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Friday, July 29, 2016

The pig pen

I've taken to calling it the pig pen. It's a short very fast slot of water right below a very strong riffle. The kind of place where any other time of year a slip would send you quite a ways downstream before you could get out. With the extremely low water, high heat, and yucky green water it is drawing big smallies like a magnet. It's already an out of the way piece of river that doesn't get fished much so there are usually good smallmouth all thru it. Now they are all at the pig pen. As much as I know the river needs a good flushing out part of me is hoping for another couple weeks of this. Tonight's best fish nailed a triple winged buzz bait with a clear with silver curly shad in place of a skirt. Like I said it nailed it but didn't get hooked. I threw a three inch grub right back at it and it hit instantly. A couple big jumps that had my heart in my throat and I finally landed her. Ten minutes later on the other end of the slot right as I was lifting the lure from the water a pig smallie nailed the buzzbait with like ten inches of line out and broke me off.  #&*@!!  The drag was set plenty light enough but a four pound smallie on ten inches of eight pound test isn't going to end well....

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Monster...a closer look

I blew up some sections of a photo Cailyn and I took of a hellgrammite we seined out of a local creek yesterday. They are really amazing creatures if you can get past the scary part and take a closer look. But make no mistake they are miniature monsters. For instance take a look at this pic of its mandibles.  

Those pincers or mandibles are what entomologists (people who study insects) call heavily sclerotized. Sclerotization is a process cross-linking the various protein molecules with phenolic compounds which means that the normally very hard exoskeleton of the insect becomes even harder, turning the hellgrammites "iron" into "steel". The hellgrammite uses these pincers kill just about anything it can get a hold of, things like aquatic insects , tiny fish and  amphibians, or any small invertebrate that is a bottom dweller. And pinch the heck out of your fingers if your not careful. Yeah those pincers are short compared to adult hellgrmmites (called dobsonflies) or those of some beatles but those guys are just for show and fighting for a mate, while the hellgrammites are for killing and are very powerful. The next picture shows the other end of our hellgrammite. 

It has two anal prolegs and on the end of each is a pair of stout hooks that the hellgrammite uses to help anchor itself in swift current and not be swept away. More on that in just a bit. In the next photo we can see some of the eight pointy prolegs that like the abdominal section of the hellgrammite and the fuzzy gills at their bases.  

The feathery looking gills sticking off the sides are rather immobile and simply increase the surface area. The other set of gills, the puffy dandelion fluff looking ones, have muscles attached to them. When a hellgrammite become oxygen stressed, it can wave those gills around through the water. Considering the adaptations hellgrammites display and the swift riffles they live in, hellgrammites need a lot of oxygen to survive. That’s where the hooks and the gills come in: they both help the hellgrammite get as much oxygen from the water as possible.

Heres a great video I found on Youtube that shows all this stuff in action...

Monday, July 25, 2016

creek monsters...

With it hot enough to fry your brain out on the river it seemed like a good day to wade the creek in the shade with Cailyn and see what we could find. We explored a tributary to the Little Miami and she had a blast, only screaming bloody murder a couple times. Once when a 1/2 inch long crawfish pinched her and once when something that looked to me a lot like a leaf "attacked" her. But even after her near death experience she was asking when we could come back again. She loved seeing a snake swimming underwater and was fascinated watching a big crawfish I was holding pinch chunks out of a willow leaf we were teasing it with. Coolest catch was what I think is a stonecat madtom though a big hellgrammite ran a close second. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Night stalkers

