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What do you do when everything turns up dink?


Tim Smith
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So we're most of the way through the "big-fish" season now and it's becoming clear to me that I am stuck in a rut.

 

I've had a couple of fair days fish-wise on the Vermilion drainage this year, but my biggest fish this year was 13". Size-wise, this is my worst year in the last 3. Granted, water conditions kept me out of a couple of my favorite spots, but I'm looking at Steve Jordan's results on the same water and thinking I have definitely missed something. Lures that attracted solid fish in the 14"-16" range in the past (small rapalas and #2 Mepps Anglia primarily) are robbing the cradle this year. Where are the big fish??

 

This looks like a question for the ISA...

 

What strategies do you use when only the dinks show up to bite?

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Fish in or very near to the deepest water you can find. Also stay with 4 or 5 inch baits instead of 2 or 3 inches.

Of course there's a chance you won't catch anything at all when you stick with big baits, but when they work...

Another thing is, it might be time to switch to live bait. Again the bigger the better.

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I echo Scott's sentiments. Fish larger baits and your results will change. In addition, you will be shocked by how many dinks you will still catch on larger baits.

 

Scott and Jonn, thanks for the responses and I totally buy what you're saying as a general rule.

 

But...how about this for a twist. This year my experience was the exact opposite. All the "bigger" fish I caught were on smaller baits. I know that's backward, but that's what happened. The bigger baits would produce a dink here and there but not much of real size. The small baits produced the dinks (and more of them), and then most of the 12 and 13 inchers showed up too.

 

I'll rarely be in a fishable site wider than 50'. In the past I've felt the splash and action of casting a larger bait "overwhelms" these streams and the potential to spook them was high. So...I hit them quick with smaller baits and then move on. The way I normally fish is run and gun, targeting active fish in prime habitat and then moving on if the bite doesn't show up after 6 or 8 casts. If something hits, I'll settle in and fish a spot for a while, but the big fish are usually the 1st or 2nd ones caught out of a hole, and often on the 1st or 2nd cast. It's not uncommon for me to cover two miles of stream wading, skippping over shallow runs with limited cover.

 

Would I still have done better to just stick with the larger baits and held out for the more substantial fish? Maybe plastics are the answer?

 

I gotta be missing something...

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Fish in or very near to the deepest water you can find. Also stay with 4 or 5 inch baits instead of 2 or 3 inches.

Of course there's a chance you won't catch anything at all when you stick with big baits, but when they work...

Another thing is, it might be time to switch to live bait. Again the bigger the better.

 

Tim, I agree with Scott, find the deep water.

 

I like to use the run and gun technique also, if I know a particular stretch really well, I then slow down when I get to a known productive area. The only way to figure out a stretch of water is to fish it numerous times and with other people familar with that water. Remember how you showed me how to catch fish the day you took me to your favorite area.

 

As far as the 13 incher's go, Chuck Kolesar and I had a big numbers day this summer on the same water and the largest we caught were no bigger than that. Some days the big boys just get lock jaw I guess.

It is interesting to hear that some one else had a similar experience. Will they be 14 1/2" next year??? :)

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Bigger baits thrown with discretion.

 

I am also in the camp of bigger baits. Just because you caught some of your bigger fish on smaller baits doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have hit a bigger bait had you been throwing it instead.

 

I and a lot of others fish some small water as you do. Jonn’s streams and the Dupe especially the west branch can be as small and shallow as any smallie stream.

 

The reason I said with discretion is your comment about the spooking and splash factor.

 

Ever see Eric throw a large spinner bait? He can lay that baby in tight spots very gently with his casting ability and equipment. In fact most of the guys I fish with can pretty much throw large baits without spooking fish.

 

I am a big proponent of NOT spooking fish. We almost all fish fairly shallow water and laying baits in not with a long overhead cast is essential to me.

 

The distance is one factor. Do not overthrow where you need to cast. Quietly get in good position (close enough) and lay the bait in there gently. 99% of the time I’m throwing side arm. I feather virtually every cast I make with my left hand. This way I can whip a bait with some strength but feather it at the last minute and drop it in gently.

 

There are differences in the view of a “big bait” I purchased some of the Lucky Craft topwaters a few years ago that were around 4-5 inches. Not to big for smallies but the weight was too heavy with the internal beads inside. They can cast for miles but it was like dropping an anchor in the water. I gave them away and never fished them.

