Last month I took the family on a road trip up to Northwest Arkansas where we rented a cabin in the Boston Mountains at Devil’s Den State Park.  The impetus for the trip was LSU’s road game in Fayetteville – I’ve always enjoyed travelling to see the Tigers play and have typically made it to one road game a year.  Amanda and I had never been to that part of Arkansas and a trip to see some Fall color wasn’t a bad idea so we decided to make a trip of it.

The drive was about 10 hours, most of it coming on the highway rather than the interstate.  The drive from Little Rock toward Fort Smith on I-40 in the Arkansas River valley is quite pleasant.  When you’re from Louisiana just seeing elevation change is nice.

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Any road trip with a 1 year old is always longer than it should be, but for the most part she handled it like a champ.  After breakfast in Natchez we had to stop and play at a park in Monticello.  We then managed to make it all the way to Alma before Olivia had really had enough of the car.

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My first impression of the park was of admiration for the old CCC architecture.  There were rustic old stone and log cabin buildings spread in the woods among Lee Creek Valley, they actually fit in well with the scenery.  We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of Fall up there, with lots of orange, yellows, and reds throughout.  The temperature change from Baton Rouge to NW Arkansas was pretty sharp, it was bitterly cold through our entire stay up there.  We were determined to not let it be a deterrent to our enjoyment in the woods and we enjoyed a few different hikes around the park.

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The Devil’s Den trail is a 1.3 mile loop that really showcased the sandstone caves, crevices, and bluffs that the area is known for.

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One of the more interesting parts of the trail was along Lee Creek where people, over time, had constructed a seemingly endless amount of rock cairns.  Olivia did her best to play Godzilla and knock a few down, I’m sure eventually a flood will take out the rest.

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Lee Creek, which was shallow and clear, had me longing for warmer temps so I could try my luck for some Ozark smallmouth.  The forecast had been so cold though that I didn’t even pack a rod.

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In a bid to see more Fall color in the area we made the drive one day over to Natural Dam, a natural rock dam spanning 200 feet along Mountain Fork Creek.  The kids loved playing with the rocks on the cobble beach just below the dam.

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We did make our way into Fayetteville on Saturday for the game where we went to the Farmers Market in Downtown Square then spent the rest of the day tailgating until game time.  The Razorbacks had not done much this season to capture the attention of local fans so we basically had the campus to ourselves.  There really wasn’t even a strong LSU contingent there.  My parents also made the trip to Devil’s Den and were nice enough to keep the kids while Amanda and I went to the game.  We were treated to some complimentary tickets not long before game time by a nice Arkansas fan, I can’t thank that woman enough, they were great seats too!  The game wasn’t a thriller by any stretch of the imagination, but the stadium was nice, they had hot chocolate delivery, the fans were pleasant, and the Tigers got the W so it was a good experience all around.

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It was really nice to spend quality time with the family where cell service was shoddy at best.  I think the kids really enjoyed being somewhere new and spending as much time outside as we did.  After this trip and spending the night in a tent at Audubon Zoo with Marin back in October I’m hoping we will make more of an effort to go camping next year.

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I use to preach this more, but if you are new to kayak fishing or just shopping for a new boat demo days are far and away the best opportunity to see just what style of boat or even specific boat model you are most comfortable in.  They provide the opportunity to try out as many different makes and models as you feel like getting into.  These events are always free and typically come with store specials that are being run that day or week so they also make great opportunities to purchase a new boat as well.

I helped put butts in seats this past Sunday out at a demo day for Pack & Paddle that was held at Sugar Mill Pond down in Youngsville.  We had fantastic weather and I was able to try out the Blue Sky Boatworks Angler 360 for myself – what a fantastic platform to pedal and fish from.

If you’re in the market for a new kayak do yourself a favor and call up your local kayak dealer and ask when their next demo day is.  It is the best way to narrow down the ever-expanding kayak market to something more palatable. Sometimes the kayak you like best will be a surprise, which is one reason I like to work the demo days, to see someone’s reaction to a boat they may have not even considered.

The first three days of our Georgia trip were devoted to bass fishing.  We were able to wrap up our redeye bass slam and as a bonus I was able to get the Georgia bass slam as well.  Now that we had made it to the cabin it was time to switch gears and target trout.

