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Al Agnew

Big smallies, big surprises...

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I'm going to miss my annual three-day solo float on my "secret" creek this year, but yesterday and today I got the chance to do a 2 day trip.  The river will remain nameless, even though probably many will know what it is from the trip report anyway.  

The canoe rental guy asked me if I wanted to do the 16 mile trip or the 20 plus mile trip.  It was 9 AM, and I already knew I was going to do the long one.  So a short while later he put me in.  The river was, in reality, too low to float up here, probably flowing no more than 40-50 cfs.  And as usual with this water, it was almost as clear as air.  I called Mary before pushing off to tell her I'd made it to the river, and she said she had a feeling I was going to catch 100 bass this day.  I wasn't so sure.  I knew the habitat wasn't all that great this far up.  I'd be in better habitat by the afternoon, but I didn't really expect to catch a lot of fish before then.

Under these conditions, my go-to lures are always a walk the dog topwater--a smaller one for this smaller water, a buzzbait, and my homemade twin spin.  The topwater started getting some action from small fish.  The buzzbait wasn't working.  The twin spin was doing a bit better than the topwater.  I got into the groove of picking up the twin spin in the current below the riffles, and fishing the topwater in the slower water.  Everything was small; before I stopped for lunch, the biggest I'd caught was no more than 14 inches.  But action was steady, and I had caught over 40 fish by then.  It was also about 2 PM, and I wasn't even close to the  tributary that would come in and improve the habitat.  I pulled up on a gravel bar, dived into the water to cool off, and then called Mary while I ate, to tell her I wasn't quite on schedule to catch 100 but I was doing okay.

Lunch seemed to change things.  I was in a bit better habitat, but suddenly the bigger fish started taking the twin spin very regularly.  All were in current below riffles, often without cover.  Then I got my first big one, a beautiful 18.5 incher on the twin spin.  I had swirls from a couple more big fish.  I caught a number of 15-16 inchers.  The twin spin was magic.  Then I got to the tributary.  Suddenly the twin spin wasn't working, and neither was much of anything else.  I was in civilized water, though I didn't see any people until I came upon a raft with two couples in it.  I said hi as I passed them, and then started fishing a nice rocky run just downstream.  I'd switched back to the walk the dog topwater, a Sammy, and a big smallie blasted in only 50 yards downstream from the rafters.  I heard one of them say, "Look, he's got a fish!"  The smallmouth jumped completely out of the water.  "It's a BIG fish!"  I lipped it.  "Holy cow, it must weigh six pounds!"  Umm...no, it was a 17.5 incher that probably weighed 2.5, but they cheered as if I'd broken a record.

That seemed to break the ice again.  I started catching fish like crazy.  I put on a Whopper Plopper and it was money for a while, and easier and faster to fish than the Sammy.  It was getting late and I needed to get past the civilized water to find a secluded campsite.

The sun was down when I selected my camp and checked my phone.  One bar.  Mary had made me swear to call her if I had reception.  I couldn't get a call to go through but I texted her.  "Failure...I only caught 99."

The mosquitoes drove me into my tent at dark after I'd eaten cold fried chicken and potato salad.  It was almost too hot for the tent, but it was better than the bugs.  The night was perfectly clear, and dew was heavy on the tent when I crawled out of it at daybreak.  Instead of waiting for the tent to dry and eating breakfast, I just broke it down, threw everything in the canoe, and was on the water in 15 minutes to take advantage of early morning fishing.

But a half hour later I'd only caught one small bass.  Nothing was working.  As the sun climbed, I tried several topwater lures, buzzbaits, the Whopper Plopper, my homemade version, the twin spin.  Mary called me and somehow the call went through.  I told her it didn't look like even a 50 fish day today, I'd only caught 6 fish by that time.  I stopped about 9 AM to eat some breakfast of Little Debbie cakes and cold tea, and got the tent out to set it up in the sun to dry.  It was HOT already.  I jumped into the water to cool off.  I had about 7 miles to go, and the fishing had been pretty bad.

