G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Writer
THE 13th of January.
The calendar has taken a nose-dive into the very depths of midwinter, at least for us folks living between the 38th and 39th parallels of Planet Earth.
In winters of olden times this was a time to throw another log on the fire and snug up in a comfy chair with a good book.
But winters these days aren’t behaving themselves like those of the past. With the weatherman predicting the temperature to climb to near 70 yesterday and today, lots of outdoors types living along the great river that travels between southeastern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky were stirring themselves to launch fishing boats and go for a mess of sauger, walleye or hybrids.
The end of October used to signal a time to winterize boats and motors and begin a long wait for spring. But now more and more hardy fishermen of this area are enjoying their sport year round.
The month of November and the early part of December – before rains jumped the Ohio River up to flood stage – they enjoyed excellent catches of 2- to 3-pound sauger in the tailwaters of the Greenup Dam and at the mouths of feeder streams from the dam down to Kinniconick Creek.
Now, with the river level back to near summer pool, quite a few fishermen could be seen on the river yesterday, enjoying the balmy weather while trying their luck from boats and from the bank.
Winter-time fishermen are also attracted to Greenbo Lake in Greenup County for the thousands of rainbow trout that Kentucky fisheries people stock there, usually in late January or early February.
Several readers have called to find out when the stocking will occur. All that’s reported on the department’s website is that it’s scheduled for sometime in February.
When the date becomes known we’ll pass the information along here.
Sometimes the trout trucks have had to break the ice to get the fish into the lake. That hasn’t deterred trout fishermen, though, as they have a couple of winters caught them by drilling holes in the ice and fishing straight down with whole kernel yellow corn, miniature marshmallows and Power Bait.
Some muskie fishermen never hang up their rods. Reports came in last week of two keeper-size (30 inches in streams, 36 inches in Cave Run Lake) muskie being caught from Tygarts Creek, at least 15 miles up from where the stream runs into the Ohio at South Shore.
THE FLOAT N’ FLY
Bass also cooperate with wintertime fishermen who fish lakes. One fall I was on Dale Hollow Lake fishing with well-known smallmouth bass guide Bob Coan. I thought at first he was kidding me when he said a sure-fire method for taking big smallmouth bass on Dale Hollow Lake in the dead of winter is by casting the float n’ fly.
Noting my skepticism, he said, “You come back down here after Christmas, when the water temperature drops to the mid-40s. I’ll make a believer out of you.”
Well, he did.
It was January and cold when we pulled away from the Horse Creek Dock in his bass boat. I looked over the outfit he had rigged up for me. It was an eight-foot spinning rod with an inexpensive spinning reel. The reel was loaded with 6-pound test monofilament, with the end of the line tied to a 3-way swivel.
On one of the other loops of the swivel he had tied an 8- to 10-foot leader of 4-pound test line, the smaller line making the line almost impossible for a fish to detect under water. He clipped the bobber to the remaining loop on the swivel.
The bobber, about 2 inches long, is most usually made of Styrofoam, although some are plastic. They’re shaped like a pear, with the big end pointing down.
The fly is less than an inch long and is adorned either with duck feathers or with the lively-looking artificial craft “hair” available in most bait shops. The feathers or the hair are dressed to the shaft of the hook and extend a little beyond the bend in the hook. Good hair colors are chartreuse, white and blue. Duck feather flies usually have strands of chartreuse, blue or red tied into them.
You can buy the specially made rods and reels for fishing the float n’ fly at tackle shops around Celina, Tenn., for $50 to $60.
Once out on the main lake, we trolled along, 50 yards or so off the banks, while watching the depth-sounder for bait fish.
Smallmouth feed mainly on threadfin shad and the alewife. When the water temperature drops to the low 40s, it seems to stress these fish out. Schools of them will swim in circles, twitching, just 6- to 10- feet below the surface. This can bring smallmouth up from the depths for an easy meal.
Casting with an eight-foot leader can be cumbersome, but I side-armed my lure out and let it plop down 30 yards from the boat. I twitched the bobber a few times, then let it lie. In a moment the bobber tipped onto its side – never went under – and headed toward the shoreline.
“Set the hook, now!” said Mr. Coan.
I set the hook. The 4-pounder I battled in and then released was proof enough for me that the float n’ fly will produce big smallies in January.
I used the same method to catch two other smallmouth about 18 inches long.
Dale Hollow Lake still has a 16- to 21-inch protective slot limit on smallmouth. One fish over 21 inches and one fish under 16 inches may be kept daily if so desired.
For those who prefer hunting over fishing, there are still days left in the seasons to pursue their sport.
Ruffed grouse – it runs through Jan. 21 in Ohio, with a daily bag limit of two; while in Kentucky it runs through Feb. 28 and there’s a limit of four a day.
Cottontails – through Feb. 28 in Ohio and through Jan. 31 in northeastern Kentucky. Limit is four a day in both states.
Squirrels – through Jan. 31 in Ohio; Feb. 28 in Kentucky. Daily bag limit is six in both states.
Raccoon and possum – Jan. 31 in Ohio; Feb. 28 in Kentucky.
Bobcat – Feb. 28 in Kentucky.
Quail – Jan. 31 in Kentucky; limit eight a day.
Deer, archery – Jan. 21 in Kentucky; Feb. 3 in Ohio.
G. Sam Piatt can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.