We hit the creek at the cabin early Saturday morning.  I had two rods rigged up; one with a big honking streamer that Blake tied for me and another with my standard hopper-dropper rig.

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I had a follow on the streamer in the first spot I fished, which had me excited, but then things were quiet as I fished subsequent spots.  Blake had an eat from a big fish, but it spit the hook early on in the fight.  It was beginning to look like we might skunk at the cabin that morning, but I finally made it to a spot I could effectively fish and I had another fish follow and even an attempted eat, but I pulled the fly out of his mouth.  I stuck with it though and luckily got another good eat and I stuck him with a strip set this time.

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Not the biggest rainbow we’ve caught at the cabin, but it was cool to get one on the big ass streamer.  I released that fish and went back to work and just downstream of my first eat I got another one.  This one was a little better fish.

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Getting to watch fish chase down and eat a big streamer was very cool, but it was obvious that throwing one was not a great way to fish every spot on the creek.  Hell you couldn’t fish every spot with one because there really wasn’t enough room for it in most places.  For the 3 or 4 spots though where it seems like it will be effective I’ll make to sure to have a streamer tied up every time I fish them from now on.  We headed up for lunch shortly after that and then hatched a plan to fish some wild water that afternoon.  Blake had brought a 1wt on the trip that needed to be fished.

After lunch we headed up the road to what has become our favorite small stream in North Georgia.  We were looking forward to some wild trout on dry flies as we had not had much topwater action this trip.  After a short hike into the stream, we dropped down off the trail and toward the bottom of the valley into the creek.  It was a little disturbing to see as much hog sign as we did on the walk down, but what are you gonna do, feral hog are everywhere now.  I let Blake fish the first good looking pool so I could tie on a nymph dropper and he took advantage of the opportunity and hooked a nice wild rainbow.

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It’s not often you get into wild trout over 10″ on North Georgia small streams, so this fish was pretty special.  We continued working our way upstream catching tiny rainbows in pocket water and nicer fish in the plunge pools and deeper runs.

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I hooked a fish in one pool that gave me a heck of a fight on the glass 3wt.  I was standing on the downstream side of a debris filled logjam fishing the pool upstream of it when the fish came up and hit the dry toward the back of the pool.  He ran all over the pool and under the logjam.  Thankfully I was able to keep the line tight and he wasn’t able to shake the fly.  I was able to pull him out of the logjam and back into the pool to land him.

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It was a heck of a wild rainbow that pushed 12″.  One of the best blueline rainbows I’ve caught in a long time.  We fished for a little while longer hoping that maybe a rogue brown trout would show up.

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No browns showed up, but it was a heck of a trip for 8-12″ rainbows.  The fish looked fat and happy too, which was nice to see because there are other concerning things happening in the valley.  At one point while we fished we saw a small pack of hogs which confirmed the hog sign we had seen.  We saw them again on the hike out.  It’s kind of a bummer they’ve discovered this valley.  Besides the hogs the hemlocks are continuing to die off due to the hemlock woolly adelgid and there is not much we can do to prevent that as treatment involves treating individual trees.  My hope is that other canopy trees will fill in for the dead hemlocks and continue to provide the shade these trout need.

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We headed back to the cabin to catch the Tiger game.  We left Sunday before dawn as it’s a long drive back to Louisiana.  We had a heck of a time fishing in Georgia.  This was the most diverse fishing trip we’ve ever done in Georgia and it was awesome.  I plan to make more of an effort to fish different bass water from the cabin.  Coosa redeye, shoal bass, and smallmouth bass are all fairly close.

