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Sunday, December 31, 2017

last fish

The last fish of the year, it was too cold to pick up for a better photo...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Personal lure selection

Very rarely in life do we really come up with an idea that is truly our own. The idea that we can use public data that no one knows about and create a lure selection tailor made specifically for the exact spot that we fish is the closest I've come I guess. Just about every stream in the United States big enough to be of interest to fishermen has been sampled by the EPA. Large creeks and all rivers have been surveyed at multiple points along their length. I know here in Ohio our rivers probably average having been electrofished by the EPA at roughly a four mile interval along their length. What this means is that you can get a snapshot of what lives in not just your river but what lives in the section of river you fish in. And trust me I've been looking at these things for a while now and they can vary wildly, even in the same watershed. The river might have ten darter species in a headwater section with the majority of those being of one or two species in particular while in another section there are literaly thousands of central stonerollers and then in the lower river there may be more shad than anything else. And sections just a few miles apart can vary as well. And quite often the species makeup in the tribs is nothing like that in the main river. For instance here are a couple examples.



So lets say you have looked up your favorite stream and have found a couple fish you want to base your lure selection on, what's the next step? Well then you go to one of a couple of really cool websites. You google either "WI fish ID" or "Species Guide Index ODNR" or preferably both. I won't give you the exact web addresses because as soon as I do they will surely change but if you google those phrases the appropriate site will be the first thing that pops up. I know one site has already changed a couple times even though it still has the same information. One site is managed by the University of Wisconsin and the other by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and they both give you roughly the same information but in different key ways. For example if you look up spotfin shiner on the WI fish ID site it will give you multiple photos of a spotfin from different angles and explain the differences in appearance in adults and subadults and breeding fish. The ODNR site has one photo that is not nearly as nice but it gives you more detailed information including the most important thing of all, how the fish uses the habitat. If your baitfish is a riffle species instead of a pool species or vice versa it is very important to know that. Armed with the information from both sites you can choose lures that closely resemble the most abundant forage in your stream AND fish each of these lures where and how they will appear naturally. Our spotfin shiner is a dead ringer for a slightly larger flatter lure like a usb swimbait fished higher in the water column on a slightly weighted swmbait hook while something like a channel darter would be better imitated by a rounder lure like a ribeye or grub fished on the bottom on a lead jighead. So not only can you fish lures that look like the predominate baitfish in your river section you can fish different lures depending on whether or not you are fishing wood or rock or riffle or pool. With a bit of research you can have the absolute best lure selection for your particular stream that has ever existed! Yeah, the whole concept gets me a little excited. And this can even be applied to favorite lures you already use. Like to use a topwater? Then use topwaters that mimic the chub and shiner species in your streams that spend the majority of their time high in the water column picking things off the surface. Like minnow plugs? There are a million different lure profiles and color combinations available now that let you fish them anywhere in the water column and imitate nearly anything. And the king of baitfish imitating lures are soft plastics with every size shape and color combination you can think of. For example just in the Vic Coomer line you can fish flatter profile curly shads in different sizes and colors to imitate dozens of different minnows, shad, chubs and shiners, There are USB swimbaits that perfectly imitate different shiner species and grubs, curly swims, and ribeyes that will match every other round bodied darter and minnow species in the river.
I think both the WI Fish ID site and the ODNR site pretty much cover the complete variety of baitfish you will find in any of the streams that hold smallmouth bass in the eastern United States. The problem in some states is getting your hands on the electrofishing data. It is out there but sometimes it takes real detective work to find it. The way each state stores and presents their data is up to that states individual EPA. For example here in Ohio it is extremely easy to find. You google "water quality and biological reports index" and you will get a page that lists every report for every stream. Just scroll down and find the one you want and click on it. The true gold is not normally in the report itself but in the appendices to each report there is where typically is listed the electroshock data for each specific sampling location. Some other states make it virtually impossible to find their data without knowing exactly where to look. Probably your best bet there is to google your states individual EPA and find someone there you can call or email. Another option if you are stuck is to google "wadeable streams assessment epa" and download the pdf. It lists who is in charge of each region of the United States for the EPA on the federal level and their contact information. This also makes for some heavily weighted namedropping with your state EPA. "Well, Harvey Brown that heads the Eastern Highlands Region said I should contact YOU and YOU would help me."
If this all sounds like too much trouble (it's worth it), there are a few general rules you can go by that will still improve your lure selection for your particular stream. Most pool species are flatter in profile and lighter in color leaning heavily towards the shiney and silvery hues. Pool species are also often much higher in the water column on average than riffle species. Riffle species are generally a bit smaller and more rounded in profile. They tend to be darker in color but often have brighter wild colors mixed in. Google darters, madtoms, and sculpins to get an idea of their general appearance. Riffle species usually stay tight to the bottom to avoid the heavy current of the riffle. Riffles are also full of dark or brownish arthropods like hellgrammites, dragonfly larvae and crayfish that smallmouth feed on as well.
"The Stream Fishes of OHio Field Guide" is available online as a pdf that you scroll down and get a quick overview of the various stream fishes, their habits and their appearance and is very useful for getting a general feel for what small stream fish look and act like. If you, like me, live and fish in Ohio, a great book to own is "A guide to Ohio Streams" put out by the Ohio Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. It's full of information on how the food chain in the river works as well as a wealth of information on every watershed in the state as well.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

