By: Luke Brown
I had seen them there before, but they weren’t the target. I had spooked one or two without knowing they were right under my feet. I came up empty-handed that day, but decided I would come back another time with the right approach.
It was somewhere around 6:30 am when I got to the river and it was cooler than usual for July. There was a front coming through and the cool breeze made it Spring or late Fall-like.
I had a bit more of the cold black coffee that morning than I am used to. I guess I was getting ready for a battle. I was the only car in the lot.
I entered from the left bank. That side of the river is straight up and down except for the small waterfall I walked down. I waded across the current with only one deep spot before I landed on the gravel bar of the opposite side.
About a 30 or 40-yard walk upstream and I spotted a school. They were sitting 5-6 feet from where the water met the gravel bar. The water was slightly tinted. But you can sometimes spot them due to the changes in water color that flow downstream. Those hues resembled Mr. McWhirter’s coffee: cream with a bit of coffee.
The changes in water color are due to their feeding habits, which today meant they were digging on the bottom of the river for grub.
There were about eight of them lined up, in rows of two or three. Facing up the river, looking to grab some helpless prey. Only one or two were actively feeding.
A fun fish no matter how you catch because of their strength, they are an especially formidable opponent on a fly rod.
As I approached from behind, I stayed as far back from the water as I could. I had the advantage of the sun soon rising in front of me so I would not cast a shadow in their view.
One or two casts, smaller bugs than the first time. I tied them myself after scouring the internet for successful patterns. Some silli-legs, a little bit of marabou, bead-chain eyes, and a little bit of flash. Something resembling a small crawfish.
As I moved up river, they started to move as well into the deeper water. I spooked the larger school but continued to cast to the areas of discolored water towards the middle of the river. At this point, I was anticipating a bite at every cast. I knew they just had to be in there.
The extra coffee was taking its toll and my heart was beating out of my chest, thinking of hoking a prehistoric beast 24-30” in length.
Finally, without seeing the target, I felt the tug, large wake of water coming from the depths of the river, then…gone.
Within less than an hour, as the sun began to crest through the trees from the east, over the middle of the river, they had vanished.
They are an ugly fish, but they are smart. It is part of the allure.
I’ve heard some people say they make a great practice for bonefish in the Florida Keys or redfish in Louisiana.
While they have a lot of cousins, Ictiobus cyprinellus, can live over a hundred years (longest living fish in a group of about twelve thousand) and grow to four feet in length. Lewis and Clark supposedly caught them on the Missouri River while exploring the Louisiana Territory in 1804.
They are the largest of the North American “sucker” species, but can also be found in Mexico, Canada, and Guatemala.
Luke Brown is based out of Nashville, TN, but lived and fished in Mississippi, Wyoming, North and South Carolina. Father of three, teacher and coach. Got into fly fishing in college. Amateur fly tyer of mostly absurd streamers. Smallmouth and Brown trout all day.