As I was pulling out of Cincinnati early in the morning, the driving rain showed no signs of letting up. At times, my driving speed on the highway was between 40-45 mph. I tried calling the canoe livery that was in the area I was planning on fishing to get a weather report, but they were not open yet. I stopped to fuel up at the Glencoe exit and the rain was coming down in sheets. I felt that as I headed south the rain would stop and my fishing conditions would be as I wanted, but I kept driving and it kept raining. I passed through Owenton and continued south on 127 and it was still raining. Not until I entered the valley of the Elkhorn Creek did the rain cease. I started to get my gear together and the weather looked perfect. It felt hot and humid, but that was to be expected…it was forecasted to be the hottest day of the year so far.
I assembled my old T&T rod and went through my flies to see what I felt like starting with. There was a lot to choose from, but I selected the same fly I have fished and had success with for many years on the Elkhorn…a size 4 bead head rubber leg brown wooly bugger. I then put on my 20+ year old Simms neoprene guard socks. I sometimes think I should get a new pair, but I can hear Yvon Chouinard voice say something like “buy the best, use it till it is done and then see if you can patch it up for some more life”. The only new piece of gear in my vehicle is my wading boots. I decided that a new pair was needed for my trip to Michigan this past May for the Hendrickson hatch. I spent a lot of time in the shop trying on different makes and models and decided to go with the Simms G3 felt boots. The amount of ankle support is quite noticeable compared to anything I have worn over the years and I am getting used to them. I do feel like I am walking in a pair of boots made for battle and the rocks, logs and whatever else lurks under the surface will not win.
I headed down a trail through the woods and then across a field to the stream. There was a set of riffles calling my name and I could not wait to strip some streamers through the flowing water. The far bank had some slack water on the edge of the fast, turbulent white water and I knew that is where I wanted to present my fly. Of course, there was over hanging branches and that is why I use a short, stiff Striped bass leader for control and accuracy. I rolled my fly into the calm pocket and as it moved out into the fast current a fourteen inch smallie slammed the fly and gave me a fight that made every mile of driving from Cincinnati worth it. He jumped and splashed in the rolling water and I knew this was just like fighting a brown trout on the Big Hole in Montana.
This is why I like the Elkhorn so much. The opportunity to swing streamers across a rock bottom stream and have fish move to attack the fly is something you do not get everywhere in our area of the Midwest. I enjoy hitting the banks of slower moving water with a popper or a streamer and making the action happen, but when you have the opportunity to have current and strong enough fish to live in the current take your fly, you know you are on a special type of water.
I stayed and fished the riffle section for some time and picked up another decent bass in the middle of the current and a smaller guy above the riffle just as the water was about to enter the chute. Smaller, but just as much fun as I saw him chase the fly and take it. The clarity was very good. I went down stream and picked up two more fish in slower water and decided I wanted to start working my way upstream towards a particular hole I wanted to target.
Five fish in 1-1/4 hours and two takes and fights that already made my day. Not bad for the start of the day. I walked up the trail to my vehicle and took a break for lunch and to see if my fishing partner had arrived.
I finished lunch, grabbed a new water for the stream and started to walk. Just then I could hear the rumble of my fishing partner’s truck as he pulled up. He got his gear together and we hiked to the stream. I went upstream and he headed to the riffles. I knew he could not miss the opportunity to fish fast water in Kentucky. It paid off for him with two fourteen inch bass and one sixteen inch bass.
The fishing upstream was slow. I switched to a Dixie Devil popper without much action. I switched to a chartreuse clouser with no takes. I switched, I switched, I switched. I am not one for sticking with a fly too long if it is not producing. I was moving upstream with every cast covering a bunch of water.
I switched back to an old Dixie Devil that must be at least ten years old and barely has any rubber legs left and the paint is chipped everywhere from slamming against rocks for over the years. I rolled the fly into a fishy looking nook and BAMMM, a chunky smallie slammed and engulfed the fly and took out line so fast I had him on the reel without hardly even trying. He headed down stream and my old T&T bent as he tried to go to the darker water. I was not going to let him go, so I started to back up towards the shallow bank and used the hefty leader to “horse him in”. He was a fine looking smallmouth with a much lighter color than some of the others I had caught today. I slipped his sixteen inch body back into the current and he disappeared into the shadowy green water with all the energy that is a smallmouth.
He was my surprise of the day. I was not having much luck with top-water on this day and this is after Ted was down here with two customers just two days before and he said the entire day was a popper day. I just wasn’t feeling it and kept switching back to the brown bugger. Although I caught seventeen fish, I felt like I really had to cast, switch flies and work for the fish. As my friend and I were enjoying a cold drink on his tailgate after a day on the stream, he summed it up and said “the fish were not on the feed today”.
Interesting how two days can change the way a stream fishes. We caught fish, had great fights and would mark it down as a great day on the stream, but it was not over-the-top top-water action I was anticipating. Still, not a bad way to spend a hot July day.
By the way, it poured as I was driving up the highway to get back to Cincinnati.