Oil Creek trip brings back old memories

Submitted Photo


In mid-November, I got a call from my friend Danny down in Perry County. He had just caught some crappie in Oil Creek, an Ohio River embayment. Even though it was hunting season and late in the year for fishing, we made plans to go as soon as he recovered from some knee surgery. We got together on Dec. 10, a pleasant 60-degree day — maybe too pleasant.

Perfect weather for fishing isn’t the same as for golfing or picnicking. For those pursuits a sunny, no wind day is perfect. For fishing, not so. You need some breeze and some cloud cover with humidity. A very light misting rain is uncomfortable but ideal. That day featured a beautiful blue cloudless sky and not a wisp of wind. We tried hard at pitching minnows at every likely looking spot we could find, but alas, we were fishless. Maybe it was the fluctuating water level from the river. Higher than normal water covered a lot of the stumps and fallen trees. There was no current, which helps the bite. On this day, water pushing in from the Ohio River counteracted the creek’s current, so things were at a standstill. Not good. I fondly recalled last year, when we pulled up to a treetop and caught something like 18 crappie out of a kitchen-sink size spot. That top had vanished, or it had been covered by the rising water.

Some days you get them, some days you don’t. It was a beautiful day to be outside though, and I enjoyed hearing from Danny about how things are going at Perry Central High School, where we graduated. He has spent a lot of time on Oil Creek and knows the spots, but that day nothing was happening. I did see an eagle though, and the drive through the Leopold and Mt. Pleasant backroads always brings back good memories. Oil Creek much further upstream bordered my grandparents’ farm; as a youth, I spent many a joyful hour there wade fishing for rock bass and sunfish.

Getting into Oil Creek is a struggle. You can go to Derby and launch at a private ramp there and motor a long way up the creek, or you can launch at the gravel ramp at a slough called Webb Branch. Since this is the area we fish, I travel the mostly paved roads to get back there. It’s about an hour’s drive for me from Jasper, and Danny lives nearby. You can find Webb Branch on a source such as an Indiana Atlas and Gazetteer, which is helpful if you hunt or fish the Hoosier backroads.

After you launch at Webb, you’ve still got to contend with a maze of stumps cut off right at the water line. Danny knows how to negotiate through the obstacle course without much trouble. Good looking crappie water is everywhere, but the fish are only in certain areas, mainly the thicker brush piles and stump groupings. We like to fish our minnows about two feet deep, but some guys swear by jigs. Crappie are always looking up for their food, so you don’t want to fish below them. It’s possible to catch fish there all winter, if the weather cooperates, but it gets much tougher as cold weather sets in. April and May are prime months, but everything depends on water level and clarity.

High school memories

Danny and I go way back to the old Perry Central school building. I say old because where I graduated was torn down in 1967 to make way for a modern facility near Leopold. The new place has indoor plumbing. Yes, my high school in 1965 still had outdoor toilets. The guys didn’t make too much of it, but the girls complained some. The athletes were the most disgruntled, not because of the stinky outhouses but because we had no basketball gym. We traveled to Leopold to the small church facility for practice, but had no home games. We did have a baseball field of sorts. The elementary building sat in left center field, a decent fly ball away. The goal was to avoid putting out a window. A corn field behind home plate caught a lot of foul balls.

PC at the time also had no library to speak of, no science lab, and no this and that, but we did have caring teachers and coaches who did their best to give us good training with limited resources. I recall sitting near Danny at a table in bookkeeping class, where he would patiently try to help me understand debits and credits. It never made sense to me, which was borne out by my having no understanding of budgeting or checkbooks until well after I was married.

Private lake produces, even in chilly weather

Our new home building project this summer put a damper on my fishing, and only since mid-October did I venture out. I now have a three-car garage with room for my truck and bass boat. I go out and look at them frequently as my old Dakota and Bass Tracker relax out of the weather, and I quietly give thanks for the blessings of our new home. We’ve always had just a one-car garage, so this is real upscale living.

My late-season fishing involved a private lake that I’ve seldom tried because I thought there wasn’t much reason to go there. Turned out I was wrong. Even though the November weather was chilly, spinnerbaits and crankbaits produced nice catches of eating-size bass, just right for cleaning and frying. The lake has too many small bass and some of them need to be removed.

Just when I thought the lake harbored only little guys, a five to six-pounder latched on to my spinnerbait. It took him only one big jump to throw the lure, but both my partner and I got a good look. It was a dandy. I’ll be looking for her next spring.

Our safety protocols will make this an unusual holiday season, one that we hope is not repeated anytime soon. Be smart; you are in charge of how much risk you’re willing to tolerate. Christmas will be a major challenge. Spring with its warmth and hope of a vaccine are around the corner. Be patient, and keep active. Take walks even in the chill, do at-home exercises, read good books and watch uplifting movies, eat sensibly, and contact someone who might like to hear from you. Caring for others enough to give them a phone call might be the best Christmas gift of all.

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