Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In, Under, and on Top of the River

After my last two blog posts about underwater photography and fishing buzzbaits, I couldn't wait to get out and try it all again in one trip.  What better a place to do that than our favorite summer wading spot?  My friend Rodger and I put in a full day of fishing and had a blast.  For me, it was all about the experience, not just numbers or the size of the fish (although bigger fish would have been more than welcome).
I love wade fishing the river in the summer.  We had gin clear water and bluebird skies to deal with, but the fish cooperated for us.  I had a great time.
The weather conditions weren't optimal for fishing, and as I later found out, not optimal for viewing certain species underwater either.  A cold front moved through the night before, and we had bluebird skies with a slight breeze, with air temperatures in the upper 80's.  That isn't a problem for wade fishing for smallmouth bass, but combine that with very low gin clear water, and it seemed that all of the fish were very spooky, including those that I wanted for my photo op.

I started off in the morning with a Heddon Baby Torpedo and after about thirty casts or so, decided to switch to a more finesse approach.  My buddy Rodger started out finesse fishing by tossing a small plastic worm and already had several fish under his belt by the time that I adapted.  Following his lead, I opted for the finesse approach and offered them the same four inch plastic worm, a lure that even skittish smallies will bite in our local river with such tough conditions.

My first spot fishing the worm was stacked with bass, so it didn't take long for my numbers to catch up.  At one point, I was able to catch them within a rods length of me and actually watch my worm bounce along the bottom and see the bass swim up and gobble it up.  The water was so clear that the fish would close in from about ten feet away on my lure!

It is amazing at how good their senses are.  As soon as the lure made the splash, their lateral line combined with keen eyesight allowed them to hone in for the attack from quite a distance away.

The river bottom, picture taken underwater from about waist deep.  The water was gin clear.
Here is the same spot with the picture taken above my waist with the camera out of the water.  Notice how clear the water is.  The only blur coming from water drops on my camera lens.
After catching a dozen or so bass, I started my underwater explorations, searching for good pictures of darters, minnows and anything else of interest.  However, even the little fish were spooky, and it was difficult getting close to the ones that I could find much less getting a good picture without scaring them away.  I did manage to get some pretty cool photos though.

This darter posed for me briefly before I spooked it.  I'm not sure what kind of darter this is.
Edit:  This is a female rainbow darter, Etheostoma caeruleum.
Here's a closer look at the darter from above.  I can't identify it from this picture.  Greenside, tessellated, and rainbow darters live in this watershed.  What do you think?  Edit:  Since identified as a female rainbow darter, Etheostoma caeruleum.
Here's a closeup of a greenside darter from yesterday's trip.
I think this picture is cool in many ways.  I love the surface reflection of the bottom on the waters surface.  the minnows feeding in the foreground are cool, but notice the predator in the background?  This 7 inch largemouth bass would dart in to attack the minnows every now and then.  There were a couple redbreast sunfish hanging out with it waiting to gobble up any morsels leftover from a successful attack.
I was able to snap a picture of this juvenile redbreast sunnie holding in the current, waiting for the current to deliver a tasty meal.
As the same sunfish turned down river, a school of minnows moved in to feed.  I'm not sure of the ID of these minnows.  Anyone know?
OK, changing gears again back to fishing - both Rodger and I caught a bunch of average sized smallies and took a lunch break at a local Mom and Pop joint, where we ate delicious but inexpensive food washed down with some cold beverages.  The atmosphere sports game mounts of all kinds, sporting memorabilia, and other things local to the area.  After eating and relaxing, it was tempting just to stay and watch football or racing, but we persevered through that laziness, mustered up some energy and headed back to our spot for the evening bite.

While the sun was still up high, Rodger and I found some worthy holes down river and let the plastic worm do its thing, tempting bass to bite consistently.  The problem was that the river was so low, that finding spots deep enough to hold fish was tough.  They weren't normally where you'd find them.  But, when you found a good hole, the fish were stacked in there.  When wading, it takes time to find those holes, not like in a boat when you can run and gun to them.  It takes time for old farts like us to wade from one spot to another.  I tried topwater off and on with only a couple slurping hits, but no fish hanging on.  While the sun was high, the plastic worm was the ticket for the majority of the time.
Here's Rodger with a willing smallmouth that inhaled his plastic worm.  Underwater photography is great, but remember to do what I didn't do, wipe off the water from the lens before taking a picture of your friend with a fish!
After searching for those productive holes while wading down river, we realized that we'd better start heading back as the sun edged over the adjacent Western hill so we could find our way back.  Of course, when you head back, you have to wade and fish your way back, stopping when the fish dictate.

Wading up against the current takes time, and on that day, it proved to be taxing on my old aching legs.  For some reason, the fish stopped biting my plastic worm.  Either Rodger and I sore-mouthed the fish in those productive holes or the fish wanted something else.  I decided to make things easier on my bones by wading to the other side of the river to very shallow ankle deep water and wade back.  I tied on a buzzbait to cover more water and maybe catch a few fish along the way.

While working that ankle deep water with the buzzer, I had a hit and a fish on briefly, but it spit the hook.  I thought that was encourage, so I kept casting.  A few casts later, as the lure hit the water, I saw a wake heading from about twenty feet away toward my bait and became very excited.  The fish nailed my buzzbait and took off.  I thought it might be a big fish, but after I turned it, I realized that the fish was a little bigger than the average for the day, but not by much.  It wasn't the size of the fish that got me fired up, but how far it came to hit my lure.  Prior to that, I can't recall a bass charging in from that far away!  It was an exciting moment though and I realized that the topwater bite was on, finally.
Here's a picture of the bass that made the wake in shallow water, charging from about twenty feet away to attack the buzzbait.
I managed to catch seven more bass on the buzzbait as we headed back to our take out spot, finishing with 41 bass for the day.  I fished about 70 percent of the time, with the rest of the time spent trying to get some decent underwater photos.  But, that's pretty productive anyway!  Rodger finished with 50 plus bass along with a few big sunfish.

All in all, we had a really fun day.  Even though it wasn't the topwater bite that I've been craving, I was able to accomplish two things with this trip, some topwater action and getting a few good underwater photographs.  I can't wait to do it again.  Good fishing, cool underwater wildlife to observe, good cheap food and drink, and sharing it with a good friend.  That makes for a memorable day!


Ben said...

The minnows look like bluntnose minnows. Nice photos!

Fat Boy said...

Thank you Ben!