Archive

Camping

I have this idea that I would like to catch a fish in all 50 states. If it’s a native fish to that state, even better, but that isn’t necessarily a requirement. I want to fish in every state. That is the impetus for a lot of the trips I plan. If it’s a new state, or a new fish species to me, I’m more likely to plan that trip ahead of going back to places I’ve been. I have a constant desire to explore the country and see new water.

I’ll admit Oklahoma wasn’t my first choice for a trip this year. It wasn’t my second either. But these are unprecedented times and you got to play the hand your dealt. A trip to Arizona in May got cancelled. Then, a trip to New Mexico around Labor Day also was cancelled. The back-up, back-up trip I considered was the Lower Mountain Fork in Oklahoma. At the time it looked like a cold front was going to sweep down and it would actually be a pretty nice weekend to camp and fish Oklahoma in early September. That cold front never materialized, just par for the course in 2020.

We packed up the truck on a Thursday night and made the 6.5 hour trek up to Hochatown from Baton Rouge on a Friday morning. First stop was the Beaver’s Bend Fly Shop in the state park to find out where we needed to fish and what worked there. We are not tailwater fishermen, but we were assured this wasn’t your normal tailwater. Coach Eddie Brister runs the shop and was a great guy to talk to. He was eager to help us and it was really one of the nicer fly shop experiences we’ve had on a trip. Armed with newfound knowledge we set out to catch some trout on the Lower Mountain Fork River.

It didn’t take Blake long to hook a couple of rainbows right below the campground. What did I catch you say?

Native fish of course. That’s how much of a native fish magnet I am. Fishing the same water and the same flies as Blake. Even when I’m making every effort to catch their coldwater, stocked cockroach-esque neighbors, I end up catching bass and chubs.

It didn’t take long to wear out the water behind the campground so we hit another spot that had better potential to hold wild trout as the river does have natural reproduction of both rainbow and brown trout, so we were told.

We got into the little wild rainbows, I think we both caught several of them, so we had proof that there were streamborn trout here. I later had a good opportunity at a really nice rainbow that I hooked and fought in some fast water. I felt like I had him beat, but netting him was proving to be an issue as there was no slow water around me. I’d get to the point of bringing him into my net, then he’d take off and head back into the current. Maybe I didn’t quite have him beat. On about the third or fourth time of doing this he was finally able to throw the hook. It was a little heartbreaking, but the trip was still young, so I wasn’t too beat up about it.

I got a little redemption in the form of a nice little brown trout that was hanging out in a riffle while I was making my way back to the car (Spoiler alert, that little brown would be the best fish I’d bring to hand all weekend). After that fish we headed back to the campground to dine on jamabalaya and white beans to finish out a successful day. I could check a new state off the list.

On Saturday morning we got back out to what they call Spillway Creek, the part of the river that holds more wild fish, and we nymphed the runs hard.

Blake caught a few rainbows, I didn’t catch squat. So we hit the road and went to a local brewpub at lunch.

Mountain Fork Brewery had decent beer, a nice variety of old world styles, but they didn’t have much to offer us hopheads. No fruited sours, no pastry stouts, one hazy IPA – I don’t know if national craft beer trends seem to have skipped Oklahoma or if this brewer just turns his nose up at us hipsters and our fads. The burgers we had were outstanding though and it was nice to talk shit to a Sooners fan at a bar while in town.

Fishing in the afternoon was pretty uneventful. It was Saturday and it was pretty hot out so Beaver’s Bend State Park was full of people. The evening hole, which we’d heard so much about was always occupied. Zone 2 was unfishable as they were constantly generating power. Flow from the generation pushes backwater up all the way up until our campground (Grapevine) so any spots I scouted on Google Earth that looked good downstream from us were covered with water. Really the only place to get away from folks was on Spillway Creek. It was our first time up there and it showed. We had so much learn in so little time. Steaks and whiskey next to the campfire made it all better though.

