Dawn patrol for catfish

Whole Buffalo River Adventure: Ponca to White River an...

July 28, 2022 Comments Off on Follow the feathers for good fishing Featured, Fishing, Latest, On The Water

Follow the feathers for good fishing

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

It pays to be a bird watcher when it comes to catching fish.

Three of us were on a bird-watching expedition earlier in July to see the aerobatic show of cliff swallows at a high bluff on Beaver Lake north of Rocky Branch park. These amazing birds were in NWA Outdoors on July 12.

Bird expert Joe Neal of Fayetteville and Alan Bland, former park ranger at the lake, and yours truly were on the water early in my small fishing boat. The show was in full swing when we arrived.

Some 50 to 100 cliff swallows dipped and darted while feeding on flying insects in the glow of sunrise. Adult birds swarmed beside the bluff feeding themselves and taking food back to newly hatched swallows in nests.

This particular bluff, many call it Red Bluff, is lined with hundreds of jug-shaped cliff swallow nests the birds build with individual mud pellets that dry into hard nests. The aerial display of birds takes place mornings and evenings from May through midsummer at the bluff each year.

In our floating front row seats, I couldn’t help but wonder if some heavy-weight largemouth bass lurked in the depths under these colonies of cliff swallow nests. Might the fish cruise this spot for an easy meal of whatever might fall out of the nests and hit the water? A hatchling cliff swallow could tumble from above or a fledgling’s first flying lesson might go awry. Either way, I figured that a bird in the water could become breakfast for Mr. Big Bass.

I was on the lake early again July 18, this time to fish. The day found me close to Red Bluff around 10 a.m., mainly to get out of a strong wind blowing from the northeast. There were cliff swallows all right, but fewer of them. Time to test my theory.

The closest lure I had that might mimic a struggling bird was a black Whopper Plopper top-water lure. It has a blade that spins, splashes and sputters like the wings of a bird might do.

On the second cast the Whopper Plopper splashed down under a colony of nests and whammo! A 3-pound largemouth bass nailed it. Slipping the bass back into the water I wondered, am I on to something?

Farther along under the bluff another smaller largemouth attacked the Whopper Plopper. A third fish tried to smash the lure to smithereens. I don’t know how I didn’t hook that bass.

Can’t say for sure those swallows had anything to do with it. That rocky shoreline beneath Red Bluff is fishy looking territory even without birds and a Whopper Plopper is one fish-catching lure. All I know is I won’t sneeze at two top-water bass on a hot July morning.

The birds to watch in winter at Beaver Lake are gulls. When gulls circle above the water and dive-bomb the surface, they’re eating threadfin shad. All game fish, including big striped bass, feed on shad, which travel in big schools roaming the open water away from shore.

Work any lure that imitates a minnow or shad and keep a tight hold on that fishing rod. I can thank gulls for the modest-sized striped bass proudly displayed here at the shack-ri-la.

It was an overcast December morning when I spotted a bunch of gulls strafing the lake surface north of Horseshoe Bend park. I tied a jointed Red Fish top-water lure to my line and cast it into the fray. Two cranks of the reel handle and that striper pounced it in a swirl the size of a truck tire.

It was one of three stripers I caught from that school, thanks to watching the birds.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com