Jim McGuire: Dog days and catfish nights

Down through the ages, purple and gold were always considered the colors of royalty. Even today, the combo’s majestic power remains—obvious even when displayed by native wildflowers growing beside a picturesque hill-country creek.

The regal looking wildflowers catching my eye were a wealth of goldenrods and asters. Blooms which held royal court from their meadow thrones along the banks of Paint Creek.

I’m forever a pushover when it comes to such splendid natural tableaus. Momentarily bedazzled by their compelling beauty, I almost missed the feisty bass who decided to inhale my deerhair bug as it floated near the edge of the pool.

Thankfully, a lifetime spent poking along backcountry creeks with piscatorial intentions has trained my reactions to take charge when my wandering mind is elsewhere. A case of body over brain. And a good thing, too, since this penchant for thoughtless angling means I’m occasionally startled to find myself connected to a rambunctious smallmouth.

It wasn’t a big fish, but it was big enough! Maybe 14 inches, which is sufficiently respectable in my book. Besides, as any incorrigible stream fisherman can attest, smallmouth fight big for their size.

The lightweight fly rod arched into a lively half-circle. The bass jumped once, twice, each time slinging shimmering droplets of water everywhere, like a Labrador retriever shaking dry after a romp in the pond.

I hung on and tried to not chortle. Yeah, I agree, ”chortle” is a silly word for laughing out loud. But someone recently told me I chortle when I’m playing a fish. I don’t think of myself as a chortling type of guy. And I’m unsure about whether I want to continue being one or not. So until I decide, I’m temporarily trying to restrain myself.

After a few minutes of somersaults, cartwheels, and similar bass-type di-does, I led the smallie close. Without lifting the fish from the water, I worked the hook free. The smallmouth held a second in the clear shallows, then torpedoed into the pool’s murky depths.

Mapmakers claim Paint Creek’s length of 94.7 miles makes it the longest creek in the state. I’m not quibbling with the facts, but I do wonder how such things get designated.

What’s the difference between a creek and a river? Is there some cartographic criteria involved; a formula incorporating various measurements? Or was the naming purely arbitrary? Did some buckskin-clad adventurer once part the willows, gaze across the breadth of this heretofore nameless stream, and simply proclaim it forever a creek?

It’s a mystifying process. What I do know is that Paint Creek is a lovely and productive stream. Whenever devotees of Ohio’s running waters gather, Paint Creek unfailingly makes everyone’s “top ten” list.

Paint Creek begins humbly, not too far southeast of Springfield. From there it flows south, through some of Ohio’s richest agricultural land. Pastoral country. After passing through the towns of Washington Court House and Greenfield, Paint Creek merges with Rattlesnake Creek to form Paint Creek Lake.

Upon exiting the lake, Paint Creek takes an eastward—even slightly northeastward—turn. Still rural. Huge corn and bean fields border the stream. But they’re surrounded by hills. Land of the mysterious mound-building Adenas and Hopewells, and later on, the legendary Shawnee.

At the end of this final stretch, Paint Creek empties into the mighty Scioto River at Chillicothe. Along its entire length, Paint Creek is a stream angler’s smorgasbord. Smallmouth, rock bass, crappie, bluegill and their sunfish kin, catfish, an occasional saugeye, and rarely, even a muskie.

I try and fish Paint Creek at least a few times every year. My favorite stretches lie below the little village of Bainbridge. And the best time of all to explore these many miles is right now; the period is between summer’s end and the latter days of November.

Streamside meadows wear royal dress. Autumn’s multicolored leaves brighten the hillsides. And Paint Creek’s resident bronzebacks go on a weeks-long final-fling feeding spree. Ohio stream fishing truly doesn’t get any better than on this creek during this timeframe.

And during those banner days when the action is unbelievably fast and furious, I can’t help myself—I wade and whoop and fish like a madman … and no doubt chortle practically nonstop!