Sunday we ventured out again, this time we hit the river from a different parking area. It was a good call as Blake was able to stick a nice fish pretty early that came up and sipped a Chubby.

It was a really colored up old male rainbow that made the trip worth it. It’s funny how one fish can do that.

We fished on up, working the seams, Blake was having better luck than I was. I wasn’t having problems catching the chubs or the little wild rainbows, but anything bigger was eluding me.

I got one more shot at a good fish that I hooked in a good looking run, but the fight didn’t last long and after a few headshakes it was over. Oh well, on to the next brewpub.

The beer at Beaver’s Bend Brewery was good (they had more than one IPA at least), but kind of reminded me of a lot of the beer you get from homebrew kits. The “gourmet” hot dog though was really damn good and was appreciated coming off the water.

We hit the evening hole Sunday evening and really had nothing to show for it. We got to chatting with a guy who had been euro-nymphing and caught a few fish. I was genuinely intrigued with his set up, but he ended up being pretty knowledgeable about the fishery and a good dude to talk to. As we’d come to find out we were that at quite possibly the worst time of year. It was late summer, the water was hot, the trout were deep. They were not as spread out as they are in the winter. Not only that, but the water was stained, the lake was possibly turning over, and the level was higher than it gets in the winter when they bring it down to it’s lowest point.

I don’t know if this newfound knowledge made me feel better or worse about the tough fishing we experienced. It does make me want to go back in the winter though because we really had a great time camping, the state park was very nice, and I’d much rather fish (and judge) a river at it’s peak than at it’s low point in a year. It’s going to be tough to make the trek back though because he made some really good arguments for some of spring creeks in Missouri…..

After driving north through the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas River valley we made it to our next destination with daylight to spare.  At an overlook we got to see the river we’d get a chance to fish over the next couple days, it was as it looks in a summer time aerial image, low and teal in color.  A sign told us the color was due to the high mineral content in the water.  Large quantities of sulfur, manganese, and iron combined with the sediment load carried in the water causes it to appear aqua in color.  We continued on and got camp set up fast to walk down to the river and try our luck.

Chucking spinning rods it didn’t take long to get into fish.  The big green sunfish were ever present on this river as on the last, but so were the juvenile Neosho smallmouth.  We were able to catch a few before it got dark.  I even managed to catch a rock bass, a fish I haven’t caught since I spent some time in the Tennessee River watershed in North Alabama.  This river was quite different than the last, far less elevation change, no more big boulders, but tons of gravel.  Big long gravel bars along big long pools, not many fast flowing sections.  A tougher place to fly fish due to the slow water, but we’d give it a shot tomorrow.  I wasn’t too worried about tomorrow at this point, I was looking forward to dinner.  The NY strip, onions, and potatoes that were made on the cast iron pot were incredible.  I think we are getting better at camp cooking, even with interruption from dive bombing cicadas.

The next day was spent dodging rain showers and spot hopping along the river.  There were several access points upstream of where we camped that we checked out.  We fished at a few of them and probably should have spent more time at some rather than others, but that’s the joys of scouting.  It was nice to have a road alongside the river for much of the way, the only slight annoyance was when the large groups of ATVs drove by.  We must have been near some major OHV trails with the amount of ATV traffic that was in the area.  The fishing was pretty good, no real big fish, mostly smallmouth with some spots and sunfish mixed in.  There were plenty to keep us interested though which was nice.

After lunch we drove up to the local general store to have a look around.  The Ozarks seem to have no shortage of these types of places.  We each got a slice of caramel apple pie a la mode that may have been the real highlight of the trip.  Really good stuff.

