Monday, February 7, 2011

April on the Stones


This is one of my favorite spots. It is also where the tornado hit.


I stepped into the north side of the river where it narrows creating faster water only a few inches deep. Crossing in a couple of steps to the gravel island covered in water grass, low growing willow trees and button ball bushes, then turn left to the first pool. The river cuts around both ends of the island coming back together in the middle of the riverbed. Here it splits again into 3 deeper, faster runs combining 50 yards downstream into a wider pool. After that it’s rapids with small waterfalls dropping into the next pool. Repeat this for about a ¼ of a mile. Trees and bushes line the banks with rocks covering the bottom dotted here and there with islands of gravel, willows and button ball bushes. The first pool never yields fish, nor do the 3 runs but below it, in that next pool things change. It’s early spring, sun warming air and water, buds turn to tiny leaves, fish start to move, once again it is time for redeye.




The Stones River starts as a bit of nothing. A series of creeks you can step across. As they join force and begin to grow the East and West Forks of the Stones take shape. These two come together near Smyrna just south of Nashville. In the late 60s the Stones was dammed to form J. Percy Priest lake. Heavily fished and a huge recreational draw, Priest is what I consider my home lake. But this is about places that lie upstream. Above the old hand built Nice Mill dam 23 miles upstream of the main dam there are places no boat is needed, few people fish and we can travel back to times when a few small fish were all we expected.


In April when waters begin to warm and March high waters have dropped I start to check the river watching for the first water plants to green up along shallow rocks and shoals. This little bit of sign is what I need to know spring wading season is beginning. Not the high tech of fly fishermen just waders to stay warm, a small pack with a few baits and my trusty 5 foot ultra light spinning rod. Many people think this is a quest for river smallmouth or spotted bass, called Kentuckys in this area. You catch these and an occasional largemouth some weighing several pounds but I am after redeye. A member of the sunfish family, they move into chunk rocks and ledges in early spring to spawn. Good to eat, a blast to catch, they fight hard on light tackle and are usually very aggressive.


Over ten years ago during a bout of boredom I decided to grab a rod and head over to the river. I lived five minutes away and traveled past this piece of water at least twice daily but like most people had never taken the time to fish it. The cool thing, it is right in the middle of a fairly large town and almost no one fishes it. It has a greenway running miles of it’s length and is still under fished. The few people that take time to try it are mostly clueless as to what it holds and how to fish for them, this suits me fine.


Redeye during most of the year are spread out and nocturnal. We catch a few night fishing for bass. During several weeks in spring they bunch up in rocky areas along select sections and this is when I hit the water. Tackle is simple, a small spinning reel loaded with 6 lb line, a 5 ft ultra light rod and a few spinners. The fish are suckers for blue and white spinners and a small Rocket Shad works best. They hit this until nothing is left, tearing the skirt to shreds, knocking hooks off, even the blades. Other baits work but nothing like this. You can catch them drifting small crawfish but they are so aggressive the spinner is more fun and less work. So, armed with a few baits and a tiny spinning rod you can be headed for great fun. We have fished jigs and small crank baits which produce but maybe only 1 to every 10-15 the spinners do.



Note the Rocket Shad, THE bait on this stretch of river.

I have found a few slab rocks, holes and slots that always hold the biggest fish. These spots need to be fished correctly even to within inches to get a strike but years of practice have paid off. Most fish prefer banks with current and stay away from mid stream structure or the slower side of the river. I wade down stream using a quartering cast cross current, casting as close to the bank as possible, even onto the bank at times, and begin a steady retrieve. When the spinner gets to a drop off I will let it fall, slowing the retrieve for a couple of feet then speeding it back up. This simple technique causing savage strikes especially from larger fish. For shallow areas with deep cuts going down into the rocks I speed the bait up to create a wake so I have the fun of top water strikes. The strikes are hard, never a subtle pick up and like all of their family they fight.


The fast water just below falls or rapids form eddies behind rocks and the ends of gravel bars along the banks which hold fish but be sure to try the downstream side of larger rocks in the fast current. Deep cuts with ledges or deep small pools on the fast side of the river will consistently hold fish. If you catch fish in a spot within a day or two more have moved in to replace them.


As weeks go by larger fish move in and a full stringer is common. This goes on for about four weeks, when largemouth start to hit you know the redeye are winding down. This all happens here just as leaves are showing. As an added bonus other residents of the river are starting to hit, shell crackers, bream (brim), crappie, bluegill and bass are starting to become more active.



Look at the fish touching the reel, this is a bonus, a shell cracker.


Just getting out this time of year when weather can be iffy at best is a treat. Simple tackle and techniques along with a river free of anyone except an occasional wood duck or heron, what a fine way to spend a bit of time. I have no doubt that somewhere near you is an overlooked piece of water that is calling your name. Do a bit of scouting, scale back your equipment and go enjoy creeks and small rivers like we did as kids.


Sadly, two years ago the exact spot I fish was hit with an EF-3 tornado. It ripped up islands, destroyed all the covering trees and shrubs changing the river drastically. Last year we were hit with a 500 year flood, spring will tell how much the river has changed and if my spots still hold fish. I will be there searching and hoping my little stretch of the Stones has started to recover.


1 comment:

Gorges Smythe said...

That looks like some fine eatin' there!

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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.

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