"A perfect day – a beautiful day, a day we all long for. Absolutely ideal conditions for….just about anything that does not require an umbrella. I was drawn to where Elk creek meets Lake Erie and was amazed at the bounty. Just beautiful aesthetics. I walked North from the access area off Rt. 5 and that alone was spectacular. Up until now I have only ventured upstream, or South from the ramp in search of steel. This time was different however. This time I was in search of the great and wily smallmouth bass. It was April 14, early in their anticipated run. Too early? I would soon find out. I chose the East bank of the creek as my path to the lake. There was a well worn trail from the legions of steelhead fisherman who have trekked to the lake over the past 8 months. Today, they were gone. It is late in the steel season and while there are still trout in the creeks many have made their way back to the depths of Lake Erie to heal and convalesce from the rigors of the spawning event. As I moved along the absence of other fisherman was conspicuous. Maybe they know something. Maybe there are no fish to catch today? Possibly others, more knowledgeable others have treaded this way and discovered that it is too late for steel and too early for bass. Never mind. I aim to find out for myself. As I reached a large sandbar that serves as slight break between an estuary and the main stem of the river I realized the water was absolutely perfect. It was rich in shades of green depending on depth and the clarity was superb. The water met a blue spring sky that created a contrasting palette of colors that made one appreciate what nature had provided. A glance North out to the Great Lake further cemented the magnificence of the colors and created multiple hues of blue/green. More than once as I slowly stripped in the fly over the next 3 hours I found myself slack jawed at the surrounding beauty. The sound of the wind blown waves lapping on the sandy beach where I stood ankle deep in water, the squawking of the Canada Geese as they flirted with each other and carved out their territory, the play of the ducks – some I could identify and others not as they zoomed up and down the water corridor, the few wispy clouds high in the azure sky whipped along as telltale markers of an impending weather change – all of this made for captivating scenery which would have made even a fishless day a success. Even the few carcasses of creatures that lay in the sand and rocks and had met their demise were fascinating.
I began casting with a bleeding minnow pattern, working the water depths and trying to strip through anything that looked like it might hold fish. This proved fruitless for the first 30 minutes. A short while longer and the smallmouth changed their mind and 4 fish came to hand after a tussle with 6 of them. As I reflected on my quarry I recalled Bob Clouser. He had designed the Clouser minnow for these very fish in the larger rivers of PA. It was an aha’ moment. Suddenly I realized that this was the perfect fly to tie on to my 6# tippet. First cast – fish on!! It was a handsome 16 inch smallie who gave a noble fight worthy of the many reflections that these fish have inspired in other’s writing. A few minutes later he was in hand. After a picture or two I gave him a quick release back into the watery emerald depths. Next cast, another chunky smallmouth. About the same size and just as mad at the hook in his mouth. This game continued for quite a while with similar fish. The big fish of the trip was a 17.5 inch bass that put a fine bend in Mr. Sage. He was matched later with another 17 inch plus bass that increased my blood pressure substantially. 6 Fish came to the bank with the Clouser and then it seemed time to try yet another classic in the smallmouth arsenal: the crayfish. I had tied a handful of this last winter when the rivers were frozen, the snow was deep, and I needed a brief mind trip to somewhere warm. I stashed them in my vest long ago and now was the time to see if they had any mojo for these pre spawn bass. First cast and nothing…oh well. Second cast and game on! This fine fish took on the far side of the channel so I had a nice battle on my hand as I tried to work him to my side while keeping him free of any woody snags on the river. He bulldogged down to the bottom several times and punctuated the fight with numerous jumps and flips into the sunlight. It was a great fight and one that would be repeated on 14 occasions that afternoon. Out of 14 crayfish inspired skirmishes, 10 fish found their way into my hands for our moment of mutual admiration. I had been handsomely rewarded for avoiding the few remaining steel in the rivers and opting for the less certain game. This bet was a gamble but had huge returns if the conditions were right. Apparently they were as this trip was memory making."
Special thanks to Tom for the story and pictures...
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