HINTON, W.Va. — Dark clouds hung low over the New River Gorge as I cast a top water lure to a stand of grass near the bank just down stream from Sandstone Falls. Fog in the air of the August morning put a layer of damp on everything as I slowly retrieved the noisy buzz bait through the mist. The water was dead still, with the exception of the clacking and spurting from my lure.
Seconds after I started the retrieve, the silence was shattered as a pass rifled from the cover to attack the lure as it past by his lair. I set the hook and moments later had him in the boat. The fish was only eight to ten inches in length, but it was a significant catch. It was a largemouth bass and the first fish of what would eventually prove be my best day on the New River in more than a decade.
“I’ve probably seen five largemouth caught on the New in all the years I’ve been guiding,” said my buddy and guide for the day Larry “Redneck” Nibert of the West Virginia Experience. “There are a few here, but not many.”
It was the first time I had ever caught a largemouth on the stretch which is known world wide for it’s smallmouth bass population.
As we fished, I drew up on Larry’s sharp fishing acumen for answers. It’s not uncommon for anybody to start the early morning with a surface lure, but I wondered why that’s such a strong choice.
“It’s low light and topwater is typically a reaction strike,” Larry explained. “There’s less shadow in the morning. That’s why a lot of times we catch a lot of bigger fish when the water is dirty. It’s a little bit easier to foll the fish with the light is lower or the conditions aren’t 100 percent.”
The fish kept popping the buzzbait for another half hour to 45 minutes. But, as is usually the case even with overcast conditions, their interest in the surface strikes faded. Nibert encouraged me to switch up to a more subtle presentation using a tube bait ringed with a lead-head jig. Soon, they were biting again, although the strikes were far more subtle. One needed to concentrate harder on the timing to set the hook.
Nibert, who is on the water more than 150 days out of the year, noted soft plastics were his lure of choice on most days.
“It’s more natural and more versatile,” he explained. “You can fish them in a variety of ways. You can Texas rig them, you can Carolina rig them, you can use an insert head, or you can drop-shot them. If you can catch a fish on the New River on a tube bait, there’s not much you can’t do.”
The pattern held solid over the next several hours. By the end of the day between the two of us we had caught close to 80 fish and landed four species. My first of the morning largemouth was accompanied by a Kentucky spotted bass later in the day, several rock bass (redeyes), and of course the bulk of our day was spent unhooking smallmouth from the tube rigs.
Another key to the day may have been the approach. Instead of rolling quickly, we spent more time targeting shoreline rocks and submerged boulders. Each piece of cover was fished thoroughly. Generally on a float trip, you’ll make one to two casts at a promising piece of cover and then move on to the next one. By wedging the raft into a stationary position we were able to deliver precision casts into deep pockets and gentle current breaks drawing fish to strike from deep within the narrow rock crevices nearby.
The presentation with the tube bait and lead insert never waned in action. Nibert compared it to fishing live bait.
“In order to fish live bait you had to finesse,” he explained. “The fact, it’s so natural. You can get it down and work the bottom nice and slow. You can mimic crawfish, which is one of the top forage. ”
The other factor which doesn’t necessarily factor into the fishing is economics. Chances are if you’re fishing correctly, you’ll get hung up a dozen or so times in the course of a fishing day.
“A good quality, low price crank bait or spinner bait will run you $5 to $8,” Nibert offered. “A tube and the lead with it is less than 50 cents.”
Although I would have more readily picked up a crankbait or spinner bait in the conditions, listening to Nibert proved to be not only productive, but a learning experience as well.