Wind rattles the last dry leaves in the red oaks. In the dark shadow of cedars, footfalls crunch through crusty snow. The river murmers, running clear and high. Her dark, slow portions hide rainbows—many too big, or too spirited, to maintain attachments for long.
Last winter, about this time, this is what I was doing. And, I don’t mind saying, I’d rather be steelheading than doing much of anything else this time of year. Certainly beats shovelling snow, which I was doing earlier today.
A few posts back, we talked about late witner, early spring travel. Wading in frozen rivers may not sound particulartly attractive to a lot of folks (which is precisely what makes it particularly attractive to me), but for those who do find it alluring enough to consider, it’s quite possible that no better place exists for it, right now, than Ohio. The stocking of wild, Little Manistee River strains from Michigan made it all possible, according to my good friend Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters. Craig and I have spend many memorable afternoons on rivers like the Vermillion, the Grand, the Rocky, the Chagrin, and the Conneaut.
So add Ohio to my list. Where else have I been this time of year? Georgia comes to mind (couldn’t think of a clever way to say “Georgia on my mind” without getting too cute for comfort).
This is pro bass fisherman, Mike McClelland. He was gracious enough welcome me aboard his ship down on Lake Lanier a couple springs back. That’s a spotted bass he’s holding and, in case you’re not familiar with spots, that’s a real tank. We didn’t catch a ton of fish every day, but every one of them was a tank.
“I think spots are the hardest-fighting bass there are,” Mike told me. “I know you love those smallmouths, and they’re definitely tough, but I think spots are just a little meaner.”
I caught a few big spots in the 5-pound range down on Lanier and I won’t admit they’re tougher than smallmouths, but it’s a pretty close call. Until you’ve gone toe-to-toe with a 6-pound smallie in the Mississippi River, you probably aren’t qualified to make the comparison. River smallies are pumping iron against current all their lives. And they learn things. Most have been hooked several times in their lives, and it’s pretty common to have a big Mississippi smallie race toward pressure as soon as it’s pricked. Within a nano second you have this little package of dynamite right at your feet that can change direction by 180 degrees without slowing down. Spells “snap.” Can’t really relate how many times big river smallmouths snapped 10-pound lines on me before I learned to anticipate that move and loosen the drag.
But my river smallmouths are encased in ice and won’t bite this time of year. And, while we can readily catch them through the ice in certain places, they absolutely won’t fight as hard as a Georgia spotted bass that’s swimming around in 60°F water.
And if you really need to do something about that smallie Jones that makes your hands shake and your eyes twitch every March, head over to Lake Jocassee. A 9 pounder was taken there several years ago, and though most people head there for the prolific numbers of 2- to 5-pound brown trout, Jocassee remains the premier smallmouth fishery in Georgia, as far as I know. Whatever you decide to fish for, Georgia is a great winter destination, even for hardened winter fishing addicts like me. Love driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Where to next? Hmm. A lifetime of winter expeditions provides plenty of angling options, in every imaginable climate…