back up the ridge towards the stand. Long ago, before he had bought the place a decade ago, a large pine had fallen and it's wreckege lay beside the trail. Over the years he had tried several times to capture the essence of the strength and drama of this grand old wreck of a tree in a photo but the pictures never could create that feeling in him the old tree did. Today the old tree rustled and made scratching noises. He froze and a fence lizard scrambled out into a sunny patch. No doubt wondering what was wrong with the calendar that it should be out in mid november. Far away he could hear dogs running, baying on a track. Every day he heard them somewhere chasing the deer.
Soon after climbing the tree a flicker flew into an oak twenty feet away. Unlike most species of woodpeckers, Flickers forage mostly on the ground. though no one had bothered to tell this gut that as he spent ten minutes combing over the bark of the oak giving him the best look he'd ever had at one. This was also the same tree he had gotten his best look at a barred owl from. Seeing the bird land out thru the woods at dusk, he made a sucking kissing noise on the back of his hand squeeking like some small creature in trouble. The owl flew closer. He squeeked again and it flew unto a limb fifteen feet away. Decked out in full camo from head to foot he was a mystery to the owl. The owl bobbed its head up and down in that way peculiar to only owls trying for a better look. Finally it just sat there. Looking out over the woods. The owl turned it's head 180 degrees looking directly behind it. He squeeked again, more head bobbing and staring. This went on for twenty minutes. Often, most nights really, he would hear the owl hoot on the hillside behind the cabin. Who cooks for you...who cooks for you all... He had come to think of the owl as an old friend. A silent and deadly hunter watching over his woods at night. But why then announce to the whole woods you were there every few minutes? Maybe that was the point, for the benefit of the nervous deermice, the meek voles hidden in the leaves. Who cooks for you... Where did that come from? nowhere, everywhere. Who cooks for you all... maybe I should be over there, yes that looks safer. Scurry, rustle, and death sweeps in on silent wings. He often found the feathers of wild turkeys in the woods, once he found a wonderfully marked feather from his owl. What a difference, you waved the the turkey feather fast like beating wings and you could hear it. A soft whoosh whoosh whoosh. Wave the owl feather and nothing, just silence.
About an hour after the flicker he caught movement thru the trees. It was a deer coming his way. Slowly relaxed it took seemingly forever to get there. This made him nervous. More nervous than he had been on a doe in a long time. Finally she stopped about twenty yards out and nosed around for acorns in the leaves. There was just one little branch in the way hanging down right over the does chest. Take it easy he told himself, She's not going anywhere. Slow down. Her head came up and she took a step forward standing there alert. Then relaxing and nosing around in the leaves again. For once he could follow the flight of the arrow thru the air. Most of the time allmost all of the time you let the arrow go and the deer exploded away and you can't really tell what happened. You have a feel for what happened but you can't really know for sure. This time the light was just right, the deer was just far enough out or something, something, and he could follow the arrow. Watch it bury right behind the deers shoulder leaving a dark spot on its side. A messed up spot in it's sleek hide. The doe turned in a motion to quick to follow then bounded away. Right as it was swallowed by the woods it stumbled, more missed a step really, and then was gone. He sat there for a long time reliving the experience before climbing down. There was the arrow, seemingly perfect, except for a thin covering of blood from end to end. The deer didn't go far. But he tracked it out, painstakingly going slow trying to learn more, something that might be a big help some other time. What he didn't know, sometimes you never know till something clicks and helps you.
He used his nylon safety strap to drag the doe further away from the tree before gutting her. No matter how many times he did this it didn't help. It was nasty business much worse than butchering the carcass later. The lungs, the heart, the enternal organs were fine, enteresting even. It was the stomach, especially if you ever accidently slit it open that was foul. He knew that when he came back in a week all traces of the gut pile would be gone, turned into possum, fox, and coyote.
Not far from the cabin a man processes deer. It was a run down sloppy place, a mix of prefab sheds and old plywood. But the tables, the equipment was clean and thats what counted. Plus he was cheap and would save him the long drive home so he could hunt some more. That night was cooler and he built a big fire. He'd brought a sandwhich toaster. A fancy version of the ridiculous metal hot dog sticks sold at walmarts everywhere. But this had a box on the end just the size of two pieces of bread. Two pieces of buttered bread with turkey and cheese inside. It is probably the best thing he'd ever had cooked out camping. In the distance he could hear the dogs chasing another deer thru the darkness.
