Creek and River Hopping

Watching the water levels change in the Ohio River is my favorite part of driving to school every day. When I see it rising high enough to start entering the flood plains, I never fail to get excited. This always means two things: Any eddies you can find on the main stem of the Ohio River should be full of fish, and all of the creeks should also be teaming with fish escaping the high current.

The river was starting to reach that magical height when I decided to play a risky game. One of my favorite challenges in fishing is using an ultralight setup in the most difficult conditions possible, and the Ohio River never ceases to offer opportunities to test your abilities. On a lovely Sunday afternoon, I found myself beside the boat launch at Angel Mounds armed with a couple of my lightest rods. I rigged them with a simple, tight line setup with nightcrawlers and cast them into the current break downstream of the launch. It didn’t take long before my first rod bounced and I set the hook into a lovely little Channel Catfish.

It seemed like every ten minutes or so, a rod would bounce and I would reel up a small Channel Catfish or Freshwater Drum. I played with these fish until some large logs got washed downstream into this eddy and made fishing impossible.

The water stayed high throughout most of this month, so I spent a lot of time creek hopping. [Location name redacted] is one of my favorite places to fish when the river levels are high. This backwater creek is always full of species that many people don’t target. I usually target the deeper sections of the creek early in the year, but with the temperatures starting to creep higher the fish have been moving to the shallower sections of the creek. These fish are always easily spooked, but that makes the challenge of catching them all the more fun. On my first hike back to a shallow stretch here, I thought I spotted something I hadn’t seen in two years: a Grass Pickerel. But before I could investigate, the fish vanished across the creek. I managed to scare this fish off during my next three ventures, but on a lucky hike, I managed to catch it off-guard and landed a small jig right in front of his face. To my surprise, the fish made a quick dash and my jig vanished. I set the hook and was delighted to see a small Grass Pickerel.

After documenting its size and location, I released this little fish back into the creek and moved on to my next spot. The lily pads have started to grow here and a decent number of predatory fish are taking advantage of them as ambush points. Like this little Largemouth Bass.

Another stretch of this creek held a fish I hadn’t seen inhabit this waterway before: a little Redear Sunfish. It turns out that this section of the creek now houses a large number of these fish! I’ve fished this creek for years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen them, so that is a pretty interesting new change.

I couldn’t give up on this spot until I caught one of all time favorite fish, the Flier Sunfish. This one had to be tempted with Bee Moths put on the smallest jig I could find.

This little stretch of the creek housed some amazing panfish diversity. Tossing my jig toward a branch that was partially submerged, something darted out and attacked my jig but managed to miss the hook. I tossed back into that spot, and this time the fish didn’t get as lucky. After a quick fight on light tackle, I was greeted with a feisty little Warmouth. These guys start getting abundant in this creek come May.

That same branch seemed to be home to another similar species: the Green Sunfish. My favorite comparison I’ve heard is that they are the “micro version” of a grouper, and I couldn’t agree more. They put up a great fight on light tackle and are very willing to hit most baits.

As the month continued, the weather kept getting nicer and more people have been deciding to get out and go fishing. I’m always excited to see people out fishing and enjoying nature, but this is usually when I start going to some of my more remote places where I know less people will be at. This led me to one of my favorite little creeks in Evansville: Locust Creek. This creek is always filled to the brim with Creek Chubs, and this is the time of year when they are all getting ready to spawn. My main goal of the day was to catch some small ones for bait on Pigeon Creek, but I was also hoping to hook into a spawning male. After filling my bait bucket with enough small creek chubs to last the day, I turned my attention to trying to catch a larger male. Before long, I set the hook into what I suspected to be a small Largemouth Bass, but turned out to be a large Creek Chub in full spawning attire. During spawning season, the males grow tubercles and in this case also took on the rusty orange color that adult creek chubs can have.

