Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 17, 2013

OUTDOOR COLUMN: It's never too cold to fish the river

By LOUIE STOUT
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — Ever wonder who that crazy dude is standing in the icy St. Joseph River waters at Mishawaka near Central Park on a bone-chilling winter day?

Meet Mike Jones, an avid fisherman who “can’t stand sitting around the house all winter.”

That’s the same Mike Jones whom we wrote about last spring who has had tremendous success fishing his “Girty Fly” for steelhead.

So, with winter embracing us early, we thought we’d pick his brain on how to catch river fish during the winter months.

The steelhead moved into the river this fall and will stay there until spring.

However, most anglers give up after the initial fall run. Not Jones, who says he’s often the only one in the river when it’s cold, “cause nobody in his right mind would be out there.”

He dresses in insulated neoprene chest waders, a sweat shirt and a rain coat. No gloves.

“I’ve stood in the river when its 10 degrees out and still caught ‘em,” said the Mishawaka resident. “I have one rule – when I can no longer feel my feet, it’s time to get out of the water.”

Jones says winter anglers should forget about where they caught them in October; go looking for deeper holes away from the fast current. The salmon are done spawning and the fish aren’t hanging around the gravel flats or lured by fast water like they were earlier this fall.

“The fish aren’t trying to run up the river like they were,” Jones explained. “They settle down river in the deeper eddies adjacent to the current.”

The holes – when the river is at full pool – run 8 to 12 feet deep. The colder it gets, the better the deeper holes are.

“If you find one fish in a hole, you can bet there are others,” Jones added. “It’s like they school there. I try to fish right along the edge of the current break.”

He says there are several good stretches in the river, but prefers the Central Park area; the walkway along the river provides excellent access.

“There are a lot of deep holes down there, but the bottom is really rough; a lot of rocks and brush, so you really have to be careful,” he explained. “And some of those holes drop off fast.”

He catches more than steelhead, too. He often finds walleyes sharing the holes with trout, which is why he uses a rig that attracts both fish.

“I like to fish a pink ¼-ounce jighead with a white, 3-inch Mr. Twister grub and hop it along the holes,” he described. “I don’t even tip it with a minnow like some guys do. In my years of experience down there, that gives me the best chance of catching both species.”

Jones doesn’t reel the lure; he casts upstream, lets the jig go to the bottom, pops it up a couple of feet and then lets it wiggle to the bottom. He makes multiple casts, working each hole slowly and thoroughly.

“The bite is a hard ‘tick,’ and bites that occur off the bottom are steelhead while the walleyes hit it when it’s on the bottom,” he added. “I always carry extra jig bodies because you’ll get hung up a lot on snags.”

Walleye fishing this year has been the best he’s ever seen on the river.

“They aren’t stocked below Twin Branch, but there sure are a lot of them down there this year,” he offered. “I suspect they washed over the dam when they were stocked above there the past few years. They were measuring just a little below keeper size (15 inches) in early fall, but they’ll be keeper size by early spring.”

Spawn, of course, is hard to beat for steelhead during winter months, too. He walks chunks of spawn into the holes on a three-foot leader behind a sliding drop sinker.

“You can cover a lot of water that way,” he said. “Sometimes you can work it fast, sometimes they want it slow.”

The bottom line is, the fish will bite if you get the bait in front of them.

 “That’s why I’m out there,” said Jones. “I know it’s crazy, but if you love fishing, it beats becoming a winter couch potato!”

Turkey tourney

Diehard bass tournament fans will get one more shot on Thanksgiving Weekend when Bob Evan rolls out his annual holiday bass event.

This year’s tourney – the 21st annual – will be held on Baldwin Lake Nov. 30 from 8 a.m. to noon. Entry fee is $40 per team.

The event will launch at the ramp on the north end of the former Baldwin Lake Marina which is now owned by Tri lakes Marine. There is no ramp fee. Contact Evans at 574-320-3366.

Gun season opens

The deer firearms season opened this weekend in both Indiana and Michigan.

Michigan hunters, whose season began Friday, will be able to use firearms through Nov. 30 while Indiana’s season, which opened Saturday and runs through Dec. 1.

6 Span results

John Cochran (Mishawaka) and Tim Childs (Trail Creek) caught a limit of smallmouth weighing 11.08 pounds to win the R&B Circuit fall open on the St. Joseph River at 6 Span.

The winners ($600) fooled their bass by fishing tubes and jigs in 10 feet of water.

Steve Prange (Niles) and Dave Miller (Bremen) were second ($300) with a limit weighing 10.92) caught with Poor Boy’s Erie Darters matched up with 1/4 ounce D’s Lures darter heads. Teddy Bradley (Mishawaka) and Tom Bell (Mishawaka) were third ($200) with 10.57 pounds caught with jerkbaits and D’s Lures tubes.

The big fish prize ($110) went to Steven Syzmcak and Jordan Felton (Osceola) for a 3.27-pound smallmouth. It was caught on a ½-ounce silver blade bait.

Contact Goshen News outdoor writer Louie at stoutoutdoors@comcast.net.