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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

the forest for the trees....

To know a river...

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

I've been noticing that a lot of folks have been struggling with their river fishing the last month or so because of the weather. We have been caught in an alternating cycle of hot weather broken by spells of intense storms. Like everyone else I'm a bit tired of the muddy water and rain but I have been plugging along catching some pretty nice smallmouth actually. While it may not be as aesthetically pleasing fishing muddy water and uncomfortable fishing in the heat actually both can make the job of catching a big smallmouth easier. You see the whole key to catching a trophy smallmouth is finding one. They got that big by avoiding be caught. Pretty obvious statement I guess but more important than most stream fishermen realise. I'll repeat, They got that big by avoiding be caught. So when the river is perfect for fishing, low and clear, comfortable to wade or float, well in another captain obvious statement, that's when the vast majority of fishing pressure happens. Most people fish when the weather and water conditions are the nicest. It takes a decade at least for a stream smallmouth to approach trophy size. He has to avoid being harvested for a decade. I feel most do it in one of two ways, they either reside in the least fished stretches of river or the employ feeding strategies in heavily fished waters that differ from most smallmouth and are thus less vulnerable to fishing. In fact one of my favorite places is very heavily fished and is fished at least once a day every day during fishing season. But there is a lot of food and a couple unique feeding stations I've never seen anyone else fish those.
But let's say it's a blazing hot ninety degree day. Horrible fishing conditions right? Well extremely uncomfortable conditions but in truth great not horrible conditions! Great conditions??? Maybe the heat has gotten to me you are thinking. Nope I feel the two best times to stream smallmouth fish are late fall when they concentrate close to their wintering holes and right in the middle of summer on the very hottest days. You remember a minute ago I said the whole key to catching a trophy smallmouth is finding one. Well when it's blazing hot I know where a big smallmouth is going to be. In my rivers and streams he is going to find a little pocket of calm water he can hold in right smack dab in the middle of the fastest water in his section of river. It doesn't have to be big, twenty inches long by four or five inches across is all he needs. I feel confident in stating that ninety percent of the fishermen never fish these spots. They might even think they do, throwing around the edges of swift riffles and hitting the obvious eddies next to fast water. But they never really dissect the very fastest water, the stuff you can't even stand up in without being swept away. Most of the time they don't have the tools with them for the job either. Waist deep raging water will wash away a car much less a 1/8 ounce jighead or a squarebill crankbait. Once it gets really hot I'm often fishing the lowest stream levels of the year with 1/2 ounce or 3/8 ounce jigheads! Because that's what it takes to find that little pocket of calm water behind that concrete block lying on the streambed in that bit of raging current. A heavy jighead and fished on a short line to lessen the effect of the current on the line. You can usually in most smallmouth streams be able to wade pretty close to fastest water if you are careful. The fastest water is often a sluice of fast water or a seam and while it may be raging it usually only covers a small area. The raging water will also let you wade much closer to the fish than you can anywhere else on the stream. I actually catch several fish right under the rod tip every summer and I'd be willing to bet they average right at "Fish Ohio" size.
What muddy water will do for you this time of year is cover your sins. You can use bigger baits, heavier baits, and wade even closer to the fish without spooking them. In other words fish that fast water even more effectively.
Don't view hot weather or muddy water as a setback but rather an opportunity. An opportunity to fish different locations and fish differently than you normally do.
In fact the key to any kind of stream fishing is not getting into the rut of going to your favorite stretch and fishing it the same way every time. I'd guess if you looked at my computers history over a years time one of the most visited sites would be here, https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=ILN. That's the National Weather Services interactive map that lets you check the river levels all over the state. Many of the locations also not only show you the current level but predict fairly accurately the level over the coming week.
If you know the river, know the level, and know the weather going forward, over time you should be able to visualize what the river is going to look like that day and develop a feeling for "Well, I should be here today, it's going to fish well in these conditions." I don't have a "best spot". Instead I try and fish where my gut tells me is going to be the best spot for that day. I think that is far and away the most useful skill astream fiherman can possess. Sometimes it's the same spot I caught them the day before, sometimes it's miles away, sometimes it's not even the same stream. The key is knowing your river (or rivers) well enough to fish the right spot for the days conditions. Unfortunately unless someone just tells you their spots, nothing is going to replace time spent on the water, learning the water. Once the spawn is over smallmouth bass in streams settle into a very limited home range and never leave it till time to head to their wintering holes. You cannot generalize and say the Muskingum is this or the Darby or Great Miami is that. This piece might be one way or that piece might be another. And in different levels and with different weather they will be different than that.
To know the river you are going to have to be on it when it's low, when it's high, when it's muddy and when it's clear. There are things, techniques and tackle and ideas about catching fish that can shorten your learning curve by years but the bad news (actually the good news) is nothing is going to take the place of time spent on the river. Don't look at different conditions than you are used to as obstacles but instead as opportunities to learn your river.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Rainy day....

I found some bronze instead of gold under the rainbow this evening. I was actually happy to catch anything in some very very muddy chocolate milk. The stream wasn't too high but there was zero visibility. I ended up catching this fish and a couple dinks right on the bank out of the main current on a chatterbait I've been testing for Vic. I'd be okay with it not raining for a while...


Monday, June 25, 2018

Monday, June 18, 2018

94 degrees....

Decided to run out for a quick trip late in the evening to beat the heat, glad I did. In fast shallow water on a paddleswim fished on a 1/4 ounce jighead.


