On Facebook I saw a link to Ryan Walker's "Fall Runs" in the Ozarks Smallmouth Alliance website, about a few spots that have produced multiple nice fish. Those of us who have fished a long time have amassed a bunch of those runs or short stretches of our favorite streams that seem to always produce fish. As I approach one of these stretches on a float trip, I get all excited and my casting becomes sharper, my boat handling more careful, and my anticipation level rises. Here are a few of mine:
One rocky run, two rocky pools, all different
The upper river. You've just come through a longish stretch of shallow water with lots of rocks and quite a bit of brush but no really good habitat because it's all shallow, and then you enter a run about 40 yards long that doesn't look much better, rocks along the bank, a few rocks in the middle including one a little bigger than the others, but not deep, maybe three feet at most. Narrow, plenty of current. Worth a few casts, you think, but then you think that anywhere deep enough to cover a bass's back is worth a cast if it has a rock or a log. But there's just something about this run. I've never caught a fish in it over 18 inches, but the number of 16-18 inchers I've caught in it over the years is amazing. And if I make the right cast to that one bigger rock in the middle of the run, it's almost guaranteed. I'll usually catch one 12-14 incher around the head of the run, maybe a couple smaller ones until I reach that rock, then a good one off the rock, maybe another 12-14 incher off the opposite bank in the shade a bit below the rock, and another 12 inch plus fish or two at the lower end where it's very rocky but getting shallow.
Then you drop through a short, steep, rocky riffle. It's tough to slow down in that riffle, but you HAVE to make a cast to the upstream edge of the big eddy behind the water willow bed on the left. There's a big rock right there and it always holds some fish. At the same time, you somehow have to make a cast to the similar size eddy behind the water willows on the right, because there are fish there, too. So you slide the canoe up onto the weeds, probably bumping a half-hidden rock in them, and make the cast to the right first. A fly fishing buddy of mine once said that he always goes for the heart of the spot first, while I always hit the marginal edges first and work my way into the heart. It's no different here. As long as I know I can keep the canoe from busting that rock on the left side, I'm gonna catch that fish off the right side first. It'll be a 12-14 incher most times. NOW make the cast to the big rock on the left. It might be another 12 incher, but sometimes it's a lot bigger. Now slide off the weeds, draw stroke into the right eddy, and you're set to fish the next 30 feet of rocky bank on the left. Then the pool widens and slows, and you ease down it, hitting each good rock. It isn't a deep pool, maybe 4-5 feet at the deepest, but it's 75 yards of rocky bank full of fish. And once in a while, a big one, 18-19 inches.
That pool gradually narrows at the bottom into another short, easy riffle, and then into the final rocky pool. It's much longer, much slower, and much deeper...and not nearly as good. In fact, you're a little more likely to hook a nice largemouth off the log-lined side than a good smallmouth in all those big rocks along the ledge on the left. But once in a while, you hit the pool at the right time, and find out that there ARE big smallmouth in it.
Mine tailings and a natural pool
It's in the middle of the lead mine tailings filled channel of the upper river, and it ain't pretty. Once there was a steep, 75 foot high slope of tailings coming right down to the water's edge, continually eroding into the river, but since the slope was at a sharp bend, the floods took away the tailings and deposited them downstream, keeping the two pools on the bend deep enough to hold fish. And since there was once a bluff on the outside of the bend that was buried in the tailings, there were always rocks along that bank. Now, the Superfund clean-up has changed that slope to one of rip rap, and part of the bluff was "unburied" and juts out of the rock rip rap. There's a big boulder the size of an old Volkswagen in the middle of the channel at the base of the riffle into the first pool, and the eddy on the outside will hold a fish or two, while the run through the gap between the boulder and the bank might just hold one a bit bigger. But you haven't reached the good stuff yet. It starts a cast length below, where rocks and overhanging tree limbs combine to make for some enticing water. You might just catch a good fish there, or five, as you drift down the pool. But when you get toward the lower end and it starts to shallow as it approaches a rocky island, get ready. If a big one wants to play, it will be roaming those rocks just above the island. The riffle swings away from the rocks, drops sharply into a big eddy that actually has an alluvial bank instead of rocks, and might be 5 feet deep, but there probably won't be anything but a spotted bass there. Where the current hits that bank again, there are rocks, and that's where the good stuff starts. This pool looks natural, with trees and a bluff that was never quite covered in the tailings, and it is 3-5 feet with plenty of nice rocks. Toward the lower portion is a long point of rocks with a big boulder on the end of the point, nice rocks off it in good water, and that's where you have the best chance at a big one. But don't disregard the deep but almost dead eddy behind the boulder point, because sometimes the big one roams around back there, too.
You've fished three long, dead pools in a row, and maybe you've caught a few fish at the heads or tails of them. Maybe you even found a big largemouth in one of them, it's happened before. At the end of the last huge pool, the riffle used to swing to the right, away from the rocks on the left. A creek comes in there on the left, and over the ages it has deposited a lot of rocks and gravel in the channel, forcing the river to the right. But in recent years, a new channel has been cut on the left. You might catch a couple smallies at the base of that sharp riffle, or maybe not. You might get another one or two in the run below, or maybe not. One of these days, that channel might just re-excavate what was once, many years ago, a nice rocky pool below, but now it's mostly very shallow. The remaining channel on the right might get a little more water again and the big log wedged in it might become a big fish spot again, too, but it isn't much now. You might catch one or two at the lower part of the shallow pool, where there are a couple rocks and a log or two, but they won't be big. You should definitely make a long cast to the mouth of the little creek at the bottom of that pool, right where it opens up with a gravel bar just below it. The water will be shallow but there will usually be feeding fish there.
Then, if you don't know the story, you'll be thinking, so much for good water. The river narrows but it doesn't get deep, and there isn't much cover. But over toward the right bank, there appears an underwater rock ledge. You should fish it, because it's the real beginning of a whole pile of water that doesn't look very fishy but is loaded with smallmouth. The river stays narrow until it reaches a long, steep, bedrock riffle that you won't be able to run unless the river is high. You have to make a few casts right at the upper edge of it, because there are grooves in the bedrock that hold nice fish. Then you have to somehow work your way down the riffle. If you can read water very well and don't care about scraping up the bottom of your canoe, you might not have to get out and walk on the slick rocks.
The pool at the bottom of the riffle doesn't look like much, not deep, mostly flat bedrock bottom, but there are scattered rocks here and there, and if you know where they are, you can catch fish off them and they may be bigger. But at the bottom of that pool, there's a rock pile that runs halfway across the channel, and the biggest fish in the pool will often be feeding right there. You gotta make a long cast to keep from spooking it.
Then you drop through the short, steep riffle, trying to hit the eddy behind that rock point, but it isn't easy because it's usually overhung with tree limbs. But somewhere in the short, fast run from there to the next riffle will be the biggest fish of the day if you're lucky. Then you drop through that next riffle and into a longer, slower pool, though not deep, either, with bedrock still and water willow beds atop the bedrock, and a steep alluvial bank on the other side with a log or two, and you'll simply keep catching fish like crazy if it's a good day. You might catch as many fish in this quarter mile as you've caught in the five miles above it, and you hate to see it end at another long, dead pool.