crayfish

Lately I've been studying crayfish. What a weird little creature they are if you take the time to really look and learn about them. Here's a bit of what I've learned...
Crayfish are part of the largest grouping of animals on earth called arthropods. Arthropods have hard exoskeletons and include insects, arachnids and crustaceans. Crayfish are crustaceans and differ from insects in that they breathe with gills and have two pairs of antennae. Crustaceans are also the yummy group and include stuff we love to eat like lobsters, crabs and shrimp. And well, crayfish. If you haven't ever eaten crayfish but like the other stuff on that list your missing out, they are delicious. And as every fisherman worth the name knows, the fish think they are delicious also. So here's more than you ever wanted to know about crayfish:
Back to those antennae, crawfish have a long pair and a short pair. The long whiplike pair help the crawdad keep track of what's going on ahead and behind it while the shorter stubby ones are for close in work. From everything I've read they are like a poor man's version of catfish whiskers in that they are sensitive to both touch and smell. Crayfish also have compound eyes on the ends of little stalks.
I'm not sure exactly how clear a crayfish sees it's world but compound eyes detect movement extremely well. The eyes mounted on stalks are called pedicles. If you watch a live crayfish, you can see the eyes move independently of each other. Instead of ears crawdads have thousands of tiny sensory bristles that can sense vibrations. The "brain" of a crayfish is just a mass of nerve ganglion just in front of and above the esophagus. I'm pretty sure most crayfish behavior is instinctive and they aren't exactly rocket scientists.
A crayfish has four pair of walking legs. The small appendages along the underside of the abdomen are the swimmerets. These help the gills circulate water through the body, so the crayfish can breath. And if you ever want to, you look at the first pair to determine the sex of a crayfish. (don't ask me, you might want to...) In boy crawdads, this first pair is used to deposit sperm into the oviducts of the female. They are larger and harder than the others. In girl crawfish, all the swimmerets are soft and used to carry the fertilized eggs and newly hatched young. Crayfish have 3 sets of tiny appendages around their mouth called maxillipeds. These appendages help the crayfish manipulate food.
All in all crayfish have 38 pair of appendages! Of course the ones we are all familiar with is that first pair with the big pincers on them. These are used to gather food and defend the crayfish from predators like fish. And don't think they don't use them to defend themselves, just let a big one you catch out of the river sometime latch on to you and you will change your tune. In fact studies have shown that smallmouth bass over and over again select crayfish with smaller claws if given choice. The old river rat trick of pinching the claws off crawdads you use for bait really does up you catch rate.
Along with claw size, studies show smallmouth bass select crayfish by body size also. The interesting part is that the biggest smallmouth bass, the trophy fish are the most selective by size. They consistently choose a crayfish about an inch and a quarter long if given a choice. I wonder if, given a smallmouth's long lifespan, that a ten or twelve year old bass has just learned by experience that those big craws can be bad news. Those big lobsters you sometimes see are shovelhead bait not bass bait unless the fish is really hungry. And even then the bass is going to suck that big craw in and blow it out several times trying to kill it, making it harder to hook on a bigger crayfish imitation too. If it's claws can't defend it, the crawfish's other option is to flee. This it will do by a sudden flip of its tail which will cause it to jet backwards a foot or so amazingly fast.
In the Midwest most crayfish mate in the fall. (don't ask me how, don't know, don't wanna know)
