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Back On The Water!

It’s been much too long since last posting material on my blog but there’s a reasonably good excuse for it. In February 2016, I had rotator-cuff surgery on my right shoulder for the second time. The same surgeon who repaired my shoulder in 2011 told me to expect about an 85% recovery, meaning use of my right arm. He also assured me that fishing as in the past would not be part of my future. Serious limitations would have to be set and accepted. After that prognosis, learning to fish left-handed was added to my to-do list.

From late 2015 until my scheduled surgery date in mid-February, boredom ruled an endless series of days that revolved around resting my shoulder; the goal to minimize inflammation of tissue before surgery. That’s easier said than done because I don’t do “coach potato” well at all. While pacing the floor twelve days before surgery, a pause in turn 6 found me staring out a window. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze and temperatures well above normal. Claustrophobic and depressed, a beam of sunlight suddenly struck me and the idea of running to a local river to practice left-handed casting came to mind. A quick analysis of pros and cons confirmed that learning to fish left-handed was an important part of my recovery plan and something that could begin before surgery. Also, free time was available in profusion. So, with an upbeat attitude, away I went. In hindsight, more thought should have been given to the cons.

After arriving at a river full of smallmouth bass and tying on a Texas-rigged soft plastic, casting practice began. The first few attempts were at weeds and sticks on open ground away from trees; a wise starting point. It’s shocking how difficult it is for a righty to make a simple left-handed lob-cast. But with practice my lure was soon hitting the river, and at times close to the intended spot. In perhaps a dozen casts, I felt a light tap through the line, reeled down and set the hook. The force of the hook-set, an equally awkward movement left-handed, pulled a nice smallmouth to the surface where it immediately threw the lure. In response, I turned and stepped in a muskrat hole all the way to my left knee-cap. While falling in slow-motion, all concern shifted to my shoulder so rather than trying to catch myself, I attempted rolling toward my good shoulder. The next morning after draining 70 cc’s of blood off my left knee, an x-ray showed no visible breaks or tears so an elastic knee brace was added to my post-op equipment list.

After two months of recovery from surgery and plenty of physical therapy, my routine at home had returned to staring at the walls and laps through the house. Soon lap times were approaching those before surgery, except a few of the more hazardous turns where I didn’t want to press the damaged knee. After consulting my best fishing buddy, we decided it was time for me to get out on the water but with some serious restrictions. We agreed that trolling for brown and rainbow trout was a good choice because I could sit and stare as easily as at home and would get some fresh air and sunshine in the process. My attitude improved after discovering I could operate the landing net left-handed with little difficulty. After a fish or two, it was game on!

My first trip afield, two months after surgery. Couldn’t operate the boat or a fishing rod but enjoyed netting some nice brown and rainbow trout.

We caught some beautiful trout that day up to twenty-three inches long and the therapeutic value was beyond measure. On a follow-up trip, several attempts at casting with ultralight tackle confirmed it was too much movement, even casting left-handed, so the decision was made to do only what my body would comfortably permit; with patience, careful patience.

Four months after surgery, progress permitted me to use light-weight spinning tackle for short periods. Over time, growing confidence pressed me to search for fish that would test my strength; time to try some night-fishing for reservoir smallmouth bass. During a couple short trips, the number of casts was low but several nice smallies accepted my offering and fought like champions. Landing them boosted my confidence but again made me realize it was still a long way to full recovery. A month later, an MRI was ordered to see why the knee was still bothering me. My surgeon, obviously bug-eyed with disbelief, slowly walked into the room staring at my MRI results, which had been delivered by yours truly minutes before. “About that knee, we have a fracture,” he announced after a long pause. His review described a hairline fracture across the largest bone in my knee that had not shown up on the post-accident X-ray. Yep, I had broken it. He closed by telling me no further treatment of the knee would be necessary, other than some simple exercises, because it was healing nicely. He closed in saying, “This is a testament to how tough you are.” He must have said that because of my work schedule at Bass Pro Shop in the months before my MRI. Who would have guessed?

