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Al Agnew

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Al Agnew last won the day on April 10 2018

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About Al Agnew

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    Smallmouth Bass Angler

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  1. I got back to Missouri yesterday, and if the thunderstorms will ever give me a three day window where I'm not gonna get electrocuted, I'm going to do a solo three day float on one of the relatively few stretches of rivers in the Ozarks that I haven't already done--Kings River. I was doing some preliminary planning, and got to thinking about all the streams I've done in their entirety at one time or another. I've done my home river, Big River, multiple times from all the way up at Belgrade, far above what's usually considered floatable, to the mouth. That's somewhere around 120 miles of river. I've been on the Meramec from Short Bend to the mouth...195 miles. I've floated the Bourbeuse from where the paddling guide says is the highest possible put-in to the mouth, plus another stretch above there...about 118 miles. Mineral Fork from above where it starts (put in on one of the two tributaries that come together to form it) to where it ends, about 17 miles. Indian Creek (Franklin County), but not as high up as I think I could put in. Huzzah from Dillard Mill down, 30 miles. Courtois from above where the paddling guide says is the highest put-in, 28 miles. Haven't done all the Gasconade yet. Have done all the Big Piney, 85 miles. All the Little Piney, 20 miles. Not quite all the Osage Fork. Not quite all the Niangua. Missing a few sections of the James. Missing all of Flat Creek. Gotta get down there and do it one of these days. Have done all of Beaver Creek. Not quite all of the North Fork and Bryant Creek. Missing the last short stretch of the Eleven Point in Missouri. Have done the entire Current River in MO, 138 miles, and Jacks Fork from the Prongs, 45 miles. All of Black River to Poplar Bluff, starting at Sutton Bluff on the West Fork, 42 miles above Clearwater, 45 miles. All the St. Francis above Wappapello, including a stretch that nobody hardly floats on the upper upper end, 86 miles. And all the Little St. Francis and Big Creek, 15 miles and 20 miles. All the floatable water on Castor River and Whitewater River, and since they aren't in the paddling guide I don't know how many miles that is offhand. In Arkansas, I've done the Buffalo from Ponca down, pretty much all the Strawberry...but not the entirety of any other river. Just those alone add up to something like 1500 different miles of Ozark stream. When you add in all the other streams, including several that are not in the guidebooks, that I've floated, it probably comes to close to 1700 miles. On a related note, I once tried to count the total number of miles I've put in paddling a canoe or other non-motorized watercraft since my first float trip at about age 7 or 8, nearly 60 years ago. At the time, it came to 15,000 miles. And that was many years ago. I suspect it's well over 25,000 miles by now. And I never get tired of it!
  2. I fish some pretty cold rivers out in Montana, but from the first of June until sometime in September, I wet wade. There aren't many streams, even in the mountains, that are so cold that you need waders when the air temps are in the 70s or above. I see clients of the guides out there fishing from drift boats in July with waders on. That simply doesn't make sense. But Ness is right, a good set of breathable stocking foot waders and good lightweight wading boots are comfortable enough to have on all day and do some hiking in.
  3. Bootleg is pretty much always a creek. You can float from there down in good springtime water levels (heck, you can float from Belgrade down--I've done it), but by early summer it's strictly wading water. The river just about doubles in size where Cedar Creek comes in.
  4. Trout don't need deep holes, except in the coldest part of the winter. There are lots of trout in those smaller western trout streams that lie in fast water that is less than 2 feet deep. Rainbows especially like water like that, but browns and brook trout can be found in that kind of water, too. Although there are lots of western waters that hold brook trout, they are less common than rainbows and browns (none of those species are native to Colorado, by the way--the only native trout there are cutthroats. Brook trout tend to be less desirable in most of the West because they tend to outcompete cutthroat.)
