By Darl Black

If a bass angler goes by the moniker “Captain Dinger,” it’s a pretty good bet you can guess what he throws the most.

“From ice out in March until freeze-up in December, I fish a variety of lures for smallmouth bass on the Allegheny River, including hair jigs, tubes, swim jigs, small crankbaits, topwater, spinnerbaits and soft jerkbaits,” explains Dale Black of Oil City, president of Black Knight Industries.

“Each lure has circumstances when it is most effective. But I always have a Yum Dinger tied on a rod as back-up bait because it will catch river bass year round. However, without question, in the late summer when catching bass can be tough for a lure-slinger on the river, the Yum Dinger really rises to the top of the list.”

The picturesque low flow of a shallow river in late summer screams, “fish me.” But looks can be deceiving.

During this time some rivers anglers feel the lack of a smallmouth’s enthusiasm to attack a lure can be blamed on the low, clear water. True, brown bass are more skittish under these water conditions, but the real culprit in late summer is likely an overabundance of baitfish. The new crop of streamline chubs, dace, log perch and shiners are reaching the 4-inch range, therefore drawing the attention of every hungry bass.

From mid-August to late September, live-bait fishermen using live indigenous creek minnows have traditionally corralled the best catches. But other river anglers have figured out the finesse lure techniques for late summer without resorting to live bait.

dinger(Left: Captain Dinger's rig for late-summer river smallmouth.)

“In bass fishing, I consider using live bait a form of cheating,” chimes Black in jest. “Anyone can catch smallmouth on a chub, dace or shiner. It takes more skill to do it with an artificial.”

Black was a latecomer to river smallmouth bass fishing, having spent his early angling years targeting walleyes in flowing water with live bait. But 15 years ago when a friend convinced him to go bass fishing in a jet boat, Dale was hooked. He bought a River Pro jet and changed his focus to smallmouth. Within a short time he became very proficient at catching river bass with a variety of lures throughout the year. However, there was that late summer slump just before the water began to cool.

Eventually he figured out that as cooler water of fall approached, smallmouth were switching from a varied summer diet comprised of crayfish, insect larvae and random minnows to feeding almost exclusively on larger preyfish. Closer observation revealed riffles filled with baitfish hovering near the bottom. With the exceptions of shiners, most of the baitfish species were brownish in color.

“So I started thinking about a lure presentation that would be similar to the behavior of the river bait. It couldn’t be weighed too heavily because the bait needed to hang just off the bottom in the current. I wanted to mimic the subtle movements of river preyfish, including the specific color and size of smallmouths’ preferred bait. When I began concentrating my effort on drifting a 4” darker-colored stick worm through the faster moving water, I began catching a lot more bass in the late summer/fall transition.”

His stick worm of choice is a Yum Dinger in Green Pumpkin/Purple Flake, Watermelon Seed, or Black. As his reputation of successful catches with that particular bait grew, some of his friends started calling him “Captain Dinger” as a play on another of his businesses – a vehicle dent-repair franchise called Captain Dent. The nickname stuck.        

Dale insists on a particular rigging for his Dingers, which starts with a 4/0 X-Point Wide Gap Light Wire Hook. He slips a 1/16-ounce cone sinker on the line then ties the hook, but he does not peg the sinker. The Dinger is rigged Tex-posed with tip of hook set barely under the skin of the plastic.

“Fluorocarbon is virtually invisible in clear water and the thinner diameter hook allows for more natural drift,” explains Dale. “The 1/16-ounce weight and sinking line combined with the slow-sinking Dinger is a perfect match for most of the water I fish in the late summer – fast-flow and only a few feet deep. The Dinger drifts and bumps along the bottom just like a real baitfish.”  
houdini shad

(Right: Captain Dinger's main back-up rig for aggressive smallmouth, a double Houdini Shad rig.)

His primary Dinger presentation focuses on drifting the bait through gravel riffles, rock-studded current runs plus the push and tailing waters above and below a whitewater rapid – all places where river preyfish feed. When protruding rocks are present in a current run, Dale directs his casts so the Dinger passes just to the left or right of rocks in mid-river – a prime ambush site for bass to set up. In moderate flows, Dale will allow the boat to drift while casting. But in necked-down boiling white water sections, he will anchor his boat in the slack pocket behind a large boulder in order to effectively cover all territory.

“Cast upstream at about a 45 degree angle, engage the bail of the spinning reel and follow the drifting bait on a downstream sweep,” explains Black. “The rod tip is held at about 11 o’clock in order to have the best feel of the bait moving along. A very small amount of slack in the line is useful for obtaining a natural drift.”
Of course, Dale does not rely solely on just a Dinger at this time of year. He always has a Yum Houdini Shad on another rod for a change of pace.

“If bass are rambunctious enough to chase preyfish to the surface, the soft jerkbait comes into play,” explains Dale. “First I sashay the soft jerkbait on the surface to draw attention to it; then I let Houdini Shad dead drift in the current like a wounded prey. Bass attack the drifting bait aggressively.

“Sometimes I’ll rig two Houdini Shad in tandem – called a donkey rig. This can really excite the smallies.”

Utilizing 10-pound braid with a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader enables Dale to make long casts and solid hookset with the Houdini Shad. “The Houdini Shad is particularly effective over beds of eelgrass growing in shallow, flowing water,” adds Black.