Fishing with Don Meissner

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Let’s face it! When the weather gets cold and nasty, few of us think about going fishing. Winter is right around the corner, and hunting season is in full swing. However, fish still have to eat if they are going to survive, so there must be some good fishing left. This was what I kept telling myself as I made the long drive last week to the Mohawk Reservation along the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. My buddy Will Clute told me that the smallmouth were still active early in the morning and that I had to be at the boat launch before it got light.

Do you know how cold it is in November at 5:30 AM? COLD! I brought enough clothes to withstand whatever hell Will would subject us to as we screamed over the fog tipped water at 45 miles an hour. It was bad enough that we couldn’t see where we were going; by the time we got to where he was heading, we couldn’t feel anything either. Will encouraged us by promising huge smallies that would most assuredly be cruising the shallows in search of crayfish or minnows.

The “us” included my nephew Kenny, and my good friend Bill Haenel. None of us really believed Will when he told us to tie on a surface lure. “You’re kidding….right”, I looked at Will as if this were some sort of painful joke. “Cast as far as you can”. (He ignored my question). “You have to get the lure as far away from the boat as you can, because they are skittish in this shallow water.”

I have always believed that it is really bad luck to catch a fish on the first cast. “I’ve got one”, Kenny exclaimed, much to my chagrin as it was his first cast. It was still quite dark, but light enough for us to see the huge boil that accompanied the strike. After several “Holy ….s” and other appropriate noises, we all admired a bass of nearly five pounds as it valiantly continued to twist and flop in defiance of our all too long attempt at weighing and picture taking.

I’m sure we were all wondering if this was a fluke, or these fish actually were hitting on surface lures in 33 degree weather. Two casts later, Will was fast to an even bigger bass that torpedoed his Zara Spook. For the next fifteen minutes, we had enough surface action by certifiably lunker smallmouths to last all of us through the long cabin fever infested months to come. However, as the first rays of sunlight began to burn away the lingering fog, the bass seemed to lose interest in our offerings.

“They’re still here,” Will exclaimed as a huge shape swam slowly by our boat. “We better switch to tube jigs.” Will prefers green crayfish colored four or five inch tubes dragged along the bottom. These lures are arguably the best all around choice for all season bass fishing in the region of the St. Lawrence. The best technique for using these lures is a slow drag along the bottom. Will uses a ¼ to ½ oz jig head, depending upon the depth chosen. He cautions that the biggest mistake novices make is that they try to over work the lure. “Just cast it out, let it settle on the bottom, wait a few seconds, then slowly raise the rod tip a bit and lower it. You will feel either a slight tap or a spongy feeling as you raise the rod. In either case, SET THE HOOK.”

We were able to catch five or six more bragging size bass on these green tubes. Although I originally felt that these fish would respond to other similar offerings, it soon became apparent that they had become fairly selective. I even tried enticing them with a crayfish imitation streamer, but sadly to no avail. I would rather catch one big bass on a fly rod than any number on conventional tackle. However, I’d rather catch fish on a broom stick than no fish at all!

Will claims that this fishing will stay good until December. He adds that the fish will even still hit on the surface. I realize that this probably sounds as surprising to many of you as it did to me. However, fortunately we have both pictures and video to accompany this journal entry. I will close by adding a few tips of my own. If you decide to give this late season bass fishing a try, here are some things to keep in mind. First, dress appropriately! I don’t know how many times I have taken people fishing in cold weather and spent the entire time watching them shiver. I don’t care how good, the fishing is, if you are miserable, you’ll stay miserable.

Second, remember that no matter what you use, SLOW DOWN your retrieve. As the water gets colder, the fish’s metabolism gets slower. They will not waste energy chasing baits. It’s just not worth it to them. Third, make sure you have fresh, strong line. While the actual battle may be less intense, most of the fish will be at or near the bottom. (I know that is contrary to the top water “surprise” of this article.) Line that is abrasion resistant will hold up better to scrapes and cuts that are possible from dragging the heavier jigs along the bottom.

Finally, keep your expectations realistic. You are probably not going to find fish eagerly gorging themselves as they often do earlier in the year. You are also going to have to drop your lure fairly close to where a fish is holding. That means that most of your casts will go noticed. However, consider anything that happens to be a bonus. If you get to spend time on the water and catch a few fish in the process, then you’ve made the time until the season starts all the more bearable.

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