  5. That's about right. Missouri doesn't have a river "law". Public access has been determined by a MO Supreme Court decision back in the 1950s, Elder v Delcour, which basically says that if it is POSSIBLE to float the stream in a small watercraft, the public has an easement to float it, wade it, and camp on gravel bars. The problem is that there is no definitive list of stream sections that qualify, so sometimes on smaller, marginally floatable streams you'll run afoul of landowners, and occasionally some idiot will try to chase you off a gravel bar even on a popular float stream. And...sometimes the local county sheriff and prosecutor are on their side, and you get ticketed and fined, and would have to fight it in a higher court to get the decision overturned. So as you can see, it's all kinda fuzzy sometimes. And as for streams too small to float, they are private, though on some the landowners are apparently okay with anglers. Since it is difficult to find all the landowners along even a short section of stream, getting permission is problematical.
  6. It's another reason, though far from the most important one, that I love fishing rivers. You aren't at the mercy of the barometer and tidal phase and weather fronts and light conditions. The fish bite when they want to bite, and they usually bite a good part of the day, if not the whole day. They don't pay nearly as much attention to light conditions--in fact, I've caught a ton more fish in the middle of bright sunny days than I have on cloudy days. Cold front? They don't care most of the time. And while they like shadows to hide in, they'll come out into bright sunlight to take a topwater lure at noon. And forget about fishing deep water, that ain't where feeding fish are because there just ain't much food in deep water in a river.
  7. In my opinion, you don't really need a heavy rod for Missouri type streamer fishing. I dislike using rods heavier than a 7 weight, and really prefer a 6 weight for streamers. I fish a lot out here in Montana on big rivers where the wind is very often a factor, and my streamer rod is a 6 weight Ross Essence 9 footer. I do use a sink tip line when I'm fishing a big river like the Yellowstone...it just gets the streamer down in heavy current better. But in Missouri I don't think it's necessary or even desirable, unless you plan to fish the White River tailwaters. I have a Winstone Ibis (I think that's their cheapest grade) 7 weight in Missouri for bass fishing, but I don't really like to use it all that much. I won it in a raffle, and I have to say it just doesn't really fit my casting style all that well, but it does the job good enough, no more than I fly fish for bass.
  8. When I was a kid my buddies and I would do overnight fishing trips on upper Big River, hoping to catch catfish, even though upper Big is not much of a catfish river. We generally caught about 50 bullheads for every channel of flathead we caught; in fact, most nights if we caught one channel cat it was a better than average night. A friend has a lake that's over 100 acres and 70 feet deep at the dam, that his family (who owned a heavy construction company) built on a small wet weather creek. You wouldn't have thought there were any fish in this creek, which was mostly dry except for occasional pools that were not much bigger than a bathtub. They stocked it with the usual, including channel catfish. A few years passed, and they had MDC come out and electroshock the lake to see what they needed to do to better manage it. Nobody fished for catfish in the lake, and the owners just fed the channel cats around the dock all the time. I was there when the MDC people came to shock it and helped them do it. What they shocked up more than anything else were bullheads. By the thousands. Nobody had a clue they were there, nor how they got there.
  9. I suspect there are "smart" bass and dumb bass. I put "smart" in parentheses because we know they can't reason things out. But they can learn, it's been proven, and at least some of them can learn to avoid certain lures, or perhaps most lures. How else do you explain how fisheries with a lot more pressure have bass that are more difficult to catch? The dumb ones get caught over and over until at some point somebody kills them, while the "smart" ones learn fairly quickly to avoid many lures, and become more difficult to catch. Perhaps some learn to avoid things that look edible but that have lines running from them. Perhaps some learn not to eat when they hear a trolling motor that's too close, associating the motor noise with danger. Or there could be many other negative cues that we anglers give off that the "smart" ones learn to avoid. Meanwhile the dummies happily keep eating anything that looks edible whenever they feel like it.
  10. Yeah, I use the correct names of most of them these days, except for goggle-eye, since it is such a universally Ozark name for the rock bass species. There is certainly a lot of confusion with fish names. "Black bass" are actually members of the sunfish family. Spotted bass are so often called Kentucky bass, or even Kentucky spotted bass, which is way too cumbersome in my opinion. There's a real redeye bass, which is one of the "black bass", but many people especially outside the Ozarks call rock bass redeye bass. Ozarkers always called walleye "jack salmon" or just "jack", and seldom differentiated between walleye and sauger, they were all "jack". Yellow suckers. Hog mollies. Stonerollers are often called "slicks". Bowfin are grinnel. In other parts of the country, crappie are sometimes called "calico bass". Geez, it's a wonder any of us know what kind of fish any of us are really talking about.
