Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Ultimate Guide To Supercold Smallies

This article from ESPN/BASS isn't bad: The Ultimate Guide To Supercold Smallies however, there are a number of things that jump out at me. Super cold water smallmouth bite cutoff being mentioned at 39F, maybe throwing jerkbaits alone (in general), but.... It also seems BASS/ESPN article is behind the times a little. There are more than a few internet smallmouth sites that discuss 'super' cold water fishing in depth these days and on a continual daily basis. Many of the limits the BASS article puts on winter bass fishing are commonly exceeded by regular Joe, winter smallmouth angler.

I don't know exactly how cold the water was pushing ice flows off to sea and catching fish underneath, but I am certain smallies bite very well in 33-38F water. In my experience, it's the weather, direct light, and current height(CFS)that matter most in 'super' cold water.

Example 1, say you have 36F ultra clear water (4'+ vis),low flow, bright sun, and plenty of ledge rock for smallies to hide under. They aren't going to be easy to catch because of the low temps. They'll be hard to catch because the cover allows them to hide under things that prevent any sort of proper presentation. These fish are lethargic and not at all confident in their abilities to hide from percieved predators above! In this situation, I'd fish a winter pool with little cover and enough depth that you cannot fully see bottom.

The same weather with stained water, the same fish are now quite catchable as they are up and moving somewhat in the current of the slow water. Smallmouth are paranoid, light shy, probably never more vulnerable than when their metabolism is so low. The seek the security of darkness/shelter. If they cannot find it, will hunker down. These clear water/bright light situations lead to more 'the fish aren't biting' days than anything. Maybe they are biting, but under undercut banks and such-inaccessable.

Fishing creeks and seeing to what length smallmouth will go to hide from light in low clear water on a small manageable scale (you can eliminate behaviours based on less behavioural options in a smaller stream, (the behaviours at least locally translate on a larger scale)- under sycamore trees- in the hollowed out banks beneath the roots, under those hanging carpets of small roots dangling the stream banks, wedged under rocks, in drain pipes, laying in leaves,etc... smallmouth bass have the complete ability to disapear if they are inclined.

In winter, this all happens still with the caveat the fish have to be able to survive cold high water events. There are more days when the big fish is plum in the middle of a eddie and catchable. That hog is probably limited in it's activity hours compared to warm months when you have a smaller chance of catching it feeding and liklier chance it'll be hid.

It part of what makes them so fascinating to target.

Example 2, medium flow or greater, good green stain, 36F water, snowstorm, and decent water visibility. The color cuts down on the light penetration, Mr Smallmouth feels safe. Uses the slight current of the eddie or slack pool to hover about the circuit looking for an easy meal. Bigger fish have more energy reserves, while small minnows do not. Must be easy pickings. The incoming storm warns the bass that they should feed or risk not having the energy to survive possible high water event to come (storm).

So why do smallmouth diehards fish the Winter bite? The opportunity to learn about stream bass is at its greatest in Winter. We can get a sense of just how much energy a cold blooded stream bass has, another glimpse into how it thinks.

Which leads onward to catching the elusive brown whale.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

12/20/09 Float and Fly

Fished a different stream Sunday hoping for more hot action like yesterday. Unfortunately, water was ultra clear had come down considerably in the last couple days. The drive was too long to not give it a try.

This stretch used to be beautiful and filled with fish everywhere just a couple years back. The last two years of floods has changed that significantly. Silt filling in beautiful pools is depressing.

I found a lone fish sitting on an inside seam below a riffle where the water was slightly deeper than the silted in pool. The boulders I had witnessed smallies amongst in the Spring were buried in silt-completely gone.

I tight lined the FnF jig, the fish didn't move for it. I moved it in closer and let the jig sit. Nothing. Must have been 4 or 5 minutes of playing with it when the jig got swept into the fish. I set the hook and the fight was over before it began.

I think this is a female I witnessed spawning in the same spot earlier this year. The fish was in bad shape. One eye blind, a spine wound that looked like a heron stabbed it and some messed up scales, eroded tail, skinny. Clearly on a downward spiral. Here I was witnessing the formerly massive fish's end. It measured well over 20" without a tail pinch. I got the fish back in the water quick. It swam to a new position. Surprised to see it out in the open like that.

The next cleft I hit produced two bites. A miss, then a second float dunk that produced this 18" SMB that fought very well. The title pic at the top of the thread.

I walked another 2-3 miles looking for more spots. No more bites. Definitely concerned with all the silt and two large thin fish. Still, a couple more 18"+. 11th smallie in 2009 over 20".

Walked way too far, which of course made me sweat. A lot. The problem with this stretch has always been the massive distance between good holes. It's worse in the Winter. I maybe fished for an hour today. Walked in the woods for 2-3.

Good to get out and exercise in December. Skyline Chili supplied the refuel after.

2 SMB (20"+, 18")

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Float and Fly 12/19/09

Finally, the conditions were right. Got out for a stomp through several woods and some bobber toss action. Water was green rather than straight clear for once. Up a little. Hit 9 in the first big pool in like an hour and a half on a black/mallard flank fly jig. First 4 were 15-16". Bobbing the float in place then letting up seemed to get the fly jig bit today. Since the hot start, I rushed back to the car and hit some more holes. Pulled the fly free of a couple fish on hookset, so it could have been better still.

After a couple strike outs, I found a 10 by 10 box in a larger pool that seemed to hold a mess of bass. I somehow went 5/8. The bass were doing a lot of head shaking. My float sunk and I felt weight, not 16"er weight this time. This bass was peeling off drag and almost made it under a log. In all, it went on about 5 or 6 really powerful runs. Stunned the fish had that much energy in 36 degree water.