Then in spring the female will lay eggs which she glues to the swimmerets on her abdomen. These then hatch in 5 to 8 weeks into tiny crayfish which hang on another week or two before dropping off to fend for themselves. And along the way feed nearly everything in the river it seems. Everything from minnows like larger darters and chubs to dragonfly and hellgrammite larvae. There are some you tube videos of dragonfly nymphs eating little crayfish out there that are right out of a horror movie.
But crayfish are omnivores and get their revenge if they are lucky enough to grow up. Along with a bunch of vegetable matter they will chomp on pretty much anything that's small enough to kill with those pincers including things like small minnows. And as anyone who has went after crayfish with a minnow trap will tell you, dog food is a classic crawdad bait. Like I said an omnivore.
Crayfish undergo periodic moults, shedding the hard exoskeleton in order to grow larger, and then forming a new shell. During this time they are in fishing lingo, "soft craws" and extremely vulnerable to predators. And fish know this and moulting crayfish are just about the best live bait you can use. But don't discount using "hard craws" that are not moulting. Just remember what I said earlier about bigger bass preferring a small crayfish in the inch and a quarter range. Another interesting tidbit is that a crayfish can regenerate a claw if it loses it battling a fish or I dunno, a bigger crayfish. Over the course of two or three moults the claw will grow back. Which reminds me that when catching crabs in South Carolina it was illegal to keep the huge but somewhat rare stone crab. But you could keep one of the huge claws of this overgrown relative of the crawdad since it too would regenerate. (And one stone crab claw had more meat that a couple whole blue crabs.)
Speaking of eating crayfish, they aren't just for smallmouth. Besides smallmouth, channel and flathead catfish, walleye, saugeye, carp, trout, largemouth bass, freshwater drum and I'm sure a host of other fish eat crayfish. And of course people eat crayfish. My personal favorite way is grilled smothered in garlic butter and Cajun seasoning. But of course crayfish are famous as smallmouth food. And with good reason, a 12 inch smallmouth bass in late summer fills up to 70% of its diet with crayfish. Larger bass eat a lot of baitfish but they still eat a bunch of crayfish too. BTW don't ever, even on a drunken dare for a hundred bucks eat a live crawfish (or a raw dead one). A big percentage of crayfish are infected with a parasitic flatworm called a lungworm. After you scarf down the crawfish, the parasite comes out and burrows through the walls of the intestine, hoping to make it to the lungs where they can complete their life cycle and mature. Once in the lungs they form nodules that mature and grow. But sometimes they don't make it and get lost on the way to the lungs and they can end up in other organs, even in your brain. Yeah, YUK.
There are approximately 600 species in the world. Of those something like 350 live in North America. Which I'm guessing is more than the number of people who could tell them all apart.
Btw an Astacologist is someone who studies crayfish. And if you think the crawdads in grandpas pond are huge, the world's largest crayfish lives in Tasmania and can sometimes grow up to ten pounds! These giant crayfish can live up to 40 years too! Google Astacopsis gouldii, which is their latin name if you want to see some amazing photos. There are also colorless blind crayfish that have evolved to live in caves. According to ODNR there are twenty species of crayfish in Ohio.
If you keep crayfish for an extended period of time before using them as bait they will stay alive for a long time if you remember a couple things. First and foremost don't keep them in a bucket half filled with water unless it is aerated. But they don't need to be in aerated water if you keep them in something like a cooler with just a tiny bit of water in the bottom and something like grass that they can crawl up on. You see if they can keep their gills moist they can breathe air also. And try to keep the same size crayfish together, the big guys will definitely kill the little guys.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fishing tackle show this weekend