The arrival of fall found me much more active. My right shoulder was still weak and tender with limited range-of-motion but casting left-handed had become almost routine. Days after beginning some new stretching exercises, the broken knee was forgotten. I was strong and mobile enough that launching the boat was no problem and could fish for about an hour before having to rest my right arm. After a cool snap brought the first freezing temps of the season, a search for schooling striped and hybrid bass began. Fishing for surface-schooling fish is a mixture of much driving around, setting and watching for fish breaking and casting for short periods; an almost perfect match considering my limitations. With a selection of rods rigged with favorite fall striper/hybrid lures, the adventure began one sunny afternoon. Surface water temperature was ideal, in the mid-60’s, and confidence was high. After a long search, clouds of baitfish began appearing on the depth finder in a long narrow cove that ran inland off the main lake. The narrow strip of water didn’t look like much when driving by but an expanded search found it full of baitfish with water depths exceeding forty-feet along much of its surprising length. After confirming it was full of striper food, I moved back where I could see the main lake and much of the cove. It was time to drop the trolling motor, set back and wait.

An hour later the water erupted on the main lake close to the mouth of the cove. Big fish were smashing schools of baitfish not more than a hundred yards away so I moved quickly toward them. Soon there were fish smashing the surface in every direction. Then a jointed Storm ThunderStick landed among the explosions and began making a V-wake along the surface, then a seven-inch Cordell Red Fin, then a large swimbait fluttered along a few feet beneath the surface, all without so much as a bump. Round two with the ThunderStick included variations in speed until, finally, a boil rose beneath the plug. But that was my only strike after more than an hour of casting to feeding fish. Minutes later the water went flat and calm; the party was over and the fish were gone. My mind was sorting through possible reasons for the lack of success when a crippled minnow fluttered by along the surface. The minnow’s size surprised me because it was much smaller than expected. After slowly approaching several schools of surfacing minnows for further size checks, my suspicions were confirmed. My lure choices were too large.

The next day found me waiting in the same spot but with smaller lures rigged. My primary rod held a modified version of the plug that had produced the boil; a Storm ThunderStick. The modified version had the rear section removed with the split ring and hook reattached to the front. With this simple change, the lure’s length was reduced from more than five-inches to four with no change in the plug’s action. Back up combos included a smaller swimbait and a Rat-L-Trap. Soon after arriving a good fish boiled the surface close by, then another. Suddenly, an area the size of a parking lot was filled with watery explosions.

My first striped bass caught left-handed.

Almost immediately a fish attacked my modified ThunderStick and after a brief battle, a three-pound hybrid was in the net. After a quick release, the ThunderStick again sailed into the melee. On the next cast a big fish crushed the plug and pulled a deep bend in my rod. There was no question it was a much larger fish because it ripped line freely from the reel and forced me into a defensive squat. After several line-stripping runs, the fish finally surfaced close to the boat; a striped bass in the mid-teens. At boat-side, a firm grip on the fish’s jaw was shaken off as if attempted by a child. I could grab the fish well enough but any attempt to lift made me realize how weak my arm was. The idea of shifting the rod to my right hand was rejected quickly after the fish surged; there was no way my right arm could take that. After remembering a gaff stowed in the rear of the boat, the fish was safely landed and released unharmed, save a small hole in its lower lip. In the time taken to land the fish, snap a couple pictures and release it, the surrounding school of feeding fish disappeared and the water became still. It felt like the end of a standing ovation as the last few tail slaps subsided in the background; a rewarding afternoon. In the best of moods, a decision was made to add a new Boga Grip to my fishing tool box.

Work and book signings kept me busy through the Holidays but by mid-January fishing fever returned. Thoughts of visiting a highland reservoir for bass crossed my mind but required a significant investment of time and exposure to some very cold conditions. So, brief trips to pitch soft-plastics from shore to river smallies moved to the top of my schedule. But one day, a friend and coworker at Bass Pro Shop told me about a pattern for catching big walleyes during the coldest period of winter. Walleyes spawn in late winter/very early spring in the south and many instinctively migrate into moving water as the time to drop eggs approaches. Areas with increased current attract pre-spawn walleyes and those that hold abundant prey such as alewives, shad, even trout, may attract many of the largest walleyes in the system. The pattern my friend described required fishing a local reservoir from shore at night during the coldest part of winter when the lake water level was at its lowest. The low water period lasted but a brief time, while at winter pool, and wasn’t about how many fish you could catch but how big the fish were. I had to sign up for some of that.

