Going Fishin'

Going Fishin'
Red Sunset

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

OZ 2

Early in November I spent several days in the Missouri Ozarks. This past week found me a little further south in the Arkansas Ozarks for more fishing adventures in the Land of Oz.

I was taking part in Arkansas State of Fishing sponsored by Frabill, Northland Fishing Tackle, MarCum Technologies, Arkansas Tourism, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, and area resorts.  Over 20 outdoor writers participated in this extended photo shoot, staying two to three days to experience the variety of fishing adventures.  Even though it was a massive undertaking with complicated scheduling, Arkansas hospitality was clearly demonstrated by area resort owners and staff who made everyone feel right at home.

My base of operation was Gaston's Resort, from which I had the opportunity to fish the White River for trout, Norfork Lake for bass and Bull Shoals for crappie.

On day one I joined forces with Eric Naig and local trout guide Curtis Redburn to discover why the White River is recognized as a world class trout fishery.  Small rainbows came on almost every cast with a live red worm.  But it took my bold change up to a pink suspending jerkbait to draw strikes from big browns in the river.

On day two I explored the coves of Norfork Lake with bass angler Larry Olson.  Larry guided me to the lake's triple bass trophy: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass.  All bass were caught on a Northland Jungle Bug with a crawdad trailer.

My final day in the Land of Oz, I fished Bull Shoals with Curt Niedermire and guide Frank Saksa as we probed brushpiles in 25 feet of water for big black crappies.  We scored crappies up to 2 pounds by following Frank's detailed instructions on counting down a 1/16-ounce jig to the top of the brush.

If you would like to arrange a magical visit to this land of enchantment, check out the following websites: http://www.visitmyarkansas.com/ and http://www.ozarkmountainregion.com/.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Land of OZ

The lighted sign at the end of the road read "Alhonna Resort and Marina."  Although I was disoriented in the inky darkness, at least I knew we were not in Kansas.

This was my first visit to Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri.  I didn't know what to expect, except that surprises were in store.

Under the tutelage of my local guide, I learned that in the fall most of the bays and cuts on lake of the Ozarks are filled to the brim with crappies - both white and black.  The brushpiles planted for crappies also attract largemouth bass and hybrid stripers.  Turns out all these species love Bobby Garland Crappie Jigs.  However, the majority of largemouths were caught by fishing buzzbaits and Jewel Jigs tipped with Gene Larew Craws around the thousands of docks that covered every foot of this lake's shoreline.

To escape the docks, several of us took a little trip via Hobie Kayak down the mysterious Niangua River.  I quickly discovered the clear waters of this creek were filled with baitfish, smallmouth bass, trout and green sunfish - plus some largemouth and spotted bass.  But our "easy paddle" turned into an epic river runner's tale as one member of our group upset on a downed tree blocking the stream.

As we paddled hard to completed our trip before darkness covered the land, a horde of flying monkeys followed in the trees...turned out to be several squirrels chasing one another.
In all, ten different fish species were caught by our entourage over three days.  Although other anglers used a variety of lures and rods, I stuck with one outfit and one lure to catch fish in both the lake and river.  I worked my magic with a Lew's Light action spinning outfit (yes, Lew's is back) and a Bobby Garland 3-inch Slab Slay'r Double Silver Rainbow on a 1/16-ounce jighead.  When I lost the last of the Rainbow sparkle baits on the third day, my confidence also hit a snag.  It was time to click the heels of my angling shoes and return home for more fishing adventures.  

To plan your own adventure to the Land of OZ, go to http://www.visitmo.com/.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Trick or Treat

Following a rather lack-luster October on one of our favorite big fish lakes, the water temperature on Conneaut finally dropped below 55 degrees.  So with prime temperature range reached at last, Marilyn and I weren't ready to throw in the towel.  October 30th found us back on the lake...along with sustained 25 mph winds gusting even higher at times.  The strong south wind made boat control very difficult if not impossible on most areas of the lake.  After 1-1/2 hours without a strike, it looked like we were getting the "trick" part of Halloween played on us.

