Try White River for perch, smallmouth bass

Guest Columnist

This summer has been cooperative in that I have been able to get to fish on the White River around Shoals. Because of the drought, the river has stayed low enough to comfortably fish the way I like, which is to wade shallow riffles using jigs tipped with crawfish or hellgrammites in search of perch and, if I get lucky, to nab a smallmouth bass.

Maybe 25 years ago, through my cousin Ron’s connections, we were allowed us to go to Shoals and try our luck on private property near a river bend. I thoroughly enjoyed wading wearing shorts and sneakers. It reminded me of my youth fishing Oil Creek down on my grandparents’ farm near Leopold. The best time for river angling is the hottest, driest part of the year, usually July, August, September, and most of October. Lake fishing can be slow at those times, wading the cool river water is refreshing and comfortable, searching for bait under the rocks is fun, and when you add in the scenery, it’s worth the 33-mile drive from Jasper.

Before fishing Ron’s place, I had tried a river boat trip with my 1968 Jasper student teacher supervisor, Bob Lythgoe of Loogootee. We motored upstream from Shoals in his old jonboat after putting in at the ramp above the bridge. We didn’t catch much, but I do remember fishing an ultra-light jig in a rocky area near a river bend and getting a solid strike. The fish came toward the boat and then jumped two feet out of the water. It was a gorgeous two pound or so smallmouth bass. He or she took a look at me from close range and arrogantly spit the little jig back my way, as if to say, “You’re going to need bigger tackle.” I believe Bob caught a couple of small fish, but it was enough to get me interested. Then Ron told me about his spot, but it’s next to impossible to get a boat into this area.

One of the first times I fished below Shoals in those rocky riffles was on October 27, 1996. I started catching a few one to three-pound perch on jigs and live bait. River drum perch are fun fish. They don’t jump, but they thump a lure hard and pull harder in the current. Then I hooked a solid fish that didn’t jump, so I thought I had another perch. The fish wallowed around and really didn’t fight that hard. I brought him closer in, and my jaw dropped. I hollered to Ron, “It’s a big smallmouth!”

I brought him into the bank, unhooked the small jig, and admired my catch. He or she was a little over 18 inches, and I estimated the weight at between three and four pounds. I carefully kept the fish cool and wet until I delivered it to a taxidermist for a mount.

The result was something that didn’t really capture this beautiful fish’s vibrant greenish brownish tint. I was always a little disappointed when I looked at it on my wall. Then my son Aaron told me about a taxidermist up near his home of Spencer who was working on a deer mount for him. He told me I should get my fish redone by this guy, because he was good. I followed his advice.

Steve Klee had caught some river smallmouth and was familiar with exactly how they looked. He looked at my mount, shook his head in wonder at how bad it was, and then set to work on a fiberglass mount. Now when I look at the beautiful reproduction on the wall, it takes me right back to that day on the river. I highly recommend Steve. You can Google him and examine some of the images he has displayed. His cellphone is 812-821-1513. This guy is an artist.

Now when you catch that fish that you want to mount, measure the length and girth, then take a bunch of photos. Steve will create a work of art that you’ll be proud to hang in your home. The best part is, after the photos, release the fish for someone else to get excited about. I’m sure there are other highly qualified taxidermists around, and with deer season approaching, you might want to have someone in mind in case you nail a giant.

It’s fall and a great time to be outdoors. October may be the best season of the year to get a nice smallmouth on the scenic White River near Shoals, but they’re a bonus. The perch are the main quarry, and there are a lot more of them.


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