By Jared Meighen
I’ve personally never amounted to much of a city boy. I’ve lived in them, navigated through their endless corridors of traffic, dodged collisions with less than attentive pedestrians who apparently believed roads were meant for walking, parked unknowingly in tow-away-zones, had arguments with tow-truck drivers and ticket jockeys as a result, and waited in line to do, well, everything.
If you can’t tell, I grew up rural. I’ve got to hand it to city folks, though. They’re a tough breed. In my estimation, you would have to be equipped with a little extra brass just to survive it for any length of time.
It’s safe to say a lot of things come to my mind when I think about metropolitan areas. It’s equally safe to say that up until recently fishing was never one of those things.
Several years ago, I found myself destined to live in Columbus. There’s nothing wrong with Columbus; it’s a fine city, especially if you’re a city kind of person. I, however, am not. Ironically, my good friend and lifelong fishing partner had been fatefully dislocated to the same city a few years prior. For this I was actually relieved. Now I wouldn’t be alone in the insanity of my new reality. He assured me when I arrived not to worry, there would be plenty of fishing opportunities. As it turned out, he was right.
I was a bit stumped, though, because I knew my friend, Matt Dregallo, fished hard for smallmouth bass, and I recalled, on several occasions, him talking about fishing in creeks and rivers. So, where and how could he have found a sustainable smallmouth flow around here. Well, he actually found several.
For the next year, Dregallo and I would spend countless hours wading the Big Walnut and Black Lick. We canoed the Scioto, Olentangy, and Licking, and we fished from the shores of the Big Darby and Alum Creek. It was an epic time in my fishing career. He had ironed out a pattern there, and I was reaping the rewards. For once I was more than happy to be his tagalong.
When I contacted Dregallo regarding this story, he was beyond happy to help out, a credit to his gentlemanly disposition.
“It started out really quite simple,” Dregallo started. “I love to fish, have always loved to fish and, at that time, had been relegated to city life. I had two choices – figure it out, or don’t fish. So, I really only had one choice.
“Yeah, there are plenty of good lakes around the Columbus area, and I fished all of them,” he chuckled, “but I like fishing close quarters, in rivers and creeks, and I’ve developed an affinity for the smallmouths within. So, as simple as it sounds, it all started with some research on Google Maps. I located all the rivers and creeks around Columbus that I could. From there, I determined which ones had any kind of fishery in them, and boom, I was off.”
At first, Dregallo just dropped pins in Google Maps in areas that had river access. More often than not these were dog parks, playgrounds, and other public areas. He followed the map to the pinned areas and did a little further recon by foot.
“If I could identify tail-outs, good current seams, low-head-dams, deeper pools, and/or runs I stayed and fished them,” he offered. “I especially liked fishing confluences where I could find them. If the potential spot was shallow and void of structure, I unpinned it and went on my way.”
Some of the rivers and creeks you’ll fish in a metropolitan area are not very big, so depth and structure is relative. We’ve pulled countless fish out of pools that were 3 feet deep, 10 yards long, and no wider than a car is long. Dregallo’s motto is, “When in doubt, fish it.”
If you fish an area thoroughly and you’re not getting bites, move to the next pin. There’ve been days that we’ve relocated 10 times. It’s a bump and grind kind of thing. Use your mobility to your advantage. You don’t need fancy gear or expensive boats to access these fish. They’re there, under your feet, just waiting to be experienced.
As time went on and Dregallo pinned more and more productive areas, he started wading different sections of river and connecting points together for float trips. No matter how we fished the river, we often watched thousands of cars pass us by on nearby highways, planes take off and land, and joggers trek by. All the while we turned up a slew of beautiful bass.
Once you’ve got a spot to fish, the question becomes not where but how. There’s no shortage of options when it comes to catching smallmouths. Of course the time of year is a consideration. One of Dregallo’s favorite approaches, no matter the season, is a jig and soft-plastic swim bait. A Big Joshy 2.75- to 3.25-inch paddle-tail on a 1⁄16-ounce jig head has produced hundreds of fish for Dregallo. Cast past the anticipated strike zone and use a slow retrieve all the way back while holding the rod tip high. Sometimes they’ll follow and hit directly in front of you.
Early in the year, like now, jerk baits work well for reaction strikes. The Rapala HJ 10 and 12 models are good. Plastic hellgrammites and tubes are good, too. Small profile, shallow diving, square-bill cranks produce well just before the spawn. Four-inch curly tails are worth having in your arsenal as well. Most fishermen have their go-to techniques that they fish confidently and have a knack. Keep those aces up your sleeve, but get out of your comfort zone a little bit every trip. Versatility is king.
Dregallo’s favorite pattern, hands down, is in late spring and summer when topwater turns on. His favorite topwater tool is hands down a Whopper Plopper. Mornings, evenings, and nights are best for surface action. If you’re fishing at night and accessing the river via a public area, take note that some have opening and closing times.
I could dedicate hundreds of words here to the color topic, but I’m not going to do that. My recommendation is to have a plethora of variables on hand. Trial and error is your best friend. Just get in there and get your hands dirty.
You don’t have to live in Columbus for this to work, either. Developed areas all over the state offer river access to virtually unscathed smallmouth fisheries.
This style of fishing is distant from the silence of a peaceful rural waterway. Wildlife encounters do happen, but you’re not going to be an eyewitness to Yogi Bear or Big Foot. You will not be free from the sounds of the hustle and bustle that is city living. However, you usually have the water to yourself and, with a little luck, the company of a few smallmouth bass gnawing on your line.