To be honest, I  don't know what made me try it.  You see, I have such confidence in the twin spin in super clear water that I never fish any other kind of spinnerbait.  I'd never done well with ordinary spinnerbaits in those conditions...but maybe that's because I hadn't fished one in those conditions in a LONG time.  Anyway, I decided to tie on a double willow leaf spinnerbait.  I didn't have much faith, but about the third cast I caught a fish.  Then another.  Another.  That spinnerbait was pure gold.  Fish after fish.  Big fish.  Fast water.  Slow water.  My first big one was a 19 incher.  A half hour later I beat it with a 19.5.  A 17.  A 17.5.  Then I stopped for lunch.  And when I got back on the water, the magic was gone.  Oh, I was still catching some fish on the spinnerbait but nothing big anymore.  Finally, I gave up on it and picked up my topwater rod with the Sammy.  First cast, wham, an 18 incher.  But then not much else.  So what the heck, I decided to go back to the twin spin...and IT was now magic.  Fish after fish.

It was a nondescript run, gravelly clay bank with scattered sunken brush from bank erosion, gentle current, running a couple hundred yards.  I wasn't fishing as carefully as I should have been, and I let the canoe get a little too close to one piece of brush.  The cast was just too short.  The twin spin came away from the brush, and then this massive dark bronze form came out of the brush after it.  The huge smallmouth was within inches of the lure when it saw the canoe.  It was one of the biggest smallies I've seen in a while, well over 20 inches, probably close to 22, and very wide across the back; that's what struck me the most about that fish, it looked like it was 6 inches wide in the water.

I thought about resting it and then trying for it with something else, but didn't do it; I've never had success doing that.  I was a bit bummed, figuring I'd missed my chance at a truly big fish.  Certainly I'd missed the only big one in that run...

50 feet farther downstream the twin spin landed up against the sloping gravelly bank, not really a good-looking spot, but as I started the retrieve the lure stopped dead.  I set the hook and saw the broad side of another big fish.  People say the big ones don't fight as well as smaller ones.  This one didn't read that memo.  It drove deep, closer to the canoe, then came up out of the water in one of the most spectacular leaps I've ever seen a big bass make, clearing the surface by more than 3 feet and landing within a few feet of the canoe, the jump having covered at least 5 feet horizontally.  I didn't think I'd ever get that fish in.  But I finally lipped it.  It was over 20 inches on my paddle blade; I'd say 20.5, give or take an eighth inch.

That was when things slowed down one more time.  I had action from one more big fish the last couple miles of the float.  It happened in a very deep bluff pool, and I was fishing the bluff side when I saw just a hint of a wake over toward the other side, though still in fairly deep water.  I made a long cast with the Sammy, and on the third twitch there was a huge swirl.  I kept walking.  Another swirl, then one more.  The fish never got hooked.  I don't know how big it was, but the swirl weighed five pounds!

I didn't make 100 fish this day, either, but after that slow start I ended up with 81.  Not bad.IMG_0358.jpg

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Awesome trip, Al! I love throwing a spinnerbait, but I rarely have one tied on if the water is clear. I'll opt for a swimbait in that case. If it's really windy and there is a good surface chop then I may give the spinnerbait at try. Anybody that knows me though will know I am a bit of a one trick pony when it comes to fishing clear water. There's a 99% chance I'll have a spinning rod in hand with a pink trick worm tied on to the end. :D

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3 hours ago, Seth said:

Awesome trip, Al! I love throwing a spinnerbait, but I rarely have one tied on if the water is clear. I'll opt for a swimbait in that case. If it's really windy and there is a good surface chop then I may give the spinnerbait at try. Anybody that knows me though will know I am a bit of a one trick pony when it comes to fishing clear water. There's a 99% chance I'll have a spinning rod in hand with a pink trick worm tied on to the end. :D

You need to meet the War Eagle Mouse!  💪

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1 hour ago, fishinwrench said:

You need to meet the War Eagle Mouse!  💪

I did pick up a couple War Eagle Screamin Eagle spinnerbaits in the mouse or sexy shad pattern from Walmart to try this fall when the water clears up. I'm hoping to have some luck burning them across some shallow, boulder filled stretches of the Gasconade. With this monsoon headed our way, I may have to wait till next year to try that pattern out though. Those white/chartreuse 3/8oz War Eagles have been very good to me the past few years in stained water.

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