  11. I don't care what you call them, but it does drive me nuts when people don't know and apparently don't care what the true species names are. I still call all three species of rock bass goggle-eye, but I know they are northern rock bass, Ozark bass, and shadow bass. True pumpkinseeds don't live in MO (there have been, I think, two recorded instances of them being collected in far northern MO). Maybe it's because I've been a realistic wildlife artist for a LONG time, but it does sometimes surprise me how rare it is for the average person to see the details that differentiate one species from another. It ain't that difficult to tell the difference between bluegill, longear sunfish, redear sunfish, and green sunfish. Nor is it that difficult to tell the difference between warmouth and the rock bass species. Once you get into the slightly more obscure species you MIGHT actually catch in MO, like orange-spotted and red-spotted sunfish, I can understand the confusion. Dollar sunfish are fairly easy to tell from longear IF you simply look at the ear flap, which will have light blue markings on the dark background while the longear has a solid dark background. I grew up calling bluegill bluegill...bream or brim is more of a southern term for them. Longears were sunperch, green sunfish were black perch, though many of my friends called them pond perch. There really weren't many redear around the places I fished when I was a kid, but the first thing I ever heard them called was shellcrackers.
  12. Yep, lots of chukar...hard to see but noisy! Also saw what appeared to be some kind of partridge...haven't looked it up to see what it was. We also saw a lot of bighorn sheep on the canyon walls and occasionally down at the river. Mule deer. There were signs of beaver though we didn't see any. Saw a ferruginous hawk, which was very cool...I think it's the first one I've ever seen. One immature golden eagle...I was surprised there were no bald eagles, but there were ospreys. And great blue herons.
  13. A few other notes on the fishing... I caught an even 200 fish the second day, and Ken caught about the same. Doug was rowing that day so he "only" caught about 100. Ken kept counting his fish...he and Doug were alternating rowing duties so there were some days he didn't catch nearly as many, but he ended up with 800 fish caught during the trip. When he caught his 800th fish early on the last day, he put down his rod and just rowed. I didn't keep track of my numbers after that second day, because I decided to bend the barbs down on every lure I was using and give a lot of slack line to every small fish I hooked, because I was getting tired of unhooking them. So I only boated maybe a third of those I hooked from then on. Had I been trying to keep them on the hook, I have no doubt I would have boated close to a thousand fish over the trip. To show you how thick they were, one hot day when we stopped for lunch, Ken just sat down in the river next to the raft, with his rod. He could only cast about halfway across the river, and all the water he could reach was less than three feet deep and just a flat, cobble bottom with slow current. And he sat there and caught more than 20 smallmouth. The numbers of smallies in this river is just incredible.
