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Columnist
Wet spring blessing for smallmouth
By Mike Jackson | Daily Herald Outdoors Writer
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Published: 5/1/2009 12:19 AM

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You do not need a boat to hit it big on the upper Fox River.

If you have any degree of patience and a willingness to experience some exciting angling moments, once again I strongly urge you to explore the Fox River.

Here is a stream that had been literally abused for a long period of time, and only in the last 10 years has the river recovered enough to offer some of the most enticing smallmouth fishing around.

Meandering its way through north and western suburbia, the Fox offers the novice and the more experienced fisherman some great possibilities.

Because we are again witnessing an extreme soaking from April rains, the bank fishing opportunities are swiftly unfolding for area anglers. Here's what I mean.

If you can find a public spot along the shoreline, a location where there's some deadfall trees, overhanging branches with the tips going in to the water, drainage pipes or areas of rip-rap, you have the basics of a potential hot spot where gamefish like to hold. Experience has shown that smallmouth and walleye as well as trout get out of the current to feed and search for slower moving water where fish can rest while looking for their next meal.

I have written quite a bit about looking for the slack-water pools, or eddies, as they are more commonly called. An eddy occurs when an underwater object causes river current to reverse itself in a circular motion. The subsurface conditions in the eddy are more stable and offer relief from a fast-moving body of water.

Shore fishermen working the banks along the Fox discovered that some hefty smallies apparently congregate in these pools, and that's where the angler can target the search.

There are a variety of popular methods used these days, including the old reliable, a simple minnow rig with some split shot above the hook. But keep in mind there can be lots of snags on and near the bottom. If I'm using a minnow, nightcrawler or leech, I now use a weedless hook, like a No-Snagg rig. The hook gives me some insurance against hang-ups. I'll use twister tails on a weedless jig as well, and even go to a small Mini-Mite jig and tail in white or chartreuse. There are some fishermen who decry the use of live bait on the river simply because they are "artificial purists" and would rather take their fish on plastic baits.

My line weight tends to run a tad heavier, in that I usually know the mono will rub up against some of the underwater obstructions and wind up nicked or frayed. The heavier line gives me a slight advantage.

I've often been asked what favorite live bait I like to use on the Fox. My answer is brief and to the point. I like the minnow rig for this time of the year. As the water warms, I'll sometimes use a live leech on a No. 8 hook with a split shot above the hook. And I'll often switch to a twister tail on a small, weedless jig during midsummer months.

Please be aware that you can encounter smallmouth 6-8 inches from the shorelines, especially during high water conditions. Secondly, it's important you release all the smallies you catch because the regulations state just that.

• Mike Jackson can be reached via e-mail at angler@mikejacksonoutdoors.com. Mike's radio program is heard Sundays from 6-7 a.m. on WSBC 1240-AM.