After pie we hit arguably the best spot on the river that we had found, where a major trib emptied into the main stem of the river, we fished sections of each and caught multiple Neosho smallmouth.  This spot had more riffle and run than any other section we fished and that suited us perfectly.  Wish we would have stumbled upon it earlier.  It was there we wrapped up the fishing portion of our trip.  We had a long drive ahead of us on Sunday so we would not be hitting the water in the morning.  We had another solid dinner that night when Blake cooked up some chicken fajitas that had been marinating a couple days in the ice chest.  The trip, even with the shorter planning period, came together nicely.  I don’t know where the next one will be but I always have ideas.

 

With the itch to take a trip and a weekend set aside, Blake and I set out for Arkansas after work one Thursday earlier this month.  We drove 7 hours to a campground in the Ouachita National Forest and set up our hammocks as fast as we could to maximize the time we’d have to sleep.  Just like everywhere else in the South, western Arkansas is hot in the summer, even at midnight.  Despite the heat I slept pretty well and woke up to a sweet lakeside campsite.

We aren’t much on fishing lakes so we headed on over to a nearby river where we met Jason who drove over from Little Rock to fish with us for the day.  This trip was all about smallmouth bass, a fish Blake has never caught before.  We were hoping to catch both the Ouachita strain and the Neosho strain on this trip – two unique forms of smallmouth found in Arkansas.  First up was the Ouachita, which are found on a few different rivers that run south off the Ouachita Mountains.

The river was beautiful.  I feel like I say that about every river, but this one seemed special.  It was a classic freestone river, with water as clear as any you’ll find in the South.  There was a riffle at our point of access that was too appealing to pass up so that’s where we started fishing.  The riffle was chock full of boulders and loads of bait darted around as we moved upstream.  Upstream of the riffle was a long pool and as we continued further it was clear this was the set up – riffle, long deep pool, riffle.  We caught a few sunfish (some were massive green sunfish), but it took a while before we figured out the smallmouth.

We got to a point where a tributary emptied into the river and it was there that Blake caught the first smallmouth on a RLD.  

Blake explored the trib a bit further and caught a few more fish, while Jason and I focused on the main stem of the river.

It was in the bubbles to the left of the run above that I finally caught my first Ouachita of the trip.  It hit a streamer almost as soon as it hit the water.

Blake met up with Jason and I soon after and we continued our way upstream.  As we got further from our access point the river got prettier and the fishing got better.  This is nearly always the case, but we tend to get caught up fishing a new river right where start wading because it just looks too good to pass up.

I tried several different flies out early to try and establish a pattern, covering the water from top to bottom.  What I ended up using most was a crawfish pattern tied on a jig style hook that Blake had tied for me prior to heading to West Virginia last year.  Blake had good success on a RLD, the crawfish loved it too.

Not wanting to set up camp again in the dark we parted ways with Jason and left the river some time in the mid-afternoon.  I really wish I had budgeted more time for that river, it was an awesome one, definitely somewhere you could spend a whole weekend.  We only saw a few other people when we were leaving too.  I’ll be back at some point.  Right now though we had to drive north to the Ozark Mountains and Ozark National Forest to make it into a watershed that held Neosho smallmouth.

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.

IMG_8238

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.

IMG_8253

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.

IMG_8254

IMG_8311

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.

IMG_8262

IMG_8263

 

IMG_8270

IMG_8277

IMG_8282

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.

IMG_8283

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.

IMG_8284

IMG_8287

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.

IMG_8293

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.

IMG_8325

IMG_8335

IMG_8336

IMG_8341

IMG_8343

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.

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.

Altamaha_bass

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.

IMG_7439

20180920_100032

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.

IMG_7407

IMG_7410

20180920_104839

20180920_105009

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.

IMG_7417

20180920_113920

IMG_7423

IMG_7427

20180920_115310

IMG_7432

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.

IMG_7433

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.

bartrams_bass

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

20180920_170607

IMG_7442

20180920_170309

IMG_7443

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.

IMG_7450

IMG_7455

IMG_7463

IMG_7469

20180920_175522

IMG_7466

IMG_7468

20180920_184024

20180920_184139

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.

IMG_7478