 

I don’t agree with the deep water thing. I did agree with it for years but that opinion changed in the last couple of seasons by finding some really big fish in shallow water. The deep water thing is season driven. Jonn and I found fish in mid stream areas above riffles that was a good summer pattern. That pattern happened a few years ago for Scott and I on the Dupe.

 

So many posts over the years where time and time again guys are posting lots of 12 inch fish and some other guys are consistently (or more consistently) getting bigger fish.

 

BIG BAITS.

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With this cold weather your window of opportunity is closing. I agree with most of the other statements: Fish more, bigger lures, possibly live minnows or chubs, and deeper water. The deeper water gets more important as the water gets cooler. I catch plenty of bigger smallmouth in shallow water in the summer. I think its more important to fish in the proximity to deeper water versus fishing the deepest part of the deepest pool. Those fish are generally inactive in cold water. The active fish will push out of the deeper water warm up in the sun a little by some wood and then get in a feeding mood.

 

You could try another watershed that is known for bigger fish. Some rivers go through cycles where they don't get a good push of fish that year or they have a die off of the older class and it takes awhile for those fish to be replaced.

 

This time of year I look for wintering holes. My best luck comes in the lower part of a branch or lower part of the main river. I look for deep bends in the river with timber. Usually the lower regions of a river have alot of sand/silt bottom and high water events scour nice deep holes on the bends especially when there is timber to deflect the current. When the water comes back down this combination of deep water and timber warmed on a sunny afternoon provide my best action this time of year. I've actually seen the smallmouth suspend along the timber out over deeper water. My go to presentation is a 1/16oz jig and large fathead minnow. On my home river I catch a nice mixed bag of smallmouth, walleye, crappie, white bass, and the occasional catfish or northern pike fishing this way. Since the last cold snap with the snow the dink smallmouth have disappeared. I don't catch a lot anymore but the ones I get are nice. It's weird, in the summer over 1/2 of the fish I catch are under 12". In October they are all 12" or better. Where do the dinks go?

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In the past I've felt the splash and action of casting a larger bait "overwhelms" these streams and the potential to spook them was high. So...I hit them quick with smaller baits and then move on. The way I normally fish is run and gun, targeting active fish in prime habitat and then moving on if the bite doesn't show up after 6 or 8 casts. If something hits, I'll settle in and fish a spot for a while, but the big fish are usually the 1st or 2nd ones caught out of a hole, and often on the 1st or 2nd cast. It's not uncommon for me to cover two miles of stream wading, skippping over shallow runs with limited cover.

 

Would I still have done better to just stick with the larger baits and held out for the more substantial fish? Maybe plastics are the answer?

 

I gotta be missing something...

 

Big fish didn't get to be big by being reckless. They are often much more wary and easily spooked. Slow down and cover one mile of stream in the time you may have spent on two miles. Move slower and be more stealthy. In small streams, fish know you're coming long before you get there. When you come to a good spot, stand still for a while and give the fish a chance to drop their guard.

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Paul and Scott both make good points there.

 

Scott and I sort of run and gun but with some precision involved.

 

We thoroughly fish "good fish" water then quickly splash through to the next spot.

 

I could give more examples but here’s one:

 

A few years ago I took a guy out who won the guided trip at the Blowout.

 

He was newer to smallie river fishing and had learned from a few guys on the Fox and was throwing small twisters on 6lb mono.

 

He had some success catching 10 inch fish.

 

We got to one bridge abutment and I let him go first. (I’m a really nice guy)

 

There were a bunch of small fish in there and he proceeded to get 3 or four with bites on every cast. After a few minutes of that I threw a 5 inch Hula Grub in there and got a fat 17” on the first cast. He was a bit amazed and the whole trip gave him a new idea of how “other” guys fish.

 

He was throwing 2-3” twisters on 6lb mono.

 

I got him 3 good fish that day and he didn’t land one.

 

It was still cool and he learned a lot.

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Some big Storm swim baits (all through the winter) will get a nice big profile to your bigger fish without spooking them, and they are great for fishing around timber as more often than not they won't stay snagged.

A few good snaps of the wrist and they pop out.

Each and every year, I gain a little more confidence with swim baits.

 

Don't let pre-ice winter deter you, either.

They feed all year, just not as often.

As Eric pointed out- you can't catch them if you aren't getting out, and this time of year it takes some time and luck to hit them during the dinner bell.