14 SMB (19", 2-16", 3-15") In 3.5 hours.

No Comment IV


No Comment III

Friday, December 4, 2009

Don't know if I'm ready for the cold.

Good News/Bad News.

Good News: Stream flows have about doubled from the rain we got the other day. It's gotten colder. I was afraid the temps would drop off with low water levels. It leads to quick ice flows covering all the winter hot spots. Rain means more flow which will prevent freeze ups. Without all the foilage, I can walk to the spots through the woods these days.

Bad News: Has anybody felt that wind? F-blank-cold.

Have an 'S' curve I need to Winter test drive. Tomorrow looks sunny and 34 F. Not worried about the sun because the water will have a good green stain to it. In fact, the sun should improve things.

Sunday, if I get out temps will rise to 41 and partly cloudy.

Either case, water temps have to be in the low 40's to 30's. With water up, it's time to hop float and flies in some pretty slow, cold water.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


A couple movies I absolutely love: the James Cameron's Sci Fi Classic Aliens. One of the all time quotable classics, it still holds water today.

Of course, Ridley Scott's original Alien is more of a Horror movie, but bloody brilliant nearly 30 years later:

Watch them again in the dark. Hell, just own them.

Quick bunch of beer reviews

Upland Schwarz- not a huge fan of this black lager. Though I do love Schwarz Bier in general. The German versions are better, like the Sam Adams better. Nice smokey bacon flavor that comes and goes as you drink. Not that enjoyable overall compared to other brands. Worth buying if the selection is domestic. C+

Founders Breakfast Stout- another overly concentrated, over flavored microbrew stout. COFFEE. CHOCOLATE. Motor Oil. Drink one. B

Stone Russian Imperial Stout- Read the above add heavy taste of alcohol. C+

Steelhead Extra Stout- Like this stout a lot. Coffee, chocolate, smokiness, nice complex flavor without the syrupy thickness that makes it hard to drink a bunch. Drinky, drinky! A-

Rougue Dead Guy Ale- B

Victory Hop Devil- Hoppy but Bleggh. Did not finish. Not what I wanted that night. D

Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout- Not what I expected at all. Way too sugary, without much bitter or hops, or flavor. Poured it out, and I rarely do that. Could have been a bad one. F

Schneider Hefe Weissen- Love this beer, brownish wheat beer with lots of floaties. Oh so good. A

Spaten Oktoberfest- Good drinking Oktoberfest that I am sure I had a better version of somewhere. Spaten's beers all seem to have a slight 'Spaten' metallic flavor. Price was right, different enough to be enjoyable. C+

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter- Liked this one- a subtle vanilla flavor porter wanted to drink more. Wish it had more carbonation or thickness to it B

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Winter Smallmouth Fishing- the Float and Fly

Smallmouth bass can be caught in rivers all Winter long. A simple 1/16th oz hair jig, 1" weighted foam float is all the special equipment you need. Mostly ignore lake FnF articles for rivers unless they are very deep.

Here are several factors to help make your winter hunt a successful one:

1) Know your water. The best stretches of river will have somewhere close where the fish will survive through the Winter. Look at those river bends on Google Earth. Where would you shelter if your life depended on conserving every drop of energy?

a) Bass need shelter from current since they are cold blooded. There is a definite current speed at which they can conserve energy. The 'hole', may not be a hole at all; an inside bend that diverts current away, a sudden deep ledge that drops off, a long straight pool that gradually bends ever so slightly to where a couple lay downs provide ample resting area. There needn't be rock in the area, though some of the best winter holes are also great spawning grounds.
b) Bass like overhead cover when the water gets clear and the sun shiny. Deeper water where you can't see bottom, rocks to wedge under, rip rap etc... Water doesn't have to be deep at all if there is shelter from high waters.
c) Smallmouth need food. Food is attracted to some of the same places as Mr.Smallie.

2)You can catch smallmouth all winter on Float and Fly as long as ice doesn't cover your water. There is no water or air temperature at which you cannot catch fish.

3) Visibility of at least 14" will greatly increase the chances of success in cold water months on FnF.

4) High water concentrates fish more than normal. Winter high water can have good clarity.

5) You must really believe the fish are there. Impatience will kill you. Once you begin catching fish on FnF, you'll see there is nothing hard about it. The key is location.

6) Observe how the sun shyness crowds smallies in the darker easier to predict areas for your catching pleasures. Observe how the sun can turn the bite on when moments ago there was none! If the bass are gone to ground, observe how they move about when the day has less light.

The below picture illustrates a recent winter spot I found. The picture is sadly out of scale as the slot on the left looks smaller than the water to the right. The slight bend above the riffle bending to the right sends all the creek's water plunging right even at high water. The riffle and point on the left provide shelter all winter long even if the water were up several feet. The bass simply follow the slower water on up the bank.

At 5' higher the fish will move up that bank on the left. At a 1' lower than the pic, you are looking at fish in a 2-3' hole that is right on a food source (riffle). Looking at the river all year long for these types of spots, things start to make sense. Just ask yourself after you catch a nice fish or concentration of bass where these fish live.

The technique- you cast the bait out with about 3' of line underneath your float (adjust for your hole, I like the fly just off the bottom or even on the bottom). Let it drift along slow seams (depending on temps)if it is warmer, or to the slowest possible water if colder. As it gets colder, hopping the float in place, pausing, dead drifts all work at times. Be methodical and search mid and lower water column by changing depths until you get bit.

The object is to catch fish by being thorough, observing, and thinking like a cold fish.