Sunday afternoon I got a call from my friend Dieter Scheel, who is a local Delaware River guide stationed in Lambertville, NJ. “The smallmouth bite is on fire,” he said. “Want to come out this afternoon?” Of course I did, so I quickly pulled together boxes of poppers, stickbaits, Senkos, tubes, streamers, bunny flies…you name it. I was going armed to the teeth. When I get to the boat, Dieter says, “Just leave all that stuff in the car. It won’t do you any good.”
Come to find out, the bite is hot because all the shad and herring fry are making their way down river. When that happens, good luck getting a smallie to look at anything but live bait. Dieter rigged three rods with shiners and no weight, cast them out and we drifted. It didn’t take long for the first shiner to start flipping on the surface and get crushed. “Feed line,” Dieter yelled. “Don’t just set the hook or you’ll pull the bait away.” This, I quickly figured out, was just like fishing big bunker for stripers, though on a much smaller scale.
Though initially bummed about leaving the artificials behind, this method took a touch and proved to be more exciting and difficult than I imagined. It also proves that a) it’s worth hiring a guide, even on home water and b) it is impossible to stop learning when it comes to fishing. Had I gone out alone, it would have been poppers, jigs, and most likely the skunk.
Subsequently, I also caught my first “cow” striper of the fall (above) mixed in with those smallies. – JC