And then there was nothing. Two days passed. Then three with no deer seen from his stands. Maybe now just turn your monitor off and just stare at the blank screen for a while, a long while, a hour or two possibly to get across something of the feeling of three days of four hours in the morning and four and sometimes five hours in the evening and nothing. The only interesting thing that happened was one evening right at dark a tufted titmouse flitted around his tree fussing. A titmouse is a tiny bird that travels the winter woods in mixed flocks with chickadees and downy woodpeckers. The woods will be silent one minute then full of life the next as these flocks move thru the winter woods. But this titmouse was different he hung around fussing. Then finally as darkness edged ever closer the tiny bird flew to a snag. A tree six or seven inches in diameter broken off ten or twelve feet up. There the titmouse disappeared right into to the broken end of the snag. There must have been a hollow spot here. Probably the reason the tree broke off in the first place. Now just the right size for a tiny bird to wedge itself into, fluff up and survive another cold winter night.
The next week he was back for five more days. That morning a heavy frost covered the ground. He was hunting in the bowl. A large bowl a couple hundred yards across. Here last year he had watched a nice buck work a scrape. Pawing it out, then rubbing the pre-orbital gland on its forehead against the overhanging branch before walking right under his stand. The first light of day lit up the trees all along the rim of the bowl while the rest of the bowl remained dark. Here oaks held tightly onto their leaves after all others but the beech leaves had fallen. The oaks shone like polished brass in the first magical light of day. Slowly the line of brightness crept down the bowl waking the squirrels and chipmunks. Small scurries and rustles as the woods came to life. One big oak in particular held the squirrels attention. Up and down it's trunk they ran, it's topmost branches shimmered and shook with their movement. Every momment or two acorns rained down out of it's branches. Then across the bowl, crashing in the bushes. Here they came. The deer chasers. A big mutt, half german shepard and half something shaggy and a big mixed hound. Neither wore a collar. They hit his trail and froze. He marveled at their noses, after all, he had worn rubber boots as to not scare the deer. The mutt sniffed down his trail a bit going away from the tree while the hound came towards him. Carefully and silently. It trailed him right to the base of the tree and stood there sniffing where he had put the stand togethor. At twenty feet straight down the arrow sounded like a 22 as it hit in the spine. The hound dropped instantly and kicked for twenty seconds or so. Unlike deer, dogs have not learned to look up and the mutt cautiously approached sniffing at the dead hound. The arrow missed its spine but solidly got at least one lung. The big dog spun in a cirle growling and biting at the arrow before taking off the way it had come. It entered the high weeds and brush at the bottom of the bowl but never came out the other side.
He felt nothing at the killing. Certainly no elation but no guilt either, it was simply an unpleasant thing that had to be done. He wondered how many fawns they had killed that spring. That evening he walked up to where the gravel lane that ran past his cabin crested a big ridge before dropping over the other side down to a little valley with some houses. Here at the crest an old logging road crossed the gravel lane at a right angle then wending off both directiones thru the woods. He turned right following the logging road for a couple hundred yards then turning right again down a spur ridge running back towards his cabin. This was off his property but belonged to a land company that was holding it for timber and open to all the locals to hunt. He saw the first rub fifty yards away. On a small tree eight inches thru. As he approached he saw more. Lots more. In a ragged line seventy five yards long there was at least fifty rubs all on stuff five to eight inches thru. The rub line line into a patch of impenetrable cover. He was very excited. This was probably his best chance at a big trophy buck in several years. But he was worried too. No trails or doe sign. This was this one deer's bedding area. It's core area and trying to hunt just one deer, a single deer, on public land was also the road to madness. And so began the big sit. He was oh so carefull not to touch anything or brush against anything coming or going. The tree was good, he could go all the way to the end of his rope and there was clear shooting lanes. The first day he thought he might have heard a grunt back in the cover. Or maybe not. The next morning it was still. One of those mornings where sound carried and you could hear the train pass seven miles away just like it was right at the end of the lane. He could plainly hear the scrape scrape of the bucks antlers on a tree down in the cover. Over and over. He was very excited expecting any minute to see the deer. He kept mentally telling himself, now don't rush the shot, take your time. But the deer never came. That evening at dark he could hear the buck in the leaves but never saw him. But it would only take one mistake. It was the height of the rut and for all he knew the big buck was a mile away chasing does. But it would only take one slip up and he would be there waiting. Just one morning staying out too late chasing does and coming in after daylight to bed.
Two days later he heard the crunch crunch of leaves at dusk. The steady walking of a buck. He got ready. Crunch. Crunch. But darkness was coming fast. Finally the deer passed at thirty yards. Just a general shape in the twilight, too dark to shoot. And so it went. November, it's own season, the best season, was frittered away and now he knew what was coming. The cold. The bad time hunting in the cold of December, the snow of January just to get something, anything for the freezer. He had gambled on the big buck and lost. As he knew going in he would. But when the chance comes you have to try it.

