By Larry Dablemont
The darned leaves in the water makes it tough to fish a river in the fall. I should remember that! But I have a hard time learning things due to a deficiency which comes from being hit on the head so often over the years by falling limbs and lightning bolts resulting from high winds and thunderstorms. But I keep trying! Last week, with temperatures up in the seventies I tried again, up my favorite river on a calm day with no storms in sight.
I kept reeling back leaves and no fish. BUT…I found a spot below a shoal where there were hundreds of fish congregated. With that, my plans changed. To heck with those leaf-catching lures sporting treble hooks, I quickly found a small spinner with a white plastic grub on a single hook. That is a lure I have used in a pinch which will catch every kind of fish you could imagine; all three species of bass crappie, walleye, drum, and white bass on many occasions. It is a super lure to use for white bass, which is what I found by the jillions in that eddy where the swift water of the shoal swirled and slowed.
White bass fishermen don’t have to be very good fishermen. When they swarm up the tributaries of any midwestern lake in the spring, they just have to be found to be caught. But then they leave the rivers and go back to sulk in the deep waters of the lake from which they came. And the average fisherman thinks they will stay there until next spring. Not so!
They get confused by the cooling water of the fall and up the river they go again for some reason cannot tell you. There are not many things about the outdoors I cannot venture a good guess on, and that fall migration is one of them. That is something to be written about later. Anyways, there they were. Only problem was, while I could catch a fish from eight to 10 inches on every cast, there seemed to be none bigger than that. If you want to have fun with smaller fish, you have only to fish with ultra-light gear, a rod like a switch and light line.
I had such an outfit, and as the evening sun sank beyond treetops behind me, I caught a bunch of those yearlings. With each fish I hooked, there came a half dozen or so others, swirling beneath the unfortunate fellow, wanting to help him eat whatever it was he had. They fought like the devil on that little light rod! In my river, only smallmouth compare to those white bass when it comes to fighting long and hard.
Let me say here that if I had wanted to take home those short-sized white bass, I could have kept a number of them, filleted them and used them for delicious fish patties to be eaten over the winter. I have a recipe for that, involving crackers and eggs. But I didn’t keep any. An hour before darkness I just drifted down stream, hoping I could catch a black bass or walleye on that little spinner bait.
I stopped at a place that has an amazing history for me, a place I call the miracle-tree eddy. I will tell that unbelievable story in the spring issue of my outdoor magazine, but here with limited space, I can’t get into that. I can just say that I only caught four more fish. Three were white bass from 14 to 15 inches, which I kept for supper. The other was a channel catfish a little less than four pounds, which is to say, he could have also been a little better than three pounds, if you get my drift. I turned him loose, amazed that with all the fish I mentioned earlier, I could now add catfish to the little white spinner list.
You know what was great about that evening? I never saw or heard another soul. It was just me and the Great Creator and something close to perfection…at least as close as you can get nowadays. I thanked Him for it, even if the fish were small. I never want God to think I will just settle for anything when I go fishing!
There was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever enjoyed on the river, the yellow-gold tint of late fall trees and drifting leaves accentuated by the setting sun beyond them, and a beautiful multi-colored bluff above dark water. Back home on my ridgetop, I sat down to write this, knowing that there isn’t enough room to tell it all or enough words to describe it. But in time I will get to it all… fascinating things to tell, like what that channel catfish did, and why those white bass were so small, and what you have to do to remove the red meat on the bigger ones to make them excellent eating. Then there is the long ago story of the miracle tree. As I said, I will get to it all…someday!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.