Standing where you should be fishing.
None other than smallmouth bass guru, Harry Murray, has echoed these words regarding the reaction many anglers have upon seeing stream or river; that being to head straight to fishy looking spots, spooking good fish in the process. The complete saying – that most anglers stand where they should be fishing and fish where they should be standing – is always hovering over me like some divine angling angel, waiting to alight on my shoulder when I am bank-side and way too exuberant to get in the water.
And so it was that an angling angel hovered above me as I fished a streamer down a river braid of the Tioughnioga River a few weeks ago. I was approaching the junction where the braid creek joined back with the river. The angel showed itself, not in some whisper above my shoulder, but in the form of a fish. As I approached the junction, my eyes were on a broad riffle that looked oh-so-fishy. What my gaze missed, was the seam, where the fast current of the main river pushed against the deeper slow water of the river braid. At the point of the junction was a downfall – beyond the downfall, the river current had built up a long thin bar of sand, silt, and cobblestone. Looking downstream to the right of the seam, the water was pure riffle; to the left of the seam, the water deepened and slowed. Along the ridge of the seam, long aquatic grass swayed in the current. It was a perfect ambush site, an area of about 20 to 30 feet in length, 10 feet in width and 2 feet in depth. There’s no doubt baitfish would congregate in the aquatic grass. It’s also not a surprise that bass would find the broken water of the riffle as good cover from above and the adjacent still water as a great place to hunt when the time was right.
As I closed on the seam, my angling angel appeared in the form of a solitary bass blitzing baitfish, sending them leaping for their lives. The blitz ended as quickly as it started, but awakened me to the fact that I was about to violate one of Harry’s cardinal rules had I continued wading right through the seam. I stopped and cast upstream towards the downfall, then stripped my “Murray’s Wounded Minnow” streamer through the seam. On my second such retrieve, my line pulled tight and got nice and heavy. In the current I could see the golden-brown broad-side flash of a large smallmouth as it tried to head to the safety of the riffle water. The fight ended in a long-distance release, but I was pleased to start the morning off with a good fish on the hook.
Thinking this was an isolated case, I violated a second rule – to never leave fish – and waded carefully upriver and then worked a streamer down and across the riffle. As good as that water looked, I picked up plump and feisty bass, several fallfish, and in the deeper pool beyond, a small walleye, but no more quality fish like the one I had encountered at the current seam.
Eventually I crossed the river and slowly worked back upstream to the seam. I was ready to head back to my car when I saw another blitz in the same spot. I quickly moved into position and cast my streamer. I was soon tight to another quality bass, but lost this one too after a brief brawl. Could there be more? I answered that question after a few casts and this time, tied into an even larger bass, dark in color, that shook its head in the current and then proceeded to skip across the water like a flying fish on takeoff. We tussled back and forth, but soon this bass was mine. I lipped the bass and felt the solid bite-down that only truly large bass give when first brought to hand. This fish had weight and wildness in it…
On the way back to the car I stopped at a deep hole in the river braid. As I waded the shallow side of this elbow pool, I spooked what I thought might be two bass. I let the spot rest a bit and carefully walked the bank back to where I had seen the fish. Sure enough, two very nice bass swam in small circles in the shallows, but I quickly recognized these fish were on the nest. I let them alone and headed back to the car. I’d be back in time, hopefully with my angling angel in tow.