Sex, Death, and Fishing...

 (with apologies to John Geirach for the title)

I know this guy who those of us that know him jokingly refer to as Killer. A member of the National Guard, he brags every about all the ways he knows to kill someone. Don't misunderstand me, I have nothing but the upmost respect for all members of every branch of the military. I'm just telling you about this one guy. He tells us daily all about how he could use explosives, guns, knives, and assorted other ways to kill someone. He's obsessed with the subject. Slight of build and small I don't know if he's trying to get some respect he feels he's lacking or if I'm going to turn on the news one morning and find out he's killed four people at a beer, gas, and bait store.
I honestly feel that with a lot of people like this the problem is lack of actual experience. It doesn't take long when your elbow deep in blood dressing a deer to realize this is nothing like TV. That it's damned serious. Nothing ever happens like the clean fake deaths on TV where Rambo goes pop, pop, pop and all the bad guys just tip over like those tin targets at the carnival shooting game. Things have a nasty habit of bleeding, of not dying instantly, of having to be dressed and butchered and quartered afterward. In my grandfathers day back in the hollers of Kentucky it was perfectly acceptable  to bring your 22 rifle to school and lean it in the coat closet while you were in school. Why? Because a 15 year old back then knew that shooting something had consequences. That thing died or worse ran off wounded and bleeding. That it was nothing like the experience of shooting things on video games like Call of Duty. Or buying your meat packaged in plastic at the grocery I might add.
I think the same principle applies to fishing. The basic thing at the core of fishing for thousands and thousands of years has always been the need to catch a fish, kill it and eat it. The "modern" world has allowed us the luxury of catch and release. I probably practice catch and release 90-95% of the time, out of the 150 or 200 trips a year I take I might keep a couple fish to eat once or twice. Usually while camped out by the river and cooked over a fire. If nothing else this grounds my fishing as a basic human activity like building a fire, making a shelter, or having sex. It's what separates hunting and fishing from things that are just games like golf or football.  Even catch and release fishing is not a noble contest, a battle of wits as it were with a fish. Just ask the fish, I'm pretty darned sure the fish doesn't look at as a game. Some studies seem to how that fish might not feel pain in the way we do. But all you have to do is go out and catch one fish to realize it scares the bejezzus out of them. But catch and release is one of the least damaging ways in an overpopulated world we can still experience basic principles. I'm a big proponent of hunting and do it as much as I can but it's pretty hard to practice catch and release with a rabbit or a squirrel.
By the same token I find all forms of fishing fascinating. As long as the trained biologists at the department of natural resources say it's okay I'm likely to have tried it at least once. I love fly fishing, I think at last count I own nine fly rods, a couple of which are very good ones. I have a stack of fly boxes two feet tall filled with every fly imaginable. I love the grace and beauty of fly casting. And I love spin fishing, casting a topwater lure for a smallmouth bass is one of life's great pleasures.
But like I said, I find all forms of fishing fascinating. I'd fish with thread in a mud puddle for minnows if that was all the fishing I was allowed. ( I bet I'd get good at it too) I've been known to fish for channel cats with just a throw line wrapped around an old tin can. I've spent many a day chasing carp with both a smelly doughball and  fly rod. And maybe most controversially I still every couple years fish the way my grandfather did, with a trot line or limb lines. But lets be honest here, do we really want to debate how sporty methods like trot lines are? I mean who is more morally or ethically right here? Me catching, releasing and scaring the heck out of twenty bass just for fun or my grandfather catching and keeping a catfish for dinner? At the expense of using a fishing pun, that's not a can of worms I'm sure I want to open.
It's also a style of fishing that takes quite a bit of knowledge and river craft to do well. It's not like you can say, "well not doing any good here, I think I'll move up there".  It might take an hour or two to set up a good trot line and you can't just move on a whim till you find fish. I think most people who argue against the "sporting" aspect of fishing a trot line have never actually done it. And there is no doubt it is an exciting and fun way to fish once you try it. There is the anticipation factor. You can if you wish fish baits far larger than you can practically on normal fishing tackle. On hooks and lines that would let you land fish you could never handle on your bass tackle.
And if you run your line every couple hours like you should or better yet set up camp close enough to know when you have a big fish on, landing the fish itself is awfully exciting. Instead of the fish peeling off line and fighting in the depths the fight is up close and personal, right in your face. You have a hold of a two foot length of line with a thirty pound shovelhead thrashing around on the other that your trying to grab by the lower jaw with your free hand and pull into the john boat. You end up soaking wet with a big green fish thrashing about, first on the line, then in the boat. It's very possible to get hurt. I should mention here that fishing trot lines an limb lines can actually b very dangerous, especially in rivers with their current. Accidently hook yourself on heavy line with a big hook in strong current and its possible to get jerked off the boat and drowned just baiting the line. You should always carry a knife on your person for safety reasons. Doubly so if you try it alone.
So you still want to try this bloodthirsty, dangerous method and get covered head to toe with water and fish slime wrestling big ugly fish? Well good for you, I'm proud of you. Let's get started.
 A trotline is basically a heavy setline with multiple hooks hanging off the mainline on leaders that is employed in the river by means of weights and floats.  There is no exact formula for placement of the weights and floats. What you are trying to do is place them at intervals that keep your baits at the depth you think a fish is likely to find them. Just like any other fishing. It depends more on the contour of the river bottom an the speed and depth of the water.  I try to place the hooks  about 3 to 4 feet apart these are attached to the main line by shorter lines called dropper lines or "trots." A swivel is used to attach the trots to the main line or on the trot and this connection is called the "staging."  Of course you can call them whatever you like but part of the fun in anything is learning the nomenclature, much like learning words like hackle and taper when learning to fly fish. And you "run" a trot line you don't check it.  Besides you don't want to run into some old river rat and start talking about your fish and him look at you sideways and say, "your not from around here, are you son?". Here's a typical arrangement for a trot line keeping in mind that each one is set up according to where it's placed.