After happily catching my fair share of Creek Chubs, I packed up and drove to my favorite section of Pigeon Creek. After a long hike with a very heavy bait bucket, I set up my three rods in hopes of finding my first Flathead Catfish of the year. The bite was incredibly slow and the fish seemed to be remarkably skilled in hitting my bait and then instantly snagging my line around the debris on the bottom of the creek. But after an hour of frustration, one of my poles doubled over and the battle was on. I carefully worked the fish out of the log jam it tried to wrap itself in and was thrilled to see a Flathead Catfish finally break surface.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try to catch one of the Gar that I kept seeing surfacing around me. I finally found one that was cruising right below the surface, and I quickly put a minnow on a treble hook and cast out in front of it. The Gar dashed forward at the minnow and then dived, and my instincts said to set the hook (but I’ve made that mistake enough times to know better). So, I let the gar swim with the minnow for about 45 seconds before setting the hook, hard. The hook set perfectly in the lower jaw and I was able to easily reel in the Gar. I was even more excited when I realized that this was actually a Spotted Gar, a species that I didn’t have on my list yet.

Toward the end of the month, I returned to [location name redacted again] to see if any new species had moved into it yet. I was happy to see some Gar spawning in the backwater creek and even a few Bowfin cruising around. Sadly, my ultralight setup was not ready for the challenge of one of these toothy critters. I switched my attention back to the panfish- hoping to find a Redspotted Sunfish in Evansville. Unfortunately, the closest population I have found is still in Winslow, Indiana. However, the creek still has a stable population of Bluegill, Warmouth, Green Sunfish, Redear Sunfish, Black Crappie, and Flier Sunfish.

I still hadn’t caught a decent Spotted Bass this year, so I headed to the river to try to change that. The boat launch at Angel Mounds has a fantastic current seam that always holds a few bass when the river is rising. I set up two catfish rods like usual, and then started tossing around a small white curl tail grub on my ultralight rod. It didn’t take long before I felt a bump and I set the hook into the first species of the day: a little Striped Bass.

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The next fish to fall victim to the lure was a Skipjack Herring, the first one I’ve found this year. I ended up catching two of them and keeping both as catfish bait for a later trip.

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After catching a handful of Striped Bass and White Bass, I finally had a hit that felt distinctive from the others. I set the hook and this one fought differently. A short fight later, I was holding my first half-decent Spotted Bass of the year.

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The bait rods started getting hits, but they kept managing to miss the hook. After multiple failed hook sets, I connected with one of the small Channel Catfish that were crowding this spot.

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This was a rare occasion where the Freshwater Drum were slower to find the bait than the catfish. But eventually, I stumbled across a small one.

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Because I was getting so many small bites, I decided to downsize my hook size. This quickly resulted in what most people around here refer to as a “river minnow”- or if you are into identifying fish (like I am) a Silver Chub. This was another exciting catch since it was a first for my species list!

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The White Bass were getting active, so I couldn’t resist trying to mark off another item off my bucket list: catching a temperate bass on a fly rod. I tied on my last Clouser Minnow and got to work. It took a while, but finally my line twitched and I set the hook into the first of many White Bass.

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My success at fly fishing left me feeling accomplished, so I decided to explore some of the water upstream of the boat launch. I decided not to tempt my luck too far and only took my ultralight rod and a container of nightcrawlers. The real highlight of exploring this new stretch of water was hooking into a lovely little Longnose Gar.

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While I’ve enjoyed fishing the river, this has really been one of my best years fishing backwater creeks. I would highly suggest that any of you with access to places like this try exploring them. A lot of very cool, overlooked species are living here, and better yet, you usually know you are the only person who is fishing these spots. I will always pick these hidden backwater creeks over a trophy Largemouth Bass lake any day, and I hope you will consider giving it a try, too.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

Multi-Species Adventure

Last week, I had one of those rare days where I didn’t have classes, work or homework to deal with.  Naturally, I decided to go fishing. I thought it would be fun to stay close to home and see how many different species of fish I could catch at different public spots in town.

I started the day off at the State Hospital Park, tossing around a Roostertail on my ultralight rod. It didn’t take long to hook into some feisty little Largemouth Bass.

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I actually came to this park hoping to catch some carp, but my favorite carp spot was taken so I abandoned that idea and focused on a second species. This particular lake had been heavily stocked with Yellow Bullhead by the DNR so I figured it would be pretty easy to hook into one. This pond is special because it is split between two sides of a road and is connected by two large pipes that flow under it. For some odd reason, the little bullheads love the shade and cool water that is inside of the pipes. So I cast a nightcrawler up into the pipe and waited. My bait had only been in the water for about a minute when the rod tip bounced. I set the hook and reeled up this little guy.