“What hath night to do with sleep?” 
― John MiltonParadise Lost

With the onslaught of heat it seemed like a better idea to fish in the relative cool of the night. I fished a small river in southwestern Ohio for one of my favorite fish, the shovelhead catfish. In our smaller rivers the shovelhead or flathead sits square atop the food chain. Flatties are killers that come out on warm summer nights and prowl the river looking for a sucker, a big chub minnow or even (gasp) a smallmouth bass. Although all of our rivers hold shovelheads not all of each river does. I look for a few things before I try catching one. A ten foot deep hole in a bend  that contains woodcover and has an adjacent feeding flat 4 or 5 feet deep will usually hold hold flatheads. Add a couple hundred yards of shallow run upstream and downstream of the hole and you have an ideal spot. What happens is that in summer flatties spend like 20+ hours a day holed up under a logjam in that bend. Then after dark out he comes to prowl up and downstream looking for prey. Most catfishermen in rivers at night spend too much time after dark fishing that deep hole when the monster is really out and about.  
A better strategy is to fish a big live bait or a fresh hunk of cut bait on that feeding flat right next to the deep hole. Further away from the hole you still might catch him but what if the fish went upstream when your fishing down or vice versa? And the hundred yards of shallow run is usually almost river wide and the fish have room to spread out while the feeding flat on the inside of the bend across from the hole is narrow. You simply have a better chance of a shovel finding your bait. If your river has lowhead dams, any with a scour hole over six or seven feet deep is probably the best spot to connect with a big flathead. As long as someone hasn't killed it. It takes decades to grow a big flathead making them vulnerable to overfishing. Keep a channel or two for supper but in today's world you should turn a shovelhead loose in my opinion. 
On this night I baited up with some sunfish on 7/0 king kahle hooks, heavy duty swivels and two ounce no roll sinkers. No giants tonight but five decent fish which is pretty fast and furious for shovelhead fishing since these guy are strictly loners. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The beat rolls on...

As skanky as the river looks right now, all root beer colored and low, part of me doesn't want a big downpour or cooler weather to freshen up the water. For some reason I seem to have some nice sized fish patterned. I've found two spots with  pretty good riffles to put oxygen in the water and lots of current and they have both been holding smallies and saugs for about a week and a half now. Today's 24" saugeye was ten feet from where I caught the 28" last week and in the other spot today's biggest smallie ( didn't measure, 17" or 18" I guess)  was five feet from the 19.75" smallie of the other day. Not sure what's going on but I hope it stays that way a while. All my fish were on Vic's clear with silver flake grub and a 1/4 ounce jig head. Which is pretty heavy for as low as the river is which tells you how fast the current is.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summertime and the living is easy....

Spent part of the last couple days fishing,hiking, and exploring the upper Little Miami River and Great Miami rivers. The fishing has picked up considerably for me over last week. I've been catching channel cats consistently on both cut bait and lures,Today I got out before daylight and made a cast into a likely looking spot and the rod snaps right in the handle. I've probably took it on 75 trips and it's bounced around in the truck, the jon boat and the yak so I can't blame the rod. The problem was this was a quickie trip and it was the only rod I had along, AND a fish hit! About a three pound channel that was a handful trying to land with the rod broken and my reel falling off. Finally I got it in after a bit of a clown rodeo and surveyed the damage. HMM... I whittled a stick to jam in the two pieces and tied the whole thing together with the tow rope for the kayak. The stick was wedged in tightly enough that it didn't wiggle and wasn't too bad actually. Which was cool because the smallies were hitting well. I thought I was going to catch my second 20" smallie this year out of a SW Ohio river but she ended up being just a bit shy. Then I caught another nice fish in the 17"+ range and a few smaller fish. About nine another dandy hit and went airborne. At the top of a jump that seemed head high my clear with silver glitter grub went one way and a big smallie went the other. The stick repair was working loose and the sun was getting on the water pretty strong and I'd had a swell morning so it seemed like as good a time to quit it as any...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Saugfishing the river....

