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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Misc. strangeness

history buff smallmouth

I found when researching my book on the Little Miami River that with a bit of digging thru local history both on the internet and at local historical societies that you can sometimes dig up some useful information that will help your fishing. Here in Southern Ohio there were lots of water powered industry and mill dams in all our rivers. The remnants of most are still there. It's sweet to find old stone walls and concrete buried in the river that doesn't really show up on Google maps. For example the blocks you can see barely sticking out of the rock bar in the one photo were also present out in the river underwater creating a holding spot for the nice smallmouth I caught this evening on a clear with silver glitter grub.

Monday, July 30, 2018

signs of the times


So the stripers quit at 8 am every day. Just quit. It's five hours to get home but I don't really have to be home till midnight if I don't want to. What to do? Take the very scenic way home thru east Tenn and KY looking for smallmouth streams and covered bridges of course.
So I've found this stream on google and there is supposed to be a covered bridge on it. I leave this one stoplight town driving down a two lane. Then a smaller road that you have to worry a bit when some one is coming. Then a gravel road. Then a gravel road where you are thinking what the heck to I do If I meet someone. I pass three or four of the most dangerous looking railroad crossings I've ever seen. The tracks run thru blasted cuts in the mountain just wide enough for the train to pass and you cannot look down them till you are up on the tracks.
And then the most beautiful stream ever. Never mind where, I'm pretty sure I'll be back there fishing soon. The gravel road runs pinched between the creek and the tracks. Again what do I do if I meet someone?
But I've not seen a car in thirty minutes. Though I did pass an old man on a four wheeler a while back. Bib overalls and an engineer hat and he waved. When you get far enough out there everyone waves when you pass them. In their car or just sitting on the porch. Though it's been miles since the last house.
Finally the covered bridge. I've never seen one like it. It's covered in tin siding and had a huge iron gate with a lock. Google maps calls the turnoff Unnamed Road. Gotta love that. It's obviously not a public bridge but one put up back in the day by the mining company. Because you could see there on the other side of the stream unnamed road just disappear right into a giant hole in the mountain.
But behind me, across my gravel road was the real reason for this whole post. There's a wide spot in the gravel road. here I'm level with the tracks and there on the other side of the wide spot are two huge cavernous holes in the mountain. Like 75 or 80 feet high each. Not walled up or anything just huge holes. I've got a spot light in the car which I shine in one. It goes for hundreds of yards before the light just gives out. How far do they go? To China? To the underworld? My mind says they were limestone mines a long time ago. Built big enough for trucks and steam shovels to go inside. My gut says this is the perfect place for a horror movie. No signs. No fences. No trace of anything. Just huge never ending holes. Spooky.
Normally everything on earth has a warning sign. High water, falling rock. high voltage. not a sign anywhere. Not even a no trespassing sign. Like I said spooky. I guess I'm going to have to go back with a light and a couple backup lights in a daypack and see what's in there ...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

On the road again

"Oh sorry, I was gone there for a minute."

Which I was... I was ten years old sitting in my grandparents front yard eating blackberries while Mamaw was breaking green beans up for supper. Nearly a daily occurrence for me back then. We lived next door to their farm and I'd spend every day alone exploring the woods or sailing toy boats on the pond or any one of a thousand things ten year old boys do in the middle of endless summer. But as evening started to cool I knew I could find one or both my grandparents sitting out in the yard. I'd get a drink out of the tin ladle that hung by the well pump and settle in to visit and snack on whatever was in season, mulberries, grapes, strawberries, blackberries, peaches.

I've been lost daydreaming back in time a lot lately, a sure sign things were a bit too much right now in the present. Aging parents on both sides of the family, relatives staying over, too much time in waiting rooms and doctor offices. I've always tended to be a recluse and too much time with anyone, even those I care the most about and my nerves start to fray.

But at least I could see it coming and before things got too out of hand a couple weeks ago I'd rented a car for this coming weekend and blocked out enough time to drive to Tennessee and fish for forty eight hours straight. Alone. The passenger seat full of rods, the back seat holding a cooler and my pack. Hopefully leaving no room for worries, unease, and trouble. Sometimes there isn't much better you can do for your soul than to just leave with only the vaguest idea that it's time to go fishing.

When I was in my teens my dad owned a big pontoon boat and we would spend weeks on it every year below Meldahl Dam on the Ohio River. Back when men were men and you were allowed to venture as close to the dam as your nerves allowed. And back then my dad had a lot of nerve. And then while in my twenties there was a white bass population explosion below Markland Dam. I was young and single and worked a rotating 12 hour shift which gave me seven days off out of every two weeks. Most of which I spent fishing and sleeping on the rock bar below Markland. Needless to say huge dams feel like home. Or at least like home away from home. Which explains how I ended up below one of the huge TVA dams. If the trip had any itinerary I guess it was to make a tour of several of these huge dams, casting for striped bass, wipers, anything that would bite really.

