By Allen Hamrick
The challenge of looking for the bucket mouth bass in rivers, especially the Elk, is one of those things that money just can’t buy. The Elk meanders through the mountains with plenty of bends, deep water and shoals and is mesmerizing to the devoted fisherman. A three day float trip down the Elk might just be what the doctor ordered for your ailments. There is enough cover for fish to hide and for you, the fisherman, to hunt. One of the best ways to get to them is in a fishing kayak, john boat or maybe a float tube. With the heat index running high enough to melt the worms in your tackle box, fishing on rivers is one of the best places to fish. On rivers, the swifter water allows for more oxygen than still water lakes; in fact, the water is a bit cooler, as well, so bass will stay more active if you know the places to look for them. Bass tend to be homebodies on rivers and don’t take the trips that lake bass do.
Bass are creatures of habit, and in rivers they are very predictable. I have found that outside bends in the river that are polluted with fallen trees or stumps are a perfect place for bass to hide out, watch the food go by and rip the leg off a steer, so to speak. Breaks in a current are where bass like to camp out, get a cup of coffee and wait on dinner, especially if that break is a tree top with current moving through it. Spinner baits are a good tactic, but the pig and jig is a tough bait to crowd. Texas rigging, either straight or rigging it shaky style, works well in the fallen trees. The choice of color always lies in the water color.
I have also found that a side creek or tributary is a perfect place for big river bass. When the river rises, bass tend to go up the side creek and stack up in a deep pocket of water before the river goes back to normal and they return to the main river. So far, that theory is correct most of the time in my own experience. If you time your trip right as the water comes down and sneak up into some of the creeks and into deep pockets, you might just find a cache of bass. Carolina rigs are also a good choice for the situation. So, don’t over look tributaries, no matter how big or small.
The Elk River can be a bit finicky and doesn’t like giving up its bigger fish, but knowing some good tips will turn the tide in your favor. Back in the day, I knew people who fished the same spot for many years because that’s where the big ones were and they knew it. Some did it for years and never caught the big one. Why? Because at one time or another, they hooked it and it got away. The quest became a part of them, gave them purpose; it was the fight and the challenge, a will against will. As one story went back 60 to 70 years ago, there was a hole in the water that held such a large fish that it resembled a cross tie as it occasionally floated to the top. Most said it was the Elk River monster, much like the Loch Ness in Scotland. Many who caught a glimpse of it said it was a catfish while others claimed Muskie. Either way, it was a huge fish and for the mountain folk of that time, it was bragging rights for anybody brave enough and talented enough to land it. One fisherman, whose name is forever lost to time, was said to have hooked the monster and being a lightweight individual nearly drowned before his pole broke in the fight. The big fish pulled him till he was chest deep in water and in no way was he letting loose. After he acquired a new rig, he then tied himself to a tree and fished for that fish until his dying days never to hook it again. The Elk has a history second to none with fishing stories that could make a campfire last for days.
Fishing doesn’t take a tackle box the size of a tool box, either. Bass on the Elk are not picky eaters; whatever floats by that looks good they will eat, especially if it’s crawdad or worm related. So, get out and beat the heat, find you a nice shady outside bend with some cover and start reeling them in. It’s time to make your own memories and spin your own fish tales!