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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Monday, December 26, 2016

Big gars and little blues

With the warm weather and plans for a family dinner this evening I headed out before daylight and hit the mouth of a little creek that feeds the Ohio River. While only less than a cast across it has a deep eddy hole at the mouth that draws fish like a magnet in late winter. Here they can find respite from the current of the main river. I fished cut squares of skipjack I'd caught a couple weeks earlier and froze. I ended up catching four small blue cats that weighed three or four pounds apiece and four big gar and a few small stripey fish. Pretty cool for December 26...

Monday, December 19, 2016

You just never know...

whats going to hit that little three inch grub when the river gets cold.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ohio River stripey fishing

I spent the last couple days exploring the Ohio river for hybrids. Not huge numbers, maybe 20-25 in two days but the average size was pretty good. Bait of choice was Vic's new bait, the Swim Shad on 1/4 or 3/8 ounce jigheads depending on current speed. One highlight was a good look at an immature bald eagle overlooking the river.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

This week in fishing..

Catching a few small saugs on grubs right around dark this week. Nothing really picture worthy. Caught a funky quasimodo carp with an s curved spine that otherwise seemed in great shape. Also took this lousy photo of an eagle winging down the river. Best, awesomest fish of the week tho was this largemouth bass on a three inch clear with sliver grub out of a deep slow hole in the GMR. The river was in the upper thirties this morning.

Monday, December 5, 2016


A couple "other" fish from a trip to the Ohio River that saw way too few and way too small stripey fish caught...

