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Monday, December 28, 2015

right time. right place 12/27

So I'm eating my breakfast and glanced over at our little bass pro shops weather station. 71 degrees at 6 am. I think I just about spit cereal everywhere. I couldn't get out the door fast enough. I ended up finding the fish where a ten foot wide flow that was normally ankle deep entered a small lake. Today it was two foot deep and rising. and had a muddy plume sticking out a hundred feet into the lake. It was coming in so fast that an eddy of clear water was rotating up the bank right back to  where the water was gushing in. Enough to slowly sweep along a 1/8 ounce jig head and one of Vic's clear with gold flake grubs. Right where the muddy water met the clear was where I caught my fish.  Rubber boots a waterproof jacket and a rain poncho over that weren't enough to keep me dry in the rain coming down sideways in the wind.  I walked a bit up the tiny creek to look around and found the little two foot wide cut in the bank you see in the photo. On a whim I lowered the jig into it and a small ten inch bass whacked it. By the time I was too wet and cold and had retreated back to the warmth of the truck I'd caught ten bass and four dandy white bass. And the temperature had dropped 23 degrees in five hours! No big fish but I sure can't complain for 12/27.




Saturday, December 26, 2015

Eskimo Summer

I guess if warm weather in October and November is Indian summer this can safely be called Eskimo summer. Amazing that the last few trips out I've found plants blooming. On the 24th and 26th of December! Today I had one of the best bluegill trips I've had in a long time, I must have caught 50 big gills in about eight or nine feet of water at a small lake in a local wildlife area. The channel hammered a grub in an eddy just as the river began rising. The only thing that worries me is the huge swollen buds on so many trees. They look pretty vulnerable to a hard freeze. I bet the flowering trees aren't going to put on much of a show this spring.









Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fly fishing for smallmouth bass

Read ten articles about smallmouth on the fly rod and eight of them will say go ahead and use the five weight you use for trout. Now wait a minute. Every serious fisherman I know has a billion specialty rods for every kind of fishing he might run into. A big baitcasting rod for heavy cover, a 4 wt fly rod for tiny streams, a rod for plastic worms, one for crankbaits and on and on. Fishermen love an excuse to get another rod. So why not get a rod (or two) for smallmouth in streams? Yes you can get by with a 5wt but there are things you won't be able to do. A lot of things.
One of life's great pleasures is casting a deer hair bug for smallmouth. Not much is more exciting than catching them on top. You can throw little poppers and miniature deer hair bugs on a 5wt for sure, You cannot throw a standard deer hair bug any distance at all on one. At least not without difficulty. And there are also times when a heavily weighted fly like a wooly bugger (or woolly or whoolly, I've seen it spelled all sorts of ways) is the best fly you can use. In fact if I was going to use just one fly for smallmouth it would probably be a bugger. Clousers, zonkers, Dahlberg divers, deceivers, all big bulky heavy flies that would fish better on a heavier rod. If I were going to own just one fly rod for smallmouth it would probably be a 7wt. I don't, so I usually use either a 6wt or an 8wt. A 6wt for smaller stuff and in smaller creeks and an 8wt for bigger stuff and in larger rivers. Fishing is what I love. I might compromise when it comes to buying a phone or jeans but I try to use the right tool for the job at hand when it comes to fishing.
Most fishing situations in smaller rivers and streams are perfect for a floating fly line. In the majority of rivers and creeks you can put the fly in front of the fish with a floating fly line. If you fish slightly larger rivers too get an extra spool with a sink tip fly line and put that in your vest or pack. You won't use it too much but it will be a game saver when you do.
To turn over the bigger flies you will be throwing for smallmouth you need a leader on the order of a 2x. I carry tippet material and leaders varying from 1x down to about 4x for smallmouth, from seven to nine feet long. Try to use the heaviest one the fish will let you get away with that day. Smallmouth are simply a load when hooked and you will be glad you did if you hook a trophy. Let's face it, you simply lose more smallmouth than just about any other fish your likely to catch. They fight as hard as any fish that swims and jump making you more likely to lose one than even other hard fighters like hybrids. Your 8wt fly rod is perfect for hybrids too BTW if your looking for another reason to justify getting one.
Close to my house are a couple tiny creeks that hold little smallmouth as well as the world's prettiest fish the long eared sunfish. These little tiny streams are perfect for wading wet on a hot summer day with a 4wt or 5wt rod. Things like sponge spiders or little poppers will catch you a bunch of fish. Like I said earlier I like to not compromise when fishing and I'll have a box of pretty hand tied things like Wulff's  and humpies on a wade trip like this. Smallmouth in these tiny creeks top out at about a foot but will still be all you handle on a 4wt. A double taper or a triangle taper floating line is perfect for these as you will be doing a bunch of roll casting in tight quarters.
When fly fishing for smallmouth don't disregard all the hard earned lessons you have learned with a spinning rod. Besides just casting a bass bug in the pools at dawn and dusk run a streamer thru places you would throw a crankbait. Fish a Dahlberg diver type fly where you would a minnow plug. Wade carefully and stealthily and high stick a heavily weighted clouser thru a run you would tumble a grub down. In other words just because you are enjoying the grace and beauty of casting a fly rod doesn't mean you can't be an effective and capable fisherman. In many situations you might find yourself catching just as many if not more fish than you would if you had brought your spinning rod instead