My first trip to fish at night for winter walleyes was more about exploration than serious fishing. Learning details like water depth, temperature, bottom contour and structure present would help me decide which lures would work best. Casting hazards and required distance would dictate the rod and reel combo needed for precise presentations. After exploring and casting for an hour I decided an adjustment in equipment would permit me to fish the area well with a large swimbait, one of the lure’s my friend recommended. Several days later we returned with a third fishing buddy and spread along a sand-covered shoreline that gradually sloped from the water’s edge to a meandering creek channel. In many places, a long cast would reach the channel’s edge. In some spots, there were trees lying across the barren shore with their tops partially submerged in shallow water. Soon we were spread along several hundred yards of shoreline, casting from parallel to shore, out to along the edge of the channel break. In fewer than thirty-minutes, as my swimbait tapped along bottom in the shallows, the water boiled and my line became tight with a heavy, head-shaking fish. Minutes later the glowing eyes of a big walleye surfaced against shore as one of my fishing buds arrived carrying another fish. A break to check size revealed his walleye weighed four-pounds; a nice fish and average size for the lake we were fishing. Mine was a hog weighing eight-and-three-quarter-pounds and stretching twenty-seven-and-a-half inches. A week or so later another trip rewarded me with a twenty-seven-and-three-quarter inch walleye that looked a little fatter, though I didn’t take time to weigh her before release. Soon after, spring rains arrived much too early and the lake began rising quickly. I’ll be back to visit those fish again after the next Christmas Holiday passes.

So, I have finally returned to the fold, so to speak. Fishing and writing are again part of my routine though use of my right arm is still limited. In support of my continuing recovery, trolling will be included in much of my future fishing; rainbow trout, crappie, walleye and others come to mind. Another angling method I’ll employ frequently is presenting live or dead baits on set lines. Big carp, striped bass and catfish are suckers for the right baits presented on bottom. Both approaches will permit me to fish with limited stress on my shoulder while I strengthen it further. However, occasional trips to enjoy long-standing-favorites such as night fishing for summer smallmouths and the fall topwater blitz will be made; left handed of course. Visit me here to read updates on my progress and angling adventures, including new things I learn.

In closing, it is with great sadness that I bring readers news from R&S Bait Company. In late May of 2015, our sport lost a rising star when Rodney Williams, owner of R&S Baits, lost his battle with cancer. Now, his family has no plans to continue operation of the company and the R&S Web site has been closed. Such a loss; a dear friend and talented contributor to our sport. To provide some history about my friendship with Rodney Williams, there’s a story in my book about fishing small jigs for summer smallmouths at night using black lights, though at the time my book was published I didn’t know R&S Bait Company manufactured the jigs described. A story posted on this Blog about meeting and becoming friends with Rodney Williams attracts a lot of traffic and many readers inquire about availability of R&S Baits’ products. If you’d like to read the story behind the story of how we met and became friends, find the Archives button at the top right of this page, click Select Category, then select Announcements and you’ll find a story called “From My Friends at R&S Bait Company”. To read a story about night fishing with R&S Baits Arky Smallmouth Jigs, select Summer Fishing and scroll down to a story called “Day and Night Summer Smallmouth Bass”. To see the side bar photos from each story, click Enlarged Side Bar Photos at the top and select the story title.

It’s good to be back. Be safe and good fishing!

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From My Friends at R&S Bait Company

R&S Jigs 1

My journey as an author and writer has been filled with new experiences and adventures. Promoting my book, writing stories about fishing and doing related research has helped improve my writing and angling skills while creating opportunities to make new friends. As an author, the work I enjoy most is book signings because of the interesting people I meet and things I learn from them. Occasionally, fate will creep into what would otherwise be a chance encounter and one such meeting has evolved into a special friendship and business relationship.

Not long after my book was published in 2011, I attended an open house at a local fishing tackle shop in Bristol, VA to sign and sell books. The little shop was packed with vendors and customers when I arrived and soon found space at a table to set up. As I set out books and other materials, a soft-spoken man beside me extended his hand and introduced himself as Rodney Williams. While we exchanged greetings, I noticed he had a fly-tying vise set up with thread, hair, rubber skirt material and other supplies. But the jigs lying on the table in front of him grabbed my attention like a topwater strike. “Where did you get these jigs?” I asked while inspecting one with bulging eyes. “I make those jigs,” he replied and began telling me about his lure company’s history and products. As we talked, I picked up one of my books, flipped to a page in the “Summer Fishing” chapter, handed him the open book and pointed to a picture. “These are your jigs in my book,” I said as he looked closely at the picture, then also with bulging eyes. When he looked up smiling I said, “Mister Williams, I’ve been looking for you for a long time.” That was the beginning of what has become a close and trusted friendship.