Especially after the big fish of last week and really after every time I catch a good sized saugeye I receive a bunch of questions about the fish and how to fish for them. Considering how widespread and common sauger and saugeye are they seem a bit of a mystery to most folks. In no way do I claim to be any kind of an expert on these fish. But I river fish a lot, more than anyone I know and because of that I've caught quite a few. I'm also very passionate about learning just how a river works and the movement of fish in rivers so between those two things I have stumbled across a few things about saugthings I'll try and share here.
First a physical description of sauger and saugeye and how to tell the difference between the two...
The body of the sauger is long and cylindrical.  Biologists call this a fusiform structure and this minimizes the drag on the fishes body and makes them very well adapted to fast currents. The body is usually an olive grey and has three or four dark patches or saddles making the fish look like it is decked out in camo. Which it is I guess. Sauger have a white belly but this does not spread out at the tail and form the white tip on the tail like it does on a walleye. The first dorsal fin is covered in rows of spots with a dark blotch at it's base. The membranes between the spines of the first dorsal fin are clear and you can see light thru easily. A saugeye is the result of a hybrid between a sauger and a walleye. Saugeye look more like the sauger side of the family except for a few key differences. The membrane between the spines on their dorsal is not nearly as clear as that of a sauger and after you have seen a few and paid attention this is readily apparent. The saugeye has a white blotch on the bottom tip of it's tail like it's walleye parent as well. Now for the problematic part. Most of the time these markers are the case but not always. In fact the world record saugeye looks an awful lot like a walleye and genetic testing had to be done to determine that it was in fact a saugeye. I kind of go by the rule of thumb that if there is doubt it's probably a saugeye rather than a sauger since saugeye vary and sauger do not. Sauger, walleye and saugeye are extremely well adapted to seeing in low light and prefer to feed at night whenever possible, even in the winter. 
Though most saugeye anymore are stocked, hybrids have always occurred and do occur naturally anywhere walleye and saugeye cross paths. I think something like 4% of the natural population is a hybrid. Contrary to popular belief saugeye can reproduce with other saugeye and with either parent but only on a very limited scale. And many places saugeye are stocked do not have suitable spawning habitat and when you combine this with the saugeyes limited ability to reproduce not much natural reproduction ever occurs. Sauger and saugeye are noted for the long runs they make when the spawning season arrives. Spawning takes place in the upstream regions of rivers in the early spring; where dams are present, Saugeyes (as well as Sauger and Walleye where all three are present) may bunch up right below dams to spawn. Eggs are sticky and adhesive, and are typically laid on rocky substrates where they are fertilized by males. Following the spawn, saugfish slip gradually back downstream to their summertime location in the main channels of large rivers, the deepest pools of medium sized rivers or to lakes if the spawning run was upstream of a lake.
Saugfish spawn in the early spring when the water is between 39 and 44 degrees. spawning occurs at night usually. Often saugfish spawn right after walleye and sometimes at the same time and in the same locations. Eggs hatch in 25 to 30 days, Young saugs eat mostly zooplankton and insect larvae at first and then at about a half an inch in length begin eating other fish. Although saugs will eat other things at times like crayfish they are first and foremost fish eaters. One interesting thing I found out from reading studies about saugeye is the impact they have on crappie when they are stocked in lakes. In almost every case the average size of the crappie went up. I think the biggest limiter in the size of crappie is having too many crappie and having a few get eaten by saugs helps the rest. 
In all honesty almost every sauger and saugeye fisherman I know uses just a couple baits 90% of the time. A long skinny minnow plug like a smithwick rogue and a soft plastic like a curly tail grub or swimbait on a lead headed jig. 
Fishing a minnow plug...
