Been a long time

Posted by Phil Lilley on June 18th, 2016
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Around the time I graduated from high school, so it was around 1970, I joined a local bass club.  One of the guys in the club was “old” (probably in his 40s at the time).  He was the one who first turned me on to the Midge-oreno with the skirt on the belly hook, which is the basis for my homemade shallow running crankbait.  He caught big smallmouth on them, and his favorite stretch of Big River was from Brown’s Ford to Hwy. Y (Pine Ford).  He was the first person to take me on that stretch, which was where I learned how he fished the Midge.  I’d grown up on upper Big River, and had fished the stretch from Mammoth Bridge to Brown’s Ford, the stretch that would become one of the first smallmouth special management areas, a number of times.  But even back then, long before the new bridge was built, the old Hwy. Y bridge was a real pain to use as a take-out, so I’d never bothered to float that stretch until he took me.  He told me he almost never fished the stretch above Brown’s Ford because he thought the Brown’s to Pine Ford stretch was better water.

I floated that stretch a couple of times after that, but never caught a big smallmouth from it.  That horrific take-out at Hwy. Y just meant that it wasn’t worth it to me.  I guess the last time I floated it was in the mid-1970s.  But I’ve been wanting to fish it for a couple of years now, just for curiosities’ sake.

http://forums.ozarkanglers.com/topic/55163-been-a-long-time/

I could have taken the jetboat and put in at Brown’s Ford and fished down, then motored back up.  But I have a phobia about fishing what would essentially be strange water by drifting downstream and having to depend upon the motor to run right to get back up, so I did the alternative…I put in down at Morse Mill.

It’s about 7.5 miles from Morse Mill up to Hwy. Y, the lower end of what I wanted to fish.  It’s another 11 miles up to Brown’s Ford.  It would be a long run.  I knew there was enough water to make the run…IF there were no bad log jams.  I put in about 8 AM and took off up river.  The run to Hwy. Y was interesting.  The river goes through a series of looping bends across the bottomland, with some very sharp hairpin turns to make in the first four or five miles above Morse Mill.  There were lots of logs, both old and new, and several places where the channel split and the riffle was tricky.  Then I came to a real problem about 5 miles above Morse Mill.

The river went through a willow jungle.  Coming up, I could see more than half the water was coming down on the right, and shooting through a gap in the willows that was about 8 feet wide…with a tree down across it, the trunk barely under water, brush wrapped around it.  No chance to run that.  The middle channel was brushy and twisty, impossible to run.  Then there was a little channel on the left.  I could see it was clear except for one old half buried tree with limbs about as big around as my arm sticking up out of the water.  There was a tiny gap, certainly no wider than the boat, alongside the limbs, and the water looked to be at most four inches deep.  It’s one of those do or die places…take off, punch it when you are ready to hit the shallows, and hope you make it.  Serious pucker factor.

I hit the tiny gap, which was even narrower than I thought.  One side of the boat rode up on a slanting limb just a bit, the edge of the boat on the other side scraped dry gravel…and then I was past, skimming over water that couldn’t have been more than three inches deep at the head of the run, ticking gravel just a bit.  Whew.

I ran up to within about a mile of Brown’s Ford before stopping at a spot where it would have been problematical to run any farther, due to an old log mostly blocking the channel.  I might have been stopped right there had I come down from Brown’s Ford.

Started out with topwater.  Nothing.  Spinnerbait…hooked a nice spotted bass and lost it, then nothing.  So in honor of Gene, my long ago mentor, I started throwing my homemade crankbait.  I immediately caught a 15 inch largemouth.  Then a little smallie.  Then a 12 inch spot.  Then nothing.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of the fishing.  Suffice it to say that it sucked…except for two fish.  I probably didn’t catch more than 20 fish all day, and many of them were quite small, but I caught a 20 inch and a 21 inch largemouth on the old homemade crankbait!

The river was pretty.  It IS pretty good looking habitat.  Hardly any homes or cabins in view of the river.  Eagles.  It looked like big smallmouth water.  But I never saw a smallie over 14 inches.  I fished down to the Hwy. Y bridge, looked at my phone to see the time and it was 5:30.  So I bagged it and ran back to Morse Mill.  The bad spot was even more of a pucker factor going downstream, but I made it through somehow.

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