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Slow down and cover one mile of stream in the time you may have spent on two miles.

 

There's a lot of value in knowing the stretch(es) you like to fish. This especially holds true if you're targeting the bigger fish. Small streams and rivers present a different challenge in that you may need to cover miles of stream to hit a half dozen really productive or "quality" spots. This really scatters the bigger bass IMO. You do have to put the time in to learn these stretches and find the spots that will consistently produce.

 

Or, you can let the high water bunch them up, as long as you know where they bunch! :D

 

As for the casting aspect, I do agree that a softer touch will prevent you from spooking some fish. Accuracy is a huge factor as well. I have plenty of bass smack a topwater or spinnerbait on entry. I think that has more to do with putting the bait where it needs to be versus the landing, unless you're really a poor caster. With a spinning rod, I can plop a lure anywhere I want, as soft as I want. With my casting rod, I'm improving, but I need to upgrade to a higher quality casting reel to get better at both accuracy and touch. The good thing about the casting rod is it opens up the door to more of "anywhere I want". Nothing like having the confidence of a quality casting rod in your hands while fishing the thickest cover.

 

Bigger lures, the right spots, the perfect casts, the right times. They all add up to bigger bass.

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I have to agree with the big lure = big fish theory. Lucky for me I'm one of those fortunate guys that can catch good sized (notice I didn't say big....it seems that everyone's opinion of "big" is different) fish on a fairly regular basis using small baits :)

 

....I'm slowly adding bigger baits to my arsenal.

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Mike,

 

I'm usually targeting smallies the size of your rodent lure :) Now if they just made a sugar coated, bacon wrapped, glow stick rodent lure we would all be catching fish ;)

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Mike,

 

I'm usually targeting smallies the size of your rodent lure :) Now if they just made a sugar coated, bacon wrapped, glow stick rodent lure we would all be catching fish ;)

 

OK, I'm...writing that one down...

 

...wrap mouse in bacon, cover with sugar...insert glow stick...

 

Where do you put the hook? :unsure:

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Actually, wow, what an avalanche of great information.

 

Let's see...how much of this fits me...

 

1. Fish more. Yeah, 5 smallie trips this year and it doesnt' look like it's going up from there...minus a new wife, fewer kids, less community work and a bout in the unemployment line. That's going to be about it.

 

2. Fish high water. This one still rocks my world. The only fish I've EVER caught in high water were at the clear water seams along feeder creeks. Some day I'm going to try this, but I may have to get liquored up first.

 

3. Fish systems with bigger fish. Yes. Definitely. Everyone invite me to your best spots, I'm ready to go. Pay no attention to that GPS unit in my back pocket.

 

4. Bigger lures. I've got my bacon-sugar-glowstick mouse and I'm ready to go. Maybe if that doesn't work I can switch back to a storm swim bait or white spinner bait.

 

5. Softer presentations and hit my targets. I might be doing well enough here. Mark H. and Steve J. have seen me cast. Hopefully they can testify that I usually hit the water or at least something or someone close to the water. I'm also great at catching canoes. I do get lazy feathering casts sometimes.

 

6. Stand and wait when arriving at a fishing hole. This one is new to me. I'm big into stealth and long casts, but I like the idea of letting a the fish resettle once you arrive...hmmm....

 

7. Fish large live bait. I do have those circle hooks left over from redfish fishing on the gulf...

 

8. Learn to lie more proficiently. Did I say 13"? I'm sure I meant 18".

 

9. Fish deeper water. I buy the deep water premise. But I also recognize that big fish wander a bit as well. Steve Jordan pulled a 19.5" fish out of the same water where I was scoring dinks this year...and it looked like it came out of 2' of water or less. I've seen the same thing on stream surveys. Most of the big fish are deep, but quality cover can lure them into skinny water.

 

10. Ask the ISA when you're stuck. Wow. Great input!

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Tim

 

I think by the number of reponses and opinions you've received, you can surmise that there's more than one way to get this done. There are lots of anglers catching lots of nice bass out there, many of whom don't post. I think if you clue in on a few key points, you can get the job done no matter what you choose to throw at them. I have caught the same (nice) bass a number of times this season, from the same general area. I caught her on a topwater popper the first time, a topwater prop numerous times, a white tandem spinnerbait, a 4" fat tube, and the last time on a tiny Rapala Husky Jerk.

