December 17, 2013
By Ned Kehde
Charlie Croom of Fayetteville, Arkansas, is the Finesse News Network's river guru. To our disappointment, we were unable to include his Nov. 10 log in the blog entitled "Midwest Finesse Fishing: November 2013." Therefore, this is an update of that monthly blog, featuring Croom's Ozark river outing.
According to Croom, it was a post-cold-front day, which he derogatorily called a bluebird day. The low temperature was 39 degrees, and the high temperature was 64 degrees. The sky was cloudless. The barometric pressure around 11 a.m. was 30.4 and falling. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the wind was out of the east, blowing at 10 to 12 mph, and then it virtually died. Another major cold-front was predicted to wallop northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri within 24 hours, and that cold-front caused area thermometers to plummet to 21 degrees on Nov. 12 and 18 degrees on Nov. 13.
The surface temperature ranged from 55 to 58 degrees. The water clarity along the main-river channel exhibited 12 feet of visibility, and Croom said he had never seen the river this clear. The river was flowing at 578 cubic feet per second, and the gage height was 4.45 feet. Leaf debris was minimal, and most of the bass that he focused upon were associated with logjams.
The current flow was much heavier than he had experienced in previous outings. What's more, he had anticipated that there would be a lot of leaves cluttering the surface, and those mats of leaves would provide an overhead sanctuary for the bass to hover under, and those mats would also prevent the bass from seeing Croom's boat. But a recent heavy rain washed all of the leaves downriver. Because of the 12-feet of clarity and no leaf cover, the bass were extremely spooky, and even the slightest ripple on the surface from a lure would cause many of them spin and dart away.
The water was so clear that Croom could see some of the bass intermixed mixed with rocks, boulders and aggregations of suckers. These bass were on the bottom and situated long the outside bends of the river, and they exhibited a very dormant disposition.
In-Fisherman's solunar calendar indicated that the best fishing times occurred from 4:31 a.m. to 6:31 a.m. and 4:47 p.m. to 6:57 p.m. Croom fished from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Croom said that the only actively feeding bass that he found were abiding at the mouth of a feeder creek; this creek is about 400 yards long, and in places it is 60 yards wide, and unlike the main river, it was still stained, exhibiting only three-feet of clarity, from the heavy rain that washed the all of the mats of leaves downstream. Its surface temperature was 58 degrees, which was three degrees warmer than the river.
During the five hours that he was afloat, he found six logjams that looked as if they could yield as impressive array of largemouth bass. The best looking one was situated at the mouth of the feeder creek, and the water around it was stained and warmer than the other five logjams. The other five were situated in five to 15 feet of extremely clear water. Schools of one-inch minnows clustered around these logjams, as well as scores of largemouth bass that ranged in size from one-pounders to five-pounders. A few of the logjams entertained and sheltered as many as 10 largemouth bass, and he thought five of the biggest at each logjam would weigh a combined weight of 18 to 20 pounds. Croom said it is amazing to see how largemouth bass congregate in certain areas when the cold-water period begins to develop, and this was the second year that he had witnessed this phenomenon.
But these concentrations of clear-water largemouth bass were very wary. Croom thought that he might be able to entice them with a suspending jerkbait, but to his dismay, he had failed to bring any jerkbaits with him on this outing, and throughout this entire outing, he failed to inveigle a largemouth bass.
What's more, the smallmouth bass and spotted bass were difficult to entice. Initially, Croom employed a 2 ½-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin orange ZinkerZ on either a 1/8-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig or a 1/8-ounce PJ's Finesse Bait's Weedless Grub and Worm Head Jig. The heavy current, however, adversely affected his jig-and-ZinkerZ presentations. Ultimately, he discovered that a drop-shot rig was the most effective option for alluring the smallmouth bass and spotted bass, which were also relating to the six logjams that sheltered the aggregations of largemouth bass.
To wield his drop-shot rig, Croom worked with a six-foot, 10-inch Falcon LowRider rod, Shimano Sahara 2500 reel, eight-pound-test Gamma Copolymer Line, 12- to 14-inch leader, No. 2 VMC Spinshot Dropshot Hook, 1/4-ounce bell sinker, and a 4 ½-inch Aaron Magic Roboworm Straight Tail Worm.
The worm was nosed hooked, and the point of the hook was not exposed because Croom needed a snagless presentation around the logjams.
Because the bass were wary and many of them were suspended, Croom opted for a longer leader than he normally employs in river situations. As a rule, his drop-shot leader is as long as the soft-plastic bait that he is using. Therefore, his leader normally would be 4 ½ inches long when he uses a 4 ½-inch Roboworm.
To ply the logjams, he positioned the boat downstream for each logjam, trying to keep the boat out of the sight range of the bass, and placing the boat close enough so that he could make accurate casts. He described his casts as "pitches quartering up-current."
During the presentation of his drop-shot rig and Roboworm to the bass around the logjams, Croom said, "I was basically trying to put that worm right on their nose for as long as possible, hoping that they attacked it out of aggravation. Also, I tried not to move the sinker as I applied tension to the entire rig, which is the way to move the worm without moving the weight. Once I gave it slack, the worm would fall ever so slowly back to the bottom. I would repeat that tension-and-slack process three times on the initial cast before dragging the weight about a foot. Then I would repeat that tension-and-slack process three more times. If I didn't get bit after that, I would reel it in and make another cast to a different spot and angle. Roboworms don't have any salt, and they float, which slows the speed of the fall. At times the worm would flutter motionless in the current. I really don't think any of the bass were feeding that day. I just force fed them a drop shot."
The bass bite was so tentative that Croom was able to catch only a mixture of 12 smallmouth and spotted bass. In retrospect, he wished that he had a 3 1/2-inch soft-plastic swimbait, saying that it might have been more effective than the Roboworm. Consequently, he resolved that the next time he was on this river in pursuit of cold-water largemouth bass, he would be wielding a jerkbait and a drop-shot rig affixed to a 3 ½-inch soft-plastic swimbait.
Even though the fishing was exasperating, Croom said he learned a lot about suspended bass and the whereabouts of cold-water largemouth bass. And as soon as he had executed his last cast and retrieve, he was looking forward to his next outing. To his chagrin, however, Old Man Winter tossed a significant monkey wrench into his hopes. For seven days, freezing rain and snow fell, coating northwestern Arkansas with six to eight inches of snow and ice. And as of Dec. 14, the snow and ice hadn't melted. What's more, the unseasonably cold weather caused the water temperatures in the Ozark rivers to plummet. Because of this long stretch of wintry weather, Croom was unable to make another cast at those largemouth bass around the logjams.