Pre-Tax Day Smallmouth Weekend.

16 04 2019

Back when I was in Alaska, one of the guys I was fishing with mentioned all of us getting together to do a Smallmouth weekend with Schultz Outfitters.  At the time I didn’t think much of it because I figured it would never happen.  Well a couple of months later it was happening and next thing I knew I was paying my part of a deposit.  The man in charge reserved 3 guides and boats for the 6 of us on April 13th and 14th.  A few years back this would have never happened.  The DNR recently made bass fishing a year round sport as long as it was CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) during what was traditionally a closed season.  Since that change the guides at Schultz Outfitters have put in their homework and figured out a program to consistently catch these pre-spawn, cold water fish.

The first day I was fishing with Mike Schultz himself and Ken Fugate from my Alaska trip.  Mike told us we were right on the cusp of the fishing exploding.  Water temps were 50 degrees and the fish were really close to taking off.  Problem was that with so little rain that the rivers were low and clear.  Throw in the forecasted clear skies and it was going to be tough.  We were throwing an articulated fly called a Swinging “D”.  I have fished these flies before and the key to making them work was giving the line a hard strip and then letting the fly pause in slack water.  The pause is when the fish would come up and grab it.  If it was still moving the bigger fish would just ignore it.  Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t make it happen.  The Northern Pike sure liked it though.  I managed to hook 4 of them on Saturday.  Throw in the two smaller bass and I was beginning to question why I agreed to this.  Ken wasn’t having any problems.  He managed to land one that was around 19 1/2 inches long.  The other people in the group were catching big fish as well.  All except for me.  To say I was getting frustrated and discouraged is an understatement.  The only excitement I had was when I made a bad cast and buried the fly into my skull.  Mike was able to get it out but it was a bloody mess for a bit.

The next day was a completely different story in several ways.  Different guide, different river and different conditions.  Saturday was blue skies and sunshine.  Sunday was overcast skies, a rain snow mix and a temperature drop of around 30 degrees.  It pretty much rained the whole time we were fishing.  My guide (And Casting Instructor) today was Jay Wisnosky, also of Schultz Outfitters.  Today we were headed to a stretch of river the guides call The Land of The Giants.  I was a little more optimistic today but still cautious.  A cold front, like we had going on, can shut fish down.  About an hour later I got my answer.  I hooked and landed my new personal best Smallmouth, on a fly, at 17 3/4 inches long.

I was feeling much better now.  These fish are powerful and trying to land one on a fly rod will put a strain on the arm muscles.  After a few quick pics he went back into the water.  These fish take between and 15 to 20 years to get to this size.  Because of this extra care is taken to make sure they are unharmed and able to fight another day.  I asked Ken if he wanted to take over the front of the boat and he passed.  Yesterday we switched back and forth between the front and back of the boat, today Ken didn’t want to switch.  He was having a hard time staying warm and just wanted to sit in the back.  We tried a few more spots with only one smaller fish to show for our efforts.  Jay switched out my fly for a crayfish pattern at the next hole.  He told me to do the same thing I was doing all morning.  Cast towards the bank, let the current pull the line forward and let the fly sink.  Give it a twitch every now and then and repeat.  About half way through the hole I hooked and landed my new personal best Smallmouth at 18 1/2 inches.

After this one I thought for sure Ken would want to get in on the action but he still passed on it.  I was starting to feel guilty for catching all the fish but he said don’t worry about it so I kept at it.  We had a quick lunch after this one.  Hard to eat a warm meal when it is raining on you.  After lunch we drifted downstream to yet another hole and I went back to swinging my fly through the run.  This time I was using a Circus Peanut, similar to the one I lodged in my skull yesterday.  I managed to hook another fish in the 17 inch range that was scarred and pissed off at the world.  Jay was telling me to strip line in and I couldn’t.  The fish was having nothing to do with me and was determined to stay on the bottom.  Eventually I was able to get him up, netted and released without any damage to anything other than his pride.  Or mine, since I had such a hard time getting him in.

Farther down the river Jay switched out my fly back to the crawfish pattern I caught my new PB on. For some odd reason every time I switched flies I caught a fish.  Kind of goes against my theory of constantly changing flies but I wasn’t going to argue with the results.  It made sense though.  At this next hole the bank was lined with tree stumps or root balls and the bottom was covered with rock and boulders.  I started casting and as we slowly drifted downstream I could see a rather large boulder under water.  I was able to time my cast so that the fly drifted over the top and behind the boulder.  My eyes bugged out of my head as I watched the fish come up from the bottom and inhale the fly.  I buried that hook and the fight was on.  He did not want to come out from behind that boulder but once he did the current caught him and he took off downstream.  Eventually I was able to turn him towards me and into the net.  Jay measured him at just a hair over 19 inches.  A new personal best, again.

Now I was really wound up.  I was just hoping for one decent fish and instead I landed my 3 biggest, on a fly. to date.  By now though it was 4:30 pm and we had been on the water for almost 6 hours of wind driven rain.  We tried a few more spots but not much happened.  I managed to land one smaller fish and that was it.  I had had enough, as did Ken, so Jay just rowed for the take out point.  I wasn’t going to complain.  I was more sore then wet but I still had an hour drive home after Jay got us to our cars which were an additional hour away.

So that was my weekend.  One day of blue bird skies and the other a total opposite, both in weather and results.  During dinner Saturday night there was talk of making this a yearly event.  I’ll admit I was ready to bow out after Saturday.  After Sunday I changed my mind.

 

 

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