I'll have some things set up at the fishing tackle show this Sat at the Towne Mall in Middletown. The show runs from 10 to 4 and I'm hearing there is like twice as much tackle as at the last one so it should be pretty cool. I'll also be giving a talk on smallmouth fishing at noon. The weather is going to be cold and nasty, ya might as well stop by and talk fishing with me....

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

a pretty pair of 18's

From the looks of the weather forecast I figured tonight was probably the best smallmouth fishing I'd get for awhile. More saugeye and stripey fish weather coming up for a while anyways. It's not that they cannot be caught when it's winter, you just are going to do much better fishing the tail end of a three or four day warming trend like we've been having rather than fishing the first few days of a cold period. Sure enough you could just feel the temperature drop minute by minute this evening. But last nights warm rain still had a couple quality smallmouth willing to bite. Same drill as the day before, a pearl ribeye swimbait on a 1/16th ounce jighead fished as slow as I could fish it on light line. Same location as well, right on the very edge of the hole, fairly shallow but out of the current.

Monday, December 4, 2017

magic

I love watching Timmy Horton Outdoors. He will be fighting this bass and the rods bent double and he will finally get it up where he can see it and he will say in this excited almost half whisper, " oh, oh, oh, he's a giant!"
Well tonight walking back to the truck in the dark and reliving the previous hour in my head I realized I'd done that exact same thing. The fish had come up and kind of wallowed on top shaking it's head and I'd said to the trees I guess since no one else was around... " oh, oh, oh, he's a giant!"
All pumped up after seeing all of Erik Watson's photos of the hawgs he had caught the day before I'd decided to take the long walk back to one of my most favorite fall and winter spots. The problem was I got off work at 3:30 had to drive 30 minutes and then walk back there. I'd have at most an hour or hour and a half till dark.
I fished a pearl ribeye swimbait on a light 1/16th ounce jighead so I could work it really slow. I only caught two fish but oh my goodness what beautiful two fish. It was truly just about the most magical moment of the entire year. Two smallmouth that together totaled almost forty inches on six pound test in December. I'll remember this hour of fishing till the day I die.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A bit of fishing and hunting...


I still had a tag I could use on a doe so I decided to spend one last long weekend in the deer woods. Such odd weather and hard to dress for, freezing cold at night then warm by afternoon. About nine thirty down the hill I could see the body of a deer making a beeline right for the deer feeder. Please please please be a doe. Though I was afraid it wasn't since it was walking steady. Which is more like something a buck would do. Sure enough it was a pretty nice eight pointer, almost a twin to the one I'd harvested a couple weeks ago. He walked right up to about 15 feet away and then stopped. You could almost see the look of shock on his face as he stared up into the tree. He walked sideways a few feet staring hard the whole time then just froze and the big stare down began. The deer feeder was really too close to the tree for the muzzleloader but it had worked out great for bowhunting. Finally he actually stepped backwards two or three steps then turned and walked back the way he came, tail up nervous as all heck. A check of the trail camera showed only the buck visiting the feeder the last couple weeks and two more sits up the tree confirmed this so with a buck and a doe already in the freezer I decided to fish the last day and a half of my long weekend.
First up was a dam on the Ohio. Like seemingly everyone else that is fishing a dam on the Ohio right now I was soon completely covered up in saugers. Unfortunately all of them small. They made up for their lack of size with numbers though and I soon lost track of how many hit my pearl ribeye swimbait. Right at dark a couple pretty nice hybrids hit the swimbait as well which made me very happy. Then I felt something and set the hook into something very very heavy. I'd snagged a huge paddlefish. One hundred miles upstream from where I'd caught the other paddlefish this fall. This guy was huge though. I had a really hard time holding it up and controlling it to try and take a photo which is why I have such lousy ones of the fish. Not wanting to keep it out of the water too long I finally decided those would have to do and let the fish go. Then it was back to never ending saugers till it got a bit too cold. Back to deer camp and a roaring fire. It was dead calm and with the fire baking me I leaned back and looked at the huge full moon thru the binoculars. What a magnificent sight. If you have never tried it you are missing out.
The next morning the sun rose on me at the mouth of a pretty good sized trib to the Ohio much closer to home. But not much was going on and I managed only one small bass before finally calling it quits.
That afternoon found me joining Rob on an exploratory trip to a pipe that was pouring warm water out into the river. The photo of the bridge I took about five minutes before the plants security officer pulled up and ran us off. Sigh...it all looked so good too.
All in all a pretty swell weekend in the woods.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Catch and release memes