Positioning the boat for a blow-by pass on a deep weed edge where we often caught nice bass, I reminded Marilyn that her next few casts may result in a strike so choose her lure wisely.  She picked up a rod with a new Sebile Snagless Flat Shad lipless crankbait.  On her third cast, I heard her mutter something about missing a strike but the fish came back at the lure again.  I turned to see the G.Loomis cranking rod doubled in half on what appeared to be a very impressive fish.

When I saw the fish boil on the surface, my legs began shaking as I scrambled for the net.  Marilyn kept shouting "Get it into the net."  My inner voice kept repeating "Don't screw up the net job."

Following several tense moments, I finally scooped the bass.  The fat largemouth measured 1/4 inch shy of 22 inches.  We estimated the weight to be easily 6 pounds, making it the biggest largemouth that Marilyn had ever caught.  A Halloween treat far better than any candy!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Big, Bad St. Clair Browns

I had not fished Lake St. Clair (just north of Detroit) since my first trip there in the early 1990s.  Back then we caught 2 to 2.5 pound smallmouth, which the local experts at the time told me was fairly typical of the fishery.  I had no pressing desire to return to St. Clair when I could catch larger smallmouth closer to home.

But pro angler and smallmouth guide Joe Balog had been telling me that the St. Clair of today is not the one of old.  Zebra mussels have improved the water clarity allowing bass to forage more effectively and gobies have added to the prey options.  "In the case of these two exotics, we like the influence on the smallmouth population in St. Clair," says Joe. 

So last week I took Joe up on an invitation to fish with him, ranger Boat rep Pat Kleppert, and St. Clair smallmouth expert Scott Dobson.  Our catch results blew me away!  Big, Bad, Brown Bass!

Scott showed us how he had just won a St. Clair tournament with a record-setting smallmouth catch.  First, he visually locates areas of open sand amid the weed & moss-covered flats in 5 to 10 feet of water.  He pitches a 1/2-ounce blade bait to the "sand spot" and gently pumps it once or twice, then lets it settle.  Smallmouth would pick it off the bottom.  Brand blades used included Vibe, Poor Boys and Silver Buddy.

Soaking tubes on the sand spots also produced.  On the second day of the trip, Joe blew us away with a 7-pound smallmouth taken on a tube. 

Today a fishing trip to St. Clair is certainly worth the six hour drive from Northwest Pennsylvania - or just about from anywhere.  But typical angler-type lodging is absent at this lake.  Although plenty of big pleasure boat marinas line the U.S. side, there are no fishing camps, campgrounds or small fishing-friendly motels on the lake.  We stayed at the ConCorde Inn (586-493-7200) in Clinton Township, an excellent facility only 20 minutes from the Metro Beach Ramp.  Plan a trip for next October - you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Those Other Brownies

When Delaware River smallmouth guide Blaine Mengel mentioned he was catching 20-inch-plus "brownies" on jerkbaits during the late summer on the northern section of the Delaware, being a hardcore bronzeback angler I figured he was referring to smallmouth bass. 

But arriving in Hancock, NY, at the appointed time last week, I found myself in the middle of trout-fishing country.  We were fishing the special regulation area on the West Branch of the Delaware were brown trout find the coldwater discharge of the upstream water supply reservoir very much to their liking.  But instead of fly fishing for these meat-eaters, Blaine uses jerkbaits. 

After trying without success to finesse a brown into taking a small, baitfish pattern jerkbait, Blaine realized the high and dingy water demanded a bolder jerkbait.  He pulled out a Sour Grape XCalibur Xs4.  Over the next couple hours, Blaine landed seven brown trout between 16" and 25" on that dirty-water color.

However, trophy toothy browns are a slippery lot that don't like to pose for pictures.  "You can't lip these fish like smallmouth," said Blaine as another one shot out of his hands and back into the river.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where Stone Cats Rule

I launched my Labor Day weekend early with a trip to the North Branch of the Susquehanna where I fished for smallmouth bass with Chris Gorsuch.  The North Branch was at low flow with a water temperature of 80 degrees.  I was surprised at the dingy water color and lack of free floating weed strands - "Normal for the North Branch," notes Chris.

For seven hours on day one we fished lures exclusively, landing 50 bass on assorted baits.  Chris lead the way with crankbaits.  However, I surprised him with several fish on Yum Dancin' Eel - a soft swim tail cranker.  "Looks like a swimming stone cat," notes Chris.