Limb lines can be very effective in small rivers. Often riverside trees especially sycamores have long arching limbs that stretch out just a few feet over the waters surface. The basic idea is to tie your line to these and the springy limb presents the bit perfectly as well as gives and doesn't let a big fish pull off or straighten a hook. One of the exciting things bout this kind of fishing is that you can tangle with fish big enough to straighten some hefty hooks. Limb lines can be extremely effective on shovelheads because they will let you present a bait just under the surface of the water. A bluegill or chub as bait struggling at the waters surface on a quiet night can be irresistible to a ferocious predator like a big shovelhead. The line is set up much like the trot on  trot line with a hook, a swivel and a weight to keep your bait where you wan it. In current or with live bait the swivel is doubly important to avoid line twist.
 The legality of how many hooks you can have out, the length of lines, how they are marked, etc., varies from state to state so, like with any fishing, check your local regulations before trying this. But I strongly suggest you do try it. Find a quiet river, set your lines, build a fire, throw out a couple lines on conventional tackle and sit back and get in touch with your inner Huck Finn. Chances are it will end up being one of the most memorable fishing trips you've ever taken


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This time of year I spend a lot of time daydreaming about next year. Either while I'm twenty feet up a tree bowhunting deer or at the vise creating something. Lately I've been working on filling a little fly box for fishing a couple tiny creeks near my home. There's nothing special about them. Warm fertile and full of tiny bass and sunfish they run behind old factories, thru the back of farms, behind the ball field. Pretty much your average creek anywhere in the Midwest. And they have the most beautiful fish in the world in them, the longear sunfish. Honestly if this beauty was half a world away up the Congo they would be all the rage of the aquarium world. Find me a prettier fish anywhere, I dare you.
Instead it's forgotton, ignored, overlooked. But slip down to the creek, find a rock to sit on a while.  After a bit, after things settle down, if your lucky you can see them down there in the clear water. and that's what makes fishing for them so interesting to me. Silly little sunfish, in a tiny creek never fished for, a piece of cake right? Wrong! When you are that far down on the food chain, when the catfish, the raccoons, the herons, the smallmouth, the snakes and on and on all look at you as a possible meal, well you get a little skittish. It's master level presentation training. Oh the fly selection is pretty easy, anything small enough presented lightly enough is probably going to be eaten. But it's glass clear water with brush and tree limb everywhere throwing tiny flies on the tiniest gear you have. If that doesn't make you a better stream smallmouth fisherman, a better trout dry fly man, a better, stealthier wader, well, maybe it's time to take up gardening. But present a fly lightly enough, delicately enough around and brush or vegetation, in any small eddy or backwater and you'll probably be rewarded. Unlike some types of fishing where you can do everything right and still not catch a fish, this fishing lets you know. Yep, got that right, nope flubbed that spot. But thirty foot upstream is another tiny pool, another spot to get it right or fail all over again. It's easy to get lost in this type of fishing and suddenly look up and realize the clear morning light has changed into the dark shadows of evening without you even noticing. It's something I've missed and as part of my vow to get back to basic stream fishing next year, something I'm going to be doing more of. I like small bright flies that both the fish and I can see. Parachutes, Wulfs, elk hair caddis on top and brightly colored beadheads, flies that serve double duty as brook trout flies. Another beautiful little fish where presentation means more than imitation.  