I gotta say it's been a tough winter for me for fishing. Water too low and clear, weather too cold and frozen, something always seemed to come up that I had to do when the weather would moderate, then water too high and too much rain, and finally I had surgery that was supposed to be no big deal but took me out of action for two weeks. So yesterday morning I was looking at a weather forecast, and it looked like the next week was going to be rain and more rain, and yesterday was going to be partly cloudy and cool with a northwest wind, which isn't all that great, but it might be my only chance to go in the next week or two. I called Hog Wally to see what the water looked like on his part of the Meramec; I knew it was up more than a foot, but was it clear enough. He said it had about a foot or a bit more visibility, but with his characteristic optimism, he said it should be perfect. I'd hoped he could take off and go with me, but alas, he had to work.
So I started to get the boat ready, and found my starter battery was dead. Well, I wasn't in any huge hurry to leave, since I figured the sun would warm the water up and it would be better fishing in the afternoon. So I let the battery charge for an hour, and then took off for the river.
I ran up several miles from the access, headed to a certain winter hole. The thing about this hole is that it is short, though deep, and has a bit of everything a smallmouth would want, all in a small area. A nice riffle coming into it with a nice eddy and drop-off on the gravel bar side. A beautiful run against a mud bank with cover on the other side at the bottom of the riffle. A rocky bank with strong current. A rock point forming a big, deep eddy with logs and rocks. A steep clay bank with sunken logs and gentle current with plenty of depth. So, you can fish that one hole thoroughly without taking too much time, and usually find out where the fish are, and translate that to other places.
Hog Wally, though, had told me where he'd found the fish a few days before...the rock point. I started in the deep eddy below it, and no action. But when I got up to the point, a cast across it with a crankbait got my first strike. Nice fish, nearly 18 inches:
About two casts later with the crankbait, I got a heavy strike. It was obviously a big fish, but I quickly figured that it probably wasn't a bass. I was right:
The darned drum had completely engulfed my crankbait, so far down its throat that I couldn't even reach it with my forceps. It took me forever to get the lure extricated.
I got no more strikes on the point, so I moved up and fished the gravel drop-off. Nothing. Over to the deep run on the other side, nothing. I fished down the rocky bank with strong current, and in a small eddy I caught another 18 inch class smallie. I got it unhooked and started to photograph it, but it flopped and left the boat. You'll just have to take my word for it!
I went back to the point and tried an HD Craw, but got nothing. Fished out the rest of the pool, nothing.
Headed to another wintering pool. One thing I'd learned about this stretch of the river is that some of the fish stay in the wintering pools all year, and both the first one and this second one had spots where we had found the fish staged pre-spawn. The point in the first pool was one of those spots. So I had hopes for the staging area of the second pool. I fished some other parts of the pool first, with no action, and then reached the staging area. Bingo. I caught three smallies, but none very big, maybe 13 inches. So I started the motor and headed to another wintering pool with all the good stuff in it. I stopped to try one other spot, which wasn't a good wintering pool but usually produced fish in the spring. Nothing. So on down to the wintering pool.
This pool has a great rocky bank, with one section of it being the staging area. But I started at the top of the pool. Fished the faster water with no action. On the other side was a gravel drop-off into deep water, with a backwater alongside it. I'd fished it with Hog Wally during the winter with only a few mediocre fish to show for it, but I was just sure it would eventually produce something. As I started across to try it, I noted a school of minnows scattering across the surface, right on the point. I slipped into the backwater to make a cast across the point with the crankbait. It came right through the spot where I'd seen those minnows scatter, and they scattered again...at the same time that I got a hard strike. This one was bigger, I could tell. Those first two nice smallies had obviously been males, but this one was fat 19 inch female:
It was the only fish there. I fished the staging area, and caught only a couple small spotted bass. By this time it was getting well up into the afternoon, and I had one more pool that had everything, even a small tributary coming into it, that I wanted to fish. The area at the mouth of the trib was a flat, 3-6 feet deep, with a couple scattered logs lying around. Fish were there, but I only caught two largemouth and three 10-12 inch smallies. I went down into the main part of the pool, but could catch nothing but small spotted bass. The sun was going down, so I started the motor and headed back to the truck. It had been a pretty darned nice day!