At the next current seam below an island, I tied on a Gene Larew Biffle-O Jr. (A 5.5" tube body with a unique long tapering tail.)  I promptly out fished Chris who was using one of his custom-color tube jigs.  "Acts like a swimming stone cat," notes Chris.

On day two, we fished live stone cats that Chris and friends had caught the night before.  Every drop of a stone cat into the fast-current water produced a pick-up within 60 seconds.  We quickly lost count of bass landed.  Not only our numbers soared but stone cats produced more bass over 16" than artificial lures the day before.

On the North Branch, stone cats rule! 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

This past week I spent three days fishing for smallmouth on rivers in Minnesota with Minnesotan friend John House and others.  It's a trip I've made several times, and eagerly look forward to it whenever the opportunity arises.  Compared to other summertime smallmouth fisheries, the brown bass fishing on the Upper Mississippi is pretty amazing. 

I've often remarked that river smallmouth fight harder than largemouth in most lakes, but the current-oriented smallies of Minnesota are particularly hard hitters.  Just ask Lawrence Taylor who was ramrodding this writer trip on behalf of PRADCO Fishing. 

On day two, LT and I were fishing with Eric Altena, an Area Fisheries Manager with a passion for smallmouth bass angling.  Fishing on a small flow that was no wider than PA's French Creek (but with more water flow), the bigger smallmouth were hugging the bank on outside turns.  A fast-moving swim jig was the ticket to drawing strikes.  The fish would hit the jig when it touched the water near the shore, or if the bass missed the jig, the smallmouth would chase it to the boat.    

One particularly aggressive fish swiped at LT's swim jig three times before latching onto it almost at boat side.  The brown bass hit so hard that it jerked the borrowed casting rod right out of his hands.  As I watched the rod disappear into the water, I saw LT teetering on the transom platform of Eric's River Pro.  It looked like he was going to fall in.  I dropped my rod and reached out to grab him.  But LT was already in the air - diving in after the rod. 
He comes up gasping for air, yelling "I've got the rod and fish is still on it."  So, here's LT doggie paddling with one arm as he holds the rod in the other.  I so wanted to grab my camera, but felt my duty was to help retrieve LT.  (Oh how I wanted that picture!)

Perhaps a minute passed before the boat caught up with LT who was being pulled downstream in the current; Eric and I pulled him aboard, rod still in hand.  Check out the photo with pooled water around the knee to see the smallmouth that pulled LT into the river.

In daytime temperatures that reached into the 90s with high humidity, we still managed to land 60 to 100 smallmouth a day per boat.  Many of the smallmouth in the Mississippi were extremely dark - perhaps due to the 83 degree water temperature.  Fish were taken on Houdini Shad soft jerkbaits, Yum Tubes, swim jigs, Dancin' Eel, and of course Yum Dingers.  Actually, LT had brought a few new F2 Dingers to field test.  The first morning I alternated between the standard Dinger and the new F2 Dingers with water-soluble scent - the F2 Dingers outfished the regular ones by 5 to 1!


Monday, July 5, 2010

As Good As Live Bait

Over the July 4th weekend, Marilyn and I spent a few hours one afternoon fishing for smallmouth on the Allegheny River.  The sky was bright blue without a cloud, the river level was as low as I had seen it in two years, and the water clearer than normal - which altogether can make catching bass a tough proposition.  Add to that the hundreds of kayaks and canoes in a never ending procession -- I have never seen so many paddlers! 

After 50 minutes of working favorite summer soft jerkbaits, swimbaits, tubes, crankbaits and topwater along normally productive areas, Marilyn was wishing we had taken time to gather live bait ahead of time for this river outing...especially after watching a father and two sons catch several bass on creek-caught minnows.

Motoring downstream a bit, in the clear water I spotted a mid-stream chunk rock ridge about 4 feet under the water in a deep current pool.  We dropped anchor in 8 feet of water above the head of the rock bar.  Frustrated with casting and not catching anything, Marilyn nose-hooked a 4-inch Yum Green Pumpkin Dinger with only a split shot for weight...looking very much like a live bait rig.  She threw into the current and let it drift down onto the rocks, where it hovered out of our sight but barely off the bottom.  Meanwhile, I continued slinging other lures to no avail.