Whatever would bite ended up being mostly stripers and white bass. The striper bite started about an hour before dark and lasted on and off thru the night. Then right at daylight huge sections of the river would explode with what seemed like bricks being tossed into the water as stripers cut up schools of shad. Forty five minutes after daylight it was all over and dynamite wouldn't get you a striper till sunset. The first morning was unlike anything I've ever seen except for videos of ocean stripers off Montauk. There were literally several acres off big stripers smashing bait. I didn't get any video of that because the whole time I was fighting a huge striper, bigger than any I've ever caught. After a long fight it just pulled off. No drama, no epic story, it just came off. I thought I did really well not screaming bloody murder or breaking the rod over my knee.

That evening produced one of the most memorable fish I've ever caught. I was fishing a big swimbait slowly bumping bottom when there were four or five big blowups ten feet in front of me. I began reeling like crazy to cast at them. The big swimbait was hurtling along right under the the surface when with barely more than a couple rod lengths of line out in the clear water this striper just comes out of nowhere and nails it in plain view. It wasn't so much a case of hooking the fish as it was hoping everything held together without rod, line, hook or me breaking as it screamed off. I'll never striper fish again without remembering that strike.

At night the swimbait was the ticket but during the daylight frenzy a topwater like a pencil popper worked best. Nice stripers on a topwater, fishing life doesn't get much better than that. Then they were done for the day like you had flipped a switch. But the shad were still there by the millions. The locals had small dip nets like you would use to clean a pool with and would scoop them up by the netfulls. Someone had left theirs and I spent the middle of the day fishing shad on a hook and splitshot catching white bass. You would flip out the shad and it would swirl along the rocks in the swift current. The first four or five casts to any new piece of bank would catch a fish every cast.

While trying to dredge up a midday striper on a swimbait I hooked two sturgeon. One medium sized one you see in the photo and one huge one as long as me that rolled on the line and popped it. Tenn has been stocking sturgeon heavily and I guess I saw another half dozen swimming below the dam.

The second morning frenzy produced another memorable fish. I brought the normal striper rod with a pencil popper tied on but I also brought the eight weight fly rod with a big streamer. I had it tied on a saltwater leader I'd cut back a couple feet. After landing four stripers on the topwater plug when the fish blew up right in front of me. I tossed the big streamer into the mayhem. Nothing. I picked it up and slapped it down again. A huge swirl and it was off to the races. There was a pretty heavy current sweeping down the bank and I began to think this was a bad idea. Hmm...was the leader stronger than my backing? This was the question as I tried to stop the fish that seemed intent on heading back to it's relatives in the ocean. Finally running out of backing as the fish was streaking past an impassable cliff I clamped down on the spool and gritted my teeth hoping the backing or leader broke before the rod. Then wonder of wonders the fish stopped and slowly I began working it upstream. In the heat of summer you can really only practice catch and release for stripers below these big dams as the water in the lakes is too warm and fish stressed out by the fight die. But even here this guy literally fought himself to death. It was the only fish I kept this trip. After seeing that I put the fly rod up for the rest of the trip. If you are going to flyfish for stripers below the big dams in heavy current I think you need a tarpon rod to do it without killing fish in summer.

In fact I'd heard there were stripers below Melton Hill now as well and midday I drove over there. Here the current was slower and yes there were rockfish there. I know because you could see four big ones floating dead. One must have went thirty pounds. Don't fish below Melton Hill in the heat of summer. Again you will kill fish.

Finally wore out from getting only a couple hours sleep in two days and fishing at least forty of the past forty eight hours I parked the rental car in the shade and took a nap before heading homeward. Around a dozen stripers, a lake sturgeon, a couple drum and lots and lots of white bass, it was one of the best road trips yet.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wading where you should be casting...