I feel that when it comes to minnow plugs most beginning fishermen get hung up on fishing minnow plugs that are too small. Most always the best time the best time to hook up with a big saugeye is after dark.  After dark a big minnow plug is easier for a fish to feel, to see, to hunt down and try to kill. There's just less chance for error on the fishes part. And most beginning fishermen are way too obsessed with how they are working their baits. Most of the time at night slow and steady wins the race for the same reasons that a big plug works best, easier for the fish to track and nail it. Slow is the key. Real real slow at times. That's where suspending plugs really come into their own especially in the winter time, they can just be worked slower than either a sinking or floating plug. Now for the part that's going to generate the hate mail. I feel that AT NIGHT you will catch many more with a slow and steady retrieve than with the typical jerks and pauses that are so popular with jerkbaits. Provided that you slow things down enough that you are taking just as long each cast as the guy that jerks and pauses. Now fishing lakes during the day is a different story and you could write a book on the best way to doctor a minnow plug to get it to hang just right on the pause to catch a wintertime fish on the pause. But I'm a river guy and I'm not going to try and act like I'm an expert on things I don't know much about so I'll leave that alone. Buy some husky jerks, some smithwick rogues, shadow rap shads or some of the other kazillion minnow plugs out there. Put on all the clothes you can stand and go out to the river in the middle of winter nights and fish the things slowly along rocky banks below low head dams and if there are saugeye in the river your bound to hook up eventually. Take note of where exactly you do hook up and eventually you will end up with a milk run of productive places to try. Too simplistic, not complicated enough? Probably but let's look at facts. Saugfish stack up below low head dams in winter in preparation for the springtime spawn, they feed better at night and they eat minnows. It just adds up. When a minnow plug doesn't work or just because they don't cost nine dollars apiece and work just as well or better most of the time many saugfishermen use soft plastics. which brings us to the next lure choice.
Fishing a jig and plastic trailer...
Curly tailed grubs and swimbaits are the second leg that most saugfishermen stand on. They are dirt cheap and you can afford to lose some. Which is important because when they are not up shallow at night hunting saugs are almost always glued to the bottom. Walleye are famous for suspending up off the bottom but sauger and saugeye aren't happy unless they are tight to the bottom. If you are chasing saugs during the day in a river your best bet is a soft plastic fished on a leadhead. Use a weight that allows you to retrieve the bait back just off the bottom. In other words bring a little variety of weights, some 1/8's a lot of 1/4's a few 3/8's and even a couple 1/2's. You want the bait swimming back just above the bottom so you might use several different weights in course of the same trip because of the water depth and current speed. During the day I might go as small as a three inch grub but when I'm after saugs I'm usually trying to catch a good one so something like a curly shad or a five inch grub fills the bill better for me. And again if you fish at night a bigger soft plastic is easier for a fish to find. Honestly I can't imagine saugfishing without soft plastics if there was ever a fish made for a minnow imitating soft plastic with a swimming tail of some sort it's saugers and saugeye. It's a match made in heaven. When I catch numbers of fish during the day it's almost always up on gravel or rock bars with swift current flowing over them or in swift flowing slots below lowhead dams. Active saugs like current even more than smallmouth bass. Inactive fish you have to dredge up off the bottom of deeper water adjacent to the bar or low head with a lead headed jig. Just vary the weight of the jighead to match the depth and current speed and a quality soft plastic will cover it all. That's one of the nice things about saugfishing, just throw a few jigheads and soft plastics in a baggie and stuff them in your jacket pocket and your all set. Of course other lures will work, I often catch saugs on lipless crankbaits at night in the summer and on diving plugs in pools but the two lure categories outlined above are all you need if your just going after saugs. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A bit of overnight adventure with Dan out on the river.

Where we launched the yaks there is a bug light. From a distance it smelled like a dead fish in the area. Closer inspection revealed the smell was coming from windrows of dead mayflies. Hmm.. wonder what this is going to do to the fishing? Turned out it made for a cool fly fishing experience. Every small eddy had pods of carp just gulping down mouthfuls of bugs. I would cast a small marabou streamer and it would be within five feet of five or six carp. I snapped the first off on the hookset. Then broke one off and then settled down to land a couple. Pretty cool.
We ended up catching five shovels, three on lures and and two on cut bait. I landed a few decent smallmouth on a clear with silver glitter grub. And in the morning after Dan left lost a pig, possibly the biggest smallie I've had on in a year or two. It seems like I'm in a mini slump with big smallies, I think the last couple have thrown the hook. The river is a brownish greenish tint and could really use a good thunderstorm or two to freshen it up a bit.