Three minutes into deadsticking the Yum Dinger, Marilyn swept her rod  high in a hookset!  The drag squealed as she lost and then gained line, eventually netting an extremely pump 14-inch fish.  Two more minutes of deadsticking another Dinger, she had another larger smallmouth in the net.  That was my cue to switch.

After hitting two similar areas downstream, we called it quits -- officially tied at eight smallmouth each.  The two largest were just over 18 inches.  Every bass came by deadsticking a Dinger in deep current on rocks.  While most bass had one or two green crawfish protruding from their throats, they could not resist the Dinger.  One smallmouth had a slightly different taste in natural food -- it spit up a 7-inch mole!

Releasing the larger fish we had held for a photo, Marilyn felt obliged to say, "Who needs live bait when you can deadstick a Dinger?"          

Sunday, June 27, 2010

7 Waterways in 6 Days

Last week Marilyn and I headed out on a six day fish-a-thon.  This was a work trip for me but a vacation from work for Marilyn.  Connecticut was our destination, but we also stopped by Pennsylvania waters on the way.  Plans included a visit with Rich Zaleski (one of my outdoor-writing mentors) of Fishing Facts and In-Fisherman fame.  Plus I was conducting interviews and shooting images for future magazine articles.  When it was all done, we had cast lines in Lakeville Lake, Husatonic River, Lake Lillinonah and Connecticut River in CT, plus Sayers Lake, Delaware River and Tom's Creek in PA.

One way to summarize such a fast-paced trip is simply identify the best experiences.  So here we go...

Best Achievement: Marilyn caught more trout than on any fishing trip before.

Biggest Disappointment: Smallmouth bass fishing in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.  With both an evening and morning wading session, we caught exactly one 11" smallie.

Best Lake For Numbers: Lakeville Lake in northwest CT. A small, deep natural lake loaded with fish.  With Rich Zaleski as our guide, we caught respectable largemouth, hefty pickerel, plump perch, big bluegills and even a rainbow trout.

Biggest Fish That Got Away: On the Connecticut River, a northern pike in the 40-inch-range cut a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader while positioning the fish at boat side for a landing photo.

Biggest Surprise: The tidal section of Connecticut River south of Hartford.  An exciting northern pike fishery plus an unexpected crappie population, in addition to beautiful shoreline scenery minus the industrial complexes common to the lower Delaware.  Thanks to pro guide Blaine Anderson for getting us on this amazing river.

Greatest Growth: Connecticut Outfitters in Wethersfield, just south of Hartford.  Under ownership of Gary Brummett for just seven years, this bait and tackle shop features some of the most innovative ideas in the tackle retail business that I've seen since doing store reviews for FTR.  Gary is a man with a plan and this economy has not stopped him.

Hottest Lures: Drop-shotting 4" worms for bass, pickerel and panfish; Hot Pink 9" soft jerkbaits for pike; Road Runner spin-jig tipped with a shiner for crappies.

No fishing trip is complete without my restaurant guide...

Worst Place to Eat: The Family Buffet on Rt. 99 in Connecticut.  Of the dozens of offerings, not a single entree or side dish was worthy of consuming...I went in hungry and left hungry.

Best Place to Eat: Plyler's Buffet at the Brookville exit of I-80 in PA.  Outstanding home-cooked food choices prepared perfectly.  Thinking about Plyler's is making me hungry!  Fortunately, it's only a little over an hour's drive from home, so I don't have to wait for another visit to Connecticut to stop by at this restaurant.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

From Creek To River

The invitations had gone out in April from Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau to four outdoor writers who specialize in kayak fishing to come test the waters of French Creek.  Jeff Little, Chris Gorsuch, Juan Veruete and Walt Young -- all had heard of French Creek, but none had paddled it. 

I was coordinating their visit, acting as host, driver, grip, go-for -- anything to make their trip enjoyable and productive.  Back in early spring I was concerned whether there would be enough water in French Creek come June due to the late winter drought -- and I crossed my fingers for rain in April and May.  Won't do that again.  Rain came, and it kept coming.  Each time the Creek dropped to a decent fishing level, more rain - right up to days before our guests arrived. Their first view of French Creek was a high, muddy and dropping stream flow - three negatives in terms of having quality smallmouth bass catches.  