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wading

Be like a rock in the middle of a river, let all of the water flow around and past you. – Zen Saying

Okay so have you turned on the TV and seen Jimmy Houston or Kevin VanDam or Hank Parker or any other big name fisherman wading a stream? Probably not. Bass fishing on TV is done out of huge glitter covered boats with giant motors on the back. Which is okay by me. There are thousands of miles of great fishing on America's rivers that you couldn't even launch a bass boat on, much less run the motor on. Water that often is best fished by wading. Water that is often lightly or even underfished. Unfortunately watching bass fishing on TV teaches you how to rig a drop shot or read your electronics but it sure isn't any help to the guy who has never waded before. And yes, you need to know a few things to effectively and safely wade rivers and streams.
Successful anglers who prefer rivers realize  early on that wading can be the very best way to catch fish, particularly on small to mid-size rivers and streams. Wading lets you work promising water thoroughly and from a variety of angles. Often wading is an even better tactic than fishing from a kayak or canoe. When floating a river you often get just a single cast or two to a spot before your gone downstream. I like to combine the two techniques when I can, using my kayak to travel swiftly from one promising location to the next, then getting out and fishing the water thoroughly on foot.
In summer wet wading is the most comfortable way to fish but waders often come in handy during early spring, late fall, and in winter. Lightweight breathable waders are the logical choice for most smallmouth fishermen. Neoprene waders are just too hot most of the year. You can always layer up with fleece under your lightweight waders.  The convertible pants hikers and backpackers use (the kind with zip-off legs) are far and away the best choice for wading. They are made of nylon or similar materials and dry off in a hurry. Often they are dry by the time you get back to the truck and just aren't as heavy as jeans when wet. Around here at least you need long pants even in summer because of things like nettles. Let's face it the best fishing often doesn't have wide beat down trails. I prefer dark, natural-colored shirts, especially in clear water situations.  I don't go so far as to wear camouflage though it certainly wouldn't hurt. If somebody ever decides to come out with an official Oldstinkyguy line of fishing apparel it's basically going to be dark colored fruit of loom t-shirts and Goodwill fleeces for the winter.  Two things you have to have are a hat and polarized sunglasses. Your simply going to be a much better fisherman with them on. I don't care if it's a designer fashion statement or the baseball hat you wore in high school ten years ago, wear a hat. No headaches or eye strain from glare, no sunburn, you can see the water better, you can see the fish better, you will fish longer than the guy with no hat. Don't be that guy, wear a hat. Sometimes the stereotypes are there for a reason, there's a reason every photo you have ever seen of anyone that's a serious fisherman shows them wearing a hat and sunglasses. And if your going to fish a spot that requires you to wade a bit deep to reach you can stick an extra lure or two on your hat. Nothings worse than taking five minutes to wade into position and then have to wade right back out to root thru your pack because you just broke off.
No fish is worth dying for. I've seen a few that I thought came close in the heat of the moment but no fish is worth dying for. Wading is inherently dangerous. Even if you are Michael Phelps, currents and junk on the river bottom can be hazardous so all anglers need to know how to wade safely.
Here are a few things I've learned over the years. Take your time. Simple I know, his has broader implications than just that. It obviously includes going slow and taking your time while wading, but also encompasses taking the time to look over the river where your thinking of crossing.  Study the water a moment and evaluate current conditions before you just blindly wade in and attempt to cross a stream. Pick a route first. Slow and controlled are the keys to staying dry and safe. As you do more and more wading "slow" will become less slow, but wading will always be slower than walking on the bank. Take one step and make sure that foot is securely planted before making the next step. That is far and away the biggest reason most unplanned baths happen while wading. Don't just take a step and then the next in swift water without checking your foot placement first.
Don't face directly downstream or up, face sideways to the current and looking just a bit upstream. If you square up too much to swift current it is much easier to get swept off your feet. If you have ever tried crossing somewhere that is iffy and decided to turn back you know that your chances are greatest of getting swept off your feet are right as you turn around to go back and are squared up to the current for a moment. I've gotten myself into spots by stupidity where it became obvious I couldn't turn back, that forging ahead was actually the lesser of two evils. (In other words do as I say not always as I do.)
Speaking of which you probably will eventually someday make a bad decision and get swept of your feet. It's not nearly as big a deal as it might seem most of the time. Your best bet is to flop over on your back and ride the riffle down feet first, The biggest danger to any wading accident is hitting your head and this guards against this. If being swept off your feet is going to result in your being swept into a dangerous situation of any kind you have no business wading there to begin with.
One of the best stretches of smallmouth fishing I know of requires first that you wade a fast run that is right at the limit of my ability to wade in most flows to get to it. I don't know how many times I've walked up to this crossing and took a deep breath and then slowly blew it back out and thought "Oh Lordy" before trying to cross. The key to crossing these kinds of places is finding yourself a nice long stout stick to help you wade. Take that stick and place it securely on the bottom, test it and then lean on it before moving a foot, Don't move your stick at the same time your moving one of your feet. Move each separately and always have two of the three planted at any one time. I would say you lower your chances of falling by at least half any time you use a stick. And in many cases you can cross places that would simply be impossible to do so without one.
When it comes to actual fishing and not just crossing the stream, often the best thing you can do is to not just go wading right in. I constantly see people standing where they should be fishing. Just because the best looking spot is thirty feet out doesn't mean you shouldn't fish the near water first. You can always still fish the far water but you can't "unwade" water you have just scared the fish out of. And if you can reach the spot out there from the bank stay on the bank. It seems to be a natural inclination to just wade in when we are wade fishing, I see it over and over again.
Come midsummer when the fishing is lousy in most lakes it's often just fine in a small stream or river. And few things are more enjoyable than spending a summer day knee deep in a small stream.
The wading, the being part of the natural world, seeing birds and deer and other wildlife, all of this combines with the fishing to make wade fishing special. Just remember that wade fishing is the complete opposite of blasting down the lake in a bass boat. Often the slower you go the greater the rewards.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Invertavores and Haff Diseases???? The Rodney Dangerfield of our rivers

