The river… diversity

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 5/1/24

The best time of the year to take a two- or three-day float trip is during early May, if you can plan around the high water and thunderstorms this time of year.

It is usually warm enough during …

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The river… diversity


The best time of the year to take a two- or three-day float trip is during early May, if you can plan around the high water and thunderstorms this time of year.

It is usually warm enough during the day for wading shoes, but you need dry clothing and a jacket during the evening hours. There are many migrating birds to see, some nesting eagles and wood ducks guiding their ducklings to cover as you pass. In the spring, fish begin to hit a lure just as well during the middle of the day as they do early and late. And if you set a trotline baited with live bait, you will have a good chance of catching a big flathead catfish at night. When you float rivers through National Forestland, you can hunt turkeys too.

Several years ago when there were still a few gobblers to be heard, I floated a river not far from home in early May and had a great day fishing. I was catching fish on everything from topwater lures to spinner baits. I took my shotgun along, and my turkey call, hoping I might get a young gobbler to answer me. As we floated along, I’d use the call every now and then, and then go back to fishing. Along about 10 one morning I picked up the call, stroked it a few times and I’ll be darn if I didn’t hear a reply in a small field beside us. I didn’t hear it very strong, but it was for sure a gobbler I had heard.

I got out on a nearby gravel bar and set up in a fringe of big trees beside the field, hid myself well and began to call. In thirty minutes, they were all around me, two young jakes and several hens. I picked out a Jake that looked fatter than the other one, and a while later, took a photo with a hefty stringer of bass and the turkey, laid out on the gravel bar.

If you take a notion to float a river for two or three days in May, make a check list before you go, so you can travel as light as possible and still have what you need. Don’t load up with canned goods and canned drinks; bring a good supply of water and mixes that give you what you need to have good meals. But traveling the river isn’t like backpacking; you have room to take enough supplies and gear to live comfortably. A light tent needs a plastic cover over it if there should be heavy rain. Use that cover to protect your gear during the day from any rain. Take some dry clothes, but not a suitcase full. Take raingear, a good flashlight and lantern and a camp stove and a camper’s cook-set.

But for Pete’s sake, don’t tackle two or three days on the river in a 17-foot double ender canoe, the capsize and chaos craft made for going fast and getting wet in. I use an 18 or 19-foot square stern canoe, or one of the paddle johnboats that Ozark float-fishermen use. If you haven’t learned to paddle a canoe or johnboat from one side all day long, you are at a real handicap. But anyone can learn that with some practice.

Recently I caught a 16-inch smallmouth, which fought like a tiger, then shortly afterward, a 21-inch largemouth, which gave a short struggle and gave up. With his length, he should have weighed five pounds, but he was long and skinny. His head made up seven inches of his 21-inch length. He was an old male, and I’ll bet he was 10 or 12 years old. No doubt he had accounted for restocking the river with thousands of young bass, but he was too tired to fight much. Most anglers know that in the spring of the year, it is the male bass that guards the eggs on a bed, and protects the young fry which hatch. You could see that responsibility had taken a toll on him.

Sometime this spring, try using minnows the way Canadians fish for walleye. Use a 1/8th or 1/16th ounce jig head, and a long shank hook, which can be passed through the minnow’s mouth, out the gill opening and through the back below the dorsal fin. If you do it right, it keeps the minnow alive, even though it sounds very uncomfortable for the minnow. But in such a manner, you can cast a minnow and retrieve it with a light action rod and spinning tackle. You’ll need lots of minnows, as the one you are casting gets jerked off the hook and time and may get fairly bedraggled after 8 or 10 casts. But on the retrieve, the minnow looks very lifelike and it’s deadly for walleye and crappie both. At least it works very well in Canada.

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