  14. It was mid-afternoon when we made it through the Clarno Rapids, and we still had 4 miles to go to the first campsite. The "gravel" bars on the John Day are rock bars, not conducive to camping on, so there are more or less designated campsites, mainly spots on the banks a bit above gravel bar level where there is flat ground and a few juniper trees for shade. Most are marked on the guidebooks we had, and I'd also marked them on my complete set of topo maps for this stretch of river. But after making it through the one spot that really worried us, we just had to rig up the rods and start fishing. It was also nice that the wind hadn't risen. Almost every day I'd ever been on the river, the wind had come up sometime during the day, and it invariably blew upstream, making fishing much more difficult. The John Day pretty much has one predator fish during the warm weather months--smallmouth. Smallies were stocked in the river many years ago, and if you were drawing up the perfect smallmouth river, you wouldn't have to use your imagination, you'd just copy the John Day. It's a riffle/pool river, the riffles fast and dropping sharply to provide more oxygen during hot weather when the river's temperatures reach the upper 70s and lower 80s, the pools long stretches of gentle current swirling around boulders of all sizes, anywhere from a foot deep to too deep to see the bottom. The water visibility was about 4 feet with a beautiful green color. Crayfish live in the John Day, and lots of aquatic insects, as well as juvenile fallfish, the adults of which look like giant creek chubs. The state of Oregon used to value the smallmouth fishery to the extent of at least putting on a 10 fish limit, but in recent years they've decided the smallmouth are bad for the baby steelhead and salmon that hatch out in the river in the late autumn and early spring, so they have removed all limits on smallies; you can keep as many as you care to clean. I had been uneasy about that, fearing that the removal of the limits would hurt the smallmouth fishing. So I was anxious to start casting to find out. First cast with a spinnerbait...strike, miss, strike, miss, strike, miss...and as the lure neared the Water Master I saw a wolf pack of at least a half dozen 6-7 inch smallmouth following it, swiping at it, which is what I'd been feeling. And that, my friends, would be how the whole trip went. There are literally MILLIONS of smallmouth in the John Day. They were everywhere. Cast into shallow water, and you'd get a strike. Cast into the middle of the deep pools and you'd get a strike. Cast along the gravel bars, on in pockets in the rapids. It didn't matter. The problem is, nearly all those fish are less than 12 inches. At one point, in mediocre water, I counted how many casts out of 200 that I made that DIDN'T get at least one fish swiping at the spinnerbait. Only 37. And of those, most had one of those packs of little ones following it. If you just didn't cast randomly and picked a little bit better spots to make your casts, I have no doubt that you'd get a strike on every cast. There seemed to be five year classes represented in those fish. There were inch long fry in the shallows, young of this year. There were four inchers cruising all through the shallower water, one year old fish. Then those 6-7 inchers, which would swarm the lure and seemed to be just solid masses along the banks. Then 9-10 inchers that actually got hooked constantly, also along the banks but also everywhere else, including cruising the middle of the river. And finally, a whole lot of 11-12 inchers, and they were strong fish, strong enough that you'd think when you hooked one that it must be a pretty good fish. But fish larger than that were scarce. That first afternoon, I believe I caught maybe a half dozen fish between 13 and 15 inches. The other guys, using various lures, had similar experiences, with Ken reporting he'd caught a single 16 incher. In that four mile stretch, however, I ended up catching 67 smallies, Ken said he had 50 plus, and the other two guys had in the 40s. They were mainly using curly tail grubs on jig heads. I tried a lot of stuff, including topwaters, my homemade crankbait, and several spinnerbaits, and it didn't matter what I threw, the results were the same. At first I thought that surely all you'd have to do was keep casting to the better looking spots and you'd catch some bigger fish among all the little ones, but it just didn't seem to be happening. We found the campsite about 7 PM, plenty of time to set up tents and cook some supper. My responsibility for the trip had been to provide supper. We had a big freeze dryer, and Mary had cooked up meals for us all and freeze-dried them, so all I needed to do was boil water to reconstitute them, dump them in a big pot, and pour enough water to make them the proper consistency. This first night we had chili. There were no insects, and the weather was delightfully cool as the sun went down, so we could have slept under the stars, but we all opted to put up our tents without the rain flies. The next morning we got a fairly early start after a quick breakfast, anxious to start fishing. Surely we'd catch some bigger fish this day. And it started out well for Ken, who quickly caught a 17.5 incher. But then it was back to the little ones. The river had started out in a fairly shallow, wide canyon: But it was gradually digging deeper into the landscape. There were many steep, sharp dropping little rapids that made