JACK WOLLITZ Slack water is hardest test
What's the worst condition an angler will face on the water?
Is it heat or cold? Rain or bright sun? Muddy water or crystal clear?
It's none of those.
After fishing seriously for more than 25 years, I believe the worst thing a fisherman faces is slack water. Regardless of the species you pursue, the fishing will be better if the water is moving.
Based on my own experiences this summer and my observations of several well-known professional anglers, moving water is considerably more likely to yield more and bigger fish than still water.
Barely moving water
Consider, for instance: A steelhead angler arrives at his favorite stream at daybreak only to notice the water is barely moving.
Anglers clamber aboard a Lake Erie walleye charter and the marina's flag is hanging limp.
While launching his boat on the Ohio River, the angler spies no swirling eddies downstream of the dock.
Ugh! It's going to be a tough day.
On the other hand, anglers' spirits are lifted when they see trout streams up and moving, a nice chop on Erie and little whirlpools behind Ohio River obstructions.
Moving water - whether it's generated by gravity or wind - gives fish reasons to be where anglers expect to find them. Current aligns the food chain in such a way that everything falls into place - from the tiny aquatic plants and animals to the baitfish to the game species.
My best days on the water this year were when the wind was blowing and the rivers were flowing. The action dropped off precipitously when the wind was calm and the rain stopped falling.
At Berlin in May, I struggled to find the bass until the breeze started blowing at 11 a.m. Then the action turned on as though somebody had flipped a switch on the line of willows I was fishing.
At Presque Isle Bay in June, the wind-generated current swept shad across a gang of big largemouths staked out along the slope of an underwater hump and the fish fed for hours.
And I watched helplessly as pro angler Frank Scalish of Cleveland labored to tease bass into hitting his worm at Alabama's Lay Lake during the CITGO BASS Masters Classic. The problem was the power company wasn't pulling any water through the turbines and the section where Scalish was fishing was a still as a mill pond.
Yelas won Classic
Meanwhile, Jay Yelas won the Classic by racing to the upstream dam and waiting for Alabama Power Co. to release water. Yelas basically frittered away a few hours each of the three tournament days waiting for the current. And when it came, he filled the boat in short order.
Lake anglers can find moving water by reading the wind. Those who have the sense to move to the side of the lake onto which the wind is blowing typically will be fishing for fish that are more active than their cousins on the lee side.
On the Ohio River, where the water is low this year due to the drought, check the dams. The fishing often improves while boat traffic is moving through the dams due to the increased current generated by the Corps of Engineers' filling or emptying the lock chambers.
When all else fails and the water just isn't going anywhere, your only choice is to slow down, crawl a bait and pray it bumps a fish on the nose.