Feel free to use


Winter smallies

Caught a couple smallmouth this evening after work. They were in the mouth of what is basically a pretty big ditch that runs into one of our small rivers here in southern Ohio. The water I'm guessing was just a bit warmer than the river. Nothing too huge but this time of year any smallmouth is a good one in my book. On a 1/16th ounce jighead and a curly swim.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Warming up to cold weather

So I've found this awesome new website. It's an Ohio EPA site and you select a county from a dropdown menu and a map pops up showing you the location of everywhere in that county that has a permit to discharge water. Which (combined with some good old fashioned legwork) you can then use to find places that put out warm water. Or at least water that is warmer than the low forty degree water that most of our streams have flowing in them now. Right now fifty degree water can draw fish. The first day I checked out a pipe that was spitting out just a little bit of water. Maybe a couple garden hoses worth but it was very warm. I was hoping for some nice smallmouth from this location but no go. One smallie maybe ten inches long but two channel cats and a shovelhead hit my grub as well. The second place put out more water and I caught a few nice stripey fish. Very cool to be finding new fishing holes this time of year. The website if you are interested is http://wwwapp.epa.ohio.gov/dsw/gis/npdes/index.php


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A fish called BOAT

He was more than a little obsessive compulsive. He knew this. This was one of his greatest weaknesses but also his greatest strength. He could get stuck on something and doggedly follow it till the ends of the earth. And he channeled much of this into fishing. Stream smallmouth fishing in particular. At any other kind of fishing he was probably just a bit above average as you would have to be just from having spent so much time on the water. But when it came to fishing for smallmouth bass in a river he was a different person. A man obsessed. He studied everything he could find on the subject, not just the how to's in the fishing literature but deeper. Scientific studies on the baitfish in the river, tracking studies of smallmouth movements, their physiology, the hydrodynamics of the flowing water in the river, anything he thought might help in his quest to catch bigger fish. He developed theories on all these things, refined them, discarding them for new ones. And he began to catch very big fish. In a part of the world where catching a twenty inch smallmouth is a once in a lifetime experience he began to catch several a year. Till, afraid people would consider him a liar, when he posted a photo of a really big smallmouth online he began to sometimes not list the length. Better to have people think a fish was smaller than it was than think him a liar. All the time trying to catch the fish, a fish like the James Bayless smallmouth bass caught out of the Mad River in 1941. That seven and a half pound fish was twenty four inches long and stood as the state record for fifty one years. As far as as he was concerned it was still the record. The current record was caught in Lake Erie and was as far removed from river fishing as you can get.

All of this had over the course of several years led him here. Here was a small pipe that dumped a bit of water into the river. He had found it by researching who had EPA permits to dump water into the river. The company's permit said it was used to cool machinery and dumped nothing but warm cooling water into the river. Just downstream out in front of some old tiles and lots of concrete rubble was a small hole, maybe twenty feet across. The hole was seemingly dug in the distant past instead of formed by the river since it was out of the main current. It wasn't much to look at really but the place bothered him a lot. He had found it in late spring and it came to mind often that summer as he thought about the coming fall and winter. It was on a mostly unfished section of river which meant everything when searching for big smallmouth since it took well over a decade to grow a big one. And it looked nothing like a classic wintering hole was supposed to look like but it had everything a wintering smallmouth could want, and it had that trickle of warm water. Like I said it bothered him a lot.

