Once upon a time in the summer

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

An angler could do no better on a balmy summer evening than hitting one of the area creeks with light smallmouth bass tackle. The intense heat of midday gone, water cooling your feet and legs. And, hopefully, several smallmouth basses jumping at the end of your fishing line. This is a pretty good imitation of heaven.

Our three area creeks- Conewango, Brokenstraw and Tionesta- are loaded with a smallmouth bass that can be caught by wading, which is a large part of the enjoyment. Add the Allegheny River, which is barely more than a creek in Warren County, and the Clarion River, so-called because of its length, not size. Typical size for smallmouths caught in the three creeks is roughly 10 inches to 14 inches, and maybe an inch larger in the rivers. Yet 6-pound smallmouths inhabit all five. Good fishing can be found in downtown Warren and Youngsville. Fine smallmouth fishing in Tionesta Creek starts about at Barnes.

An absolutely perfect spinning outfit for this fishing starts with light power, fast action, 7-1/2 foot rod. This longer rod keeps a lot of line off the water and makes longer casts with lightweight lures or baits. Any longer is clumsy. If not for the length of this rod, if an angler wanted to use live bait another rod would be necessary. But a 7-1/2 foot rod can gently lob bait as far as should be needed.

Add any reasonable quality, lightweight spinning reel such as a 25X Pflueger President. Spool the reel with a top-quality 6-pound test line.

Hellgrammites and crayfish have to be the best smallmouth bass bait in area creeks. You should be able to catch your own bait using a minnow seine.

Catch hellgrammites can be caught in riffles by disturbing bottom with your feet while a partner holds the seine just downstream. They are easy to catch if you can find them. These are almost magic bait, often better than crayfish. Hook them through the collar with a fine wire hook, about size 8 depending on the hook style, so the long body dangles behind. This, of course, is if you can stand handling these ugly critters.

Hellgrammites are larvae of the dobsonfly, which look like hellgrammites with big wings. The pinchers can inflict a painful bite. It feels downright creepy when an adult dobsonfly lands on your skin.

Crayfish are much easier to find than hellgrammites. Catch them the same way, but in a bit less current, concentrating in places where there are at least a few flat rocks on the stream bottom.

The best crayfish other than soft-shells are small crayfish, no longer than 3 inches. Pinch off the pinchers before putting them in the bait bucket and avoid getting pinched every time you reach for bait. That can get annoying. These small crayfish are the type you generally see in fish stomachs. I am not sure of anything eats those big crayfish with huge claws.

These also should be hooked on a fine wire, wide gap hook with an offset point. But hook them so they move backward when the line is retrieved. I hook them through the soft underside of the tail.

Neither bait is at its best when retrieved. They should be drifted with the current in a very natural manner. If weight must be used, add just a small to medium size split shot about 10 inches up the line. Smallmouth bass is very active all through summer in these creeks. They will not hesitate to move some distance for a meal.

Generally, the best smallmouth bass fishing will be in places where the bottom can not be seen, and where there is some cover in the form of boulders or wood. Smallmouths will hunt in virtually all of the creeks where the water is deep enough to cover their backs, however, the better smallmouth density is deeper.

But you can not be prepared for everything when you are wading. Carrying two rods is out of the question. One of these creeks or rivers almost certainly is close enough to you for a couple of hours of evening fishing. And when this fine summertime fishing ends, smallmouth bass fishing gets even better.


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