It is a great time of year on the lower Wisconsin. The weather is warm, the bugs are not yet too thick, and most importantly, the annual phenomenon known locally as "The Crash" has finally begun. What's that you say - never heard of it? It's a month or so period of time where schools of ravenously hungry, thug-like big river Bronzebacks cruise around corralling bait-fish in places they can trap them against restrictive terrain features - and then gorge on them in splashy feasts that boil the water as the entire school feeds and the baitfish attempt to flee for their lives. Bass fly through the air, smash fish on the surface, and swim in crazy circles as they pursue their prey. It sometimes leaves you awestruck just watching them, and it is almost enough to make you forget to fish - almost.
I had fished the crash last year with our friend Ben (blog post and video) and have been anxiously waiting all year for the time to come again. This year Ben has stepped up his game - he's got an oar equipped jet boat with a casting deck. Talk about fishing in style! We were able to move quickly and comfortably between likely holds, work some promising shoreline along the way, jump out and wade when depth permitted, and anchor in perfect casting range for primes lies when we arrived at an active "crash site". What a killer way to fish!
"Crash Sites" tend to have common characteristics. You'll see a depth change (usually a drop off of some kind) that is often combined with some sort of terrain feature that breaks and channels the current. In many cases this a deadfall jutting from the bank, the forward shoulders or trailing tip of an island, or the tailout of a large pool above a riffle. Underwater structure that creates current brakes and cover for baitfish also makes it an attractive place for the fish that hunt them. Nearby slack water indicates shallows (on the right in both pictures below), which is where the bass will usually drive the fish when they stampede them together for the kill.
Ben knows the river well and got us into crashing fish right away. I rigged the WISCO rod with 15 ft of badger light floating line, and 6 ft of 10lb test Mono. This gave me all the reach I needed to drop casts into target zones while staying clear of the feed. While I tried to make my beloved "Pass Lake" produce, it seemed to lack the size, shape and color of the bait-fish the bass were hunting and it quickly became apparent that I'd need to adjust. A lightly weighted, silver and white #4 Clouser minnow with a wide gape hook proved to be just the ticket.
As you can see here in the last picture, we got into some White Bass here and there - they put up a solid fight too! The fish ranged from about 12-16 inches and were pure "big river" muscle. Every Smallmouth puts up a great fight, and challenging them on a fixed line rod is a thrill like no other.