 

The bass location is always driven by one main factor not presented here, and that is where the food source is hanging out. The main reason I can catch quality smallmouths on the WI River in summer is knowing where they are feeding (at least part of the time), and that's chasing crayfish out on the flats and pushes in the early morning before the sun gets too high and the crayfish return to the nooks and crannies in the rocks. From there, I think the bass drop back into cover as well, whether that be in the deeper water below the dam or downstream into pools and below riffles. They may be "semi active" at this point, but the period when they are active and feeding can sometimes be unbelievable.

 

When the water is high, the baitfish get out of the strong current and then the bass follow. If you try wading in this stuff, you'll soon understand why. They group up into certain areas. That's why they are easy to locate and catch during this period, IMO. When the water is low, the baitfish scatter, and so do the fish. The next time there is a high water period (maybe in the spring) try to get out just to see if you can make this pattern work. You may also find out if there really are any bigger bass in the areas you are fishing.

 

In summer, I would cast a topwater all day long, as long as the water is on the "clearer" side. That's how I would choose to find the bigger bass any where I fish, not only because it works for me, but because its fun!

 

BTW - I'm not always catching bigger fish. I run through my fair share of dinks as well. Just keep putting your time in - when you can.

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Tim,

 

I am glad you broached this subject. I did not have any fish over 13" this year either so I have read these recommendations with great interest. First off, I can attest to your casting skills. That is definitely not the problem. However I do believe we share a couple of common afflictions:

1) Not enough time spent fishing

2) Fishing waters without great numbers of large fish.

I believe there is some merit to the other suggestions. By the way, I tried to wade the place we put in a few weeks ago. The water is definitely up. I could not even reach the first pool.

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Tim,

Your last post cracked me up. I think I could count the smallies I caught on one hand this year, literally. Got one respectable fish this year up in Wisconsin. 1 and I got lucky with a good cast on the flyrod.

I have resolved to learn to use the damn thing, which only comes with practice...that you don't get if you pull out the conventional stuff. I'm gertting better at it but I have to admit numbers have dwindled.

I also have 4 year old that gives me the sad pup face whenever he sees me headed out fishing with out him. It makes me feel awfully guilty going without him.

So I spend a lot of time catching bluegills and bullheads. Which is suprisingly fun. In a few years he won't want anything to do me so might as well enjoy it while it lasts. Right?

eh...don't sweat it.

Point being, action is action, enjoy what you get. Your time will come soon enough.

Mark

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As I thought about this more, one thing came to mind that will absolutely rock your world this spring-

Go out with the kids and capture some live crawdads from a local stream.

There is a net you can buy that has a flat front which you stick straight down in good clean cuurent, while kicking rocks around. They will wash right into your net, along with hellgrammites and various minnow species.

I'm pretty sure you could probably give me more pointers on capturing little critters than I could ever offer, but anyway- take the biggest one you can find and get it hooked up.

The biggest fish in a given pool will slam it.

We used to do this often on the Kankakee on Sunday mornings.

One day I'll never forget is throwing one of these bad boys on a slip bobber in late spring. It got hung up on a rock in the current, I gave it a twitch, it went over the boulder and an 18" smallie pounded it.

Got it landed and released, rigged up another big 'ol craw and threw upstream of the same rock on the next cast.

Same thing- a little twitch, it goes over the rock and an 8lb. flathead cat had taken up residence in place of the smallie.

A nice bonus catch and fight while wading.

 

Thanks for a good laugh, Tim.

I needed that today.

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In a few years he won't want anything to do me so might as well enjoy it while it lasts. Right?

 

A few years go by very fast, and yes there will be a period when his interests are focused elsewhere. All part of growing up. My Dad and I have never stopped fishing together. He gave every minute he could to me and my brother when we were kids. Its something you never forget and to this day, I still look forward to fishing with him. :)

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I heard he casts like a grandmother.

 

I can hear the splash up here in Chicagoland.

 

Lures hitting the water isn't the first thing I think of when I hear a splash in Chicago...cement galoshes maybe...but not lures.

 

...and don't insult my grandmother that way.

 

So I spend a lot of time catching bluegills and bullheads. Which is suprisingly fun. In a few years he won't want anything to do me so might as well enjoy it while it lasts. Right?

 

Here's my experience fishing with my kids, Mark.

 

This one will fish with me...

 

This one thinks I'm an idiot....

 

And yeah, it's the same kid 2 years apart. They sure get smarter as they get older.

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