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
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.
to see Bayou Bill in the act of capturing that 6-pounder at Jones Branch