That fall he was there right around the time of the autumnal equinox, when big fish begin to move towards where they are going to spend the winter. A nineteen inch smallmouth and two around eighteen in two trips from the fast water just below convinced him here was something special. But the weather was very warm and he was consistently catching big smallmouth out of some spots closer to home so he left the place alone till the water cooled. Fast forward a bit over a month and the river had cooled to the lower fifties. A few degrees cooler than the water coming out of the pipe. It was a perfect day for fishing. Overcast and dark, threatening to break out into rain but never doing it, the air temperature was in the low sixties. A three inch grub produced two wonderful fish right on the edge of the hole where the current from the pipe and the river current ran into each other in a slowly revolving spiral. One fish was a bit over nineteen and one was exactly twenty inches and fat and deep. The twenty incher almost looked short it was so fat, like a giant bluegill. It was beautiful.

The next day was completely different. The air temperature struggled to reach forty and it was bright and sunny and windy. In other words terrible fishing conditions. Two hours later he hadn't had a bite. Swimbaits, suspending minnow plugs, grubs, even a hair jig under a float had failed to produce anything remotely resembling a bite. It was getting a bit towards evening and the wind laid a little bit but the air was even cooler now. He tied on a buzzbait, thinking I hope no one sees me doing this. Two casts in and a fish swirls all over the lure without getting hooked. He throws right back and promptly hooks a pretty fish that probably went eighteen or nineteen inches. Probably, since it came off after a few seconds. The river was crystal clear, as clear really as it ever gets. He cast the lure a few more minutes with no results. A buzzbait had proven itself so many times over the years to be a big fish producer that he consciously had to make himself change to something else sometimes. Just five more casts he told himself.

On the fourth the buzzbait caught the current coming out of the pipe and he could almost hold it in place reeling it so very slowly as it gurgled on top. Finally the lure was maybe five feet out and he began to lift it out over a bit of weeds when the fish came. It wanted the buzzbait so badly that its entire back came out of the water like a porpoise. It took a long time for its whole body to do that and he got a good look at it in the clear water. It was just like the moment in The Old Man and the Sea when the fisherman gets his first look at the fish and thinks, "no, he can't be that big". But it was. And it completely missed the buzzbait being lifted from the water. If you have ever fished a buzzbait you know if you can get it back out there quick enough many times the fish will hit again.

This fish didn't, it was just gone. But he had seen it clearly in that split second it had tried to eat his lure. He had landed big catfish, muskie, trophy northerns. Nothing had affected him like this. His heart had pounded in those first few seconds after the fish like a hunters upon seeing a big buck. Here was a man who had seen, caught, and handled a lot of really big smallmouth and this fish shook him to the core.

To a man who leans toward the obsessive dangling the object of his obsession right there in front of him then yanking it away is the worst kind of torture. Hours, days passed and the experience of the fish was still fresh and raw. He secretly named the fish BOAT, for biggest of all time. Certainly not everywhere of course, no river is going to compete with Dale Hollow or St Clair. But for here in his fishing world of rivers and streams this fish certainly was the BOAT. The winter passed with no more sign from the fish. He didn't need one he knew it was there. He finally had to force himself to fish other places. Other wintering holes. Fish were caught big fish but not the fish.

Now another winter approaches. He's made himself a promise that he will at most only spend a third of his time chasing the BOAT. But the fish is still out there. Big smallmouth live for a very long time and they overwinter in the same place every year. For the next several years he knows there is still a chance. The BOAT is still out there and so is he...