for interesting maneuvers to avoid the rocks: And it was beginning to show the basalt cliffs for which the John Day is famous: As it carved ever-deeper into the high desert plateau: We passed the mouth of Butte Creek, which is the spot where I'd always put in on the guided trips, and we knew that Basalt Rapid, the only other rated rapid on this stretch, would be coming up soon. I remembered Basalt from the other trips as a sharp but open drop with much of the water crashing against a couple huge boulders just below, not particularly difficult to run. It's rated class 3, but that's in higher water levels. It wasn't much of a problem at this level: There were other "riffles" that actually were more of a problem. Often the river would shallow out over a very wide flat approaching the riffle, and then most of the water would funnel into a very narrow trough as it curved along a bank, with big boulders strewn throughout the trough that required a lot of quick maneuvers. I had no problem with the Water Master; it was made for this kind of water. But the bigger rafts were more difficult to negotiate those very fast and narrow gaps. Still, the guys knew what they were doing and we had no mishaps. And so the days went. We passed Thirtymile Creek, where some outfitters put in these days for 42 more miles to the take-out. Both Butte Creek and Thirtymile Creek require 25 to 30 miles of rough dirt road, almost 4WD territory, to get to the river, and they aren't much fun. After Thirtymile Creek, where there is a single cabin close to the river, there would no more signs of civilization whatsoever for the next 40 miles. John and I had been eyeing the occasional places where you could climb to at least the lower "rim" of the canyon; there was also a higher rim, and some of the bluffs on the outside of bends went all the way up to that higher rim, more than 1800 feet above the river. So one night we were camped at a spot where we could climb a steep, grassy, rocky canyon-side, and we decided to do it: You can see the tents as the tiny white dots close to the river in the first picture. We reached the lower rim, almost a thousand feet above the river, where the views of the John Day winding down its canyon were spectacular. The fishing? Well, it stayed the same. We tried everything we could think of to catch fewer little ones and maybe more bigger ones. On the third day, Ken had found one big fish, a beautiful 19.5 incher, and had hooked and lost another that was at least that big, so we knew there were a few in there. But we just couldn't figure out how to catch them...mainly, how to keep the little ones off so the bigger fish could get to our lures. We tried the biggest lures we had, and caught little ones. We tried fishing only the deeper water and caught little ones. Nothing seemed to work. But, on the other hand, it's difficult to complain too much when you're catching 200 or more fish per day. And sometimes the scenery just overwhelmed us and we forgot about fishing for a while: On the fifth day, I was drifting along a sheer basalt cliff, water who knows how deep, desultorily throwing a spinnerbait, when it just stopped dead. I set the hook, and shouted "Finally!" The others watched me fight the fish and finally lift it in triumph, a heavy 20 inch smallmouth! A half mile downstream I caught a 17 incher, and then a 16 incher. Were we finally going to get into bigger fish? Nope. That was it for the big fish. We had planned the trip for seven days, but the wind had other plans. Some days the wind would come up early, and we'd struggle to row against it and make the miles. Other days it would stay mostly calm, and we'd just keep drifting and fishing, hoping to get ahead of schedule in case the wind came up. And somehow on the fifth night we found ourselves only 12 miles above the bridge at Cottonwood Canyon. We had had terrific fishing, spectacular scenery, fun rapids. We'd seen bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and mule deer. But we'd also gone five days without a cold drink. We'd fought the wind; one night it had been cold, down into the 40s, with a hard north wind much of the night, but mostly the nights had been comfortable; yet we were getting a little tired of sleeping on the ground. Our shuttler had said he'd take the vehicle down to the take-out the afternoon of the sixth day just in case we wanted to take out early. So we decided that night would be our last. Two miles above the take-out, we encountered the first signs of humanity we'd seen in 42 miles, a big power line and a couple of windmills atop the plateau that were visible from the river: And a mile above the bridge, we came upon an actual human, a guy fishing from a little pontoon boat who had come up from the access. And then we were pulling into the sandy ramp beneath the bridge, deflating the rafts, and piling everything into the truck with visions of cold drinks in our heads. All in all it was a great trip, and we had to wonder whether in three or four years those five terrific year classes we'd been catching would be far bigger. We were already making plans to come back then. We're all old farts. I'll be nearly 70 in three years, the others close to the same. But we did it this time, and maybe we'll do it again.
  15. As Wrench noted above, the ice will keep them alive in the bucket, but the temperature shock when you put them on the hook and toss them in the lake water will shock or kill them.
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