Current River

Fishing with Ham, Shadow Bass and PB Smallie

Posted by Phil Lilley on August 8th, 2016
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Akers Ferry.JPG

I was up at 3:15 am Friday Aug. 5th. Even though I couldn’t get a motel room in Eminence on Thurs. night to save a 3 to 3.5 hour drive to meet Ham at 9 am I couldn’t sleep. It has been several months since Ham and I set a date in May to take this trip. That got flooded out. Then we set a date in July and that trip got flooded out. It had been raining in Columbia since Monday, but no rain down south and the water gauges were stable through the week. We may actually get to fish on this trip. I packed my last bit of gear and food/drinks in the car and pointed it toward the Current River and was on the road by 4 am. As I turned out of my neighborhood the sky opened up and it just poured on me for 15-20 miles. Once it stopped, I didn’t see any more rain on the way to the Current.

I was introduced to trout fishing in the upper Current over 15 years ago and since that time have only fished the upper Current and have waded many times up and down the river from many accesses between Cedar grove to the Montauk boundary. I have fished mostly for trout and now lately for minnows and darters this last year in the river and its small tributaries. Now I was headed to meet Ham and to fish the middle and lower Current for shadow bass. This would be a new life species for me. The shadow bass is one of three species of rock bass in the state of Missouri and one of four total species throughout the US. I caught my first Northern rock bass when I lived in Connecticut and have caught many here in the waters throughout the state south of the Missouri. They are common in the Gasconade, Maries, Meramec, Little and Big Piney rivers. In a tributary of the James River I have caught a couple of Ozark bass, the species that inhabits the White River systems in south west Missouri. I felt pretty good about catching a shadow bass using similar techniques that I have used in the past to catch the other two species while wade fishing. Knowing that the middle Current has a variety of fish species, including smallmouth, largemouth, suckers, plenty of minnow species, I knew we would be able to catch a bunch of species on this trip. So I brought marabou jigs, Ned rigs, bass tackle, #12, #20 size hooks, redworms, mightcrawlers, etc.

I was making good time to meet Ham and determined that I had time to take a side trip to Akers Ferry. I had never been there before, so I wanted to check it out. The Current was running clear at Akers. I headed back to Rt 19 and passed over a small creek that I could not pass the chance to fish and rigged up my #2 lb ultralight with #20 long shank hooks. I caught a couple of minnows like the one in the photo. It’s likely that they may be Ozark minnows or a fish that I have not caught before. One of the fish got into the sand and didn’t look like it would survive. So I have the fish to id when I get back home. I did catch a silvery minnow that I could not id, but I let if go unharmed. Saw a rainbow trout and a couple of chub like minnows, but got my bait stripped. Didn’t spend too much time to get a new bait on, since I still had a good drive ahead of me.

Got to the meeting place around 8:20 am a bit ahead of schedule. I was getting my gear ready when Ham rolled in. It didn’t take him as long to get to the meeting place as he thought it would either. So we got my gear into his truck and we headed out to get on the water. Before our first drift along a rock bluff, I put on a 1/32 oz olive and black marabou jig. We drifted along and I was getting no strikes. Ham was catching fish and I just wasn’t getting any strikes. We drifted again. I switched to a green pumpkin 1/8 oz Ned rig and caught two largemouth and no shadow bass. We moved downstream and a couple more largemouth under my belt and no shadow bass. Ham caught a chain pickerel on a hard plastic jerkbait and several shadow bass on his ned and Zig Jigs. Then finally the bite came and I landed my first shadow bass on the green pumpkin ned rig. It seemed that my 1/32 oz jig just wasn’t getting down to the fish. This fish represented my 15th new life species for this year and the first that was not a minnow or darter species. I was able to achieve my new species goal I set for this year. It was also my 40th different species that I have caught since March of this year.


Ever since I saw Ham post a picture of a shadow bass on OAF a year or about two years ago, I have been waiting to get my hands on one. He and I have been in contact since that time about this fish. I was really excited and it still was early in the day. I was hoping to still catch one with the classic dark barring and it didn’t take long to catch this one.


