Fall Float Fishing, It just doesn't get any better!
It was one of those autumn float trips when everything went right. Wildlife was everywhere and on the move. It seemed that every bend in the river revealed another flock of migrating waterfowl, or a doe and fawn with nose to the water. Turkey hens had gathered their broods into massive flocks for protection and were chasing grasshoppers in the streamside pastures. Both Gray and Fox Squirrels seemed to be hanging on the limb tips of every Willow Oak, and we even saw wild hogs eating river muscles like popcorn along one of the shoals. I realized that catching fish was only a part of the day's menu, almost a side dish. I had decided to use a small, brush blind on my canoe that day in order to be a bit more secretive in my approach. Easing to within a few feet to observe creatures in the wild can be much like going to the zoo, without he bars and barrieers. When I shove a canoe off the gravel for a float in October I've come to expect the best of the best. There are fall days on our Ozark streams that gives you a show that can not be completely explained. Nothing fully describes the wonder that is revealed. You've seen those views with trees in the peak of color and the scene takes your breath away? Double that view in perfect solitude and that's what you have in the reflection of a clear, Ozark stream. And then suddenly, from out of the blue, an Osprey drops from the sky for a fish a bit too slow to escape the talons. Trying to capture the day, even with the best camera in the world, can leave you with a naked feeling in the gut. It's like asking someone to appreciate your paint-by-numbers after they've returned from a tour in Italy. I've decided that it's my love of the outdoors that has a lot to do with what comes over me. But, then again, the wonder of nature has a lot to do with it, too. I've been in the middle of both and it's hard to distinguish between the two. Autumn tends to put me into the stealth mode when floating. It's just quiet out there, why impose upon it! The outdoor conditions have changed drastically. Song birds have left their territories, the morning air has a bite in it, and the far horizon seems less distant. There is both more to see and less time to see it. It's harvest time. anticipation is everwhere, nature knows instinctively that winter is coming. I want to get all I can from these trips so I attempt to blend rather than intrude. Fewer casts are made and each cast is meant for an exact location. Finding good fish can be more predictable in the fall, but the extreme water clarity can make a canoe resemble an aircraft carrier with all hands on deck. Stealth just fits and my predatory instincts begin to rise from the ancestral depths. Sneaking along with a blind on the canoe can often pay a big bonus of the unexpected. How close have you been to a bobcat in the wild? October before last I could have poked one with a boat paddle! I didn't, of course, because this magic moment had claws and I was close enough to see eyes dilate. Everthing had fallen into place perfectly. As I rounded the river bend, alone, and with the blind lined up correctly, I noticed movement in the water's edge at the the head of the next shoal. There must have been a bounty of frogs available and the bobcat had his tail-end upstream. He never looked my way and the music of moving water could have been a lullaby. I'll not forget the big cat's expression as my canoe came into view just feet away. For about a second he turned to stone. Then, he simply vanished. There was no trace, no sound. How did that happen? It must have been one of those wonders of nature! On another float it was the big, ten pointer. Bucks were in rut and this bruiser was making his rounds in a trot, nose in the air and grunting. The ladies and lesser rivals were on his mind. He came to a stop on full view, tested the wind, and pawed dirt as he renewed the claim on his scrape line. My last view was an effortless bolt over a blow-down. The nights can often cool quite rapidly in the fall, and with water temperatures 40 degrees warmer, dense fog-banks form along the river, hugging the water's surface for miles like some giant, milk-white snake. Moving silently along in a canoe at first light in these conditions has my every nerve, holding in anticipation.............like I said, fishing is almost a side dish! The thing is, bass are in the same mode as other predators........winter's coming, get prepared for it or perish! I often catch my best bass in the Fall of the year and I'm convinced it's for several reasons: First, there's been diminishing fishing pressure on them for weeks and secondly, bass too, must build their reserves for the harsh months ahead. Particularly, I believe, the big girls. Bass in September and October tend to be more heavily schooled. Where you find one, you'll often find them all; but, it's always a matter of "where are they?" In most cases, it won't be where they've been before. Typically, they've moved from their Spring and Summer locations. It's partly related to a bass' need for oxygen. As the water temperatures cool, there is less restriction on bass, Smallmouth in particular, for adequate oxygen. It's similar to what happens when you put a handful of ice into a bucket of minnows when Crappie fishing........the minnows survive longer because there is less demand for oxygen. That may be an over simplification; but, it's the principle. Bass have more options for comfort; but, the real trick is to find those locations. Fortunately, I've been at this long enough that I can usually show you on any given stream while fishing. However, attempting to explain it here in this article, isn't practical. Most of the better lessons about Smallmouth fishing on streams are learned from experience. For example, I could write about the use of a "J" stroke with a boat paddle until the world looks level; but until you can use it from either side of the canoe, all day long, it's just talk. I'll share one simple thing that's helped me over the years to get experience. I believe you may find it valuable, too. Bottom line, you can spend too many hours fishing where...............there are no fish! Down the road, in my articles, I'll say more about lures and lure selection; but, learning about bass behavior and their patterns particularly on streams is more important. I've spent a lot of time out there float fishing dwelling on one question, "if I were a Smallmouth today, where would I be and what would I be doing?" Understanding the concept that a bass is spending 24-7 in a battle for survival has helped! I've got to admit too, that with experience I've honed this question some. Anymore, I tend to think more about the bass that have survived a decade or more. In doing so, I've gained a lot of respect and admiration for this little wad of muscle that , at least to me, is the very essence of wonder and wildness.