"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres
February 2002

As these words flow onto my computer screen (February 3), White River’s West Fork (54 steps below my back gate) flows with gusto toward a confluence with her sister (the  East Fork) at the southeast corner of Knox County, thence on to the Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi rivers and on to the sea.

The old girl must be six or seven feet above normal now, but soon the swift water will be falling again, and cold, late-winter nights will settle the topsoil that came down from upstream--she will be as clear as the proverbial bell.

While all of this has been transpiring, the larger reservoirs of the state-- particularly Monroe Reservoir--have been rising to levels above winter pool. They, too, will return to winter pool levels and the status will be quoed, so to speak.

And while the level of Hoosierland’s rivers may be important to those who like to take wild boat rides or gig (spear or pitchfork) suckers and other so-called “rough fish” as they ply the backwaters, a bass angler with red blood in his veins will be watching the level of water in the reservoirs.

Although the rivers are either at--or very close--to flood stage at this time, it is really only a dress rehearsal for the high-water bass-fishing show that will almost certainly come. Flooding in rivers and high water in the reservoirs are almost as certain in the late-winter and early-spring as the old standbys, D & T--death and taxes (regardless of what the legislature settles on).

When rivers and standing waters hit flood stage in late winter and spring, many Hoosier outdoors folks bent in the direction of fishing write off the conditions as down time. But there is a young army of outdoor folks who count their blessings and do some serious fishing.

Game fish--especially the largemouth bass--awaken from their lethargic winter slowdowns when the sun starts moving northward in January. Slowly, but surely, food becomes more important because their built-in time clock (photosynthesis) tells them it soon will be time to spawn and that their success in this important part of their life cycle will depend upon the condition of their bodies. 

Thus, as rising water temperatures and sunlight awaken many forms of aquatic life (food) that have been dormant--or nearly so--all winter, bass start a feeding binge.

The phenomenon of rising water activating fish is not unique in largemouth bass, or to late-winter/spring flood conditions. One of the first things my dad taught me about setline fishing for the whiskered set revolved around the fact that a clear, night rise of the Old Muscatatuck River was like catfish in the pan . . . if you had bait in the water. 

Clear rises on rivers often occur when upstream rainstorms bring down more water than the normal flow of a river or stream  At the point where the rain fell, rivers and streams may be muddy, but a few miles downstream the same rivers and streams may remain relatively clear, even though they are rising.

Although it occurred more than half a century ago, I vividly remember a summer doldrums Sunday morning when Rocky Haulk, one of my bass-fishing mentors, and I put his little tin boat on the Muscatatuck River a few miles northwest of Uniontown (Jackson County). As we slid the little flat-bottom boat into the river, Rocky declared that the river was a good foot higher than it had been when he left it at dark the afternoon before. But it was clear.

Rocky told me conditions couldn’t be better. And he was correct. With Rocky guiding the boat from the back seat as the current moved us downstream, I put five husky bass in the boat almost before we got started. They took a Jack’s Dual Spinner (black hair on the hook). Needless to say, it was a very good day. Rocky explained the fast action, by stating simply that the fresh water activated all aquatic life, including the bass. 

Getting back to my original idea, when high water comes to standing waters in late winter and spring, the banks of these waters (often infested by weeds and even hardier plants) are inundated. Bass prowl such areas in search of food. However, such conditions do not prevail forever. When the water starts receding, bass return to the usual confines of the lake or reservoir.

Although Monroe Reservoir is my favorite high-water bass fishing spot, these conditions occur on smaller water--even small lakes, ponds and gravel pits if they are fed by runoff streams, even though they may be dry runs most of the year.

One of my favorite high-water bass-fishing spots at Monroe Reservoir is the small bay west of the point where Maumee Road dead ends at water’s edge. In Monroe’s early years Browning Bridge (an old iron structure) crossed the narrow reservoir there and the road continued northward to Crooked Creek Area and ultimately to Indiana Hwy. 46 east of Bloomington. This small bay is fed, in times of high water, by Jones Branch, which is dry most of the year.

When Monroe is eight to12 feet above summer pool stage (538 feet above sea level), the steep, brush-infested hills surrounding the bay are alive with bass, and as long as the fresh water runoff  flows out of the hills there will be bass and some other species in the creek. At lower levels the brush- lined creek channel, though covered by several feet of water, offers very good fishing.

Sure, the water often is murky, but if one uses a black-finish Johnson Minnow with 20-tail black/yellow Hawaiian Wiggler skirt (reversed), bass will find the lure. Any weedless spoon-type lure may do the job if it is fished around the heavy cover where the bass lurk in search of food.

Although the Jones Branch Bay is like a magnet when I have pockets full of metal, there are many bays fed by many streams and dry runs along Monroe’s estimated 190 miles of shoreline. It is not likely that all of the bays created by Monroe’s dragon-like shape will offer good high-water bass fishing, but when I am in a boat they all are viewed as bass water.

Fishing these brush-infested hillsides is easier from a small boat than by wading, but the latter often is  better because it allows the angler more time to place a lure in the likely-looking spots. The wader, of course, must be extremely cautious because a step into deep water can be big trouble, especially if the wader is wearing boots or chest-high waders. When I wade, I carry a strong staff and check water depth before every step. 

One day while wading Jones Branch Bay a few years back, a dead elm tree covered with a jumble of grape vines looked very familiar. As I flipped my lure into the tangle of grape vines I kept asking myself why this spot looked so familiar.

A few minutes later, while unhooking a six-poundish largemouth and placing it in the burlap bag that served as my wading live box, I realized that three or four short months before I had flushed two grouse from the grape vines. 

[Click here to see Bayou Bill in the act of capturing that 6-pounder at Jones Branch Bay.]


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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