Monday, November 13, 2017

River Time

Big girls out in the cold

After being gone for a few days down south chasing stripey fish I figured I'd better go check on my smallmouth. ( the striper fishing was okay but also the classic "you should have been here last week" ) Turns out the rivers had dropped and cleared up around here in Southern Ohio a whole bunch while I was gone. I started out with what has become my go to smallmouth bait, Vic's new ribeye swimbait but it was a no go. I changed to the clear with gold glitter three inch grub. 24k I think Dave France calls it and it was game on. I caught a pretty fish probably 18.5 or 19 inches and was texting my buddy Rob, "lookie what I caught" all thrilled with it for mid november. Little did I know on the next cast I would catch it's Mom. I don't know if it was the cold or just the excitement of catching such a pretty fish this time of year but I found myself shaking a bit messing with the camera.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Down south

Ran away for a long weekend on Watts Bar and Ft Loudon chasing stripey things. Had to work real hard for them but managed a few. Also managed to lose a nice muskie too...

Friday, November 3, 2017

pinocchio fish

One of the perks of sauger fishing on the Ohio River is that even when it's really slow like tonight you never know when you might accidentally hook a river monster like this pinocchio fish. A half hour later, I snapped a few photos, worked the fish back and forth a bit till it was ready to swim off and headed home dog tired. Not sure who was more whipped me or the fish


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Today I'll be speaking at the Towne Mall in Middletown. I'll have a table with some books and Dvd's. Plus Vic is set up with ton's of lures. Sounds like there will be a lot of other tackle there as well. Stop by and and let's talk fishing.
Kurt Smits will be speaking at 11 and I'll talk at noon. Hope to see you there


Friday, October 27, 2017

Walls and big smallmouth

Today I'd like to talk a minute about one of my favorite structures to fish for smallmouth. It's one of my favorites because not only does it give up some trophy smallmouth bass but seemingly no one else fishes it. And that structure is....an absolutely smooth featureless wall. What??? Smooth? Featureless? I've finally lost it this time right? Nope, let me explain. You want a wall out in current, the faster the better most times. There are more of them out there than you might think. The abutments of railroad and road bridges, walls right below lowheads, walls that lead into and out of big culverts that the creek might flow thru, walls along the front of peoples property that butts up to the river to control erosion. And on and on. There's a lot once you start looking for them. The key to finding a good one is finding a wall in current. If it seems too fast and too featureless to hold fish it's often perfect. Smallmouth, big ones in particular, like to hold in slow water right next to really fast water. They get to expend little energy but get a fast moving conveyor belt of food rushing by. And our wall provides this perfectly.
First a bit of hydraulics... As water rushes along the wall the water that is rubbing the wall is of course slowed by the friction. This layer of slower water is called the boundary layer. Lets look at a couple pictures I took of water running along a wall. In the first you can see the water that is slowed by the wall and then pulled along by the rushing current. As we continue down the wall we then see something like the second photo. In this photo the water doesn't slant downstream and join the flow like in the first photo. Instead the downstream flow of the water in the boundary layer is ripped apart by the drag of the wall on one side and the fast current on the other. The water flow then right up against the wall is now turbulent and swirling in hundreds of little vortex all spending the energy of the current and creating a tiny cushion of turbulent water that doesn't have much downstream flow or power. Here there's often just enough room for a smallmouth to tuck itself in. These are mostly one fish spots. But I'm constantly saying that the best fish takes the best spot in a river. And what could be better than tucked right in against a wall where you might have shade and certainly feel secure. And a rushing current a half an inch away streaming by carrying food. Just remember that the closer to the wall your presentation the better. Having your bait actually scraping along the wall is often the very best retrieve. So when you are out on the river or stream keep an eye out for walls, who knows one might have the right combination of flows and be your own private big fish producer...


Thursday, October 26, 2017

My Reading List..

A while back someone asked for a reading list of outdoor books, off the top of my head these are my top ten. I'm sure I'm forgetting some great ones...