Our four guests geared up with individual attack plans to find and catch smallmouth on two different six-mile floats over two days.  Although each angler caught some smallmouth, it was tough fishing -- not what we had hoped for.  But that's fishing.  By Saturday evening, the water was clearing somewhat and the level beginning to stabilize in both French Creek as well as the Allegheny River. While Walt and Juan stayed to fish the Allegheny with Dale Black, Jeff and Chris had to make the drive back home late Saturday night.

Normally Dale, who specializes this time of year in fishing soft plastic stick worms called Dingers, would be all over the river bass.  But their day started slow...until Walt started firing his Little Big O crankbait.  With fish after fish coming aboard on his line, it didn't take the others long to switch from plastic to cranks.  By day's end, the trio had landed and release just over 70 smallmouth, with 1/2 dozen between 17 and 19 inches.  Plus they caught several walleye - which stayed for dinner.

Where was I when all the action was happening?  I had started out with them at Franklin, caught a couple smallies on spinnerbaits, then decided I needed a nap.  I ran down to East Sandy, dropped an anchor and promptly fell asleep in my boat for the entire afternoon.  Eventually the trio caught up with me, just in time for a picture with some of the larger bass before the fish were returned to the river.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Over 40 Years In The Making

Last week four Sharon High School huntin' & fishin' buddies got together for an Outdoor Reunion.  Gary Paddock, Terry DeMaria, Bob Davis and yours truly had not been in one place at the same time since graduation day in June of 1968. 

Back in the day, we roamed the open lands and waterways of Mercer County on various hunting, fishing and camping adventures.  Our resulting escapades were the foundations for many of my early writings in regional outdoor magazines.  From close calls with firearms to encounters with possible ghostly spirits at Big Bend, if someone would suggest my stories could not possibly be true, I simply told them "I lived it." 

But for our 2010 reunion, we decided to leave the guns and poltergeists at home, and stick solely with fishing. Concluding that arthritic joints and other aliments among some of us might hamper a kayak float on the Shenango River, Terry suggested we go trout fishing on Neshannock Creek.  Terry guaranteed us there were plenty of left-over stocked trout in the stream as the result of relatively light fishing pressure due to poor weekend weather since opening day.  He was proved correct, as everyone caught rainbows and browns on fathead minnows and red worms - no fancy flies and spinners for us. 

I would like to claim my 15-inch brown was the largest trout of the day, but no one took a picture of it!  Without photographic evidence for all to see, there would likely be challenges from this "where's the proof" group!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Mouse is A Mouse

I spent a very enjoyable Sunday on the Allegheny River with Dale Black and Chris Wolfgong as we concentrated our efforts on some river sections we had not fished before in the spring.  The day was great; catching part was good but not spectacular.  A total of 44 smallmouth came on board for a brief moment before being returned to the water.  The largest was an 18-inch Chris caught late in the day.  Every bass, plus a bonus walleye, came on tubes and 4" Yum Dingers. 

As usual, I begin each fishing trip experimenting with different baits, but it wasn't until I tied on a Yum Green Pumpkin Finesse Tube that I started catching fish.  We had about an equal number of fish come unbuttoned on the way to the boat.  It really didn't matter - we were just having fun. 

Chris is in the habit of checking the mouth of each smallmouth he catches to see what the fish might have chomped before eating his lure.  Looking down the throat of one of his bass, Chris saw something odd - dark and furry.  With a pair of needle nose pliers, he removed a mouse!  I told him that if I recall correctly, Heddon once made a Mouse lure with fuzzy finish at one time.  Now Chris wants to special order several of these discontinued lures!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Best Laid Plans

Every spring I look forward to exceptional fishing during May in NW PA.  Of course there are always a few bad weather days.  But this May we've had unusually nasty weather -- wind, cold, wind, heavy rain, wind.  Did I mention wind?  Since the first of May, I've only logged a couple evenings of fishing between storms.

