September 20, 2012
This is my friend Jerry Hagstrom. He and our pal Dick Riddell have been coming up here to central Minnesota to fish smallmouths in area lakes and rivers for many years. They live in the Quad Cities region of Iowa and belong to the Quad Cities Conservation Alliance. I first met them this past spring, at the QCCA ExpoCenter Sport Show. Before long the smallmouth topic was broached, one thing led to another, and I spent yesterday morning and early afternoon in Jerry's boat on the Mississippi River.
When fishing friends visit, I drop everything and go fishing. You may have heard everything hit the floor from where you're sitting. Next week I'll be speaking in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Meanwhile, assignments are coming due for In-Fisherman magazine, the 2013 Gear Guide, the 2013 Bass Guide, and several other publications. And I'll be speaking again in Wisconsin during the first week of October.
But, while jobs come and go, friends are a lifetime achievement. I did my best to help them find fish, but it was tough — due to the dynamic discussed in the last post: lingering summers causing fish to languish.
"They certainly don't languish after you hook one," Jerry countered my theory with a grimace, his rod wrapped around the hull of his boat in a big, dangerous arc.
We caught one or two fish on every key spot and they averaged 17.5 inches or so. Which is decidedly poor around here, but not so poor as to keep us off the water. River smallmouths seem to be waiting for that first big nudge from Mother Nature to move and feed in their usual autumnal manner. It usually appears in the form of a cold front that causes a sudden drop in water temperature. The river was reading 62°F yesterday morning, and probably reached the mid 60°F range by the end of the day, which represents no significant change from the past several weeks.
But The Big Push isn't controlled by temperature or cold fronts. Honestly, it's controlled by things we don't yet understand. In over two decades of closely monitoring fall migrations of various populations of smallmouths in the Mississippi River from Grand Rapids down to St. Cloud, the real "trigger" remains a mystery. It seems quite apparent to me (especially in the case of the longer migrations) that smallmouths inherently "know" when winter is going to come early and when autumn is going to linger longer than usual. Some years The Big Push takes place in the kinds of temperatures and scenarios we're experiencing right now. Obviously, not this year. Sometimes it begins in late August, sometimes a month or more later. Sometimes it takes place during a full or new moon, but usually not.
So, is it day length? Maybe. Moon phase? Perhaps. Temperature? Not so much. Sometimes the best theory a fisherman can have is the simple admission that there are many, many things about fish and animals we do not know. Stay tuned for this year's ruminations on the movements of fall smallmouths in rivers, and what it takes to trigger those pent up aggressive tendencies of theirs.