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Big Two-Hearted River by Ernest Hemingway

The Earth is Enough by Harry Middleton

Stirring the Mud by Barbara Hurd

The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane

The Everlasting Stream by Walt Harrington

East of the Mountains by David Gutterson

Sex, Death, and Flyfishing by John Gierach

A River Runs Thru It by Norman McClean

The Thousand Mile Summer by Colin Fletcher

Monday, October 23, 2017

Basic parts of a river


Riffles...
Webster defines a riffle as a shallow extending across a streambed and causing broken water. That’s the first and best definition I could find for riffles in the average small river. Most definitions went off into terms like helicoidal flow and the Hjulström curve. All of which were really interesting to read about but left me knowing squat about the actual riffles. So anyways that "shallow extending across a streambed" in the case of our average river riffles are caused by an increase in a stream bed's slope or an obstruction. The stream is well oxygenated as the water flows over shallow water of 3 feet or less with a bottom of hand-sized rocks and gravel. The riffle will have a layering of material starting with the largest rocks on the top, followed by smaller stones, then gravel, pebbles, sand, and silt. Tucked into all the nooks and crannies will be debris such as fallen leaves and twigs. Riffles are by their definition shallow which allows good photosynthesis for plant growth. Many different kinds of bugs and insects live within riffles due to the healthy plant growth. In turn all kinds of small fish species such as darters and madtoms live in riffles feeding on these insects. The small rocks and stones also make great homes for crayfish. All of this makes riffles food factories for gamefish like smallmouth bass and white bass. Most riffles have a top end that includes small eddies at each corner, forming a triangle. This water is usually about 1or 2 feet deep. This front section of the riffle can be the best area to fish. As the water speeds up heading into the riffle it is smooth but flowing faster, this is the glide and can be a hotspot for smallies especially early and late in the day.
Runs are usually deeper than riffles, averaging something like 4 to 6 feet. Smallmouth will often use the run as holding as well as feeding water, making trips up into the riffle to feed as well as eating things washed down from above. Runs are just about my favorite feature in rivers to fish, especially when they are associated with another feature such as an island or sharp bend in the river. Runs in a bend with often cut deeply into the outside bend while piling up a rock and gravel bar on the inside of the bend that is perfect to fish from. One of the best ways to fish this is to cast a jig or grub upstream and across and let it sweep down and past you while keeping a tight line.
Pools are the deepest holes in the river. Pools with structure such as big rocks or logjams will hold many more fish than bare pools. Pools provide a haven for fish during the day and a safe winter home. Deep runs in bends can also be classified as a bend pool if the bend is dug out deep enough. These are often some of the best parts of the river to fish. If there is a lot of cover like wood in the water these are also shovelhead magnets, you can bet the gravel bar on the inside bend will have bass and catfish roaming it at night. Tails are at the ends of pools where the water rises up from the depth of the pool and gets channeled into a riffle or run. Usually there are large rocks within a tail that provides protection and current breaks for the bass. Having the deeper pool nearby is also some comfort to the trout as a means of escape. It seems to me that if bass are in the tail they are there to feed.
Flats are really long slow shallow pools. The bottom will consist of sand and gravel but mostly silt and muck. I find these on the whole to be the least productive part of the river. With the muckier the bottom the less productive a flat is. If there is lots of cover you might some bass feeding but I generally bypass long silt filled flats for the most part. A series of long flats really does concentrate the feeding fish at nearby riffles and runs though. Some flats will have weed beds extending into the water that will have some bass patrolling the edges.
The best tool modern anglers have when exploring the river are the new satellite mapping sites on the internet. Find your access point to the river and zoom in and follow it up and down till you find some riffles. Are their bends nearby? Maybe an island or the mouth of a tributary? If you take the time to find places where several features are located close to each other you are almost guaranteed to catch some fish. Locate such a spot that's a bit off the beaten path that you have to hike or float a ways to get to and you might just make a killing. There are lots of such spots along the rivers hundred mile length but the guys that know them aint talking.

10/23

Hit four or five spots along the river tonight. I'd fish each for a half an hour or so then head to the next. Found the smallies to be pretty cooperative and I caught three or four fish at each spot. I even stopped for a bit at a lowhead dam and caught two 14/15 inchers right in the hydraulic jump at the base of the dam. Best fish of the day was glued tight to wall under a bridge. All the fish tonight were on a green and pearl ribeye and a green grub.