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Camping

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.

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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.

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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After completing the Mobile Basin redeye slam back in May, Blake and I knew we wanted to make another trip later in the summer and complete the seven species redeye slam by catching our Chattahoochee, Altamaha, and Bartram’s bass in Georgia.  I’ve spent plenty of time fishing for wild trout in North Georgia, but I’ve never really sought the native basses in the state.  Last year the Georgia WRD introduced a bass slam of their own and have put in a lot of work creating a website that really provides a great starting point to planning a trip to target any or all of the ten black bass species found in the state.  Check out the nifty ArcGIS web mapping application they’ve built below:

https://arcg.is/nm5Dy

With the help of the Georgia WRD online resources and the help of a few other friends we set off early last Wednesday to camp and fish our way across the state, starting on a tributary to the Chattahoochee to target the aptly named Chattahoochee Bass.

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As you can tell from the Joseph Tomelleri illustration above these bass differ from other bass species because their second dorsal, caudal, and anal fins have bright orange to red coloration on the outer portions.

After about a 7.5 hour drive we arrived at our destination around lunch time and hiked down to where we wanted to start fishing.  It did not take long to start catching fish.  They weren’t the target species, but Blake began wearing out the redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) in the first spot we tried.  I joined in on the fun with a healthy bluegill on a hopper.

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After a few bream we began working our way upstream.  We each caught a bass or two that looked like a spotted bass, or hybrids, before we got into the redeye.  One good thing about the Chattahoochee bass is their bright red fins make it hard to mistake them for anything else.

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We eventually got into our target fish and we each caught a few around 8-9″.  After trying a hopper/dropper early I switched to a crawfish pattern Blake tied and that’s when I really started to catch them, swimming it slowly through good looking water.

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My best Chattahoochee bass was a 9″ football who didn’t miss a meal.  I also managed to catch a nice 12.5″ spotted bass in a slower bend of the stream.  We may have been targeting redeyes, but I wasn’t against the bycatch, especially if I wanted to complete the Georgia bass slam too.

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We packed up shortly after that.  It was after 5pm and we still needed to drive another 2.5 hours east to set up camp, closer to where we planned to fish the next morning for Altamaha bass.  It was a great start to the trip though.