Early morning on the Fox

I’m definitely addicted to river fishing.

My first experience was last fall when I was on a mission to catch some smallmouth bass. At first, it was very overwhelming to me- all the different patterns of current on the water, it seemed difficult to control lures in the current, and of course I had no idea where I’d find fish. I caught my first smallies of last year from the shore, but soon got waders, and started catching the feisty fish in their living rooms. After much google-searching, forum reading, and many hours on the river, I think I’m starting to figure it out. At least a little.

There’s something almost magical about walking into a river, literally surrounded by nature and geese and ducks and fish and squirrels and current and bugs that is a completely different experience from lake fishing. I still love lake and pond fishing too, hey I just love fishing period. But river fishing, man, that’s where it’s at. When a hooked smallie can swim around you in circles, that’s definitely a unique experience.

Headed back to the Fox on Wednesday morning, hoping to continue my trend of catching at least one fish on every Fox trip. I haven’t been having the same luck at other waters lately, but somehow I’ve been avoiding the skunk on the river. I got there before sunrise, made the short hike to the water, and started fishing.

As is the theme lately, the water was stupidly cold. There was a week, I think last week, when water temperatures everywhere went up- but that week has been erased from history, and all the waters I’ve been fishing are back to their low temperatures. The air temperature was relatively nice, but standing in the frigid water, I felt like it could have been well below freezing out.

Especially when the water came up above my midsection region, if you know what I mean. When that happens, for some reason, everything seems MUCH colder.

And then there was the wind. My phone said it was gusting to speeds of 35 mph. As I worked my way up the river (for some reason I decided to wade upstream instead of downstream) at various times I was casting into the wind. Sometimes there would be no wind, but as soon as I cast the wind would viciously pick up, sending my lure right into some trees.

And then there was my line. I’ve been using braided line this year- got it for Christmas – and have been absolutely loving it. I was running out of line, so I learned the yucatan knot and spooled on some mono line to the little bit of braid I had left. I forgot about mono and it’s memory, the way it stays somewhat spooled up even when you cast it. The wind plus my new line gave me no end of frustartions; every 10th cast I’d have to fix a bird’s nest.

And the fish weren’t cooperating. In my recent effort to diversify my lure offerings, I changed my lure and presentation every 15 minutes or so. Reading reports of people catching smallies on everything from white spinners to crankbaits to stickbaits, I tied those on and tried them out. All of my smallies to date have come from jig’n’twisters or tubes. That means anytime I have something else tied on my line, I wonder if I shouldn’t switch back to what I know has worked in the past. But no- I need to figure out what the fish want, not what I want to throw.

The sun was lighting up the treetops on the west bank of the river

Standing on the east side of the river, I looked to the west side, which was being illuminated by the rising sun. I thought about the water temperature, and wondered if the water might be warmer over there. If I were a fish, I might prefer to be in warmer water… So I decided to try something new, and cross the river.

I’d seen the river in very low level conditions last year, so I had some idea of what was under the surface. Watching the currents on the surface, I had some guesses into the deeper parts and the shallower parts. There were geese standing in inches of water, which gave me some more hints. I started wading out into the river.

At first it was fine; as I slowly made my way across, I fished any place that seemed fishy. Areas where the water was deeper or went in little circles (pools?), areas where two flows of water met (seams?) and areas around obstructions (riffles?). I’m still not entirely sure about the terminology.

And then I found myself standing in water up to my chest in very quickly flowing water. I didn’t have my wading staff, and I started to worry. I moved at a snail’s pace through the water, imagining the current picking me up and sending me downstream to Yorkville or some other place. I was excruciatingly close to the opposite shore, just a matter of feet, but I couldn’t find a safe route there. Looking at the water, I identified some areas I thought were deeper areas (pools?) which I soon confirmed with my feet. A few times I almost found out exactly how deep they were.

I was within 10 feet of the shore, I held my arms up to avoid the water, I kept my side facing the flow of water to present a smaller surface area, but it was slow going. Some geese sitting on the shore honked and squawked at me. I wondered if I should head back. Instead, I kept going.

Finally, I made it to the shore. I slowly emerged from the water, my waders dripping all the way up to my chest, my legs feeling very light now that they weren’t constantly being hit with flowing water. The geese dispersed angrily, and I stopped to catch my breath. There was a very weathered picnic table on the island, I sat down to rest, and ate some muffins and beef jerky. I didn’t question why there was an old picnic table on this island, I was just thankful for a nice spot to rest.

