Fishing when July rolls around can at times be a crapshoot…especially if you are looking to fish on still waters as the temps within the lakes climbs and climbs finally arriving at a point where there is just so little oxygen that any of the ‘big fish that go bump in the night’ really aren’t too interested. As this time of the year arrives each year my fishing endeavors move to the various creeks that we are blessed with here in Indiana. One such creek is Big Walnut, this stream flows and meanders its way from central Indiana southwesterly on a trek that takes it through the neighboring village of Greencastle. It is there and parts above and below US 231 that me and my fly rods give high pursuit to what I feel is America’s greatest sport fish…Micropterus dolomieu or the smallmouth bass.
Now, my good friend, the Big Walnut, might just be the perfect stream for me and my type of fishing as I love to go ‘mano a mano’ or hand to hand with these stealthy critters on both still and moving waters. The BW meanders along and can go from chest deep or better in certain pools to long riffles and runs…but it all adds up to one very important item, cover! Smallies are predatory fish and while they will eat an insect they really make a living on two very specific food items, those being crayfish and baitfish.
Crayfish are an interesting bug and as strange as it sounds I spend lots of my time walking water, just looking at various size and color schemes of ‘mud-puppies’, ‘crawfish’, ‘freshwater lobsters’ or as they are often referred to down south…’mudbugs’. Just the color variation alone makes them bizarre as I have seen them anywhere from black to light brown; in fact at the right time they can also be orange or even red as they begin to molt. Specifically I like to fish crayfish flies early in the spring, depending on water temps…it is one of those times when male crayfish will walk around on top of rocks. You might ask whey they’d expose themselves to the possibility of being eaten by a bass; simple answer and one us guys will certainly understand, LOVE. Yep, it is at this time that they show off and attract the females (crazy how many times us dudes get in trouble ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’).
Secondly, and for me…most important are the many baitfish patterns. If I were to be told that while fishing for smallmouth I could only have one fly-the decision would be swift, I’d choose a baitfish pattern tied on a size 2-6 hook and it would have some red in the thorax along with lots of movement in the tail. Day in and day out as I walk and float small creeks, creeks, rivers and large rivers I see smallies busting baitfish in the shallows and frankly when this is going on you’d have to be a little thick to even think about using any other fly; something akin to ‘when in Rome’…bottom line is very simple, the predatory fish, particularly smallmouth, are looking for a big meal that is provided frequently by the tons of small to large baitfish that thrive in our waters.
If describing the BW to another I’d have to say that this isn’t a pretty gal…it is a hard-working, blue collar, get up every day and go to work type of stream. It is full of debris that would range from small logs, limbs, etc…to 100 year old sycamore trees that have succumbed to years of erosion, lost their root system and been washed downstream to a point where they either lay on the bottom or create a massive coagulation with others or their same ilk. While you may see debris and a messy stream…I see cover as my mind is constantly scanning and in my mind I am solving puzzle after puzzle as to where the next big fish might just be waiting with great anticipation for me to float and flutter my baitfish pattern past his lair.
On this day upon the BW I will readily admit that I caught a lot of nice fish and before it was all said and done I was one very tired fly-guy. I walked, ambled, casted and caught my way down a good 3-4 miles of stream; over logs, under logs, through chest deep water and all while hauling and double hauling my 3-weight rod and type one sink tip line. It was a good kind of tired, one that leaves you driving home with a simple smile, one that isn’t faked and hasn’t materialized because of some oddity that gave you pause from a moment of humor…no this is a peace that comes when you have battled, fought and at least on a few occasions, won. As “Old Blue Eyes”, Frank Sinatra, used to croon, “I did it my way”!
As I mentioned by the end of five hours of fly fishing in 90 degree weather I was pooped; I hope that you might be up for a little of this most exhilarating fishing as you Enjoy the Great Outdoors.