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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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sling blade

Been fishing Vic's new creation in the mighty Ohio. I've gotten used to catching shovels on a lure pretty cool catching a blue.  Some folks call it a blade bait, I call it a sling blade....

Monday, November 7, 2016

The old man and the paddlefish...

I left Friday after work to spend Sat, Sun, Mon bowhunting deer. ( no deer BTW) I knew I wasn't going to make it in time to get up a tree Friday so I decided to stop off and fish a dam on the Ohio River on my way out to our hunting property. I'm fishing a curly shad on a 1/4 ounce jighead trying for a sauger, walleye, hybrid striper etc., on a seven foot carrot stix with a pflueger arbor spooled with 15lb braid. I get there a bit after dark, so much the better for a sauger. Three casts in and the rod bends into the cork and then bucks like a rodeo bronc as line screams off the reel. Luckily a lot of braid fits on an arbor. Twenty minutes in and the fish shows no sign of tiring. I think the reel has like 10lbs max drag so I've got it tightened all the way down. No effect on the fish. It would take line easily whenever it wanted, I'm just lucky I guess it never decided to just leave, I couldn't have stopped it. After something like an hour it had settled into a slug fest. Besides having the drag tightened down as far as it would go when the fish started a long run I'd grab the line with my left hand and apply more pressure trying to put as much pressure on the fish as I could without breaking the line. I remember thinking of the Old Man and the Sea and the fish pulling his skiff out to sea. Finally the fish started to show slight signs of tiring. Occasionally I could feel the fish move as I pumped the rod to gain line. Still the fish would go on great runs but not quite as long each time as before. Then suddenly slack. It must have gotten off as I'd figured it would this whole time. But no, it had finally just had enough and came in worn out. As was I,  you don't hook too many fish that go over five feet long in Ohio. A few hurried pics in the fog and a bit of working back and forth in the water and the fish revived well enough. A great swoosh of it's tail and it was gone. The next morning I was sitting up the tree thinking boy my bicep is sore. Oh yeah,  from landing too big a fish on too light of tackle...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

80 degrees in November

Who knew November 1st is the new last day of summer??

A lovely Ohio River evening