Monday, July 11, 2011

warm water fishing the root river

River smallmouth fishing is something new that we have just sort of jumped into on a whim here and my hope is to quickly hone my skills enough to actually land a dandy before the kings get up on shore. A few recent reports of bass in the Root have caught my attention and I figured, what the hell? With only a few hours to fish, it was a good choice because at least I was familiar with the water. My primary goal was to find a smallmouth bass that may have migrated up the Root River from Lake Michigan. As a secondary, it would be interesting to just see what the river looks like in the heart of summer. Maybe with some luck a crappie, pike, or something else cool would be enticed enough to bite?

Anything would be a relief compared to the last outing I had. My last trout trip turned nasty very quickly, being completely swarmed by an army of Dane County mosquitoes and black gnats. Bites were shared by the exposed areas of skin on my neck and arms and the annoyance was constant. Let me mention that I cant stand bugs at all. My precious fishing time was eaten (literaly) away by those little bastards. Missing takes because im too busy swinging my hat at the swarm really sucks. To make matters worse I found gnats up my nose, in my ear canal, and caught in the back of my throat after coming home to take a shower. I got all the ones that flew in my eyes out right away while fishing but that was enough to send me looking for an alternative to mid summer stream trout.

root river (summer)
The Root River wade started peacefully, after arriving I quickly noticed that I was the only person out fishing the Root that morning. Not the typical scene I’m used to seeing when pulling into the parking area. I started fishing the shaded areas of Lincoln Park and made my way up stream towards the weir. A tiny inline spinner with a gold blade was my first choice, hopeful it’s flashy blade or black and yellow body would attract a variety of species. I’m not sure if the trout gods felt bad about my most recent “buggy” trout trip, but the tiny stocker browns were up in the river thick. They hung in the fast shallow pools in groups, they were so plentiful that I almost went back to the car for my three weight fly rod (still rigged from the disaster trip). But, the voice of reason in my head was prompt to reminded me that I was actually prospecting smallmouth water and I refocused on the task at hand. A couple of the deeper pools just under the weir gave up some rock bass so I figured I might be on the right track. After fishing all the way to the weir I decided to drop back to Island Park. I wanted to see if I could find some deeper and slower pools and maybe just stumble into my smallie.

root river stocker brown trout

another stocker brown at the root river
The fast riffles and pools in front of Island Park also held masses of stocker browns. With the sweltering heat I was surprised to find them so eager to chase and take a spinner, but here they were. Air temps close to ninety and water temps close to seventy and the trout were still feeling froggy. If the pattern was to hold true, then there should be some warm-water species hanging in the deep slow pool just upstream. I walked up to the bridge pool and made a single cast into the gut. Instantly another rock bass grabbed my panther martin before I could make 2 full cranks. It started to feel like I was actually starting to unlock some of the mystery for myself. A few more casts, another strike, another rock bass? This time the fish shot straight out of the water followed by a few hard digs. Being one of those “not to terribly big” bass, I quickly swung the fish up on the gravel and pounced on my first Root River smallmouth.

a dink root river smallmouth bass
Sure, he isn’t big, but he means something. I put my mind to finding him and found him I did. That was a whole hell of a lot of fun for just a few short hours. About 15 small browns, a few rock bass, and one dink smallmouth bass were the totals. This warm water wading could be a great way to stay cool in the summer heat.

A side note- Hooking trout in water over 65 degrees puts heavy stress on the fish. Don’t dick around and release them quickly if you expect fish to live. Better yet, avoid hooking them altogether. Lesson learned.


  1. Those little browns look kind of plump because they ate all of my spawn sacs last winter! :) It's good to hear they're plentiful. The future looks BRIGHT!

  2. yup, nice to see the future generations of browns

  3. That sounds like a pretty good way to spend a summer morning. I tried the river small mouth fishing last summer and had a great time.

  4. Oh man those gnats are a real drag. I tested out using some cooking Vanilla and it seems to work for a little bit. My brother told me the old school BenGay works great when rubbed into clothing etc. They suck! Well done on the Root. Nice looking browns. I am glad you were able to achieve your goal on a such a fine day on the river. Great Pics. Tight Lines.

  5. Looks like you had a good time on the Root...well done!

    I got nothing for those gnats...experienced the same thing in MN last week. They're the worst.

  6. Those are some nice trout, were all of the fish caught with the spinning reel, also a nice looking piece of water to catch like you a viriety of fish. I agree the water in this heat can be a life savor.

  7. damn those bugs!

    yeah bill, all on the spinning rod and reel