Both longears and brookies are like tiny little jewels once brought to hand. It doesn't matter how many I've seen I still stop and stare with wonder at each new one. Maybe it's character defect that limits my growth this ability to be entertained by the same thing over and over. I like to think its an appreciation of beauty. When you look up longear sunfish online it's hard to find more than a paragraph. Most a few words tossed their way with a passing reference to how pretty they are. Pretty? Calling lomgear sunfish pretty is like calling Salma Hayek pretty, like calling a redwood just a tree, like calling a wolverine wild. The word hardly has enough meaning to do them justice. Exquisite, jewellike, breathtaking....Yeah I know its just a tiny little fish. Well wade a creek in summertime and bring one to hand and hold it in the sunlight streaming thru the trees and see if you don't fall in love too...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tis the season...


November Giant

So I've been catching a few saugfish at night after work in the GMR. Up until tonight that is. I lost one right away then another. Well crap. Well you know there's fish here. It's 55 or 60 degrees and I'm staying till I catch one dammit. How many nights like this are left? So It's a long time with no action, probably pushing one or one thirty in the morning. Thump. I set the hook and this fish just moves off slow like it's not even hooked. Except that my spinning rod (with 8lb test) is bent double. The fish just kind of wanders around out there with me holding the rod. Sometimes taking line, sometimes me gaining line when the fish swims my way. Finally after a long time the fish seems to tire. (I know I am by then) I'm thinking I've snared a big carp or huge buffalo that's tail hooked so it's fighting harder than normal. I flip on my headlamp which flickers and goes off. I switch it on again and this huge shape swims by and the light goes out again. Okay, no chance of me ever landing this fish. Now I'm trying hard to get the headlamp to work. It flickers twice more then quits for good. The fish slowly swims off again. I put as much pressure as I dare and the fish turns. I'm thinking now of the old man and the sea where he keeps trying over and over to turn the fish. The fish powers out into the river and pulls me around for another four or five minutes then seems to tire again only to spook in the shallows and head out again. I'm nice and calm because after all there's no chance of landing this guy in the dark on 8lb test. Then after a while the unthinkable happens, the fish somehow stays on, the line holds, it wears out, and I grab a huge lower jaw and drag it out. Vic's swimbait is hooked deep in the roof of its mouth but there's plenty of room to get my hand in there to unhook it. I've got a tape measure the ODNR was giving out at the Columbus show, Just one problem, the tapes 40 inches long and this guys probably three inches longer than that. I take a few photos and lay the fish in the shallow to recuperate. It lays there while I gather all my stuff and get ready to leave. I lean down and touch the fish and it shoots away with a giant splash soaking me from head to toe. Now that was an adventure..

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Basic Fishing...

The simplest set up of all, fishing at it's most basic with just a hook and a couple split shot on the line.
Too simple right? Well, like most things in life the simplest is often the best. And believe it or not you can adjust this rig to fit probably a wider range of conditions than almost any other set up.
For weight, I use removable split shot so I can change the amount of weight rapidly. I want just the right amount of weight so my bait is drifting at the same speed as the bottom current. Most of the time my goal is to have my bait drifting about one half the speed of the surface current. The surface currents are always faster than the bottom current, well, okay, 99.9% of the time. What happens is the water rubs along the bottom creating friction and slowing the current right on the bottom. Using removable shot lets you tinker with the weight and placement so your drift is at the ideal speed. The shot bounces along the river bottom with the bait being more buoyant hopefully drifting along right above the bottom. Even the placement of the shot can alter its drift with the shot spread apart along the line you get a slightly shallower more horizontal drift than with shot placed the standard ten inches or foot up the line. While a bunch of heavier shot placed together makes the whole set up act like more of a jig. Ideally your picturing the bait in your head as it drifts along the stream and any twitch or unnatural stop means a fish.