There’s a feature story in the summer chapter of my book called “Smallmouth Bass in South Holston Lake” that describes how to fish the lake for smallmouths at night using black lights, fluorescent fishing line and small jigs. South Holston Lake is the setting but only because it allowed me to describe the lake, its nature, access points and other details of interest for visiting anglers. It’s also one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries in the South. The rest of the information provided in the story including how to find fish, recommended rod and line combinations, best methods of presentation, and other details were learned on various lakes across the southeast but with one exception; my first choice in jigs. At the time I Insert 1 - Arky Weedless Smallmouth Jig - rootbeerwrote my book Rodney Williams was making R&S Smallmouth Jigs part-time at his home in Gray, TN with limited distribution through local sources, primarily close to South Holston Lake, so they were very difficult to find. When I did find a few in sizes and colors I needed, often unpackaged and dumped in a small plastic container, I bought them all because there was no reliable source for replacements. After meeting Rodney Williams that day in Bristol, my worries about having the right jigs for smallmouth bass fishing disappeared.

But a jig is a jig is a jig, right? Not in my world. I’m as picky about choosing lures as most tournament professionals. I look at lures, actually all fishing tackle, as tools designed for particular jobs. I don’t tie on a lure or pick up a rod and reel combo because it’s a favorite but choose tackle because it’s the best choice for creating the presentation needed based on species, water depth and conditions. When presenting a crawfish profile to smallmouth bass there are specific attributes to look for in a jig. A small jig with a stand-up head and matching trailer resting on bottom looks much like a threatened crawfish in a defensive posture; a realistic profile that feeding bass often see. The Arky head used on R&S Smallmouth Jigs is among the best in stand-up designs. Sharp, premium hooks, an effective weed guard, quality-made construction and a selection of natural colors in the correct sizes rounds out my list of requirements and describes the R&S Smallmouth Jigs precisely. I’ve enjoyed consistent success using them over the years, including a few tournament wins, and have taught many friends how to fish with them. Of all the kinds of fishing I enjoy each year, more friends and family come to stay with me and fish using R&S Smallmouth Jigs at night with black lights for reservoir smallmouth bass than all others. They are that effective, and it is that enjoyable to fish with them.

Over time, R&S Bait Company owner Rodney Williams and I have become good friends. Visits to his home to replenish jig inventories evolved into reunions to catch up on business, family news and new fishing experiences. He invited me to attend the East Tennessee Fishing Show in Knoxville, TN in 2013 and again in 2014 to sign and sell books in their booth and help sell their line of fine fishing products, primarily their Arky Weedless Smallmouth Jigs. I was grateful for the opportunity and enjoyed recommending R&S jigs to the angling public. It’s fun to promote and sell fishing products you use and believe in to people who share your passion for catching fish so we sold out of smallmouth jigs early at both shows. Furthermore, the feedback we received from visiting anglers was complementary and sometimes entertaining. One morning, a gentleman elbowed his way to the front of our booth and openly gave thanks R&S was back for the 2014 show. With increasing animation, he described his success with the smallmouth jigs, how he’d lost his R&S contact information, and searched everywhere for replacements. I thought for a moment he was going to cry. A middle-school-age young man helping in another vendor’s booth came by one afternoon and bought a couple smallmouth jigs to try. The next morning before the show opened he ran straight to our booth to tell us he’d gone to the river in downtown Knoxville and caught one of his largest smallmouth bass ever on one of his new R&S jigs. It’s always a joy to share in the excitement and success of our angling youth. Endorsements like those can’t be topped.

