The wild sounds of hundreds of geese dominated the river valley as I crunched along a gravel bar toward a favorite pool. The river widens where a spring branch enters, delivering a year around infusion of 54-degree water. Just below the spring’s entrance is a deep brush-filled pool. The river water tested a chilly 49 degrees, but I hoped the spring would elevate that small area a couple of degrees. A size 12 black fly we named “Brim Reaper” was knotted to a 4X tippet and cast to the upstream edge of the deep trough. It drifted for several counts before a slow strip was imparted. The third drift provided the familiar “tap-tap” strike indication, but my lift-set strike was much too quick, resulting in a missed fish. Four drifts later, the hit was answered with a deliberate strip set, and the accompanying beautiful vibrations produced a bent rod and a smile. Three more of the 7- to 7½ inch bluegills were brought to hand before a decided lull in the action sent me to a comfortable log. A small thermos of coffee was retrieved from my vest and enjoyed as I watched a pair of gray squirrels chase each other along leafless tree branches. After resting the pool for twenty minutes, I reentered the water, and three more bluegills were caught and released before a final trek back to the SUV. Sometimes satisfaction emanates from limited success accomplished under adverse circumstances.
The stream thermometer read 53 degrees as I entered the clear water with a 5-weight rod and intermediate sinking line. The only sound was the rattle of dry leaves as they raced across the gravel bar. I knotted a size-12 North Fork Nymph to the 4X tippet and cast down and across a sluggish current. At the end of each drift, I lifted the rod tip to mimic a natural nymph’s rise to the surface. After each couple of drifts, I waded a few steps downstream and cast again. Just as I concluded that the smallmouth population wasn’t at home, the fly acquired that “heavy” feel. A lift hookset initiated a head-shaking standoff. Finally, the 11-inch bronze bass was lipped, admired, and released. The same casting position accounted for four more nymph-hungry fish, and a few steps downstream enabled the capture of three more, Twenty minutes of fruitless casting sent me home in the glow of a golden sunset.
Cool evenings demanded a return to waders and the comfort of a favorite flannel shirt. Both caused smiles while walking downstream on long gravel bars past a pocket water summer hotspot to a deep bluff pool in search of smallmouth bass. A Bald Eagle glided silently above the oak trees that line the bluff. I suspect we were in pursuit of the same quarry. I knotted a size-8 crayfish pattern to the business end of my 5 wt., but a couple of dozen fruitless casts led to a flybox search. A nearby spray of escaping minnows led to the selection of a marabou streamer. The third retrieve triggered a vicious strike that quickly became a deep-water stalemate accompanied by long seconds of accelerating anxiety that the fish had reached an entanglement. I plucked the taut line like a banjo string, hoping to annoy the fish into moving. The ploy was surprisingly successful and led to a head-shaking leap. Finally in hand, I was surprised to discover that it was a Largemouth Bass. Others of lesser size were caught, but my original target species was not among them.
Cooler weather has prompted crappies to migrate from area reservoirs into the streams that feeder them. The purpose of their move is to feed heavily before returning to the lakes for the cold water season. Approaching a shaded pool with two deadfalls draped into its deepest waters, I waded into casting position with a 4 wt. rod, a reel spooled with floating line, and a 9 ft. leader. A size-8 white/silver Mini Minnie was counted down to a d3epth of 3 feet and slowly retrieved over the tops of the submerged branches. The third countdown was intercepted by a line lurch that was answered with a strip set that resulted in a deep rod bend and thrashing fight. After head-shaking at mid-depth, the strong fish made a run toward the deep branches of the deadfall. Both tactics failed to secure its freedom. Finally in hand, the beautifully speckled fish was laid along the rod’s handle to be measured at a robust 12 inches. Six more, a bit less in size, were captured before the action suddenly ceased, and I walked along the gravel bar downstream to a similar pool. Again, action came quickly. This grouping of crappies lacked the size of the first, but their shutdown was equally abrupt.
Excessive heat and a prolonged drought dramatically changed my favorite smallmouth stream. The water was low and clear with a sluggish flow. While there were fewer places for the fish to hide, I was concerned that the elevated water temperature would cause the fish to acquire lockjaw. I chose a 4X tippet and a 1½-inch crayfish pattern designed to replicate a young molting natural for the job. A careful wet wade into casting position enabled me to place the fly on a gravel bar just beyond a shaded pool chock full of bowling ball-sized rocks at a depth of 3 to 4 feet. A gentle tug caused the fly to enter the water and settle on the bottom. The first “lift, drop, strip” retrieve was interrupted by a line lurch as the fly dropped back to the bottom and was answered with a strip-set. The ensuing tug-of-war was waged in the depths until the fish ran downstream before coming to hand. I was surprised that the 12-inch fish was not a smallmouth. Instead, it was a Spotted Bass. Although Spots are common in this river, I had never caught one in this section. The reduced water level had apparently caused fish to share the remaining pools. More evidence that this was the case was revealed by the evening’s catch which consisted of Green Sunfish, large Bluegills, Smallmouth Bass, and a Crappie, in addition to the Spot.