Wintertime smallmouth fishing

So if you know much about me you know I'm a stream fishing nut. Little creeks, big creeks, small and medium sized rivers, that sort of thing. Stuff you can wade or at most use a yak or a tiny jon boat on. I'll pretty much fish and fish hard for any thing that swims in these little streams but what I fish the hardest for and am the most nuts about is stream smallmouth. And just about the nuttiest thing I do is winter fish these little flows for smallmouth bass.
Right now as our rivers and creeks are dipping into the thirties I'm still out there trying to eke out that last bit of smallmouth fishing out of the dying year. I think over the years it has helped me become a much better stream angler the rest of the year as well. To consistently catch wintertime smallmouth you have to get to know your stream inside out.
You see, to survive the winter in a smaller flow requires a smallie to drastically change it's location and habits. It's been proven in numerous tracking studies that in small rivers and creeks a smallmouth will leave it's regular haunts where it has spent the rest of the year and travel as far as it has to go to find a safe place to overwinter. In what you might call a medium sized river like the Scioto River or the Great Miami River that might be a half a mile or even just a few hundred yards while in a small creek it might mean the fish travels all the way out of that creek altogether to a larger one.
There are no hard and fast rules here. A general statement like the above, "as far as it has to go to find a safe place to overwinter" is about the best I can do. There are extreme cases of smallmouth in really shallow streams in cold places like Wisconsin traveling thirty and forty miles. River fishing in general is like real estate in that it is location, location, location. And in no instance is that more true than cold weather smallmouth fishing.
So what does a smallmouth look for in a wintering hole? The short answer is somewhere the fish can be safe in all flows. Safe from swift current in flood conditions and safe from cold and ice in low water cold conditions. Usually this is the deepest hole around but not always. Sometimes a small but just deep enough and sheltered eddy can hold fish as well. Over the course of the year I try and file away candidates in the back of my mind to hit come December. But the only way to know for sure is to fish each of these candidates several times in late fall thru winter till you slowly build up a short list of spots that really do hold fish.
The bad news that ninety percent of the river doesn't hold fish is also the good news. Good news in that once you find fish you will have all the fish that were spread up and down the river concentrated in just a few locations. Yes the waters frigid and it takes finesse luck and patience but you know at least your fishing over fish and some quality fish at that.
Most of our streams also have some sorts of small warm water discharges into them. By warm water discharges I mean things that discharge water that is warmer than the rest of the rivers water. Things like cooling water from factory machinery, a power plant, even a waste water treatment plant. While these are often great draws when the water first starts to cool they lose their appeal as winter tightens it's grip. Like everything else in the river all water discharges  are not created equally. Most have outflows that discharge into water too swift or two shallow for the bass to overwinter in. The fish seem to know instinctively that a sudden rise in water level will overwhelm the discharge with swift cold water and either kill them from thermal shock or simply wash them away. Often in midwinter these places will be packed with rough fish but not smallmouth bass. Once in a blue moon one of these warm water discharges will be upstream of a true wintering hole and will improve your chances of catching a fish out of that hole all winter greatly tho.
Once we find our wintering hole and thru fall have still been catching fish there how do we approach the thing in December when the river is really getting cold? Well look for the spot on the spot. It might be two or three big boulders, a little hump off the side of a steep bank, a gravel hump that rises to within a few feet of the surface that catches sunlight and warms faster than the rest of the pool. Again there are no hard and fast rules here as well but there will be somewhere in that particular pool that draws fish fish to it when they are in the mood to bite. Sometimes the clues are not obvious and you just have to fish the whole pool long enough to find that subtle spot on the spot.
Weather plays a huge part in whether or not your going to catch fish in winter. If the weather is constant and hasn't changed in a week you can usually catch a fish or two if you put in enough time. Let it warm up for three or four days in a row and the water warm three degrees or more and you might just catch several nice fish. And to be honest let there be a sudden cold snap and I'm still going fishing, just probably for saugeye instead on smallmouth bass.
Often in winter the water is as clear as it ever gets and you will double your odds at least by using lighter line. Sometimes your simply not going to get bit at all if you should be using six pound test in a small clear stream and your using ten. The same goes for lure weight. I winter fish for smallies almost exclusively with one of two different jigs. One is a hair jig of some sort tied on a light jighead. But the last few years I've mostly been using a three inch grub. The grub has the advantage of letting me tinker and adjust the size of the jighead all day long. I pour my own jigheads and being a river fishing junkie I pour a couple thousand every year. If you have ever poured jigheads you know they don't all come out perfect. There are rejects where the mold wasn't hot enough or the lead wasn't hot enough or you just messed up pouring it or whatever, you end up with some heads that are missing the collar or are only partial full. The better shaped ones of these I will save instead of repouring with an eye towards this time of year. I end up with an assortment of lightweight heads in all different weights. I tinker with these trying to find the right combination of jighead and grub for each different spot on the spot that will let me fish it the most effectively. Which means as slow as possible. Just a little bit of current or a difference in depth can make a difference in how much weight or lack of weight we need. Many of my spots on the spots are either boulders or concrete rubble and if I drag or work the jig along the bottom I'm going to get hung up. But if I can find the magic combination I can sort of float the jig along just of the bottom very slowly. This is much like the results achieved in lakes with the "float and fly" technique of fishing a jig under a float.
Light line also helps you cast lightweight jigheads as well. Plus most of the time I can position myself pretty closely to where I want to fish in a small stream. I often wonder if my camo deer hunting bibs and jacket I wear winter fishing helps with catching these close up fish in gin clear water as well.
I try to use as heavy a jig I can get away with simply because you get a better feel with a heavier weight. But a "heavy" wintertime grub might be a 1/16 or a 1/8 ounce one and often it's much lighter.
And although sometimes winter smallmouth will really thump the jig they are just as likely to take it without you feeling anything more than a mushy weight on the line.
Being a lifelong fly fisherman it came natural to me to experiment with the various small strike indicators nymph fishermen use when fishing really tiny jigs. Come December and January it's not unusual to find a foam pinch on indicator or even bit of yarn tied on my line. If I was honest with myself this may help as much with keeping my head in the game and giving me something to tinker with during the sometimes long waits in between bites as it does in helping me catch fish. Keeping your head in the game is a big thing in winter smallmouth fishing.
Midday is often best but I find that evening still holds an attraction for smallmouth. I work days so right after work I'll speed straight to the river so I can still get in an hour or hour and a half of fishing in before the short winter day is over. What I've found is that often right at dark there can still be a bit of an evening bite even though the water may only be in the upper thirties. I have found that the silence of the winter woods combined with the sun setting over the river have rewards all their own even on those all too frequent winter evenings that the fish don't cooperate. Just tonight across the river a doe walked the riverbank as the sky slowly turned brilliant red. AND I caught some fish, Walking out in growing darkness I was at peace with the world...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December 1 smallmouths

No monsters tonight but a half dozen decent smallmouth in December, I'll take that anytime. 1/16th ounce jighead and smoke metalflake grub and six pound test were the ticket in a cold very clear river...