Insert 2  - R&S product selection collage editR&S Bait Company has expanded their product line and is now ready to offer their fishing lures and accessories to the angling public on a grand scale. Rodney Williams has recently retired after thirty-seven years in law enforcement and is devoting his energy fulltime to manufacturing and selling hand-crafted lures and other fine fishing products. Their new Web site, rsbait.com, displays their line of products, company history, instructional videos, photo gallery and a few stories from my Blog. The Arky Weedless Smallmouth Jig will continue to be R&S’s showcase product but they also offer a selection of other jigs, swimbait heads, weighted hooks, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits and all are made with the same attention to detail and high-quality workmanship. Their newly designed swimbait head with stainless-steel screwlock has already attracted the attention of top tournament anglers. To compliment their line of hand-crafted products, R&S is also offering some carefully selected lures produced by other manufacturers including P60 and P70 Pop-R’s, Luck E Strike blade baits, Zoom soft plastics, a new line of swimming jigs from Snow Spin and Basstrix Swimbaits, perhaps the top selling swimbait on the planet. Fly-tying materials such as thread and craft hair are also available so there are products at rsbait.com for anglers with various interests.

The item in their premier product listing that I’m most proud to announce is copies of my book, The Weekend Angler’s Guide To Good Fishing. I was flattered when Rodney asked if he could offer my book as one of the products selected for their new Web site. It’s an honor to be associated with an honest, family-owned and operated small business that is committed to providing top-quality products and services. Their Web site was designed and produced by my good friend and frequent fishing partner Andy Barnes with The Possible Zone in Kingsport, TN, also a local small business, that specializes in online marketing, branding, web design, even boat wraps and graphics; a service of special interest to serious tournament anglers. I think you’ll find the R&S Web site attractive, well designed and user friendly; comparable to many leading industry manufacturers. So if you’ve considered buying a copy of my book, you can now add one to your shopping cart when ordering products from R&S Bait Company. I highly recommend you try their Weedless Arky Smallmouth Jigs in your favorite smallmouth waters. And don’t overlook the Zoom Tiny Chunk trailers for the jigs or their selection of lead heads designed for almost any method of presentation with soft plastics. If you see something of interest on the site but have a question about hook size, other colors or custom work, contact information is provided so you can get an answer directly from Rodney Williams. Whether you fish for bass, stripers, walleyes or panfish, R&S Bait Company offers products to help you catch them. Welcome a new small business to the fishing tackle industry by visiting their Web site and placing an order. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with their selection, workmanship and services.

Be safe and good fishing!

           

Day and night summer smallmouth bass

It’s been a hot, dry spring in east Tennessee. Summer’s just begun yet local rivers and reservoirs are unusually clear with temperatures above seasonal averages. Water temperatures higher than eighty-degrees are above the preferred range of many popular game fish but bass, bream and several others offer good fishing in early summer. However, many anglers are still out in force on most reservoirs and high fishing pressure often has a negative effect on fishing success. Too many pleasure boaters have a similar effect. I don’t resent any of them enjoying themselves, but I prefer not to set in line waiting for a fishing spot while I bob and sway in churning boat wakes. Bless their hearts; I hope all of them have the very best time but I excuse myself and spend my time where conditions are more favorable for catching fish. So when my longtime fishing buddy, Rodger Davis, called and told me he was coming from Atlanta to fish through the new moon, I knew I had to find places we could fish with lower water temperatures, fishing pressure and boat traffic. Because he doesn’t visit often and is an accomplished angler, I wanted to take him where we could catch some good fish with a few eye poppers mixed in. After checking area water generation schedules,  I decided we should go see what the local smallmouth bass were up to.

The first afternoon we packed our tackle, plenty of bottled water and headed up a local river under overcast skies. It was the only day in the five-day forecast that called for mostly cloudy conditions so I knew it would be our best chance to catch some river smallmouths without suffering heatstroke. The water level was so low we had to walk my jet-drive boat upstream through one shoal, though the flowing current was cool and refreshing in the afternoon heat. Generation from an upstream dam was holding water temperatures in the mid-seventies, an ideal range, but as we continued up river I realized exploding weed growth and shallow, crystal-clear water were going to limit the type lures we could use. Subsurface lures with treble hooks were out of the question in most places so we started with small surface lures. We each tied a Rebel Pop-R on a medium action spinning combo and went to work. I had one good blow-up by an impressive fish but it soon became obvious the smallmouths wouldn’t take surface lures in the bright, clear conditions. We decided to make a change.