Regardless of my lack of fishing success, I still need to conduct photo shoots in order to fulfill magazine assignments.  Take for example my BASSIN' assignment on swimming a jig due June 1.  For this story I needed updated photos of FLW Pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, PA, including a hero shot of Dave with a 4 to 5 pound largemouth.  For three weeks, Dave and I tried to set a date to do photos only to have wind and rain wash away the opportunity.  Finally we saw a sunny Sunday in the forecast.

We chose a small inland lake in Erie County that had the type of shoreline cover and weeds that Dave normally attacks with a swimming jig.  The lake selection was perfect for a shot at a BIG bass.  After all, this was the lake where Dave had caught his largest northern bass a few years back - an 8-pound plus monster.  Two years later, I was with him one day when he caught back to back 7 pounders.  And only last week, Dave had a photo shoot with a writer from the Erie paper on this lake; they caught and released twenty some bass from 2.5 to 5 pounds.

This would be a piece of cake.  All we needed was a single big bass for a quick photo.  Dave figured we could wrap it up in short order.  But we hadn't factored in the major cold front that hit on Saturday, dropping the lake's water temperature.

We started about 4:00 PM.  Four  hours later we called it and went to dinner.  Dave had worked his jig magic to land 4 bass from 5 to 10...inches, not pounds!  Fishing shallow and deep, it just wasn't meant to be. But Dave insisted a good photographer should be able to make even a six inch largemouth look like a six pounder...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The New River

Our first view of the New River as we crossed mountain gap from West Virginia headed to Pembroke, Virginia, had Dale Black and I wondering why jet boats were not a recommended craft for the river. But a couple miles down the road, we had to re-evaluate our initial opinion – two side by side solid rock rifts extended shore to shore creating significant impediment for a jet boat.

The next morning drifting down river in a self-draining 3-person raft with smallmouth guide Britt Stoudemire we were able to more closely assess a number of these rifts. With years of experience on the New River, Britt is able to slide the inflatable raft over small openings in the bedrock rifts, but whether a jet boat could negotiate the numerous mini falls would be a question for another day. On this trip, we were secure in an oar raft managed by capable hands and our goal was simply to catch smallmouth.

Britt had hoped for a jerkbait bite. But a change of conditions had put the fish down. Numerous smaller bass were taken on the new Pointer 95 Silent, but larger bass came on soft plastic fished slowly along the bottom. Stoudemire, a tube jig man (what smallmouth angler isn’t?) was a bit skeptical when I pulled out a packet of trusty Galida Grubz in my favorite green pumpkin river color. Grubs are passé on the New, he said. But when I landed the largest smallmouth each day (plus hooking a 40-inch-plus musky which won its freedom before being boated) on the 4-inch ribbed grub, Stoudemire gladly accepted the remainder of my pack when we concluded our 2-day trip.

Meanwhile, Dale “Captain Dinger” Black caught most of his New River smallies on – what else – a Yum Dinger. However, Dale had wanted to make Britt’s 5-Pound Wall of Fame. Unbelievably, on the last cast to the last eddy on the last day, Dale set the hook on a hawg brownie. It went airborne twice, allowing us to guess the weight as 4.5 to 5 pounds. Just as I was counting on a splendid photo of a trophy fish to end our trip, Dale’s line unexpectedly broke. Those rocky rifts are sharp as well as hard!

For information on New River smallmouth trips, contact Britt at http://www.newriveroutdoorco.com/.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Six Pound Smallie Bet

Well, it was a first for Presque Isle and Lake Erie. Three days in a row with winds under 8 miles an hour during an outdoor writer event! That has never occurred in the all the years I have been holding these familiarization tours for Visit Erie.

Perhaps our good luck was brought from Wisconsin by event sponsor Matt Bichanich on his first-ever visit to Presque Isle Bay. Representing Uncle Josh and Kalin brands, Matt introduced several new clear-water grub colors for us to field test on smallmouth bass.

Everyone caught sassy smallmouth and richly-marked largemouth on day one. And photo opportunities abounded for media representatives. However the real trophy brown bass were camera shy.