Monday, November 28, 2016

catch up

I've been in the deer woods the last few days. Finally got a buck for the freezer. Not a big one but I was happy with it. When it comes to deer hunting I'm more of a meat hunter than a trophy hunter. This year was as hard as I've worked to kill a deer in a long time and it made for a good season. Anyways all that sitting it trees has got me behind on posting fishing pics. Yes I was up at 5 am and out the door like everybody else black friday. Fishing that is...
A pretty smallie from a stream close to home. The pattern was the same as it has been all week. A smoke metalflake grub fished on a very light jighead.
Then a trip to the mighty Ohio River. I was fishing a tributary mouth catching a few white bass and the occasional green fish till almost dark. Then on the flat adjacent to the mouth fish started blowing up busting what I think were shiners on the surface. I was fishing right inside the mouth and took off running. For about forty five minutes all thru sunset and about 20 minutes into dark fish continued to blow up everywhere. It was just about the best forty five minutes of hybrid fishing I've ever experienced. No monsters but every cast that didn't get a fish was a huge letdown knowing they would stop at any minute. But most casts did get a three or four pound hybrid. Not many pics I was too busy trying to get them off and fire another cast out there before the feeding frenzy stopped. I was shaking with excitement and fumbling around trying to do everything fast with all those fish blowing up. Funny the last week of November has been one of the best weeks of the entire year.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The pig, some cats and the water slide...

Fished right after daylight this thanksgiving morning where a little pipe puts a bit of warmer water in the river. Downstream is a steeper bank with some big concrete rubble and rock dumped in to control erosion with deep slow water out n front. The fish were actually right off the bank where the warmer water swept very slowly down over the rubble and curled upstream in a small eddy. I fished a three inch smoke metalflake grub on a 1/16 ounce jighead. The big smallmouth and the smaller of the two shovels were caught maybe ten feet apart and the bigger shovel was another twenty feet down the bank. I wonder what makes one shovel so much darker than the other? Possibly one just moved into this bit of deep warmer water from somewhere else? I also learned (relearned actually) that after it rains it pays to be careful standing on muddy wet concrete. The skid marks in the one photo are left over from me helplessly sliding in slow motion down the tilted concrete into knee deep water ending today's fishing adventure. But it was worth it. It's been a pretty good week for nice smallies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

11/23 smallies

Still managing a few nice ones. When you mold a lot of jig heads you end up with several that say didn't quite fill up all the way or most of the collar isn't there or something similar. I actually save a lot of those for this time of year. It's very hard to find a lightweight jig head that still has a big enough hook to match up well with a bass sized grub or swimbait. It seems most light jigheads have correspondingly small hooks. By saving these "reject" jigheads I can fish a grub with a full sized hook slowly in the slower water the better fish are often in this time of year. Tonight I caught these and a few smaller fish on a three inch clear with silver grub on what I'd estimate was a 1/10th or 1/12 ounce jighead.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Climbing down the ladder of success

So it's been a go to wintertime smallmouth spot for about three years now. There's just one little problem. Well one big problem actually. You see the hole is at the bottom of a ten foot cliff. It sits in a bend in the river and the river eats away at the bank digging a vertical cliff about nine or ten feet tall. I keep thinking every year that part of the bank will collapse a bit more somewhere along it's length letting you get down but so far, three years in, it hasn't. You stand on top of the cliff and look down into the clear water and just look at the bottom dropping off into darkness full of possibility. Darkness that is one big giant eddy where the river slowly revolves around back upstream. Even in times of flood the very upper end still curls around upstream and almost stops. Just the kind of place a big smallmouth will travel a ways to get in to spend the winter. It ate at me nights wondering what that deep hole held. So I devised a plan. I went to Lowes and bought some wood and stout rope and went to work in the garage cutting foot long pieces of wood and drilling a hole in each end and tying knots after every hole so that I ended up with about a twelve foot rope ladder. Now every winter I tie the rope ladder to the base of a tree up top and climb down. Today the trick was a clear with silver glitter curly shad fished slowly on a jig head. I guess I caught five or six about a foot long. This time of year I feel each fish is special and even though I've probably fished 150 plus days this year I looked at each of these a little longer than normal admiring each before releasing them. You just don't know how many days like this are left in the bank this year as winter tightens it's grip. And then about dark the slow drift of the curly shad was stopped by a solid thud and the rod bent double. I didn't realize till I got home the fish held it's tail bent away from the camera so you don't get a good look at the length but you can see her fat belly. The walk out in the dark didn't seem nearly as cold as the walk in during the daylight did...