So for some reason I catch Buffalo. A lot of buffalo, more than anyone I know. And not just snared in the tail with a crankbait like the way most are caught, but actual lure inside the mouth, it bit the dang thing catches. I think I've finally figured out why. It's because of the way I fish? Well duh... No let me explain. Any one that knows me knows I like to fish a jig. Grubs or hair jigs are I guess are what you might call my specialty. Not exactly mainstream.  And I have another habit that is even more out of the ordinary. I lure fish rivers after dark. Most people chase smallies during the day but night time is the time to settle down with a chunk of bait for catfish. Me I'm constantly wandering around the river at night doing another of my crazy hobbies, trying to catch shovelheads on lures. All of these random things put me in the unique position to regularly catch buffalo on lures.
Buffalo are not well known or understood even though they are one of the most common fish in our rivers, Heck, I think half the people that catch one think they have caught an especially handsome carp. There's just not a lot out there on buffalo. A google search will tell you the difference between the different kinds, their ranges, and a couple lines of general description and maybe a bit on feeding habits. And that's it. Amazing really considering if you look up crappie or walleye or catfish or even carp you will find more than you can read in a week after even the simplest search.
The world record smallmouth buffalo is a whopping 82lbs 4oz while the world record bigmouth buffalo is 70lb 5oz, from Texas and Louisiana respectively. In other words they get huge. Ohio lumps both species together and the record is 46lb. Kentucky's record is 55lbs. Simply put, they are among the biggest fish you are likely to encounter in one of our local rivers.
But no one really ever catches them except for the occasional snared fish. Why? Well buffalo are considered omnivores because in addition to eating plant material they are considered by biologists to also be invertivores. Which means they eat all manner of small crayfish, shrimp, snails, insects and arthropods they find poking around on the river bottom. All the creepy crawly stuff that supports the base of the food chain. And every now and again a hair jig or grub that's fished slowly on the bottom.
Buffalo seem to me to be one of the most strongly nocturnal and crepuscular I know of. I don't know how many times I've been standing knee deep in a riffle casting for smallmouth right at dark and watched as big buffalo ghosted up into the riffle and began to feed right at dark. Making them more vulnerable to someone lure fishing after dark instead of during the day.
I also feel that once full darkness settles in that buffalo become less shy and possibly a bit territorial. Several times, too many to be a coincidence, I've caught them on a rattletrap type lure I was fishing for shovelheads. These fish are invariably hooked either in the mouth or more often on the outside of the mouth. But almost always somewhere around the head instead of snared in the dorsal or tail. Which leads me to believe they are swatting at the bait, maybe not feeding but definitely striking at the bait. But I've also caught them with a rattletrap or grub deep in their throat as well. I have to think though not tops on their list of things to feed on, these big omnivores aren't above eating a minnow every now and then. These are usually among the biggest buffalo I catch, maybe the bigger a buffalo gets  more predatory the larger it becomes.
What I like about buffalo (and shovelheads for that matter) is that they are big fish that come up very shallow at night to feed. Hook one and it makes a terrific run for deeper water. If there is moonlight you can see it pushing a big wave out in front of it as the fish streaks for safety. Some of the most memorable moments of drag screaming, rod bent double, just trying to hold on, fish fighting I've experienced have been when hooking a big buffalo in just inches of water in the middle of the night.
Buffalo are one of, if not the most important commercially caught fish in the United States and are supposed to be delicious but I don't think I'd eat one. Every year there a few mysterious cases of what is known as Haff Disease. Haff disease is is the development of rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is an onset of acute pain and swelling and breakdown of your skeletal muscle sometimes followed by kidney failure. Most cases in the US occur in people who have eaten buffalo in the previous 24 hours. The theory is that toxins found in the plant water hemlock are built up in a few buffalo. Either by eating the plant itself when it's flooded or by ingesting small invertebrates that have eaten water hemlock. There have also been rare cases traced back to eating crawfish so the invertebrate theory seems likely.
The best bait I've found for buffalo has been a nightcrawler. This seems to out produce anything else for me. I've read of people catching them on crickets and shrimp as well, both of which make perfect sense considering the buffalo's penchant for invertebrates. The best lure for me has been far and away a hair jig followed by a grub on a light jighead. In midsummer though when chasing shovelheads I can count on three or four big ones every year smacking a lipless crankbait. I'd love to hear any of your stories you might have or see any of your photos of this underappreciated and little known fish.

