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Just an average trip...

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When I told Mary I was thinking about a float trip yesterday morning, she automatically assumed I was going to need her to shuttle me.  She also assumed it was going to be a solo trip, because she knew I'd been doing a lot of fishing with other people and I was needing some alone time on the water.  So she was not surprised when I told her where I wanted to float.  In fact, I'd just floated this stretch before we left for Montana a few weeks back, and I usually don't float the same stretch of Big River twice in a row.  I generally float my two favorite stretches about two times each a year.  But this one is the easiest shuttle, and besides, I wanted to see if the floods had changed things.

I decided to do it a bit differently than I usually do, though.  Ordinarily, I do the whole stretch, about 14 miles, and end up paddling through the last three or four miles to make it to the take-out by dark, because those last few miles are the poorest fishing anyway.  There are only a couple of nice pools, and much of the stretch lacks bends, so it tends to be shallow and somewhat uniform.  It doesn't even have a lot of cover.  But I wondered...maybe it's such poor fishing simply because I don't concentrate on fishing it.  So I decided at the last minute to shorten the float to about 9 miles, with five miles or so of good water and then that last few miles, and try fishing the last stretch more carefully.

The access to this stretch is problematical, which is one reason I usually do the whole thing; the intermediate access I used is one that few people know about, because it's a good quarter mile up a small tributary, and no place to leave a vehicle.  Mary dropped me off and I paddled and dragged the canoe down the trib to reach the river.  The pool at the mouth is a good one, and I paddled up it first, fishing my way back down it.  I only hooked one bass, a very good largemouth, maybe 18 inches, on the Hi Def Craw...it leaped and came loose, continuing my streak of losing big fish.  It was also disappointing that it was the only fish from that pool, and I had to "resort" to the craw to hook it.  

Then I drifted downstream.  I had a walk the dog topwater on one rod, of course, my homemade crankbait on another, and my twin spin on a third.  I fished the twin spin in the fast water, the crankbait here and there, and the topwater in the slower water.  There were a couple people camped shortly below the tributary on a nice pool, and I hoped they didn't see me catch three nice smallies in a row in that pool, from 14 to 16 inches, on the topwater.  Now things were looking up.  I fished the next run, where I hooked a huge smallmouth the last time through, and caught a couple more, though nothing big.  I paddled back up it and fished it again with the craw, still hoping to encounter that big one again, but all it was produced was a big goggle-eye.

I fished down a couple miles, catching fish here and there, nothing big, nothing really setting any kind of pattern.  I was carefully fishing a lot of water, slowing the canoe, slipping it into eddies, trying different things, but nothing was working well; it was just the kind of ho-hum day that sometimes happens, when it seems like the river just doesn't have many fish.  But I knew they were there.  One thing different from the last time was that the non-native spotted bass were having an off day; I was catching far more smallies.  And they were averaging pretty nice, more 13-14 inchers than little ones.

I stopped for lunch and reflected a bit on what I'd encountered so far with the flood results.  No major changes.  No log jams that blocked the river.  But a lot of torn up banks, nothing but bare alluvial soil left with roots sticking out of it, lots of trees lying over, barely hanging onto the banks by sprigs of roots.  You could tell that many feet of clay had been washed off these banks.  And the most interesting thing was the number of ancient once-buried logs that had been partially exposed by the erosion.  How many centuries had that wood been buried?  I even saw a number of stumps and snags that were still upright, trees that had been buried while still standing.  When had all that silt been deposited around those trees?  Perhaps at the end of the last ice age, when it's believed the climate was far wetter and the rivers had been running much higher, eroding and depositing silt?  Or was it more recent?  That wood certainly didn't look recent, with its deeply fissured, blackened surface.

When I continued down river after lunch, the fishing had gotten worse.  I went long stretches without action.  I tried various other lures, but as is usually the case, when the favorites aren't working, nothing else works, either.

I reached the last pool of the "good water" portion of the float, and suddenly, the fish turned on.  I caught five nice fish out of that pool, and another one in the crappy water just below.  It was 4:30 PM.  I had about 3 hours to fish that last stretch of marginal water if I wanted to be at the truck in time to load up before dark.  Well, we'd see how good the fishing in the "bad" water was.

It wasn't "bad", but the fish I caught were in the best spots only, and there was a lot of poor water between those best spots.  I caught a hard-fighting 18 inch largemouth.  Then a spotted bass of about 16.5 inches that looked old and bedraggled, though still fat, with split fins and scales missing everywhere.  A few other nice fish here and there in the good water.  A lot of fruitless casting in the less than good water.  I came to one last decent pool as it neared 7:30 PM.  It was decent only because it had some depth; it was a pool with a rock ledge on one side, but very few boulders or other cover, just solid rock.  I'd never caught any good fish from it before, but there was one big rock along the bank about halfway down it.  I figured if there was to be any good fish, they would be around that rock.  I cast from well upstream with the topwater into the corner where the rock was up against the bank.  One, two, three twitches, and the fish took it.  The fish all day had been hitting the topwater oddly, not explosively but more sluggishly.  This one was no exception, but it took it positively, and when I set the hooks, then it exploded.  The 18 inch smallmouth made two wild leaps in a row, then a couple of powerful runs, then two more crazy leaps that cleared the water completely, before settling down to the kind of bulldogging battle typical of good fish.  I finally lipped it, breaking my string of losing the best fish of the day after getting it close to the boat.  It was a great way to end the day.

All in all, it had been a relaxing day, not having to cover the kind of miles I usually cover.  The river still had plenty of water, and I worked harder to slow myself down to fish than I did paddling downstream.  There were no log jam blockages.  And perhaps best of all, on the day before the holiday weekend, there were almost no people, and no other fishermen.  The weather was delightful, mostly  cloudy and comfortably cool.  I ended up catching 48 bass...26 smallmouth, 10 largemouth, 12 spotted bass.  Over the years that I've informally kept records, that's right at my average, so it was an average day.  But an average day on my home river is still priceless!

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Interesting about the wood.  Just had a discussion while fishing with someone a couple of days ago about wood that had laid in bogs or underwater for a long time.  He was a builder and said people would pay big bucks for the right type of that old wood.  There is an underwater forest in Lake Washington near Seattle, old growth trees that slid into deep water hundreds of years ago from an earthquake.  Lumber from those trees is worth quite a bit, but it is illegal to take it out.  They busted some folks who were doing some illegal underwater logging of that wood.  

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Yeah, I'd like to cut into some of that old wood and see what it looks like on the inside.  It's very deteriorated on the surface, with cracks that go pretty deep, but a few of those snags were thick enough that there might be some salvageable wood within them.  As dark as it is on the outside, I wonder what color it is in the middle.

There was also a new cottonwood tree down in one spot that was one of the biggest I've ever seen...never noticed it when it was standing on the bank, but that thing is huge now that it's in the water.  It fortunately fell at an angle in a wide part of the channel, because I'd hate to have it blocking the whole channel--it would be a job to cut through it.

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Geez, Al, your average day is a record day for me. Wish I had your expertise! And wish I knew more about how to fish Ozark streams. I'm clueless, but enjoy trying!! I've thought about the old wood also from watching that TV show Ax Men about the loggers harvesting the old Cyprus in the bayou for big money.

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