We needed a realistic, weedless lure we could fish quickly at various depths and through shallow, dense cover so I grabbed a box of soft-plastic stickbaits and began rigging a second rod. My second rod and reel, also a medium-action spinning combo, was spooled with Flame Green, four-pound diameter/ten-pound breaking strength Fireline. To keep the fish from seeing my bright primary line I added five feet of fluorocarbon line in a comparable breaking strength using a double uni-knot. With this combo and rigging, I could cast a mile, see the slightest line movement, and present the lure with an invisible, highly abrasion-resistant line attached. After Rodger rigged a similar combo we moved back upriver and began fishing the same water, this time with much better results. We discovered there were plenty of fish in the scattered grass beds and deeper pockets around rock shelves. Shallow shoals produced nice bass on the upstream face and in spots where the water began to slow downstream. In the low, clear water soft-plastic stickbaits attracted strikes from various sizes of smallmouths to nineteen inches with several weighing between one and three pounds.

Weedless soft-plastic stickbaits fished in river current offer realistic presentations. Four- and five-inch sticks rigged on weighted wide-gap hooks glide along bottom contours and through weeds with erratic, natural actions. To present these little fish-catchers, make a long cast, twitch the bait, let it drift a couple feet, then twitch it again. Vary the number of twitches and the time you let the lure drift. However, don’t let it drift too far or it may wash under something and hang. It’s best to work soft-plastic stickbaits close to bottom though dragging the lure on bottom is a good way to snag one. Increase the amount of drift time in slower, deeper water and increase the frequency of twitching in swifter water to make the lure run shallower. Keep the little minnow moving with a darting and drifting motion and it will slide through weeds and over rocks with a natural appearance and few snags. At times, a smallmouth will grab the lure and you’ll feel a distinct tap but it’s more common to see the line jump or begin moving without feeling the fish. If you feel a fish strike, see the line jump, begin to tighten or move to the side, point the rod at the fish, reel until the line begins to tighten and set the hook. If it’s not a bluegill or pip-squeak bass, the rod will bow and you’ll suddenly have your hands full.

Late in the day the clouds cleared and it became brutally hot so we moved to a shaded shoreline to take a water break. When the sun began to set, we headed back upriver to fish some spots that had produced fish. Stickbaits continued to catch good fish but as the sun touched the horizon and light faded, I had to try my little topwater lure again and found bass eager to strike it in the waning light. I caught several more bass on my Pop-R before darkness settled and we headed for the ramp, though most were smaller fish. On this day, under these conditions, soft-plastic stickbaits were top choices and by choosing the right tackle to present them, we enjoyed a productive afternoon of fishing under some tough conditions. Though the river was low and clear, water temperature was ideal and smallmouths were active and feeding. The heat and low water kept most anglers off the river because we saw only one other boat all afternoon. I’m not sure how many smallmouths we caught by day’s end but I’m certain between fifteen and twenty. With a nineteen-inch, dark-barred beauty topping the list we felt good about our first day on the water.

Late the following afternoon we headed for a highland reservoir along the mountainous western edge of Cherokee National Forest to try some night fishing for smallmouth bass. The eastern half of Tennessee is blessed with many highland reservoirs including Dale Hollow, Norris, Watauga, and South Holston and each offers good fishing. South Holston is closest to home, the most beautiful and has an excellent smallmouth bass population so we repacked the boat and headed for the nearest ramp. We arrived on the dam end of the lake as darkness fell, rigged a pair of blacklights, and eased toward the first in a series of points that had produced tournament winning bass for me. As we idled across open water in depths approaching 250 feet the cool night air felt refreshing, a much more pleasant environment than baking in the heat on a sunny, shallow river. Surface water temperature varied between the mid-seventies and eighty degrees, ideal considering temperatures in many local lowland lakes had already moved well into the eighties. In tackle, we chose the same spinning combos spooled with thin, bright-yellow line that we’d used for stickbaits on the river, but changed lures to tiny 1/8-ounce jigs with plastic trailers.  With thin line and light jigs, we could thoroughly explore the bottom down to twenty-five- or thirty-feet. Time to set back, relax, enjoy the beautiful night sky and slowly crawl a jig.