Friday, June 15, 2018

6/15 hot weather smallies

Sneaking out of my normal haunts a bit and fishing a lowhead way upstream. It paid off nicely with some nice smallies that were holding in a really fast seam of water. On a clear with green back and mylar curly shad on a 1/4 ounce jighead.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

recovery

Down with the flu. It had been seven days since I fished. Seven whole days! Pretty much a record for this time of year for sure. But it was all made up for in one magical hour this evening. On a curly swim fished on a 1/4 ounce jighead in very fast water...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

My old friend Notch

Just in case you had any doubts that catch and release doesn't make a difference.... Here is a trophy smallmouth from today in the first photo. In the following two photographs is the same trophy smallmouth I caught twice last year. All were caught within five feet of the same spot over the span of eleven months. You can see it is the same fish by the distinctive notch in it's dorsal fin. Smallmouth live a very long time and this fish is probably well over a decade old. And it's a known fact that smallmouth in rivers live in same section of stream their whole lives. IF you practice catch and release on smallmouth bass and give that 17 or 18 incher the precious gift of time you can have trophy smallmouth in your piece of river. I'm not a catch and release nazi and I understand keeping a few channels or some crappie isn't going to hurt a thing. (and it's just plain yummy) But science tells us you cannot do the same thing with stream smallmouth. You might have just as many but they sure as heck won't be big, at least not for another 10 or 15 years.....

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

good times and bad times

I try to fish and haunt stretches of water and woods that don't have a lot of people. But you do occasionally run into a few people and some of those you might in the course of a year or two run into a lot. That was the case with the kids. Three boys and two girls in their late teens. At the time their section of river was about the best fishing around and I'd run into them once or twice a week at least. Me, I'd be smallmouth fishing while they were catfishermen. And very good ones, one boy would seine bait and everyone, girls and boys would wade the riffles and pools throwing minnows. They would usually build a stone corral in the edge of the river and fill it up with 5 to 10 pound channels by days end. Then they would take each one out, hold it up for a photo and let it go. But the days they fished weren't really what made them memorable. Every day seemed an adventure, swimming one day, building a huge bonfire the next, shooting a riffle in inner tubes the next. Or just standing on one foot on a rock in the middle of the river with both both arms and their leg stuck out balancing, acting goofy, trying not to fall in. The kind of things kids used to do when summer seems endless and there was so much and so little to do all at the same time. They literally spent their summer the way kids would have forty years ago. The way it seems only kids do in movies nowadays. I'd be fishing and look up to see them strung out across the river wading a riffle upstream. One kid with a cooler on his shoulder, another with sacks of provisions, maybe a couple with armloads of firewood. The girls in bikini tops and jean shorts, the boys shirtless and everyone tanned golden brown and beautiful. I didn't talk much to the kids, we kind of just gave each other our own space, but when I did they were polite and friendly, and respectful to an old man, again like kids of forty years ago. For three years I saw them like this, sometimes just a glimpse way up the river of them but it seemed like they were just part of the place, as I guess I must have seemed to them. But you could almost feel time was running out even if they couldn't. The boys were getting tall, looking like men and the girls were, well growing up and I made sure not to look too long at them in their bikini tops. Everyone was well past driving age and it seemed any minute their lives would start and they would be off to the Army, having kids and paying rent. But they seemed determined to hang on for one last glorious summer and if anything were on the river even more. I never saw them paired off like boyfriend and girlfriends but more like Huck Finn or the sandlot kids, a gang of kids with absolutely nothing else they would rather do. I envied them a lot, this endless summer.
Then the next year summer came. It got warm, fish were biting, the water perfect swimming weather, and they were gone. A huge section of what was always wild and empty river really felt empty now. It actually took me most of the year to stop expecting to see them.
Then the next year two of the boys came back, fished a few times and even towards the end of the year brought one of the girls. I couldn't help but think how it must have different for them, with jobs, maybe kids and responsibilities waiting for them back home. But like with everything the only constant is change. Even the river changes, it's no longer the best spot on the river though still a good one. I don't go there a couple times a week like I used to but I still go there often enough. And last fall there was the boy seining bait, a man really. And a girl was standing knee deep fishing a minnow in a pool. I normally groan and go the other way when I run into someone on the river but it made my heart glad to see them. I'd missed them, or at least missed the idea of them and endless summer.
Another person I run into on the river breaks my heart. I fish this spot, not because it's all that great but because it's handy. If I only have twenty minutes or a half an hour I can park the truck and be fishing in a minute or two. The complete opposite of the other place really. Here there is a bridge you walk under to get to the fishing and this year a couple people are living under it. A guy that looks to be in the 50 to 60 year old range and a woman. He is pretty much what you would expect, hey buddy, how's it going, a get along, go along homeless guy that's done it a while and knows the ropes. Her, well she is another story. I'd guess she's in her late twenties and absolutely gorgeous. Not just pretty like most women guys call gorgeous but the real deal. Like Hortencia beautiful and one of the prettiest women I've ever met in person. Like I said I try to go the other way when I meet people on the river and I've never been good talking to people I don't know, much less beautiful people so I know nothing of her story. I do know from a daylight fishing trip she sleeps on a blanket on the dirt under the bridge with her stuff in a five gallon bucket and a small pack. I guess she must be on the needle though part of me hopes she's just down on her luck and will be gone the next time I go there. I hope so, the last thing I want to see is her skeleton thin with bad skin from something like heroin. The time before last that I saw her she was walking down one side of this chain link fence towards the road while I was walking down the other side towards the river. When we got even with each other I said hey and stuck five bucks thru the fence. She took it and said a simple quiet "thanks". Like you might do if you were just down on your luck and a bit ashamed of it. I hope so. Out of all the people I've met on the river she might just be the one I'd most like to never see there again..

Monday, June 4, 2018

6/4 smallies

Finally after not fishing for like five whole days with a broken down truck I was able to get out on the creek. The cooler weather had the smallies backed off just a bit from the super fast water they were in during the recent hot weather. 1/4 ounce jighead and a paddleswim fished slowly swimming just off the bottom in about waist deep water next to fast water