Enjoy this post by local fishing legend Len Harris!
“River Monsters” by Len Harris
For decades I drove to one of my favorite streams and always looked longingly at where it emptied into the Kickapoo River. I have had run-ins with large trout historically where this happens in the early season and in the heat of summer.
It always was the change of temperatures from small streams to rivers. In the early season the temperatures were warmer in the small streams and attracted river monsters to the confluence. Spring creeks typically run about 10 degrees warmer than a river they flow into in winter. The springs cause this. They run about 40 degrees constantly. In summer the crazy bigs stick their noses in the cooler water small streams due to them having more dissolved oxygen in them. A 20 to 30 degree difference can be found at a confluence in summer.
Up river about 10 years prior I tested this theory with a new fishing friend. We looped downstream and I let him cast first at a confluence of the Kickapoo. He seemed like a seasoned angler so I did not prepare him for my experiment. The stream emptied into the Kickapoo and there was a mud line.
This is where the clean small stream emptied into the dirty Kickapoo. The trout were attracted to clean water due to a couple factors. Being able to see prey was the main factor. They could hide in the dirty water and ambush prey. Prey in river monster terms is other small trout.
We were on the downstream side of where the tiny tributary fed in. My rationale for going to the downstream area was the long standing determination that trout look upstream most of the time for their next meal. I figured this would be the same when stalking a “River Monster.”
I gave my friends set-up a once over before he cast. The line looked new and he had a new size 4 panther martin on. It looked a little on the small side for my taste but he was a seasoned angler and I thought he could fight a monster if he set his drag properly in the large Kickapoo River. I could not tell how his drag was set and I thought it anal to ask him if it was set properly. “WRONG”
I told the guy to run the edge of the dirty to clear line because that is where the big dogs ambush your lure. I also told him to let it drop and to slow his retrieve for maximum exposure in the potential monsters wheelhouse. He cast in and his cast was good and about 3/4s of a second after the lure hit the water when it was dropping the water exploded. His line went tight for about a second and a half and the lure flew back at him.
We both were startled and stood there in awe. I told him to fire back in there that it was only stung and it might come back. He cast a couple more times with no luck. We were going to change lures and he went to cut off the panther. Needless to say we both stood there slack jawed when he showed me the size 4 panther. All three of the treble hooks were straightened out from the crazy strike on the first cast. The wire gauge of the smaller spinner is inadequate for River Monsters. I reached for his rod and reel and checked his drag and it was too tight.
We fished upstream and talked. He dismissed the hellacious strike as a pike laying there eating trout.. I let him believe what he wanted. I saw a flash of brown trout spots bum rush his spinner from the dirty to clear line. It was a GIANT brown. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he lost the trout because of operator error. Too small of a spinner and having the drag set too tight.
“River Monsters” are trout that grow too big to live in tiny streams. Their calorie intake dictates they live in bigger water where bigger meals live. They visit the tiny streams in late fall to spawn and move back out to the bigger water later.
The clear mud line is obvious in the photo. I recommend sizing up your spinner and line poundage for this scenario. Test that drag prior to casting!
The photo in this story is not from the “River Monster” debauchery but from another confluence about 10 years later. I was fishing with my friend Jim Furley and no inspection of his rod/reel/spinner was needed. Jim is my equal and did not need babysitting.
I let him have the house first. He promptly caught a decent 17 incher. My anticipation of a “River Monster” was brewing when he cast. I remember telling him to horse the trout in so we would have another run at his mother or dad. Big trout do not become River Monsters by being dumb. I bet the monster that lived there saw the commotion from the 17er being landed and it spooked our target.
Through the decades I have had the majority of my run-ins with monsters in these situations.Thermals are key. Sometimes the fish win and other times operator error is the reason. It was NOT a pike.