I want to extend a big thanks to all the folks who helped us as we completed the redeye bass slam.  I came up with a plan of attack for the slam, but then bounced it off as many people who were willing to listen.  If you listened, thank you.  Thanks to Matthew Lewis, who wrote the book on redeye bass fly fishing.  His passion for the fish is infectious.  He was the inspiration for me to tackle the slam.  He completed it last year and when he and a couple buddies put a formal slam together this year I knew I had to give it a go.  I’m glad Blake was along for the ride.  Thanks to Andrew Taylor, a Georgia boy in Oklahoma, who was very influential in helping us decide where we needed to target these fish.  He has done some really great research on bass in Georgia.  Thanks to Jon Hummel, fellow Jackson teammate, he completed the Georgia bass slam last year and gave some great suggestions on where we could target fish in North Georgia.  We ended up spending most of our time further south, but his help was not in vain – I did get my shoal bass!  Thanks to Chris Lynch, Mark Miller, Josh Tidwell, James Eubank, and Josh Rhodes, these Alabama guys were more than willing to help point us in the right direction as we fished our way across their state.

I’ve wanted to make a shoal bass trip for a long time and this trip provided me the perfect opportunity to do so.  Once we finished the redeye slam I knew we would probably need at least one more bass species to close out the Georgia bass slam and I knew exactly which species I wanted to target.  Shoal bass are native to the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins, but have also been introduced in the Ocmulgee River.  The Upper Chattahoochee was en route to the cabin from where we camped so that’s where we headed.

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Where we chose to fish the river there weren’t a ton of shoals, but it had some and they were close to an access point, plus there was a tributary we could fish as well.  We usually do better on smaller water so I figured this spot was our best shot at a shoal bass.

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I was able to catch a couple of juvenile 8″ fish that I think were shoal bass below and above this riffle.  Having never caught a shoal bass though I wasn’t 100% on the ID, I wanted to catch a no-doubter.

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Lucky for me I got a hold of a no-doubter.  As I floated the crawfish pattern through the tail end of a pool above the riffle and close to the shore I had a really good strike from a fish.  After a solid strip set I was into a good fight.  The fish made it easy on me and decided not to head downstream, instead heading further up into the pool.   I was able to corral the fish and grab it’s bottom lip.  Boom, shoal bass success!

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It may have only been a 13.5″ fish, but I’ve been wanting to catch that fish for a long time.  We kept fishing the rest of the shoals without any more luck so we hit the tributary stream.

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It was good looking water, but not very productive, I didn’t catch anything else and Blake wasn’t able to land a shoal bass.  Kind of a bummer that Blake wasn’t able to also get the Georgia bass slam, but we were looking forward to getting to the cabin and shifting our focus to trout.  Next time we fish for shoal bass we’ll have to find a nice big shoal complex which will probably mean making a float to put ourselves in more habitat for longer.

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Next up for Blake and I was the Altamaha Bass, which is found above the fall line in the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ogeechee river basins.

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We woke up early, packed up camp, and headed to the river to hike down to where we wanted to begin to fish.  The Chattahoochee River trib we fished the day before was much smaller than the river we were about to fish and had better clarity too, but this was still fishy looking water.

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Things were pretty slow early on, Blake picked up a sunfish or two before we got into any bass.  I caught an 8″ Altamaha in some slow water under a log to start things off.  Blake followed that up with a good one that went 10″.  These fish didn’t have the bright red fins like the Chattahoochee bass, but they did have some orange color on upper and lower part of the caudal fin, and outer margins of their second dorsal, and anal fins.

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We caught a few more bass and sunfish as the morning progressed.  The action had only slightly picked up as we worked our way through the shoals.  When we got to the end of the shoals we headed out and made our way into Athens for lunch.

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On the recommendation of my brother we stopped at Akademia brewpub for lunch, the beer and food were excellent, the bartender was top notch too.  I’d recommend it to anyone heading to Athens.

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After lunch we made our way to Watson Mill Bridge State Park where we planned to camp and fish for Bartram’s bass, the last redeye we needed to complete the slam, the redeye bass found above the fall line in the Savannah river basin.

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There was still some daylight after we had set up camp so we decided to try and knock out the Bartram’s that evening.

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We started on a tributary creek that ran through the park, but it was slow and low and Blake only managed a chub there, so we moved on to the shoals below the mill dam.  It was a good move because we were able to catch our Bartram’s there shortly after we started fishing.

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With the redeye bass slam complete we’d accomplished what we had set out to do and it was a pretty awesome feeling.  I had four of the five bass species needed to get a Georgia bass slam so tomorrow we’d set out to catch a shoal bass and knock that slam out too.  First we’d feast though, steak night tonight.

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