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JACK WOLLITZ Anglers hope Ohio River awakens from its 2001 lethargy



Published: Sun, February 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Dawn's crisp air rushed over the boat's windscreens as we cut through the thin fog in our lickety-split dash to the morning's first spot - another memory about a learning experience from the past season.

Just a quarter mile from the launch ramp on the Ohio River's New Cumberland Pool, the rocky point juts noticeably from the outside bend in the river channel. A few scraggly green sprigs of milfoil waved in the current as the boat settled off plane.

Tough place: The Ohio River was without a doubt a tough place for bass anglers last year. Coming off 2000's bumper crop of bass, the big river tossed a challenge at bass tournament anglers in '01.

As the Ranger glided to a stop, partner Jason Abbott and I began pitching crankbaits and hoped a keeper smallmouth or spot would notice. None did, so I jerked the trolling motor back to its mount and ignited the Mercury for a 10-minute run to our next fishing hole.

There we picked off a 13-inch smallie and a couple of undersized, but big-bellied spotted bass. The ice broken, Abbott and I set out to work our pattern - fast-moving baits in current broken by rock and other main-river structure. Fishing was s-l-o-w. We nailed a few small bass, a nice smallie jumped off the hook next to the boat and finally, the sun at 12 o'clock high, another 13-incher ate a spinnerbait clipping rapidly through a milfoil patch punctuated by boat-sized boulders.

Bass anglers looking ahead to 2002 on the Ohio River hope that whatever ailed the place last year is gone and forgotten. Even the highly regarded local "River Rats", as they are respectfully known by those who compete against them in tournaments, struggled to bring limits like those that averaged two to three pounds per fish in 2000.

It seems certain that the bass had not died off; rather, a few folks theorized, the bass just moved to unknown feeding stations, suspending around schools of shad roaming over the 30- to 40-foot main channel. What we learned, however, was more than the fact that the fishing on the old Ohio was tough. We learned that when the fish are not positioned in predictable wads, where catching them is as simple as putting a lure in front of them.

Indeed, the 2001 season on the Ohio River taught anglers that they had to cover water - lots of water - with efficient lures that enabled them to make as many presentations as possible in their precious few hours of fishing time.

What it meant: That meant working with crankbaits on the points and ledges, changing to spinnerbaits on the snaggy flats and pitching jigs and small worms to places where one cast was all that was needed to see whether a fish was within biting distance.

Those who figured that out last year on the river caught fish and put together patterns -- regardless of how feeble those patterns might have been -- that enabled them to duplicate successful tactics elsewhere on the water.

That was the ticket last year.

Now here's hoping that what we learned won't be as difficult to repeat this year on the river. Let's hope the fish are back to their old habits, using the classic locations where one can fill the boat in two or three stops.

That's what I call fun.

jwollitz@shermanassoc.com




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