July 2014 Issue
An outdoorsman reflects on the lure of the seemingly ordinary Scioto River.
I’ve been bound to the dust and mud of the Ohio logging industry for some 20 years.
I’ve also been continually spoiled throughout my career as a professional forester, thanks to some generous clientele who allow me onto their land to hunt and fish, as well as to gather morel mushrooms, hickory jacks and ramps.
The biggest privilege for me is getting to see many rare geologic features that the public likely never will, such as the Chimney Rocks near Richmond Dale. Located on private property, the awe-inspiring tower of silica conglomerate stone stands as high as the nearby chestnut oaks and was surely used by the Native Americans who once lived there as a place of solitude.
Given my unique situation and my access to so much private property, my friends often question why I choose to spend so much of my time on the Scioto River — a public place — when they know I could easily be at one of my clients’ private lakes.
The fact of the matter is, the Scioto River is public but it’s not crowded. As a fisherman, the river attracts me because the bite is almost always good. I usually catch five to seven species of fish during an outing, and they are always bigger than what you’ll catch in the river’s tributaries or the nearby ponds and reservoirs.
However, the Scioto does require a fee for admission: You need a boat capable of navigating its shallow and rocky waters. My son and I launch a rather large craft for the river, a 22-footer named “Georgie Buoy.” It has a jet drive rather than a propeller, which allows us to navigate the numerous rocky shoals without damage to the craft. But a canoe, a jon boat or a kayak will also do the job.
The golden rule of fishing is to start early. Other than lightning bugs, all you’ll see when launching a boat onto the mighty Scioto on a predawn summer morning is what the moon allows you to see.
There is something euphoric about navigating a large, fast and heavy craft in shallow river channels before daybreak. Part of it is that you must use a combination of senses. Sight is the obvious one, but I also have to smell for fuel leaks and listen for abnormal noises in the jet drive.
My heightened senses combined with operating a heavy and powerful craft at night and through shallow waters forces me to carefully read the vague little swirls of river current that can only be seen when reflecting moonlight. They guide the way through the deepest sections of the river like the yellow line on a highway.
We’re well into the journey by the time the impending sunrise closes out the night. The payoff comes when, near our favorite fishing spot, my son and I and see a beaver, perhaps a river otter or a white-tailed deer catching an early-morning sip of water. We pass numerous groupings of great blue heron nests that are built throughout the largest riverbank trees. They are reminiscent of a neatly illustrated genealogy chart. Some of the large white sycamores lining the river have up to 30 stick-built heron nests resting in their lumbering branches.
The Scioto can credit the many managed lakes upstream, where saugeye, hybrid white bass and muskie are all released annually, for its abundance. These fish somehow find their way south, where they supplement the already excellent smallmouth bass, white bass and crappie fisheries.
As we ease the boat’s throttle down, bringing its hull lower into the shallow river, we look for signs of baitfish breaking the river surface. This is our sign for a good morning of fishing. We often use crank baits and fly rods during these outings. But we’ve found there’s something about a chartreuse vibe — a vibration-emitting blade bait often used by ice fishermen but equally suited to the Scioto’s muddy waters — that attracts the mightiest of river fish.
George Comstock lives in Chillicothe.