If you recall from my previous post, I had made the statement that someone in our media party would catch at least one 6-pound-plus smallmouth for photos….or I would shave my beard! Here is the rest of the story…

Monday’s sunrise to sunset fishing produced smallmouths over 5 pounds, but no true 6 pounders. Taking Tuesday morning off to rest up, Dave Lehman then made an afternoon run down the big lake in search of bigger bass. Although the bite was slow under a prevailing east wind, Lehman managed a 6-pound 4-ounce smallie on a Hopkins Spoon. Arriving in the Bay, Matt Bichanich and I witnessed the weighing of the bass. But the bass was in a weakened condition from livewell confinement. We decided it might not survive if held it for an evening photo shoot, so the big smallie was released and it swam off.

Wednesday was a surprisingly good jerkbait bite in the Bay with Rapala X-Raps and Lucky Craft Pointer 78DD-SP for 2 to 4 pound smallmouth and largemouth – but no huge smallies.

Since the bet had been a 6-pounder for photos, I failed because Lehman’s 6-4 brownie was released before Vic Attardo or John Neporadny had an opportunity to photograph it. Therefore I upheld my end. Check out the accompanying photo – a naked face for the first time in nearly 40 years. The grub dangling from my mouth? The hot new Apple Juice color from Kalin was the best smallmouth producer of several new colors.

Now, I’ve got a week of office work before heading to the New River in Virginia.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Each spring Dave Lehman and I have a friendly wager on who will catch the first 6-pound-plus smallmouth at Presque Isle Bay/Lake Erie. The bet is always (well, almost always) resolved between April 7th and 15th when the first movement of big smallies from the main lake arrive at Bay drop-offs. With unseasonably warm weather of late, we thought the date might be pushed up a bit. So on Good Friday, Dave and I made our first Erie trek seeking bronze
We checked all the usual Bay spots from 8 to 20 with hair jigs, blade baits, spoons, grubs and tubes. Apparently smallies had not been advised that 80 degree temperatures had warmed Bay water a little quicker than normal. It was so calm that we even ran out onto the main lake to look for really deep fish – all to no avail.

I have several writer friends scheduled to arrive in Erie for three days of fishing the early bass bite on the Bay. Am I worried about not catching a single smallmouth last Friday, April 2? Not really. Smallies operate under their own timetable, and when Mother Nature gives them the “go” signal, they will show up like clockwork.
I’m so sure that we’ll encounter big smallies that I’ve informed the group if we don’t catch at least one 6-pound smallie for photos then I’ll shave my beard. Be sure to check this blog on April 15 to see whether I’m beardless!

Oh, the picture on this post? Dave Lehman’s first 6-pound-plus of two seasons ago – taken on his 3rd cast of the year into PIB.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Our Saturday morning largemouth attempt failed.  As feared, Friday's cold front and cold rain dropped the temperature on our favorite largemouth lake from 50 to 42 degrees.  After two hours of fishing in air temperature around 25 degrees without a bite on the flats or drops, Marilyn and I headed for a hot lunch and then onto the Allegheny River.

Water temp had dropped 5 degrees from my last trip; we quickly checked staging areas with  jerkbaits to be sure, but the smallies had not moved up.  So it was back to the wintering spots...which paid off with some incredibly nice smallies, including a 20.5 inch, 4.6 pound beauty. 

However the fish were finicky.  Draggin'-n-shakin' tubes on the bottom was the only way we could draw strikes.  Although we rotated through different brands and different colors, only one color produced all the fish -- Yum's Green Pumpkin/Copper Flake dosed with garlic scent.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Unexpected Bite

I had been looking forward to the annual early spring creek-channel-jig bite on my favorite nearby largemouth reservoir.  After our smallmouth river adventure last week, I had promised Bryan this would be great opportunity to field test his homemade jigs on largemouth.  Just over a week ago there had been a thick cover of ice on the lake.  With ice gone, I had assumed water temperature would be in the low to mid 40s for our scheduled fishing trip - perfect for dragging jigs over channel-edge stumps in the headwaters area of the impoundment.  Driving to the lake, piles of snow still lingered in shady areas.  But once on the water, the temperature guage registered 50 degrees! What a surprise!

Still, that was a surface reading and calendar said March -- it seemed to me that jigs on channel wood should be the ticket.  Within about 15 minutes I boated a 16 incher on a jig and pork chunk -- not exactly the size of bass I had promised Bryan.  For another 30 minutes we worked the drops from 8 to 14 feet without a bite.  

