Well it's supposed to be like 13 degrees here later tonight. Hardly great smallmouth weather and I really don't have the time tonight to run out to one of my saugeye spots so I thought it would be a good idea to tell a few fish stories.
The first one is about a pretty recent fish, a smallmouth from back in early December. I've already posted the fish but the report was short and sweet. Don't tell anybody but I actually keep pretty good records of my better smallmouth catches and the five days before this trip the high temps had been 52, 52, 55, 51, and 62. And the next day the bottom was supposed to fall out. In other words absolutely perfect, classic, it just don't get any better conditions for catching big wintertime smallmouth. The barometer was 29.02 falling a little from 30.04, the wind was out of the south at ten and the river was in perfect shape and clear. I preach in every wintertime smallie seminar that you want the tail end of a warming trend and your chances like double every day it warms. But I had to work till three thirty and it gets dark early in December. So I'm waiting at the time clock ready to run as soon as it clicks over to three thirty. Then fast as I can go without getting a ticket to the river.
I have this little spot I park at. It's public land though it doesn't really look like it. Right next to this little run down house with about a half dozen even more run down sheds out back. I'm pretty sure this one really old man lives there all by himself. He's always out back rummaging around in the sheds getting old rusty sheet metal out of this one or stuffing ripped out pipes into another. I imagine the first thing they will do when he passes is call a scrap metal company to come out. Unless the neighbors steal it I guess. The old man's house is the last one before the river and all his neighbors on the other side of his house look pretty rough too. The first couple years I parked there he glared at me pretty hard when I'd park, wave, and head out to the river, anymore he just pretends he doesn't see me. I only show up in November and quit the place come spring so every year I wonder if he will still be there when I pull up for the first time. I'm beginning to think he will outlive me.
Like I said the river was low and clear. In winter clear is clearer than summertime clear because there is no algae in the water so I had six pound test on the president. Long long ago Billy Westmorland used to sell a fishing rod for jig fishing. Tennessee handles and actually fairly stiff even though he quite often used six and four pound test line. (the man caught a ten pound smallmouth on four pound test!!!!) You set the drag right and backreel when you have to and use can use a bit stiffer rod and have a bit more sensitivity. Since Billy was and is the gold standard for smallmouth fishing I grew up with that rod in my hand. It was a sad day when I finally broke it. So anyways I had six on the president and a med fast Little Miami Rod. Although I want a stiffer rod I'm not a fan of some of the pool cue stiff rods in fashion today so medium fast works perfectly for most of my fishing.
Six also lets you throw lighter jigheads as well. I go thru a whole whole bunch of jigheads in a years time so I pour my own. If you pour jigheads you know that they don't always turn out perfect. Maybe you just added lead and the pots not hot enough, maybe the molds not hot enough, maybe they just didn't turn out. I save the ones that still have a decent shape to them but aren't whole. What I end up with is a bunch of jigheads that are on a full sized hook but are light. Too often you just can't hardly find light weight jigheads on full size hooks so these work perfectly. I used what I'm guessing was around a 1/16th ounce jighead and a pearl colored ribeye paddletail swimbait. Which meant that it was really really buoyant and had to be fished extremely slowly. Which is perfect for wintertime.
The real key to wintertime smallmouth though is location. And the patience to wait for that strike that may or just as likely may not come. And really that last sentence should be followed by ten or twelve blank pages to signify how much patience is needed. Sometimes it is a lot. Luckily this night wasn't going to be one of those kind of nights.
The spot itself is a a deep hole below but to the side of a riffle. You know how most riffles have that eddy that turns back upstream right alongside the bank? Well this hole is one of those on steroids. About twenty yards long and a short cast across and maybe ten feet deep in the heart of the eddy. And most importantly out of the main flow. In fall when the river is choked with leaves this spot has a large slowly revolving lid of floating leaves on top of it. A bunch of which settle to give the hole a soft mucky bottom. But right next to the river's edge the riverbank climbs sharply at about a forty five degree angle and this bank is hard gravel and rocks.
If you grab a hold of this gnarly sycamore root you can swing yourself down the steep bank and on to this flat rock that kind of juts out overlooking the hole. And since I have a granddaughter that wanted to watch the Lion King eight million times I call it pride rock. From pride rock you can flip your jig downstream and the slowly revolving current will in about a minute sweep your jig towards you, then past you, and then finally up towards the riffle. If you throw something like a hair jig under a float or a minnow under a float it will then slowly catch the downstream flow and the whole thing will repeat itself over again.
Anymore though I'm too lazy to fish minnows under a float. Or just too soft in my old age to mess with live bait and getting my hands wet when it's cold outside. My tackle box in winter usually nowadays consists of two ziplock baggies stuffed in my jacket pocket. One that has an assortment of various sized jigheads and another with soft plastics.
So back to the story. On about the fifth float there was a soft mushy weight on the line and I set. The rod bent hard right to the cork. But in wintertime you can snag a lot of sluggish rough fish and I guess because plant food is getting hard to come by, both carp and buffalo seem more willing to eat a jig than in summer so there was no telling what was on the line. Then wooop the fish jumped. In forty two degree water the fish jumped!!! It was one heck of a big smallmouth. Big enough to do what most wintertime smallmouth don't do which is pull a bit of drag. And it seemed the longer the fish was on the bigger it got. 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!" Later 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!" Finally I lipped an absolute beauty that measured just past twenty and a quarter.
And then about a half an hour later lightning struck twice, this time with a nineteen and a half inch beauty. This fish fought more like a wintertime fish is supposed to dogging it slowly down deep and not on top like the big girl did. But she really thumped the jig while I only felt weight on the first fish. Go figure.
I think it's key to remember a couple points about wintertime smallmouth. Usually if the fish is in the mood to feed it will only move the few feet to where the soft bottom of the hole meets the hard edge of the bank or a gravel covered hump or even the outside edge of the hole towards the main river. It pays if you find a hole in summer that you might think might become a wintering hole to wade out there and feel around with your feet and try and determine where a smallie might position itself come cold weather. If you can find that spot on the spot in the hole you can put more drifts of your jig over fish that might be willing to feed and thus up your chances. Just remember that whole patience thing I mentioned earlier. Often in winter a bass might go a week or even several weeks without feeding though a warm spell ups your odds tremendously of finding a feeding fish. Though you just never know, last January I caught an nineteen incher when it was eight degrees out. It is fishing after all and you never can say for certain what is going to happen. You just have to put the time in and look at it like you are building up fishing karma with every skunk that will repay you later on. Well that's fish story number one, i'll try and pass on a few others while the really cold weather lasts.