By this time Ham had caught largemouth, smallmouth, and shadow bass and a chain pickerel and I had only caught largemouth and shadow bass. With the shadow bass on the list, it was time to focus on other species. We pulled onto the shore to get in the water to cool off. All around the boat were several minnow species, sculpin, and darters. I got out the #20 rigged for minnows. Ham took the rod and caught his first banded sculpin of the year (Ham will have to supply a photo of that one). I got several rainbow darters up out of the water, before I got this one into my photo bag. The hot air temp did not do the picture much justice by fogging up the bag.


Then Ham was after the darters and landed his first rainbow darter. After cooling off and catching these fish, it was back for bigger game.


One of our drifts went over a deep cut near a big log pile. At the bottom were several large drum. Ham had been mentioning how spooky these fish can be and that they rarely go after his artificials. I borrowed one of Ham’s rods with a bait rig and gradually pulled a redworm over a log on the bottom and a large drum followed and took the bait. I was able to land the fish, which was my first drum of the year and by far my largest ever. I had built a plastic view tank that was 24 x 12 x 6 inches with 1/4″ plexiglass just for taking pictures of large fish like this one and we put it to test. P8050300.JPG


Unfortunately the box developed a leak in the lower corner after we landed the drum. So it came home for me to fix. I finally caught a small smallmouth. So far up to this point I had caught largemouth, and smallmouth bass, shadow bass, rainbow darter, a silvery minnow that may have been a bleeding shiner, and a drum. Ham had caught a largemouth and smallmouth bass, shadow bass, chain pickerel, banded sculpin, and a rainbow darter. With all of the suckers and drum throughout the river, we tried to bait fish for suckers. We spent some time and had little luck. I caught one northern hog sucker (my first for this year) and Ham got many hits but no real strikes. We decided to head much further downstream and headed the boat back upstream to the access. We had an exhilarating run upstream that both Ham and I will remember for some time. Also the nice older women at the boat access will be remembered for her observant nature.


After we got the boat into the river at the next access point, I did catch a couple of bleeding shiners while Ham parked his truck. The shiners were swimming over a chub nest. They would have spawned in this location earlier this year and must still relate to that type of bottom feature. These shiners still had a slight red tinge to their lips and the characteristic dark stripe behind the gill covers. Ham grabbed the rod and was also able to catch his first bleeding shiner fishing in this same location. Ham also caught his first northern studfish before we got back in the boat to get back to fishing ned and Zig jigs for larger species.


We drifted through some great water with depth, current, large rock and boulders, and wood cover. We pulled a lot more smallmouth and shadow bass from this cover. On one pass I got a big strike on my 1/8 oz PBJ Ned rig and this fish felt different with some real weight to it. Then we saw the fish. As I fought this fish I knew that this was my largest smallmouth bass that I have ever hooked into with the hopes of landing. I got the fish to the surface and Ham netted the giant. This is my first 18+” smallmouth. Not only was it big It had the great markings that I love with this species. What a great river smallmouth!


Then came the OBSESSION in the form of aggressive skipjack herring. We passed by several holes that held active skipjack and we threw a bunch of baits at them to no avail. The fish would follow the baits and flash on them. Most did not take the bait, a couple did pull back and they stayed unhooked. We spent a lot of time trying for these fish and just could not land any. We caught and landed several longear sunfish that hit our baits during these drifts. Before we made this trip, I told Ham that we could catch ten different species each during this trip. I ended up this Current river trip with 34 total fish and with ten confirmed different species (forgot about the five striped shiners that I caught) and one unidentified silvery minnow that may or may not have been a bleeding or a young striped shiner. I also caught three new species for this year, with one new life species. I also caught my largest drum and smallmouth bass to-date. I enjoyed fishing with and learned a lot from Ham about how to drift these jigs and ned rigs downstream to catch fish. I believe that Ham ended with 47 total fish and 11 different species. He can make any necessary adjustments to these numbers to cover my failing memory. It took a long time to get this trip together. I knew it would be a good trip and it turned out to be a great trip!

Oh and it poured on me again as I traveled between Salem and Licking to my motel room for the night!

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