A Late Season Lesson

A change in technique makes the difference when the bite comes on.

A good smallmouth bass ends the day well and provides a winter's memory.

Who can explain why one person in a boat catches more fish than another, fishing apparently the same technique, bait and equipment? I was the victim in this instance, fishing with Go Fish Charters’ outfitter, Chad Landrum. It was early October, 2010 and we were in the after-breeze of a North Easter wind that had blown fiercely across the Idaho Panhandle for two days prior to my afternoon on the water.

He picked me up at a dock in Hope, a small town on the north shore of Pend Oreille Lake. We motored across to fish the rock shelves along the opposite shores of the first bay. Chad had started earlier while waiting for me to finish up with a business obligation. He had little activity, he said, landing only a couple of smallies of average size.

Maybe it was too early in the day, I remember thinking. We had roughly 4 hours of daylight left and the breeze was dying down. The lake would soon be smooth. If we found fish, we could experience an afternoon bite at any time. My enthusiasm was up; the lake had been good.

On that first shelf Chad picked up another small bass, maybe fourteen inches, on his second cast; then we had nothing for the next hour and a half as we explored several locations in earnest. We fished the docks and rock structures we graphed, all likely habitat where bass might hold. But we found nothing. The fish were apparently off-bite following the unusual wind event. We even tried the shallows of the Clark Fork River delta, fished the channel and the edges of deeper water, but still nothing, trying a variety of tube worms, flukes and crankbaits–the usually successful fare.

Chad’s favorite that time of year was a quarter-ounce olive-colored tube worm on a jig-head fished to imitate the lake’s abundant population of 1- and 2-inch crawfish.

Pend Oreille is Idaho’s largest natural lake but it’s now technically a resevoir because of Albany Falls Dam constructed years ago to abate spring flooding and provide electrical power for thousands of homes and businesses in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Without that dam the lake can flood houses and shoreline structures near and in Sandpoint, as it did in the days before the dam–so it’s a good thing.

We hoped to locate some place where the bass were holding, knowing we’d catch a few if we found them. But until the last half hour, nothing picked up our presentations. We never felt a nibble and never saw a follow.

Coming off the delta, we worked the rocky shoreline of the Green Monarchs into the evening. It’s a wild stretch of shoreline perhaps six or seven miles in length greeted by a few isolated cabins at Whiskey Rock on the east shore. With forested ridges several hundred feet high providing the backdrop, one easily feels the solitude this great lake offers.

We cast to this shore and drag our tubeworms slowly off the rocks into deeper water. Chad picked up the first strike and boated a nice bass, 3.5 pounds on the guage. Nice fish for his second cast on a particular ledge. My hopes rose to the surface. I hadn’t had so much as a bump.

“Would you mind coaching me as to what you’re doing that I’m not?” I asked with envy.

“I think you’re reeling a little fast. You’ve got to crawl that tube worm along the bottom through most of the retrieve. Imagine a crawdad. That’s what you’re imitating. They don’t swim so much as they move slowly along the bottom. You want to imitate that,” he explained.

On my second cast, doing just as he said, I felt a fish mouthing the tube worm. I held off, then set the hook. I was fast to my first small mouth of the day. It wasn’t as large as his, but it was a strong fish, a good fighter and a better memory than nothing.

“Another thing I see you doing Dwayne, is you’re fishing that rod tip like your spinning for trout. Keep it up high so the fish has time to pick up the lure. It wants to believe that soft tube worm is alive. Don’t worry, it won’t let go–most of the time. After a pause, just like you did on that one, then you set the hook hard. A big smallie has a tough mouth and believe me, you don’t want the hook coming out on a big fish, right?”

Releasing the bass, I nodded my agreement.

In that last fifteen minute window, fishing in this way, I picked up 2 more nice bass and lost one. The bite came on right at the end of day and didn’t last long, but the memory savored an entire winter.

The most pleasing realization I had from that afternoon with Landrum was the huge difference it made to change my presentation from “low tip and jerk” to “high tip and lift.” If I don’t fish that water again for awhile, I’ll remember the rock-strewn bottom and the 6 casts that yielded 4 hookups at dusk with a new understanding in the importance of technique.

# ~Dwayne Parsons