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I then packed up my stuff and switched to Diamond Valley Park Pond in hopes of finding a couple of Redear Sunfish. My usual tactic for these guys is a small 64th oz jig tipped with a little piece of nightcrawler, but they just weren’t playing my game. But on the bright side, I hooked into a good number of Bluegill while I was searching.

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After landing more Bluegill than I could count, I finally hooked into a tank of a Redear Sunfish. But he seemed to be alone today, I couldn’t find another one for the life of me.

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I continued casting my jig as I worked around the pond, and hoped I’d be able to find a few Green Sunfish. My search for these guys was significantly more successful.

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I even managed a surprise species while I was working my way around the lake: a Channel Catfish. I planned to target these fellows on the Ohio River later in the day, but I checked this one off my list early.

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After a nice break for lunch, I meandered over to the banks of the Ohio River to try to catch the evening bite. It didn’t take long before I hooked into my first fish, a lovely little Largemouth Bass. I usually only catch Spotted Bass at this spot, so I was pleasantly surprised when I landed this guy.

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The spot I was fishing at here had a large school of shiners and shad, so I knew there had to be more predatory fish hanging around. I continued working that spot and managed another species: a little White Bass.

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Soon after that, I set the hook into another fish, and this one felt significantly larger. After a few drag-screaming runs, I knew there was only one thing I could have hooked into: a Striped Bass. I was especially surprised when I saw that it wasn’t a hybrid, the true Striped Bass aren’t as common to catch here.

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I had caught a couple of Freshwater Drum by now, but I realized that I still hadn’t taken a picture of one. So I cast out a nightcrawler on a circle hook and waited. It didn’t take very long until this little drum found my bait.

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I still wanted to catch one last fish before going home for the night, so I decided to move a little further down river and try a deeper spot. I sat there for about an hour, snagging up most of the rigs on the rocky bottom. I was starting to get frustrated and considering calling it for the day when one of my rod tips finally bounced. I set the hook immediately and was surprised when whatever was on the other side of my line started peeling drag. It took off in a crazy run downriver to the point where it took half the line off my reel before I could turn the fish. As soon as I got it moving back up toward me, it made a run upstream and again took half the line off my reel. I finally worked the fish near the bank and managed to get it up to the surface. I could see that it was a gar, easily the biggest Longnose Gar I had ever hooked. I put a little bit more pressure on the fish, knowing it was hooked well, and got down to the bank before it could cut through my line. Luckily, I had a tape measure in my backpack and took a quick length measurement on this beauty: 43 inches long. A quick photo session later, I released this lovely gar back into the Ohio River to fight another day.

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This final fish exhausted my supply of bait, so I decided to call it a night. I managed to land ten different species of fish before the end of the day, which is a pretty good number for me (considering I didn’t target any of the ‘micro’ species). I had a great time chasing all of the different fish around town, and with a new personal best, I couldn’t be happier with how my day went.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

Adventures on Pigeon Creek

Late summer has always been one of my favorite times of year to go creek fishing, and this year has been no exception. By this point in the year the water levels have dropped too far to be able to navigate in a kayak so bank fishing is the best option. My favorite way to approach fishing a creek is to put bait on two rods and a lure on the other.

I always like to fish a deep stretch right after some shallow rapids because these places tend to trap fish. I hiked my way to the first spot that had these features, and quickly hooked into a few fish. The first fish that fell for the inline spinner was a gorgeous little Shortnose Gar

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Not long after that I little Hybrid Striped Bass took the spinner. This one hit right on at the shade line from the trees.

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After that little fish the action slowed down, but I did managed to tempt a few Freshwater Drum with some nightcrawlers.

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I switched spots to a bend in the creek after about a half hour with out a bite. As soon as my bait touched the water an aggressive Longear Sunfish took my worm. This has to be one of the prettiest Longear Sunfish I have ever caught.

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At this point I was simply amazed I hadn’t hooked into any catfish so I moved further downstream to a well known log jam. I suspended my bait about a foot above a half ounce sinker and bounced this rig along the bottom with the current. This method quickly enticed a little Channel Catfish.

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At this point I was mostly out of bait and the temperature was reaching the upper 90’s so I decided to call it quits. I was proud of all the fish I caught, and I was especially excited to land a gar (it was been a few months since I’ve gotten one all the way to the bank to photograph). Hopefully I get a chance to fish Pigeon Creek again before the fall leaves make it too difficult to fish.

Tight lines,

-Isaac