The very noticeable swirls with occasional skipping minnows we attributed to feeding crappie.  But we remarked some of the swirls were rather large.  Finally, we investigated the shallower flats.  Bryan tied on one of Sebile's Soft Swimmers while I picked up my lipless rattle bait rod.  An 18-incher that pounced on a 'Trap was quickly landed.  But Bryan's next cast doubled his heavy action swimbait rod!  With a 5.5 pound bass in the well for photos, Bryan nailed another near five pounder on the next cast.  Testing of Bryan's jigs had to wait for another day as we made the switch to swimbaits in four feet of water...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rollin' on the River

With the Allegheny River level dropping below 8 feet and a sunny day forecast for Friday before return of cold rain early next week, this was an opportunity to get my buddy Bryan Stuyvesant out for his first river smallmouth experience since he was a young lad.  Bryan, an avid bass angler and veteran of such largemouth fisheries as Falcon in Texas and Clear Lake in California, had not been fishing since last July due to back surgery and a long recovery period.  During recovery he turned to making lures -- Sonar-type baits, skirted jigs and an assortment of leadheads.  I believe he has personally kept Do It Molds in the black during this economical downturn.

The Allegheny was the color of a coffee milkshake but at least it had dropped enough that we could ID places to fish.  The river was running a temperature of 43 degrees.  However boat control was hampered by a 15-20 mph wind blowing against the strong river current.

Within the first 30 minutes we each scored a chunky smallie by slow-rolling swim jigs with grub trailers along a cobble bottom shelf that dropped into 18 feet of water.  For Bryan, it was his first Allegheny smallie in three decades...and taken on one of his homemade skirted jigs.  That was an exciting moment for him!

In the next hour we boated two more smallies and missed three strikes on a different shelf.  But as the sun dropped low in the sky, the bites dried up.

Next Going Fishin' trip?  Well NW Pennsylvania lakes are now ice free so there are lots of options.  It will be late next week, but I'm undecided where to go and for which species...largemouth, crappie, pike or steelhead.

Oh yes, one final note.  I've had questions about the photo on the header of this blog, especially from my close fishing buddies wanting to know where in Northwest Pennsylvania it was shot.  Well, it is the northwest - the Great Northwest.  This is the Columbia River in the Columbia River Gorge - perhaps the most scenic place I've ever fished for smallmouth.  The smallie fishing was excellent during late April when I was there several years back, and the Columbia River certainly ranks as one of the better bronzeback fisheries in North America.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Careful What You Wish For

Last Tuesday, river rat buddies and I caught our first 2010 Allegheny River smallies under extreme low, clear and icy water conditions. We complained the water was too low for this time of year, hoping it would go up about 4 feet. Mid week we had our first back-to-back 60 degree days, accompanied by a large yellow globe in the sky -- something we had not seen all winter. The snow pack disappeared quickly, the river gauge went from 3 feet to 10 feet in 48 hours. The rush of high water down the Allegheny is like flushing a toilet -- no eddies, no current seams, and no shoreline boulder cover to fish. However, with no rain in the forecast for the next several days, I expect the level to drop to what I consider a fish-able flow. When river is good to go, you can see the types of lures I'll be fishing in the second photo. To learn more about river smallmouth location and lure presentation in the early spring, check out my article "Early Spring On A Smallmouth Stream" in the 2010 In-Fisherman Bass Guide currently on newsstands.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Winter Thaw

Our third jetboat trip on the Allegheny River in the past five days was the charm. My first river smallie of 2010 was a 19.5" 3-3/4 pound beauty taken on a small profile Venom Tube. It was followed by an 18-incher taken on a Jimmy D River Bug hair jig. Accompanied by Dale "Captain Dinger" Black and Dave "Hermit" Lehman, we tallied seven smallies from 17 to 19.5 inches from extremely clear, extremely low, extremely icy waters by shaking jigs on the bottom. Although ice still covers some eddies and creek mouths, warmer air temperatures and rain in the next few days should bring water temperatures into the low 40s, add some color and raise the river level - thereby triggering a stronger bite.