You’d think that the latest double whammy of heavy rain followed by cold would knock out the fishing.
Make no mistake, in a lot of places, it has.
But the deep-water bass bite that has proven so resilient over the last three weeks’ worth of winter washouts is probably still hanging on somewhere out there.
Rex Pendergrass at Watson’s Marine in Bluff City recently noted the persistence of the Damiki Armor Shad bite on South Holston Lake — or rather the persistence of the sonar-savvy winter anglers who know how to get the bait to the smallmouth that are suspended in deeper water on that lake.
“The newer electronics take a lot of the guesswork out. You see a school of baitfish (on the screen) with some streaks going through them. You just lower the bait to them and stop it a few feet above them and watch those fish come to the bait,” Pendergrass said.
“It’s very subtle. You’re actually moving the bait very little. I’ve watched fish come from as far as 10 to 15 feet away to get it. It’s pretty breathtaking.”
The screen-watching component makes it sound kind of like playing a video game. Except the whole process requires more skill than simply plug-and-play — even with the state-of-the-art depth finders available today.
“It’s a little more difficult than you would think. You really have to spend some time learning all the different aspects of these fish finders, the right contrast, the right light, the right everything,” said Rod Colyer of Colgard Outdoor Sports in Norton.
“You really have to dial it in so that you can see the fish and also see your lure when you move the rod up and down. When you can do that, then you can see everything you need to see.”
He noted that the “minimalist” vertical fishing method so popular on South Holston isn’t the only way to successfully fish the Armor Shad.
“On South Holston they’re catching suspended fish. On Cherokee, they’re catching fish off the bottom,” Colyer said.
“Me and a buddy had 37 smallmouth one afternoon fishing it like a jig on the same banks and points we’d normally fish jigs this time of the year. It was pretty awesome.”
In the meantime, dropping water temperatures mean increasing numbers of smaller baitfish dying off and fluttering down to be leisurely eaten by suspended bass. The Armor Shad is too big a bait to simulate this bite.
Classic winter float-and-fly and tight-lining small fly bite has been a factor in areas where water clarity has been conducive to the method.
Colyer still knows a few diehards who still favor the craft hair flies for this kind of fishing. Most, however, have converted to the Berkley GULP! Minnows.
Terry Miller of the Reel Christian Bass Anglers used to be a fan of craft hair and duck feather flies, but he is sold on the flavor-impregnated soft plastic GULP! products.
“It’s hard to get away from it now that it’s proven itself for years. I really like it for tight-lining,” said Miller, who used the 2½-inch and 3-inch versions on his most recent trip to Cherokee, fishing them at depths of 17 feet on 4-pound test monofilament.
On the fly fishing beat, just about any moving water you’d want to fish is “blown out” by high, muddy water, Ben Walters at Eastern Fly Outfitters in Johnson City said.
“It’s a good time to tie flies, or to learn how to tie flies,” said Walters, whose shop offers fly tying classes at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday night. Cost is $10 per person and materials are provided.
In other fishing-related news, the Open House at Watson’s Marine got under way Thursday and will continue today and Saturday. Bass pros David Fritts, Guy Eaker, Jay Yelas and Jonathan Van Dam are participating, as are numerous boat and tackle representatives.
Watson’s Marine is located at 4095 Hwy 11-E in Bluff City.
George Thwaites is a Sports and Outdoors Writer for the Times-News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KTNSptsThwaites.