"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Willow Pole Fishing
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

By no stretch of the imagination, was my first fishing pole a fly rod. But it was a wonderful way to fish small natural baits such as hellgrammites, the aquatic stage of the Dobsonfly, small crayfish, or the tail meat of larger hard craws. 

The west fork of the Muscatatuck River (roughly two miles west of Crothersville) had been dredged around the turn of the century, or shortly thereafter, and the course of the meandering old river had been turned into a straight, high banked chute in the name of flood control. 

Still, there were deep holes of water separated by riffles (fast water) with clay banks and gravel/sand bottom. Furthermore, huge beds of water willow, a weed of shallow water on streams and lakes, offered hiding places for a variety of fish--especially largemouth bass, long-ear sunfish and several other members of the sunfish tribe. 

To complete the picture, the banks of this stretch of the river also hosted a species of willow “tree” that never attained great diameter, but often shot 10 feet or more skyward, the butt end often being no larger than my thumb and the other end of the proportions of a kitchen match. 

I have not been able to identify this willow by species, but I see it (or a close relative) in sizable stands at other places, including some streams and lakes. 

Identifying the species has never been as important to me as getting such a buggy whip like pole rigged for fishing. I accomplished this by tying a skein of grocer's twine roughly the length of the pole to the small end, then tying on a light wire long-shanked hook to the other end of the line, and wrapping on enough weight to sink the baited hook slowly in the swift water. The wrap-on sinker was no more complicated that strips of the (heaven forbid) lead toothpaste tubes of that day, or .22 rifle bullets pounded out flat and cut in strips. 

Builders of the old iron bridge that spanned the river had left some sizable stones in the swift water under the bridge, and when they were turned over slowly (bottom of the stone against the current), fat hellgrammites and other aquatic insect larvae were plastered against the bottom of the rocks. 

Hellgrammites were my favorite bait, but any insect larva would take fish. With pole rigged and baited, I would wade the shallow side of the riffles and swing my offering, pendulum style, toward the deep water of the far side where the beds of water willow teemed with fish. 

This would allow my bait to sink slowly as it was swept past the water willow, and I would keep a keen eye on my line at the point where it entered the water. When the line stopped, or moved upstream, I would raise the tip of the pole sharply and soon would be embroiled in an exciting fight with some denizen. Even little fish were good fighters on my willow pole. 

Now and then the impending action would be foretold by movement of the tops of the weeds as some unsuspecting fish sensed the presence of my bait and lurched out to grab it. 

Incidentally, when the beds of water willow bloom (on toward mid June, or a bit later), wildflower lovers will get their money's worth with close observation of this lavender/white /green flower. The blossom is made up of four minute, back-to-back orchid-like flowers. The composite is no more than three-quarters of an inch wide. 

Hellgrammites are hooked under the hard segment  (immediately behind the head) of their black, leather-like bodies. If the point of the hook is inserted at the front side of the hard segment and brought out at the backside of this segment, the hellgrammite will dangle and squirm below the hook to lure any fish. The bait should be hooked as lightly as possible. Hooked in this manner, the hellgrammite will remain alive for long periods, and several fish. But even a dead hellgrammite is good bait. 

Small crayfish can be “wormed” on a long-shanked hook, the hook point starting at the underside of the tail, and the point and bend protruding from the under side of the craw/s head. 

The white tail meat of larger hard craw can be extracted from the hard shell and cut lengthwise into two rows of meat lengthwise that will take any fish that swims Hoosier waters. Each row of white meat can be cut into two baits, or more with a small hook. 

Now and then an angler catching hard craws for bait will come up with a soft craw. Soft craws are excellent bait fished whole or in parts, including pinchers and legs.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

waterwillow.jpg (19312 bytes) hellgrammites.JPG (19886 bytes) dobson.jpg (21828 bytes)
Flower of the water willow is seldom noticed by anglers, but it is one of Hoosierland’s most beautiful wildflowers. The hellgrammite, aquatic larval stage of the dobsonfly, will be found on the bottom side of rocks and other items on the bottom of swift water of streams and rivers. The hellgrammite reaches lengths of three to four inches.  This is the adult stage of the dobsonfly.


All columns, essays, and photos 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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