"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres
The Goggle-Eyes'll Git Ya Ef Ya Don't Watch Out

In the next week or so--certainly as May heads for June--the spring morel season will slip over the hill into Michigan and points north. But it will leave a legacy of great rock bass (goggle-eye) fishing in streams.

And, if we are lucky, about Memorial Day there will be some wild strawberries in fallow fields, along some railroad rights-of-way and a few other places.

To say the morels will not be missed would not be entirely true, but a lunch that features fried goggle filets, topped off with a bowl of strawberry shortcake (wild ones, thank you) helps in rationalizing that the morels will come back when we are a year older.

And so it will be that someday soon I will point my dilapidated old flivver toward southern Indiana with the hope that it will stop on Hoosierland's southern Blue River (the one that rises northwest of Salem in Washington County and flows as the boundary of Harrison and Crawford counties to a confluence with the Ohio River).

I don't know any place on this Blue that does not offer good goggle-eye (a k a redeye) fishing, but my favorite stretch starts a few miles downstream from Fredericksburg. Here, in places, this rock-bottom stream meanders for miles between forested hills that seem to shoot straight up from water's edge on both sides to the clouds.

In other places the powder blue water knifes through rock-infested riffles with massive stands of water willow (that's a weed, not a tree) to offer excellent angling opportunity.

Once while fishing the Blue with Dick Lambert, owner of the Old Mill Bait Shop and Canoe Livery at Fredericksburg, and Joel (Joe) Ponder, of nearby Palmyra, our stomachs started grumbling long about noon.

Unfortunately, although we had stopped at a country grocery store for some bologna, cheese, bread, crackers and pop, we had forgotten to put the groceries in the canoe.

"I'll go back to get the lunch," Dick said, but it didn't make sense to me because we had been fishing several hours and I presumed that we would be separated from our lunch by many miles of rugged country.

"We're only a quarter of a mile from where we started," Dick said, taking off on foot through the woods.

I don't think I ever had a better bologna sandwich.

To merely say that the Blue floodplain and surrounding hills are far and away the wildest part of Indiana would be treading lightly on the verbiage. On the other hand, it would take a greater master of words than I to adequately describe these great stands of hardwood trees perched perilously on limestone boulders of mountainous proportions to shield these pristine environs even from the sun.

Well, I tried. So back to the goggle-eyes.

The rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris) generally is considered a stream fish. It probably is true that this member of the sunfish family will be found in more streams and rivers than lakes in Indiana. But rocks are the real drawing card for goggle-eyes (goggles to my friend Lambert)--as its common name.rock bass, suggests.

Rock bass will tolerate a slow-moving stream or river with mud bottom if it has some rock outcropping, gravel, or even sand bars. But lakes and other standing waters that have inundated deposits of rock can be just as good as streams for this species--perhaps better.

But Indiana's southern Blue River now probably offers the best fishing for this species in the state. However, the species still occurs in streams from one end of the state to the other. They also will be found in some lakes.

Water quality is an important facet of the goggle-eye picture. It is so important, I believe (although most fisheries biologists do no share my view), that water quality seems more critical to goggles than to smallmouth bass. In most cases, however, if you find good smallmouth water, the goggles will be there.

While large and mid-sized rivers and streams seem best suited to goggles, smaller tributaries of such waters will host the species, at least until late summer when the smaller waters are low. Streams fed by springs are always a good bet, especially in their spring holes. 

Goggle-eyes seldom get longer than 12 inches, but they are a wide-bodied fish--thicker than bluegills and crappies.

The east fork (Graham's Creek) of the Muscatatuck River through Jennings, Scott and Jackson counties was my childhood fishing grounds. It was full of goggles, and some of them ranged beyond the 12-inch mark and were more than two inches thick just behind their heads.

In those post-depression days nobody filleted fish--you fried or baked them with the bones in, skin and tails on. When my mother fried goggle-eyes for supper, she could get only two fish in her old iron skillet at a time.

Today I filet my goggle eyes most of the time, but I still like to pick the meat off the bones of a golden-fried goggle, especially the smaller fish.

Frying goggles whole always reminds me of yet another member of the sunfish family--the longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis), which also frequents streams with rock, gravel or sand bottoms, but figures water is water

Lou Bowsher, the late angling friend I called Mr. Tippecanoe, would tolerate my desires to fish for goggles, but when he caught "red bellies" of edible proportions he put them in the livewell of his Jon-type river boat. I later learned that his wife rolled the skin-on bodies of the fish in corn meal and fried them to a golden brown. 

Lou munched the crisp fins and the tails like potato chips. Incidentally, the male longear--with its olive body, aqua-blue and green scales, and fire-engine red bell-- is one of Indiana's most beautiful fish. They are taken often as incidental catches of those who fish for many other species. 

Back again to the goggles.

One of the great features of fishing for goggle-eyes revolves around fact that they, as a species, never saw an artificial lure or live/natural bait they didn't like. That makes it possible to take the species on everything from small artificial lures (especially small jigs and spinner-type lures) to live and natural baits ranging from minnows and hellgrammites (larval stage of the dobsonfly) to small pieces or whole night crawler or garden worm. And that's just a start.

My favorite lures for goggle-eyes are Dan Gapen's Ugly Bug (with or without the "L-shaped" spinner, and the Hairy Worm (ditto on the spinner). Black--or at least dark--is my favorite color.

Dan's Gapen Tackle Company (Becker, Minn.) no longer produces the Hairy Worm, but his Ugly Bug still is available in several sizes and colors, sans the spinner.

However, those lucky enough to own a few Hairy Worms (my cup runneth over) still can combine them with the L-shaped spinners to fashion an effective lure for goggle-eyes and other species.