So my streams are low, hot and green right now. Not the best fishing conditions overall but excellent if you know where to go. And one spot was eating me alive, 45 minutes from the house and lately I've only had time for short trips, adding an hour and a half drive time round trip was just too much. But my gut was telling me, no screaming at me to go there. So finally I made time. There's a little parking lot for a set of trails and a pretty good little walk to the river. I get to where I can see the river and OH NO! some guy is fishing. There are lots and lots of fishy looking spots here but only one THE SPOT and he was walking right towards it. Oh, and I know this guy, he's a pretty avid river angler, that's not good....
I sit down in the shade, (kinda behind a log too, purely accidental of course) and watch. He's fishing either a jig and pig or a tube, something you can hop along the bottom and fishing slowly. Oh well there's no where else nearby I wanna try so I wait. Finally he walks around a few rocks and up to the spot. A sharp bend that has a slot of swift fast water close to shore that's only about a foot deep and then a deep run, the deepest part of the river running along beside it tapering to a gradual gravel bank on the far shore.
The shallow fast water has some basketball sized rocks in it and he picks his way between a couple and begins to cast his jig up on the far bank and crawl it back into the run. Sigh, he is very thorough and takes forever. Finally he slowly moves off upstream.
Okay kill a little more time to let it settle. I look for fossils and find a cool horned coral. And he has now moved off out of sight up river. I walk down, stop ten feet back from the shore and pitch underhand at the basketball sized rocks in a foot of swift water. The second pitch and as the curly swim sweeps around a big chunk, wham! the fish you see in the photos slams it. Maybe five feet from where the guy was standing ankle deep 20 minutes earlier. This is only around 430 in the evening, bright and sunny. The super fast, super shallow pattern actually works best then, right in or right after the heat of the day. Early mornings and late evenings are buzzbait times in calmer water close to fast but middle of the day the big fish that want to eat are right up in the fast stuff. Sometimes right where you are standing if you aren't careful....

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


The last couple days have been a bit hard when it comes to smallmouth fishing but the channels have been going crazy. Fishing mostly a grub on a 1/4 ounce jighead I've actually caught more catfish than smallmouth, I think seven channels to five smallmouth. Though I did manage one swell smallmouth that hammered an electric blue grub in a foot and a half of fast water as the jig tumbled over the top of a big chunk of concrete rubble.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Skinked but not skunked

Fished the broken up remains of an old dam today. Sat my pack down to have a drink and had this young five-lined skink run right up on my pack. afraid it might hide in all the junk and end up cooked by the heat in my truck I shoo'd it off but it ran back out and posed for a few pictures. You can tell it was a young one by the bright neon blue tail which fades when they get older. Caught four nice smallies and lost a piggie on a curly swim fished where some fast water rushed over a piece of rubble.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The run...

I enjoy reading books by Larry McMurtry, He is the Pulitzer prize winning writer of Lonesome Dove, The last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment among others. One book is called Cadillac Jack and it's the story of a picker. You know one of those guys that travels all over the country hitting garage sales and auctions and old junky farms finding things to resell. Well towards the end of the book the hero Jack has a run. Seemingly every where he goes he buys something swell and rare till it finally ends in this flea market where he buys this Mongol parchment worth a fortune this couple had their depression glass for sale wrapped in. What's this got to do with fishing???? Well I've felt for a bit now that I've been on a bit of a run myself and sensing that I've tried to squeeze in as much fishing as possible into a schedule that's been pretty full lately. I think in anything that is a combination of luck as well as skill such as pool or hunting or poker(or fishing) when fortune smiles on you, you ride that pony for all it's worth. And nearly every trip I've caught some swell smallmouth for a while now and I guess like in the book the run peaked...
Ninety two degrees, 4:45 pm, a little place where the sweet spot is only maybe eight feet long and six feet wide. The water pours over this stairstep of natural boulders and then is shunted sideways by a big chunk of concrete so it dumps into this little pocket that also has water dumping into it from the riffle above. It ends up being a little U shaped slot with water falling and rushing into it from about a foot higher on three sides.
I can get close because of all the fast water and pitch a curly swim underhanded into the U. It sweeps down thru the U and just as it's leaving it swirls around behind one boulder about the size of a bushel basket before moving on. I didn't even feel the strike even though I probably only had ten or twelve feet of line out. Instead it just tightened up and the fish was on. I set the hook twice. In this kind of take it seems the fish is always spitting the lure back out and when I can remember I'll set the hook more than once. The fish swirled once right under the surface and I could see it was a really big fish. I've only had on a few fish that I knew for certain, "well this fish is over 20 inches". I've had plenty I thought might go 20 on but only two or three that I knew for sure were at the time. Well with ten feet of line out and the fish right there in a foot of water it was obvious it was going to go at least that. What it didn't do was stay ten feet away. In a few seconds it had traveled the length of the riffle and was jumping on the other side of the stream 40 feet away.
After years of trying to baby big smallmouth and losing them my philosophy is land em or lose but don't play with them. Besides it's better for the fish to release them not worn out from a long struggle. So I had the LittleMiami Rod bent into the cork though it probably still took another minute to land the fish on 8lb test. I've caught a couple fish longer in the Little Miami and the Great Miami but considering this tributary stream was maybe a third or half as big as the Little Miami the fish has to rank as one of my best catches ever out of southern Ohio. I'll be honest I snapped a few quick pics, turned her loose and just headed home. With a quick stop at the Wendy's drive thru for a celebratory Frosty. I'm guessing it's all down hill from here for a bit but I don't mind.