Here's a few photos of just a few of the buffalo I've caught including two from just the past week or two...






Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lately...

Been all over the last week or so since I've last posted. From chasing stripey fish on the Ohio River (which was lousy) to getting saugfish in the Great and Little Miami watersheds( which has been good). What's worked best for me has been the old standby's, a three inch grub on a jighead  and a suspending Smithwick Rogue. When I started catching fish on the suspending minnow plug just kinda setting there it got me to change up my jighead choice for the grub. I changed from the 1/4 I usually throw to a 1/8 ounce head. This let me fish it a lot slower without hanging up and that has been the ticket the last couple times out. But I've been catching the better ones not below a dam like is standard but on a rocky bank where they are up very shallow at night chasing bait I guess. The 1/8 might be too light below some of the lowheads. The grub has been Vic's three inch curly tail in clear with gold flake. Here's some pics from the last week...



















Monday, December 7, 2015

The Select Angler Program

I've been honored to be picked for Pure Fishing's Select Angler Program. Select Anglers, in Pure Fishing's words, "increase our brand awareness and assist with training programs and events when Pure Fishing staff is not available". Which is fine by me as Pure Fishing has some of the worlds best fishing tackle. Brands like Hardy, Fenwick, Hodgeman, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Pflueger and more.
I'd already set a personal goal for myself to regain the grace I once had with a fly rod in 2016. So when Pure Fishing said they would send me a couple outfits of my choosing I knew exactly what I wanted. I chose 8wt and 6wt Fenwick Aetos fly rods paired with the new Pflueger Patriarch fly reels. In several independent tests the Aetos are supposed to be comparable in performance to any fly rod at any price. I can't wait to get my hands on one.
For those of you who have only met me recently this may seem like a pretty big departure from the norm. It actually is a return to form. For decades my fishing was split pretty evenly between conventional tackle and fly tackle. A younger (and skinnier) me would spend weeks every year backpacking the Appalachian Mountains with my wife. I've fly fished  every significant stream in the Great Smoky Mountains as well as a huge bunch of the insignificant ones. Every summer we would be off to West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina or even Colorado in search of a bit of wilderness. Which for various reason we hadn't done much of the last few years. I remember having my license checked by a warden one year and having to root thru six or seven states licenses in my wallet to find the correct one.
Then last year I was teaching some people how to flycast and realized, you know, you just don't have it any more. I know it's a bit like riding a bicycle and you don't forget how. But gone are the days of throwing a curve cast around a boulder to a trout or throwing a 90 foot cast to schooling white bass.
So it's going to be an adventure to reteach myself the beauty of fly casting. I couldn't think of better tools to learn with.
Of course I'll still be doing an inordinate amount of the fishing I've come to be known for the last few years. I'm in love with fishing in all it's various forms. I'm hoping it will make for an interesting year, I guess I'll have to quit slacking off and fish a bit more now...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

An epiphany of leaves...