Interestingly enough, your reporter was responsible for naming both the Hairy Worm and Ugly Bug spinner models back in the late 1960s when Indiana's Monroe Reservoir was freshly opened to fishing.

Dan and I fished together from the far north (Northwest Territories) to Southern Indiana in those days. The Hairy Worm and Ugly Bug were tearing up the artificial lure market. They flat-out caught fish.

After a year or two of producing these killers without spinners, Dan came up with the idea of adding the L-shaped spinners to make the lures more attractive on the retrieve.

But he didn't know what to call these combinations.

We (two or three boats of us) were fishing Monroe's Boy Scout Bay for crappies and bass on a late spring day. Dan had told us about the addition of the spinners to the two lures, but confessed that he couldn't come up with a name for them. He asked that we think of prospective names for the lures.

Early in the afternoon (we had not yet had lunch) a gigantic storm rolled in, and we beached the boats, grabbed the lunch coolers and headed for the new and unused Boy Scout facilities which consisted of an open-sided shelter and three or four pit toilets. They had openings at the top of all sides.

I was standing on a potty stool watching the raging storm out the opening to the west while consuming a delicious bologna sandwich.

The name for the combo lures flashed through my mind like a lighting bolt, and I yelled to Dan: "I got it, Dan . . . name them the Ugly Bug and Hairy Worm Plus (plus spinners)."

The names stuck.

We didn't know until a couple of years later that I had thought up the name for a new Alka-Seltzer product, too--Alka-Seltzer Plus, a cold-relief fizzer that still carries the name.

It seems that an employee of the fizzy headache cure company in Chicago also was addicted to fishing with lures from the Gapen stable. He tacked my "plus" on the name of a new Bayer product and it carries the name today.

My favorite is the 1/8 (one-eighth) ounce black Hairy Worm, with, or without, spinner.

Incidentally, when Dan introduced me to the Ugly Bug, he suggested that it was/is more effective if the rubber-band legs protruding from both sides of the body are trimmed to about ¼ (one-fourth) inch. I do it with a nail clipper.

Fishing goggles with artificials is by no stretch of the imagination confined to using the aforementioned lures. I have caught goggles most artificials I have used for both largemouth and smallmouth bass.

When I was a kid on the old Muscatatuck River, the Johnson Silver Minnow (Spoon) with reversed, 20-tail, black Hawaiian Wiggler skirt was the way to go. This was before spinning tackle (BST).

I could take big goggles (10 to 12 inchers) regularly on this lure and still have an attractive bass lure in the water.

There was one small problem--the goggle-eye by nature is a big follower and late striker, often grabbing the tails of the skirt just before I lifted the lure out of the water at the rod tip.

I made Christians of the late-strikers by hanging two or three very small, short-shanked hooks on light copper wire and allowing them to hang among the tails of the skirt.

Each trailer hook was wired to the single hook of the lure. For fishing live bait I like a five foot ultra light spinning outfit with four or six-pound-test line. Terminal tackle usually is a single willow-leaf spinner in front of a bait-holder type hook with a gap (distance between point and shank) of a quarter of an inch or slightly larger. If I am fishing fast water I may use a small split shot or wrap-on sinker six inches ahead of the spinner. 

Any live or natural bait will work on this rig.

The aforementioned Lambert likes a long pole--a nine-foot fly rod works well--with a small hook suspended six inches or less below a small bobber. He uses a closed-face spinning reel on the rod. 

In a canoe or wading, Lambert sneaks around rocks, driftwood and other cover used as sanctuaries by goggles to drop his offerings (often small live minnows) into small openings in the cover.

Goggles are a tolerant lot. An angler can wade or float very close to their hiding places without spooking them.

Once while introducing the late and great Al Spiers to goggle fishing on one of my favorite northern creeks, I let my guest fish the best spots first as we waded slowly upstream.

Al, the outdoor writer for Nixon Newspapers for many years, was standing near a boulder half the size of a Volkswagen when I caught up with him.We were both doing vertical, jig-type fishing around the good cover with small artificials.

 "Catch anything around that boulder?" I asked.

"Nope," he said emphatically, tacitly implying that I would be wasting my time in trying it.

I stripped off a few feet of line and dropped a black Hairy Worm next to the boulder, allowing it to sink to the bottom in about three feet of water.

My next move horsed a flouncing goggle out of the water as Al launched a good-natured verbal tirade to denounce my showoff tactics.

What a man was Al Spires!

Wild strawberries have gone downhill in the last 20 years, largely because the building boom has eliminated much of their habitat. It is on a continuing slide.

Although these little scarlet gems will live and produce in other places, fallow fields are on the wane. If they are not gobbled up by builders or natural succession--the development of woody growth--crowds them out.

Best place to find wild strawberries now is along railroad rights-of-way.

Still, if the development of spring continues at its present pace, wild strawberries will be blooming in the next week and the berries will ripen in time for a strawberry shortcake about Memorial Day.

There was a time when I could count on picking half a gallon of wild strawberries in less than half an hour. Those days may be gone forever, but if I can't find enough berries for the shortcake, or a batch of jam, that delightful little click that comes when a just-ripe berry is plucked from the plant still is music to my ears. 

Why get excited about wild strawberries that are no larger than your thumbnail when the grocery stores and markets offer berries larger than golf balls?

Taste them and you will know.

Click on thumbnail photo to see enlarged image.

biggoggle.JPG (47245 bytes)
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This is a Blue River goggle-eye . . . the handle of the ultra light rod was almost nine inches long. Note heavy body of the fish. Dick Lambert (foreground) puts a goggle on the stringer at his canoe while other anglers (background) close in on a good goggle hole.

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

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