Friday, November 18, 2016

November Shovelhead?

November the 18th and a shovelhead on a grub!
And not at a warm water discharge either but while catching sauger below a dam. That has to be one of the latest shovels I've ever caught.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Since it "tis the season", the start of saugeye and sauger season that is, I thought I'd share a little bit of what lil bit I know about fishing for these toothy critters in rivers. There are three ways that most of the best saugthing fishermen I know use ninety plus percent of the time.
First of all, you young guns out there at midnight in the middle of winter in insulated coveralls throwing a minnow plug may not know it but you pretty much owe the technique or at least the spread of it all across the country to one guy, Doug Stange. 30 years ago Doug and a band of hearty anglers first began fishing big minnow plugs at night for big walleye and writing about it in In-Fisherman. (actually about half of what we do as anglers in the US we owe in one way or another to In-Fisherman but that's a whole nother story..)
Pretty much the way those guys fished 30 years ago is still exactly the way you want to today, the only thing that has changed is the tackle has gotten a whole lot better. Go to your local tackle store and buy yourself a suspending rogue to start. A big one. That's enough to start with though if you want to get completely set up buy a selection of long minnow plugs in both floating and suspending. Things like Rapala husky jerks and shadow raps, Rebel minnows, Bass Pro XPS minnow, Cabela's mean eye jerkbait, Yozuri crystal minnows and on and on. Long skinny minnow plugs all, and all of them big. At night you want a lure a big saugthing can see, can feel with it's lateral line and can strike. Notice none of these run very deep. The idea is that at night when sauger, saugeye or walleye (saugthings from here on out) are in the mood to feed they move up shallow. Not all, but at least aggressive active fish. Even in the dead of winter when your line is freezing in the guides you can often catch big fish up shallow at night. Often our rivers get very very clear in the coldest weather. Usually the clearest they get all year and this makes the saugthings even more nocturnal. Like I said all you really need to start is a suspending rogue but who wants just one lure when they can buy dozens. But there are a whole lot of old farts out there who will tell you who wants to buy dozens of different minnow plugs when you can buy dozens of rogues instead. The key is where you throw that minnow plug more than anything else. The best places to try are rocky banks below lowhead dams and places where the river is constricted like around bridge abutments, big gravel bars, wing dams etc.  Also try rocky banks at the mouth of feeder creeks, the glance structures off of big dams, basically anything that has current and rocks or concrete. Now, I don't care if the box says your supposed to jerk and pause or retrieve and pause or do any of a dozen things that might be triggering cold weather bass into biting, DON"T DO IT! Throw the thing out there and retrieve it back real slow and steady. Every time, dang it. You can catch them in different ways but over the course of a year you are going to catch a lot more fish. At night, slow and steady wins the race. I know a couple guys that catch big saugs by standing along the wing walls at the base of dams and just fish their minnow plug in place on a short line just holding it there and letting it swim in place against the current.

