Our southeastern impoundments are awesome fisheries. They hold a cornucopia of piscatorial critters, from bass to bream, and stripers to gar. As a guide, my clients expect to hear a drag scream and experience the thrill of wrestling with a finned foe, and maybe putting a few in the box for dinner. Some days the magic happens early…some days it seems like forever before a rod bends. But that’s fishing. If you want to absolutely guarantee you’ll have fish for dinner on every fishing trip, you might want to stop by Kroger and pick up a couple tuna steaks on the way to the boat ramp.
One of those ‘forever’ days happened about a week ago. The morning started off with a beautiful sunrise, the water had just a slight ripple on the surface, and the hybrids were schooled up at my first stop. We set out a spread of juicy herring and I honestly expected to see rods bend before I got all the rigs out. NADA. These fish had lockjaw. On my Simrad, I could clearly see the lead sinker and the baitfish swimming just above the school. Occasionally, we’d have a window shopper come up to take a peek and then I’d watch that fish swim right back into the mix of arches on the screen. Occasionally, we’d get a very soft bite…the rod would bend but the fish just wouldn’t commit. We’d bring up a mauled herring, almost devoid of scales. It seems that no matter what I tried… and I tried everything from drumming to chumming to trolling umbrella rigs… I could not coax a strong bite. We did manage to put a nice channel cat in the box, but that was not our target.
So I moved to another spot, and another spot, and another spot. With the same results. The fish were there, but just not ready to eat. I thought maybe it was the moon, maybe it was the barometric pressure, maybe the sun was too high in the sky. But none of those excuses would be sufficient to please my clients. My job is to give them the opportunity to stretch a string. It was not looking good.
Let me back up and say that it’s hard to guarantee clients we’ll load the boat every day. Or that they will catch a trophy fish on every trip. My clients understand this is fishing, and I will do everything I can to help them catch fish. But in the end, a trip with Wide Open Outfitters is about the overall experience and spending a fun day on the water. Catching fish is one facet on the diamond.
By mid-morning, the box had a couple catfish and a nice spotted bass in it, but no hybrids or stripers. It was not looking good. And suddenly, in the distance, I heard the distinctive sound of the warning horn at the dam. This meant they would soon be pulling water to generate electricity. To me, that was the sweetest sound of the day. Even in a huge body of water, pulling water through the turbines creates current upstream. It may not be much, or even visible on the surface, but believe me, the fish sense it. Stripers and hybrids love current. It brings the bait to them, and I think they enjoy swimming in the current as well.
I maneuvered the Wide Open II to the mouth of a creek adjacent to the main river channel. My spot was where the topography dropped dramatically from about 10 feet to 60 feet. That creek channel is a ‘highway’ for fish traffic, and I was parked at the busy intersection. About 20 minutes after the first horn sounded, we began to see large balls of bait on the Simrad. And then one of the downline rods bent double. The top 1/3 of the rod was completely in the water, and the fish was pulling drag. The youngest angler picked up the rod, and moved toward the front of the boat to fight the fish. Then another reel started screaming, and another, and another. We had four fish on at the same time. They were all the same size hybrids…not monsters…about 3 pounds each. But by the looks and smiles on my clients’ faces, these could have been 30 pounders. The bite lasted for almost an hour, and we never moved. School after school of hybrids, with some stripers mixed in, paraded under the boat. We put a few fish in the box for dinner, and simply enjoyed the fun with the others.
The point to all this is simple. Fish don’t eat every minute of every hour. And there are factors that contribute to cranking up the bite. Current is definitely one of them. You can plan your day, and your location based on when the dam will be generating electricity. Most Corps of Engineer lakes and power company lakes publish a schedule of when they will be releasing water, and you can develop a strategy to be there when that happens. That small amount of current can turn a dull day into a very fishy one.
Tight lines and calm seas,
Capt. Cefus and Buck, the Wonder Dog.