"If you go down to that creek, you'll get a
whipping when you get home."
Those were commonplace words in the summers of
my youth. We lived on ten acres outside of the
sleepy little city of Selma, Alabama. A quarter
mile of dirt road wound past two other houses
that sat on Hwy 80 by the row of mailboxes and
past the driveway to our home. The city limits
were on the other side of Valley Creek, which
was the east boundary of our property.
Valley Creek was like a magnet to a small boy.
I would eventually find my way there at least
once or twice a week. Watching out for the
occasional water moccasin was like second nature
to my list of comrades and I. Getting caught was
the biggest worry. I guess the only way I got
caught was by the telltale stains on the bottom
of my cutoff shorts. Soapstone stains, from sliding
down the slick bank into the pool where the old grist
mill had been at one time. If you splashed enough
water up from the creek on the right area and
plopped down with the right amount of forward
momentum, you were pleasantly rewarded with a
small amount of air time before hitting the water.
Give me a moment here to recover a little of
my childhood before I talk about the other type
of soapstone sliding. That is, the fishing kind.
The kind that almost always rewards you with a
good fight from a scrappy bluegill or occasional
Soapstone is a wonderful thing. It got the name
by the texture, with a consistency like a bar
of soap. I'm talking river soapstone here - not
the kind you see things carved from or inlaid
with. This is gray colored, slicker than banana
pudding when wet, soapstone. There is a particular
type of mayfly that burrows into the soapstone
and you can break chunks of it apart and dig out
the larva, or "grubs" as mom used to call them.
Most of my fishing is done on one of several rivers,
all within ten miles of me. I live where the
Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers come together to form
the Alabama River. Along the banks of these rivers
there are sections of this wonderful stone exposed
with numerous niches and structure under the water
level. These are areas that you don't want to pass
up on your way as you float down the river. Most
fishermen neglect this wonderful fish holding
structure in favor of a brush pile or fallen tree.
Don't let a soapstone bank pass you by next time.
Let me introduce you to the art of soapstone slidin'
as we call it.
Before my introduction to the wonderful apparatus
known as a flyrod, I would use the 'other' long pole,
a bamboo one about 12 - 14' in length. No bobber
was used to dangle the cricket below. Only a #10
or #12 cricket laden hook and one BB split shot.
Deftly swing the offering over towards the bank,
allowing it to actually hit the bank, then fall
into the water. From the fishes point of reference,
this is a terrestrial offering that apparently lost
its grip and dropped into the buffet area.
Nothing left to do but watch your line from that
point. Having done this with a cane pole and 6#
test line for years, when I switched over to the
flyrod it became even easier to watch the larger
diameter of the flyline for the take. Sometimes
the take will come as a twitch on the line, but
more often than not the line will stop flowing
with the current and start back upstream. This
means either a fish is on or the fly has become
lodged on an object. Most often it will be a fish
as there are rarely any snags along these banks.
Best fly choice for this is either a nymph or
some attractor type of wet fly. A small attractor
is my favorite as it is more easily seen by the
fish as the current moves it by. I tie a bead-headed
nymph on a #10 hook, using Green Tinsel Chenille
for a body and a red bead. You can tie one of
these quicker than seven cats can skin a minnow
(as my dad would have said). Expect quick and
hard strikes with this type of fishing. They want
to grab the food and move back to their structure
as fast as they can. I do not use a heavily weighted
fly. I want the drop to be more natural. More like
a drift. A bugger with some crystal flash tied in
and no lead wire would be another good choice.
I will float the same bank time and time again in
the course of a days fishing. Maintain position
with a trolling motor while drifting along,
keeping yourself a set distance from the bank. I
will get to the end of a bank and crank the big
motor, and move back to the upper end and fish
the same bank again. Usually by the time you have
done this, the areas where you picked up fish are
calmed back down from the excitement and you can
pick up another.
One last tip that goes against the grain for most.
Don't try to maintain a tight line while your fly
is drifting. It will just pull it away from the
bank and out of the productive zone. This is a
visual method and line watching is a must. A long
leader is not needed unless the fish are holding
deeper. Tie on a strike indicator at the leader/line
connection if needed.
Good Luck and remember to keep a "loose line" - until
that big Bluegill is on the other end.
~ Mike Saunders (Gill Nut)