We own a bit of hunting property out in that band of hilly, unglaciated, country in southeastern Ohio. Edge of Appalachia, where half the population raises hell on Saturday night and while half spends Sunday morning in a little church they probably built themselves. On the winding road leading to the property stands one of those little churches. Across the road is a bend pool of a small creek. Complete with a set of wooden benches built so the congregation can watch baptisms. In the creek.

Parking the truck and eating a ham sandwich if I remember right and just looking around I wander down to the creek.. The kind of thing you sometimes do when just killing time waiting to go out and climb a tree that evening. I had on my rubber knee boots that I often wear in early bow season before it gets too cold. I stepped down to get a closer look at the little pool before me. You could see every grain of sand, every stone on the bottom thru the gin clear water.

A striking yellow and red maple leaf floated down into the pool. At first gliding along smoothly and gracefully. Then it began to tumble and then slowly revolve horizontally, slowly turning a circle about the size of a Frisbee just off the bottom of the pool. Then it slid along and a couple feet further along began a slow spiral with each circle slightly tighter than the one before it. Finally just rocking in place as it gently came to rest on the pool's bottom.

I waded out into the six inch deep riffle and launched another leaf into the pool. Less soggy this one sped right over the spots where the other leaf faltered without missing a beat. Hmm...The more buoyant leaf rode higher in the water column in a different layer of current. One unaffected by the drag of contact with the bottom. Intrigued I launched another leaf that floated on top. This one jetted down the main flow but just before it left the pool the leaf got caught off to one side and slowed dramatically before slowly turning and creeping back up the bank three or four feet before turning and slowly curly curling back out to midstream. And so it went. In the gin clear water with hardly any discernable differences in flow every leaf followed a different path.

I hoped no one was watching as this fifty year old man launched leaf after into the tiny stream. Some sailed gently thru the pool while others spun like figure skaters while others tumbled along the bottom. Slowly their floats began to make sense as I reasoned out the invisible flow thru the pool. I thought about my two favorite streams, Forney creek in the GSMNP and the Little Miami. How wildly violent the path a leaf would take as Forney creek falls in one head high waterfall and cascade after another. Or a leaf slowly making a thirty yard circle around a smallmouth wintering hole on the Little Miami.

And how the current must seem to a trout in the creek or a smallmouth in the river. As much as I try I have such a hard time comprehending how thru it's lateral line a fish can feel the current. Sure I can feel the force of the water against me as I wade and can intellectually grasp the idea of a lateral line. But just I can grasp intellectually the idea of a bat navigating thru its world by hearing the sound of the clicks it makes bounce off things I can't even begin to imagine what either must be like. To the smallmouth or to the bat. The bat seemingly hears where there is a space to fly thru, forming a 3-D image in it' mind of where to fly.  Which is how it must be to the bass, science tells me the bass feels the currents that flow the stream. The entire pool filled with mental "leaves" all floating simultaneously by at once.

Laminar flows sliding one atop the other at different velocities, gentle eddies, swirling tornadic vortices, soft pillowy resting lies, defined seams. Even the tiny pool I was standing beside much provide a rich tapestry of information to a fish. While a pool in the river must be like a surreal, speeded up version of a McDonald's playland, full of tiny rooms and slides and passageways all stacked one on top of the other. Okay, see that sounds crazy, there's just no way to put into words a fishes world. In many ways an astronaut walking on the surface of the moon is much easier to understand than the world of the fish in the streams in our own backyards.

I do know that when I keep this concept in mind, that there's more there than meets the eye, I fish better. Or at least feel that I do. I find myself way too often looking at a section of stream in the 2-D manner of those drawings in fishing magazines. Here's a run, here's an eddy, here's the seam. All neatly labelled and drawn out in my head like an illustration. I forget that there's layers to this cake. That a river is a 3-D thing with an up and down that are as changing as the side to side is. Sometimes it's obvious, a hidden boulder creating a slick on the surface telling you it's there. But often it's like the invisible currents in my gin clear baptismal pool, unknown except to floating leaves, lateral lines and the power of your imagination.