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Angler's Journal: Leave It To The Beavers

January 12, 2010

By King Montgomery

Find beavers and you find fish. There are few maxims in angling, but the fact that fish of all sorts -- trout, bass, pickerel, pike, bluegill, crappie and others -- love to hang out with beavers is one all anglers can count on.

A beaver lodge is a well-engineered jumble of branches that provide shelter for beavers. The lodge extends out underwater, providing excellent habitat for gamefishes.
(Courtesy of King Montgomery)

Beavers are distributed widely across North America and are active in warm water, coldwater, moving and still waters. There are few places on a body of water where I guarantee you’ll catch fish, but a beaver lodge is one such location.

Dances with Beavers
There are several signs near and on a body of water indicating the presence of beavers: tail-slaps; limbs and sticks nibbled, devoid of bark; fallen trees with pointed ends at the break; and organized brushpiles. If you stray too near a beaver’s house, you are apt to be tail-slapped. The beaver uses his flat, heavy tail to loudly slap the water to shoo unwanted visitors from its territory.

Often you can tell if beavers are around when you find gnawed sticks or limbs along the shoreline; the marks left by the animal’s chisel-like teeth are easy to see. When a beaver fells a tree to eat or use in construction projects, the stump and the tree are sharply pointed. Scan the shoreline for the gnawed trees or the stumps.

If there is a brush pile along the bank and in the water, chances are a beaver built it either as a home and/or a larder to be nibbled on at leisure. Both lodges and what my wife Elizabeth calls “beaver breakfast nooks” hold fish of all sorts most of the year.

Fishing Beaver Condos
It’s a food thing -- a jumble of sticks breaks current and provides cover for critters up and down the food chain. From the smallest algae or animal to the largest bass in the pond, a beaver structure provides room and board to its finny occupants. And well-presented bait often entices the gamefishes that love beaver digs.

Once located, a lodge should be fished from the outside in. Begin about two comfortable casts from the lodge and cast surface flies or lures to see if topwater is working. Keep working the bait closer to the lodge. The fish usually bite topwater offerings early and late in the day or at night spring through fall. During most other times of the day and in the colder months, cast subsurface flies or lures.

For fly-fishing, I’m partial to Clouser deep minnows and bendbacks because they are relatively weedless. Plastic grubs or worms rigged Texas-style are good on spinning or casting tackle, and they are pretty weedless, too. Oftentimes, beavers place branches and limbs upright around the main lodge. These stick fields are a convenient fast food source near home, particularly in winter. Fish congregate around this cover and can be taken with a stealthy approach, and a nicely-cast line.

In this area of the Mid-Atlantic, I start fishing beaver lodges and brushpiles in February or early March. Chain pickerel, a smaller cousin of the Northern pike and the Muskellunge, are in the spawning mode and, of course, they are always hungry as heck.

They love to hang out around beaver lodges. Put on a wire leader for both fly and spin/casting applications because pickerels' teeth are plentiful and sharp; plus they attack flies and lures with abandon and can sever monofilament, braided or other lines with ease.

During electrofishing studies I’ve been a part of over the years, beaver lodges usually provide the best samples of the day in both quantity and quality of fish captured for study and release. Your lure or fly can do the same. Beginner, intermediate or experienced angler, you can always find fish when you leave it to beavers.

Our outdoors editor King Montgomery recently returned to our snow and cold after a week in Belize where it averaged 85 degrees! Read about his fishing trip in a future Angler’s Journal. He also will talk about some great deals on lodges in Alaska that are offering incredibly inexpensive trips because of the sorry economy. In some places, three people can go for the price of one!

Contact King at anglersjournal@aol.com.

Issue 145: January 2010