By: Derek Porter (AKA Boyscout)
The month is July and it’s already hot by 10 am. I am drenched in sweat after paddling 2 miles downstream on a river in South Carolina. As a bonus, there is no car waiting at an access point down river. Why not another car waiting? Because this is a solo trip and I will have to take out where I put in. However far I go, I will have to paddle back upstream against the current to my car. Another factor becomes clear; there are no houses (with helpful people) anywhere near since I am surrounded by the beautiful forest of Sumter National Forest.
So I’m thinking, what if I break a leg while wading? I will not be able to pull the boat up the few and mild rapids. Mental note; do not get out of the boat unless absolutely necessary and be careful! What if I flip the boat, it hits some rocks, and the force of the current turns my beloved Old Town canoe into a plastic pretzel? I will have to hoof it thru several miles of forest and I don’t know of any trails. The citizens of said forest like the rattle snake, black widow spider, and maybe more dangerous, a large wasp nest (I’m talking thousands of stingers) came to mind. Not to mention it may be dark during my leisurely walk thru the woods. Mental note two; don’t get cocky! Why, if something goes awry, it could get ugly real quick, and for a long time!
Any sane person would ask the obvious question; why are you risking life and limb in tropical temperatures (along with the extreme humidity) while having to perform rigorous paddling labor…half of which is upstream? As our cousins across the pond would say; my man, are you bloody daft? A chap might want to rethink this mad caper. And he would be right, but the “smallies are a call’n”, like we say here down south.
You got to understand, I spent years chasing trout in the Blue Ridge Mountains and those fish just stop feeding during the hot daylight hours in summer. I would just hang up the fly rod during July and August. But, I had discovered that small mouth bass will many times still feed heavily even when it’s near 100 degrees in the shade. But you ask, why pick a spot that is a 2 mile down and back up paddle from your car and why not use a motor boat? Simple, the spot had about 1 mile of perfect shoal water, yes, the prime habitat for smallies during the warm months. And, a motor boat would not last long in the rapids so that was out. The kicker is, very few fishermen are dumb enough…I mean brave enough… to fish down there so I would have it all to myself. The only thing better than a great smallie spot is a great smallie hole that few people fish or even know about. What makes this scenario even more special is that when it’s hot, smallies just love killing something swimming on top of the water. The top water bite is the best. The math is simple, it all adds up to Smallie Nirvana.
Finally, after an hour of paddling and sweating gallons, I reach the head of the shoals and gazed upon the goal of my quest. It was perfection. I had floated straight thru this spot only once before, but the older I get, the more my mind plays tricks and I had some apprehensions that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered. I stopped to take a few quick pictures and started fishing but I had this nagging thought. I had never done a float down and paddle back. The water on the way down was slow and easy but I started thinking maybe it will take longer to paddle back than I estimated? I have no desire to be caught in a rocky river at night with no light.
Looking downstream at the shoals. Looking back up river where I had come from.
Fly-fishing is my recreational passion and small mouth bass are my favorite target. They fight like there is no tomorrow and will not give an inch. They also have the wonderful trait of eating various artificial flies and many times prefer top water flies with wild abandon. No disrespect to the beloved brawling large mouth bass but smallies are tops in my book. To me, there is nothing quite like casting a fly, which I tied, into a little eddy behind a rock and watching the water explode as a small mouth bass crushes it. Smallies are so vicious; they will sometime come from 10 or more feet away to annihilate the fly. It’s all visual, in your face, bar room brawl type of fishing. To be honest, I am not a very good bass fisherman and am still learning the ways of the small mouth, large mouth, redeye, and other members of the “bass” family and it’s a challenge to catch them on a fly. However, it’s a challenge that I just can’t pass up. The fish, the water, the scenery is just so beautiful and all bass have a major attitude problem. Throw in the rhythm of a river and the feel of a canoe or yak into the mix and…well, words can’t tell it all. Ya just got to go do it yourself sometime.
Like I said earlier, I snapped a few pics and started fishing. Folks, it was better than I thought it would be. I caught bass or got good bites in nearly every eddy, pocket, and hole where I cast a fly while floating in those shoals. At times I was getting a bite every other cast. None of the fish were big. I think the largest was only 2lbs and I know there are much bigger ones in that river. I maybe fished an hour and a half but soon realized, the further I floated down those shoals, the more dragging the boat and hard paddling it would take to get back out. At one point, I stopped to get some water to replace the gallons I had been sweating out and was looking back upstream at how far I had floated so far when I glanced downstream and saw some guys wading about 1/4 mile away. I didn’t know then but there is a foot trail thru the forest that came out at the shoals.
One important reason I use a boat is to cover water that wading fisherman just cannot get to. Having done a lot of wading myself, I always give waders a wide berth and quit fishing while I float past them to leave those fish for them. Hey, there are plenty downstream so why not “do unto others as you would have them do to you?” Seems like I read that somewhere in a really great book. But anyway, it just makes a lot of sense and creates good will among us river folk. You never know when that other guy just might save your life by pulling you out after you flip, help you retrieve your gear, or give you a ride back. Hey folks, lets use our brains and think of the other guy and we will all benefit. To make a long story longer, I decided I would head back just in case it would take longer than expected to get back. Yes, I left while they were still biting!
I dragged and paddled the boat up the shoals (without breaking any bones!), where I had just spent a wonderful time in with my favorite fish, to the slow water and started a casual paddle back. I was very tired (I am a computer programmer by trade and always out of shape) so I just took my time paddling the 2 miles back upstream against the mild current. When I reached the car, there was still plenty of daylight left so I decided to paddle more upstream to a very small set of shoals about a half mile away. Once there I caught about 5 more rambunctious smallies on top. What a way to finish off an excellent day doing what I like best.
Hope to see you on the river soon.
Derek became a published author by simply going to the riverbassin.com submit content section and sending us this entertaining read. Thanks Derek, RiverBassin.com staff