Gentlemen, Start Your Wading
The author poses for a selfie with a typical Sugar Creek smallmouth bass caught during a race week wading trip. Photo by author
Right now is a great time to live in Indiana. In the waning days of May the weather finally becomes summer-like, the school doors are closing for a few months, strawberries are ripening and overall, “the livin’ is easy.”
Oh yeah, there is also that little race in the capital city you might have heard of.
Race week in Indy also reminds us of another important milestone on the calendar: the official opening salvo of the wading season. Of course, we’ve being wading and fishing the streams of central Indiana for months but the arrival of the Indianapolis 500 also heralds the beginning of the best 30 days of creek fishing during the entire year.
When writing a story about smallmouth bass fishing in creeks and rivers, gear and technique are the usual focus of the narrative. That is understandable because anglers always want to know how other fishermen are winning the battle. However, I would like to focus on two other important ideas that I believe can greatly improve your own smallmouth bass fishing.
Logbook: 25 years ago I started keeping a record of my fishing trips, paying particular attention to things like temperature, barometer, wind direction, water level, overall weather trend and baits that were used. Now, as the accumulated pages of data grow larger, the water-stained hardcover journal on my shelf becomes more valuable each year.
We like to believe that our memory will never fade but the specific details of a great day on the water becomes dim even after a few passing weeks, let alone years. You might remember the big fish you caught a few years ago but would be hard-pressed to pin down the exact date, time and other relevant aspects of the catch. That’s why we write down all those things. That familiar old chestnut is true, especially when trying to figure out the puzzle of fishing: “The most faded ink is more valuable than the strongest memory.”
All these data points become important because a successful angler is always looking for patterns to fish activity. Rather than approaching a trip in slapdash, whatever-happens-happens fashion, a good fisherman will have a rough game plan based on similar conditions he or she has encountered over the years.
A nice added benefit occurs after the season when the log book adds immeasurably to the overall fishing experience. As the wind is howling in the eaves and snow is piling up on a dark January night, I sometimes pour an adult beverage, pull down the book and browse through the smeared pages. The dried ink remind me of trips from years ago that had been forgotten yet remain special because of an eagle sighting, an unusual catch, a certain friend or even a comical mishap that didn’t require surgery.
Not too shabby for a nondescript $5.99 book from the stationary store.
Water data: While recording information about the trip is important, where do you get the information in the first place? Now, with that newfangled invention called “the Internet,” nearly everything is at your fingertips.
One of the first pieces of real-world data to become widely available on the internet, aside from National Weather Service weather radar, was stream level readings from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Now, the first step for anyone even contemplating a wading trip would be a check of the USGS website. Here's the link: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/in/nwis/rt.
Editor note- We've also made a collection of stream gauges that give current water temperature data: http://sportsman-mag.com/water-temperature/
The website contains both real-time and historical data for the majority of streams in Indiana and at bare minimum each stream gauge site will record water level and overall trend. Coupled with your log book, you quickly learn what water levels are good for fishing and those that make it difficult or unsafe to hitch up your chest waders.
As one example, I have found that 1.8 to 2.2 feet on the Sugar Creek stream gauge in Crawfordsville usually indicates prime fishing water, though I have had many good days at both higher and lower levels. More important perhaps is the overall trend.
A steady or slowly dropping water level is perfect while a small spike of a few inches can often trigger a feeding binge in the fish. A significant rise will cause feeding but after a short period of time the fish will hunker down until things stabilize.
Another huge benefit to the online gauges is that you won’t drive to a creek only to find it “blown out” due to a localized storm. That can be a real headache-preventer during the pop-up showers of May and June.
Hopefully these tips will help you get the checkered flag when fishing this season. Now, in spite of the danger of being black-flagged for turning a too-trite phrase, I command you: “Gentlemen, start your engines for smallmouth bass season!”