Another technique for catching winter saugs is using soft plastics on a jig head. Things like paddletail swimbaits, the curly shad and grubs. These enable you to cover all the water you cannot reach with the minnow plug. Deeper eddies below lowhead dams, the bases of wingdams and rubble walls as well as water that is too swift for minnow plugs like the fast current seams below lowhead dams or even right in the hydraulic jump at the base of the dam itself. Saugthings are coldwater fish and can often be found actively feeding in swifter current right in the dead of winter. A plastic swimbait also lets you probe deeper slower water for inactive fish as well as fish for deeper fish during the day. As for jighead weight, I try and match the weight of the jig head to the force of the current. You want a weight that lets you comfortably swim the jig back slowly just off the bottom. Saugfish, especially in winter are the most piscivorous fish I know of, they aren't poking around the bottom looking for hellgrammites or taking moth off the surface or any of a dozen other things you might find a bass doing. They are, at least as adults, strictly after baitfish. Which is why the most effective retrieve is to swim the bait back to you slowly off the bottom rather than jig or hop it on the bottom, your imitating a minnow. The other retrieve is to let the jig sweep down a seam of current on a tight line like a helpless minnow  being swept along. Again you want to match the weight of your jighead to the speed of the current more than anything else. Saugs do not suspend nearly as much as walleye and strongly relate to the bottom so again you want that jig close to bottom. Most of time in the medium sized rivers I fish the most I'll use a 1/4 ounce jighead more than any other, and unlike smallmouth fishing, I'll use a 3/8 more than a 1/8 ounce jighead. Mostly because some of very best saugfishing occurs below dams and a 3/8 ounce head is sometimes needed in the swifter reaches below the dam. I am perfectly comfortable heading out saugfishing just about anywhere with a bigger four inch grub and some curly shads and a few assorted jigheads in a baggie stuffed in my winter jacket and no other lures. They pretty much let me fish effectively anywhere I'm going to find saugs and are my go to lure. If I'm fishing the Ohio River I'll actually often go smaller on lure size than I will in our other rivers andfish a three inch grub because in the Ohio your most likely just going to find sauger which is a smaller fish than the saugeye. At night and at anytime in rivers that contain saugeye I find myself using a bulkier bait like a curly shad, a paddletail or a bigger grub.

A third very effective technique for catching saugfish is on a jig and minnow. The best setup is a leadhead jig with a small treble tied on a two inch long trailer of braid. I'll usually take a three inch smoke metalflake grub or a clear with silver grub and put it on the jighead and then pinch the tail off. Next I hook a minnow up thru the bottom of the mouth and out one nostril on the jig hook and then lightly hook the minnow on the treble right in front of the tail. You can catch fish on a jighead without the trailer but you will catch many more with the addition of the treble hook. Without it a lot of minnows are simply knocked off the hook without getting the fish getting hooked. This is probably the mot effective presentation in deep water like below the big dams on the Ohio. The big disadvantage is that you are messing with bait and getting your hands wet when it's cold outside. In the dead of winter with a stiff wind blowing up the river this can be a very big deal, trust me.

So how do you tell the difference between these three often very similar fish? Well I'm just going to copy and paste that from the ODNR website. After all who better to tell the differences than the biologists who actually raise and stock the things.
"Saugeye are intermediate in appearance between their two parent species, the sauger and walleye. The best character to look at for identifying this hybrid is the dark bars or oblong vertical spots between the spines of the first dorsal fin. The membrane of this fin in the unmarked areas is often a dusky color and not as clear as that of a sauger. A large dusky spot at the rear base of the first dorsal fin is usually visible on a saugeye but not as clearly defined as it is on a walleye. Saugeye have dark laterally oblong blotches on their sides but they tend to be smaller than those of a sauger. Saugeye also have white tips on the lower part of the tail and anal fins. These are more defined than the very thin light colored margin of a sauger but less defined than the large white tips found on a walleye"
Notice all the "often and usually" sometimes even the experts cannot be sure just by looking and have to perform genetic testing to be sure. All this uncertainty bothers me a bit because a few years ago I landed a saugfish in the Little Miami that was longer by a half inch than the state record sauger. In all outward appearances it looked exactly like what a sauger is "supposed" to look like. It was midsummer and the fish was obviously much lighter than the state record which was as round as watermelon and full of eggs so I released it. So though I'll never know for sure there might be a state record swimming in the Little Miami. The world record saugeye if I remember right was caught thru the ice in Montana and looked exactly like a walleye so who knows. Though stocked saugeye are born in the lab they are a regular natural occurrence as well. Everywhere that walleye and sauger meet,mostly in big rivers like the Ohio something like 4 or 5% of the natural population is a saugeye.