Posted by Al Agnew on June 29th, 2012
I had tentatively planned to d a night float last night, but just didn’t have the energy to get out in the early evening when the temps were still close to 100 degrees. So when I woke up before 6 this morning and stuck my head out the door, and it felt pretty cool, I decided to go do some wade fishing. After all, there’s nothing better for keeping cool than standing thigh deep in a creek.
The upper end of the well known float stream first becomes marginally floatable where a headwater tributary joins it, and makes a nice area to wade, because you have your choice of an access a couple miles up the tributary, one a few miles up the main stream, or one at the junction. I was going to park at the junction and wade up whichever one struck my fancy when I got there, but there was major road paving on the highway leading to the junction (can you imagine how hot THAT job would be in this weather?), so I detoured onto the road heading up the tributary.
I’ve fished this creek once or twice a year for more than 40 years, seldom missing a year. It has changed throughout that time. A graveling operation totally demolished the lower two miles of it about 30 years ago, up to the access I use, and it took fifteen years for it to recover to some semblance of normal. Above the access, however, it was untouched by the gravel miners. That reach used to have excellent habitat, with nice pools and a reasonably strong flow in all but the driest times, green-clear water over clean gravel. But it drains a large agricultural area, and I don’t think the landowners upstream have taken very good care of the watershed. It has become a lot more weed-choked and it seems to flow a lot less water than it once did. When I pulled up to the access I was rather dismayed. There was barely a trickle of water flowing out of a stagnant-looking, pool matted with aquatic weed growth. I almost didn’t stop, it looked so bad. But I’d driven this far, and it was a long way around to the access on the main stream from here, so I parked and waded in.
There were lots of tire tracks heading straight up the creek bed from the bridge. Apparently some people in this area never got the memo that such things are now illegal. I couldn’t even tell where the creek channel was through the matted growth, so I followed the tracks, which wound up the bottom for a little way before ending at a big gravel bar adjacent to what looked like it would be a nice little bluff pool except for the scum-covered water. I fished my way up the pool for a short distance, only to discover that there didn’t seem to be any water coming into it. I cut across a willow covered gravel bar, and found flowing water, but I looked just downstream and discovered that the flow simply stopped. The creek had actually sunk into the gravel there to apparently seep back out into the lower end of that bluff pool. I’d never seen that happen in all the years I’d fished the creek, but I realized I hadn’t fished it in a couple of years.
Once I started up the barely flowing creek again, I finally seemed to be away from the evidence of heavy use, and into something a little more appealing. The pools were shallow and scattered, but the submerged weed growth was thinner. Beavers had been busy on this section, their dams making each little pool a bit deeper, and there were hungry largemouths waiting just above each beaver dam. Nice fish, too; 13 to 15 inchers. This creek had always produced a lot of largemouth, sometimes as many green bass as smallies, but it was beginning to look like it had turned into a strictly largemouth stream with the changes. I finally caught a little smallmouth in a small, bedrock-bottomed pool, so at least there were still a few to be found.
I finally reached a nice pool, more than waist deep and fairly long, maybe 50 yards. Not a lot of cover, but decent water. I caught a nice largemouth at the tail end, then waded up along the shallower bank, casting across toward the deeper water. A couple little largemouth whacked at the Gunfish topwater I was using, but there didn’t seem to be much in the deeper water in the middle of the pool. I noticed a water willow point sticking out ahead of me on the shallow side, so I made a long cast to it. The lure was immediately engulfed by an obviously good fish. The big largemouth shot toward the middle of the pool, but then changed its mind and drove right into the water willow bed in front of me. I somehow worked it out of the weeds, and fought it for quite a while before lipping it. It was a chunky, beautiful 19.5 incher, probably well over four pounds.
I remembered one time when I was a teenager and fishing this creek, I had such a largemouth hit whatever lure I was using in what was probably this same pool, although I didn’t remember it looking much like it does now. I lost the fish, but I went back the next week with the expressed intention of catching that fish. I ended up catching it on a live crawdad. And it was the biggest largemouth I’d ever caught in this stretch up until I caught this one, which may have been a little bigger. It was certainly a terrific headwaters largemouth.