In some shallow streams or in very slow stream sections drifting a bait on just a hook with no weight can be very effective.  Try to keep just enough slack so the bait has a natural drift.  A great example is when hybrid stripers are feeding in a riffle. Hooking just a shad and letting it drift helplessly down stream almost guarantees a strike if a stripe sees the bait. My uncle used this technique a lot in a small river near home, drifting chicken liver to hungry channel catfish. Usually most lowhead dams have a big slowly turning eddy at one end or the other, often both. I've found this is a great place to throw a nightcrawler on either just a plain hook or a splitshot rig and let it slowly follow the current around the eddy. You can catch almost everything that swims in the river doing this.

Ideally you should have a variety of sizes of shot with you. Even though it's a simple rig, by varying both the amount of shot and it's placement you can cover the entire water column. Just another example of, as Leonardo Da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". If I could choose only one technique to fish with for the rest of my life it might just be this one.

Two different takes on the same basic principle of a weight dragging bottom with the bait trailing behind up off the bottom. There are literally dozens of different variations on the basic idea. I will say that two of my personal heroes in the world of fishing Dan Gapen and Al Linder have used this kind of rig for just about every fish that swims in our rivers. The idea is the weight bounces along the bottom but the bait doesn't hang up and is presented right in the fishes wheelhouse. If you troll or drift rivers chances are your best presentations are made by using some variation of this rig. And not just with live or cut bait but with lures as well. Crappie, smallmouth bass, walleye, even big bluegill are suckers for the right sized crankbait fished behind some kind of three way rig. When presenting bait your limited only by your imagination. There's an infinite amount of different sinker designs and weights to drop off the bottom. You can lengthen or shorten your leader, even add a float on your leader to lift your bait up off the bottom. And most of the terminal tackle involved is dirt cheap so you can afford to stock up on a variety to experiment with while on the water. Again if you fish rivers out of a yak, canoe, john boat or full sized boat you should be experimenting around with three way rigs regularly.


 The slip sinker rig was the first rig my father taught me years ago when we he first took me fishing. It is probably the most popular way to present live or cut bait across the country. And with good reason, it's simply excellent. The idea is that you can use a heavy enough weight to get the job done in any situation but still the fish feels little or no resistance when it takes. The fish can take the bait and swim off with as the line pays out freely thru the slip sinker. Although simple like all the previous rigs it is extremely versatile. There is a huge array of sliding sinkers nowadays, you could replace the swivel with an adjustable stop like a speedo bead, and of course vary the length of leader.
Use only enough leader to let your bait attract fish without hanging up. That may mean a short six or eight inch leader if your trying for a big shovel in a logjam, A long leaders drifting for channel cats  along a clean bottom or maybe even no leader trying for a monster blue in heavy current and rocks below a big dam on the Ohio. The slip sinker rig is also one of the best for light biters that might spook drop other rigs. Finding a riffle in a small river and fishing just below or above it with a nightcrawler thrown out on this rig is just about as close to a sure thing as your ever going to find in the fishing world.

If your like me you probably consider carp a worthy game fish. Study after study has shown that carp are among the most intelligent of all fish. In every study I've seen carp that have been caught once are always the hardest fish species of all to catch a second time. This seems as good a place as any to introduce what I'll call my redneck hair rig. Most of the time carp in rivers haven't been fished for and you will have constant action by fishing a doughball on a small treble behind a slip sinker rig. But some days even the most unfished for carp can be frustratingly difficult to hook. They will pick up your bait and streak off like a bat out of hell. You set the hook and nothing is there! How did they do that? It seems impossible but every carp fisherman has experienced it. In Europe where big carp are worshipped a rig known as a hair rig is employed. A small loop is trailed behind a small hook. A tiny tool that looks like a miniature knitting needle is used to attach the doughball to the loop and the small hook is left dangling free just in front of the bait. When the carp tries to expel the bait the small free hook catches in the carps mouth giving you time to set the hook. Well istead of a loop replace that with the treble you would normally use to hold your doughbait. You get the extra hooking chances of the hair rig and the insurance of a conventional treble hook.