Slowly crawling a tiny jig across bottom may sound boring to those used to fishing faster moving lures but set your mind to focus on what the jig’s telling you and it’ll hold your attention like a vice. With four-pound diameter braided line and a jig that weighs little more than an eighth ounce the lure will float along bottom, climb everything in its path and telegraph a steady stream of information about the lake bottom. Occasionally a jig will hang and be lost so it’s wise to bring a few extras; however, match the right line diameter with the weight of the lure and the system is surprising weedless. You’ll feel the jig strike and crawl over a rock, the bottom change from mud to gravel, and weightlessness as the lure falls down a steep incline. Line watching is equally important because you can learn to read water depth based on the time it takes the lure to hit bottom after a cast and when it falls along drop-offs. Water depth is an important detail to track because most fish will feed at a particular depth during the night and the key to success is finding and fishing that depth. If that isn’t enough to keep your mind busy, occasionally a nice bass will come along and attack your lure. Many times when a smallmouth bass strikes a jig, you’ll feel a distinct tap through the rod and the line will jump, though it’s equally common to see the line twitch without feeling anything. Then of course there are the sneaky ones, often larger fish, which simply pick up the jig and start swimming away. If you let your mind drift, you’ll suddenly notice your line has started moving to the side, or is mysteriously under the boat. After that happens a time or two you won’t be able to close your eyes for hours. So there’s nothing boring about this method of fishing. Learn to do it well and you’ll be hooked and so will some nice smallmouth bass.

In the first hour or so, we couldn’t buy a strike though we fished some of my most reliable spots. But soon baitfish started coming up, flipping along the surface over shallow points and along shorelines. Then I started hearing walleyes popping along shore, feeding on the baitfish. One point was so full of walleyes we changed tackle and lures and started casting to them. But that’s another story; we’ll talk about walleyes in highland reservoirs another time. After we fished my favorite series of points with little success on bass we decided to move, give the area a rest, and try another place. I was confident the bass would move shallow and feed soon because baitfish were now up and plentiful. On the next series of points, some nice smallmouths were also up and feeding. After the action began we caught bass on most points we fished, including some we had worked earlier with no success. Action remained steady the rest of the night with some nice smallmouths coming to the net. We were so busy and had such a good time we didn’t notice when the sky starting to lighten, but as I unhooked a good bass I looked up and saw the eastern sky glowing. We were shocked; we’d been there all night without checking the time once.

The following two nights we returned to the same creek arm on the lower end of South Holston Lake. We didn’t catch any of the giant smallmouths this lake has a reputation of producing but we caught many nice bass and our time on the water was packed with excitement. With few exceptions, the fish fought like cornered tigers displaying frequent airborne bursts and drag-screaming runs. I vividly remember one three-pound bully who tried to eat the trolling motor prop. I’m still not sure how I got the fish untangled but I distinctly remember collapsing in my seat, hands trembling, when Rodger laid the net full of struggling bass at my feet. And it wasn’t an isolated incident because several smallmouths shocked us by fighting like much larger fish. Then there was the double we caught on the last point we fished on our last night. We were talking some smack as we stood in the dim blue light with bowed rods. If you’ve never night fished with jigs and florescent line under a black light, it’s an otherworldly kind of experience. The dim light illuminates shorelines and overhanging trees just enough to help navigate as you quietly ease about. But the glowing florescent lines look like one-inch well rope, making it easy to watch your partner’s line out the corner of your eye. So when either angler sees line movement or feels something unusual, the response often becomes a shared process. The angler who thinks he had a strike begins a commentary that not only describes what he’s feeling and seeing, but begs for confirmation from the supporting audience. Though the dialogue may be brief, it’s oftentimes punctuated with laughter and an exciting ending. So night fishing with black lights is an entertaining as well as productive way to catch fish.

About half the smallmouths we caught weighed from one-half to two pounds with several pushing or exceeding three. We didn’t weigh any of the bass we caught because we wanted to release them quickly in the warm water, but our largest measured from seventeen-and-a-half to more than nineteen inches. Most were caught in depths between fifteen and twenty-five feet with a few striking in shallower water. And under stable weather, the bass moved up and started hitting around the same time each night. We saw few other boats in three nights so we had the lake to ourselves and our choice of places to fish. Not a bad way to spend time during an early summer heat wave and drought.

If you’d like to learn more about fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers and reservoirs, pick up a copy of my book and refer to the chapter on summer fishing. You’ll find plenty of useful information that will help you catch these great game fish in waters close to you including tips on finding fish, night fishing safety, choosing tackle, smallmouth color preferences and more. Be safe and great fishing!