Into The Outdoors 6/3/14

Saturday, June 14th, marks the opening of yet another bass season here in the Keystone State.  Some of the regulations are pretty complicated, so be sure to read your manual before heading out, so that you can stay out of trouble.  We are fortunate in this area to live close to some of the best bass fishing in the state.  Lake Arthur and Kahle Lake both contain good populations of some truly big largemouth bass.  The Allegheny and Clarion rivers offer excellent fishing for smallmouth bass, or “bronzebacks.”  This week, let’s focus on the smallmouth.  Pound for pound, it could be argued that the smallmouth bass is the best fighting and most sporting of all freshwater gamefish.  Even if you hook a tiny one, it nearly always jumps a time or two.  They’re pure fight.  Of course, as this is being written, the Allegheny is still high, but not as high and muddy as last week.  At least, we have a couple of weeks for things to settle down.
Just like their lake-dwelling cousins, river bass are very structure oriented.  The rocky shorelines of the Allegheny offer lots of great places for smallmouths to hide and ambush prey.  Boat docks can be very productive, too, although they usually can’t equal the rocky areas.  The best times to fish are early morning, late evening and night.  When the sun gets bright, the fish head for the deep water in the middle of the river, where they’re much harder to find and catch.  During these times, however, you can still pick up some fish around such structures as mid-river bridge piers, where the water is fairly deep.
There are a number of artificial lures which will do a number on river smallmouths.  Of all these, small to medium sized Mepps and other such spinners are probably the best, followed by spoons, especially the red and white Dardevle and the Johnson Weedless.  Deep running minnow imitations, such as the Rapala can’t be counted out, either.  There is a serious problem, however, and that’s snags.  An old fellow I knew always said that you had to lose some lures in order to catch fish, but the situation on the river can get ridiculous.  You could, literally, lose a couple of dozen lures in a morning’s fishing.  Lure retrievers are often useless, as the lures get hung up in the rocks.  Besides, it’s often too shallow and rocky to get your boat over the lure anyway.  For that reason, many anglers lean toward surface lures.  You won’t get nearly as many strikes, but you’ll still get some, and you won’t put yourself broke in the process.  
At certain times, fly fishing for smallmouths can be fantastic.  Several times each summer, there will be huge hatches of white millers along the river.  During these times, especially at night, casting a white miller pattern can produce unbelievable action.  A bronzeback, even a small one, on a fly rod is always a real handful.  
As kids, my friends and I did virtually all of our fishing, for any species, with live bait, and it’s still my favorite today.  Small to medium-sized minnows are great.  So are nightcrawlers.  Hook the minnows through the lips.  With crawlers, bunch them up on the hook with a trailer left behind.  Use as little added weight as possible for adequate casting.  When I can, I fish with no sinker at all.  That way, when you cast into the rocky shallows, you don’t spook the fish, and you don’t have the problem of your sinker getting hung up on the rocks.
As anyone who has ever used them can attest, the soft shelled crayfish is probably the best bait there is for taking river smallies.  For some reason, fish just can’t seem to resist them.  Unfortunately, they’re rather hard to catch and expensive to buy, and every other fish in the river likes them, too.  It’s pretty frustrating to feed such bait to rock bass and small catfish.
Bass fishing on a river is one of the greatest things about summer.  Get out there and get ‘em.

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