I think this is now mostly used by geese

I looked back at the river, wondering how I would get back across. I imagined myself stranded, only beef jerky and any fish I caught to sustain me. Sometimes I daydream about being stuck in nature, or a post-apocalyptic world. Then I’d have to fish to survive, and I’d have to basically camp 24/7. That sounds exciting to me, until I think about the stuff I wouldn’t have, like music or computers or cast iron cookware. Little adventures like this is probably a good middle ground; it would probably be best if there is no zombie apocalypse.

After a few minutes I headed back to the water. The whole idea of crossing the
river was to fish on this side (which turned out to actually be an island in the middle of the river) so I fished. The whole morning I hadn’t seen any baitfish or anything else that obviously clued me in to the bigger fish. As I entered the water, scanning the surface to locate fishy areas, I heard loud squawking and hissing a feet feet behind me.

I turned around and saw a seemingly gigantic goose, next to a pile of straw and sticks and eggs, who was extremely pissed.

Then I saw another goose who also started to hiss and honk and yell at me.

I was standing in 3 feet of water, very close to shore, and these geese were getting angry. The one by the nest was lowering (her?) head, and it reminded me of nature videos of snakes right before they pounce. I didn’t want to get pounced on! I made it this far, I wasn’t going to get knocked down by a goose.

I quickly shuffled out into the water, away from the angry geese. They continued to hiss, but didn’t seem to be coming after me. (A few hours later, I’d read of a very similar account by Ken G in his blog. I guess it’s a recreational hazard, attacking geese that is…)

I tried everything I knew around this new shore; tubes, jigs, swimgjigs, crankbaits, spinners, inline spinners, and nothing. I thought I saw some baitfish boils every now and then, but couldn’t connect with any fish. After a while, I headed back to the east shore.

On my way, I discovered some more deeper holes, and large areas without a change in depth (flats?). I was once again in water up to my chest, but the current wasn’t as strong as before. I made it to the other side more easily this time, but had to leave the water because I was freezing cold.

I sat down on a log to eat a snack, a PB & J sandwich I’d prepared early in the morning, well before sunrise. I found a clearing with sunlight, hoping to warm up my legs before I went back to fishing. I bit down into a mushy, soaking wet sandwich. For a split second I was extremely confused, and then I remembered there was a backpack on my back… That was surely underwater for an extended period of time in one of my river crossings.

A few minutes later, I carefully stepped back into the water. I discovered at this particular location, there is a 2 foot drop from the shore to the riverbed. Miraculously, I had the foresight to check the depth with a tree branch before walking (falling) in, so I once again avoided being soaked my the river.

Now I worked my way downstream, casting my entire arsenal, and then it happened. I had cycled back to the good old jig’n’twister, cast it downstream right into a seam, and connected with a fish. After a short reeling in (not much of a battle at all, this fish seemed very lethargic… The water was very cold, as all my parts knew firsthand) I pulled a beautiful little smallmouth bass out of the water. I giggled like a schoolgirl.

Bronze gold!

One of the benefits of fishing super early on weekday mornings is usually there isn’t anybody else fishing. That means I can fully express my child-like ecstacy when I catch a dink of a fish, without worrying what other anglers think. Of course I write about it here, but if you read this blog you probably know even the smallest fish makes me giddy, and if you didn’t like that you could just stop reading.

And then, it was time to go. My legs were freezing cold, my now wet hands were being blown by the wind, causing everything to seem even colder, and a few more minutes of fishing hadn’t found any more willing sparring partners.

I walked out of the river, with my soaking wet backpack and aching legs, jumped in my car, and turned the heat on full blast.

I love smallmouth bass

0 responses

  1. Always stick with what you know works. I get bugged all the time to try other things. I tell them as soon as I quit catching fish on Pearl Producto twisters, I’ll switch.

    13 years later I still haven’t found the need.

    Nesting geese are mean little bastards, aren’t they.

  2. Always stick with what you know works. I get bugged all the time to try other things. I tell them as soon as I quit catching fish on Pearl Producto twisters, I’ll switch.

    13 years later I still haven’t found the need.

    Nesting geese are mean little bastards, aren’t they.

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