The head of the pool didn’t really riffle out, it just narrowed through a water willow bed, and then opened up again in the only good rocky pool that I knew of on this stretch. I caught another really nice largemouth, about 17 inches, just above the narrows, and then an even nicer 18 incher, topping it off with the only decent smallmouth I’d catch on this creek, a 15 incher.
Above the good pool, the creek was shallow, with small, bedrock bottomed pools and long stretches of water willow choked riffles. I waded up another half mile or so, hoping each time I’d come to an opening that it would signal a good pool, but finding very little fishable water. And then I heard an ATV running with sounds of people talking over the noise of the ATV, and I decided I didn’t want to go on up to where all that commotion was happening. I dragged out my cell phone to check the time, and was surprised to see that it was after 10 AM. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t noticed the heat at all. I started hiking back down the creek. There was a big, open gravel bar leading off the narrow, brushy creek channel that looked like easy walking for several hundred yards. Did you ever notice those big gravel bars can be seductive, leading you into dead ends? By the time I reached the end of the bar, I realized I was a long way from the creek channel with nothing but weeds and brush in sight. I fought my way through the head high weeds, encountering beds of stinging nettle, finally crashing through the brush to come out on the creek…right where two guys were fishing it. I suspect they were dismayed to see that I had been fishing ahead of them. And that may have been the first time I’ve ever encountered other bass anglers on this creek, though I knew that others fished it regularly.
I got back to the car, having caught a total of 15 largemouth and 7 smallmouth. Not a bad morning, but it still didn’t seem too hot, so I decided to drive over to the access on the main stream. When I got there, there was another car at the access. Okay, did the guy go upstream or downstream? I started upstream, and then saw him flyfishing ahead of me, so I turned around and went downstream.
The access is a public one, and the evidence of human use as I headed downstream was very obvious. There were actually well worn paths along the edges of the gravel bars. Unlike the tributary, the main stream up here is very clear, flowing through big gravel bars before snaking through thick willow jungles. The pools were all small and shallow, and I didn’t catch anything but a 7 inch smallie until I reached a decent pool with one nice root wad, where I caught a 12 inch largemouth. Then, for some reason the creek entered a little piece of water absolutely choked with aquatic weeds, very unlike the rest of the creek. In the narrow channel through the weed growth, I first had a very nice largemouth inspect my topwater without taking it, and then a few yards downstream a 17 incher took it.
The weed growth soon disappeared, and I came to a pretty little pool with one big log, the rootwad right at the head of the pool. What looked like a fairly good smallmouth whacked at my lure, missing it. On the next cast I caught a 12 incher. I cast again, and the bigger fish took solidly. It was a 15 incher, that was being followed by another of the same size. I couldn’t get the other one to hit.
I kept expecting to run out of all the evidence of people. Usually by the time you’re a quarter mile from an access you’ve reached nearly virgin territory on these small streams. But not so here. And when I’d come to a decent pool, I’d usually see a nice fish or two coming out to look at my lure, but very wary and not willing to take. I would also see decent fish in the narrow runs through the willow trees, fish that were basically impossible to try for due to the brush.
I came to the best pool I’d found on this stretch, water 4 or 5 feet deep around some big logs and root wads. Surely there would be some nice fish here. But I fished all the best logs without a smell. Then, at the end of the last log, where the last bit of deeper water was, I saw a big dark shadow coming up from behind my zig-zagging lure. The smallmouth deliberately took it, and while not the biggest smallie I’d ever taken from this stretch of stream, it was a big headwaters fish, a 17 incher.
I waded down a little farther, but the pools were again small and shallow, and I’d told Mary I’d quit fishing by noon. I looked at my phone, and it was noon. So I turned around and started back up the creek.
As I walked across a big, wide open gravel bar. I suddenly realized, for the first time, that it was HOT. Walking across that bar was like walking in the Mohave Desert. I was glad to get back into the creek at the upper end of the bar, and I stayed in the creek, slowing wading up it, fish-watching as I went, not bothering to cast. I noted redhorse in every little pool, huge schools of stonerollers, longear sunfish still guarding their clusters of nests, and enough baby smallmouth to be encouraged for the health of the future smallie population.
All in all, it was a great way to get in my fishing fix in the heat wave.
I stopped by the Leadwood Access on Big River on my way home, by the way, and it is as low there as I’ve ever seen it. Even though I’d had a nice morning of fishing, this heat and drought is really scary.
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