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Exploring

I got out on the water a good bit this year, more so than in recent years, which has been pretty exciting. I haven’t done a good job of documenting it here, but I’m working on that now. These trips don’t last as long as they used to, but I’ve gotten to fish a lot of new water and a variety of different types of water. The reason for the diversification was pretty simple; I wanted to target as many different species of fish as I could.

I found myself motivated to catch new species this year as I decided in the spring to participate in the Red Stick Fly Fishers Jambalaya Challenge, a contest our local fly fishing club started this year to see which member could catch the most species on the fly in the given timeframe. I figured I could catch 25-30 species and run away with the victory, but little did I know fellow Baton Rouge fly fisher and blogger, Chris Williams, had big plans to catch as many species as possible this year on the fly as well. Thus began a back and forth competition between Chris and myself that went on from March – November which put me fishing all over the Baton Rouge area and beyond looking to catch anything that swims.

On one of those trips I found myself in Zachary, checking out a BREC park there. The main fishing pond there had some stained water and the pond itself was pretty boring so, armed with my 1wt, I ducked off into the woods to check out the outlet creek.

With apologies to Johnny Cash, “I’ll fish anywhere man, I’ll fish anywhere…”

At this point I’ve committed to full blown microfishing, something I never thought I would do in my life, but a species is a species in a competition. I didn’t take pics of every tiny fish I caught, as many of them I’ve caught this year already. There were a variety of juvenile sunfish, mostly warmouth and green sunfish, and a couple topminnows, which from my research afterward were blackspotted topminnows.

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I can only take so much microfishing so I left the ditch in the woods and headed to check out another smaller pond at the park. I found it loaded with submerged vegetation and much better clarity than the bigger pond, or the ditch for that matter. I began tossing my 3wt with a beadhead leech pattern in pockets and around grass edges and working it back slowly, but fast enough to not to get it caught up in the weeds. On one cast a fish exploded on my fly as soon as it hit the water. It was a nice largemouth for the 3wt and after a short fight and some tugging through the weeds I got him to the bank for a few pics.

I wasn’t expecting a largemouth of that size in this small pond, but I was happy to have found him there.

Fishing a bunch of different ditches and parks around town has been a lot of fun this year. They don’t all reward you like this one did, but it’s this kind of trip that makes the exploration worth it. It keeps me interested in continuing the pursuit, fishing anywhere and everywhere, wondering all along just what the heck lives in the water around us and how can I catch them.

After driving home from fishing north of Lake Pontchartrain, we ultimately decided it was in our best interest to pack up that night and head north with the kids in the morning, far out of the cone of uncertainty that surrounded Hurricane Ida. We ended up booking a cabin in Oklahoma, near Hochatown, Beavers Bend State Park, and the Ouachita National Forest. There were several cabins available and after Blake and I had visited and fished last year up that way I commented how that would be a fun place for the whole family. It seemed like now was as good a time as any to head back. We turned it into an impromptu vacation that I think we all enjoyed.

While we were up there I did find a little bit of time to sneak away and fish. I fished the Lower Mountain Fork in Beavers Bend last year in early Fall and remember the fishing being tough. This time around I decided to explore a bit of the Ouachita NF backcountry and find a creek where I could target some native fish. After a lengthy drive down numerous dirt roads I arrived at a creek crossing and decided to check it out.

The water was beautiful, some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. There were lots of baitfish swimming around too. I decided this was as good a spot as any to string up the 3wt and explore it further. It did not take long to catch fish.

The longear were timid, but eventually obliged and ate up my offering. The longear were nice, beautiful fish, but I was really looking for a smallmouth, which were proving to be elusive.

The water was so low and still that fishing was tough, especially for the larger predators. I saw a few smaller smallmouth, a fish I would normally consider aggressive for their size, but they were extremely wary. I may have had one mouth a bait and I pulled it from him before he could get hooked. I didn’t want to be gone from the family too long either so eventually I had to call it a day without the smallmouth I was after, which was a little disappointing, but I was happy to have gotten out.

The next afternoon I was able to get out again, this time I had Marin along for the ride, so it was less of a fishing trip and more of an exploratory one. I went a different route and ended up on a different creek. I knew she probably just wanted to play in a creek, but I brought along a 1wt, just in case she wanted to see what lived in said creek.

I wasn’t so certain I’d find a fish big enough to hit my flies in a creek this small, but I did when this creek chub sucked down my dry. There were a lot of creek chub in the creek, this one just happened to be big enough to get hooked.

We had fun playing on the slippery rocks in the creek and checking out a part of Oklahoma I’m sure not many people know about. The Ouachita’s are beautiful with some of the prettiest creeks I’ve come across, I definitely recommend checking them out if you ever get a chance. Next time I’ll hit some bigger water though and give myself a better chance to locate the smallmouth.

We headed back to Baton Rouge on Tuesday not really knowing the hornet’s nest we were driving into. We knew that things were bad back home, but to what extent was unknown. We knew our home was fine and that power had actually been restored that day, but much of area was severely impacted. I was really glad we made the decision to head elsewhere during the worst of the storm and that my kids didn’t have to live through the experience of riding that one out.

Just before things got serious with Hurricane Ida I was able to squeeze in a last minute scouting trip to a few roadside spots north of Lake Pontchartrain. This trip was supposed to be a wade fishing trip to one of my favorite streams with a brief roadside stop on the way to try and catch a new species to me, but the weather that day made me call an audible.

I pulled up at my first stop as the skies opened up and began casting my fly into a hole where a tannic stream poured out of a set of culverts that ran under the highway. I worked the hot head damsel fly from one side of the hole to the other and I tried to work it from the top down because in some spots the deeper I let it drop the easier it was to get hung up. Here’s what I found:

Goggle-eye (Warmouth)
Grass pickerel – the target species
Bluegill
Juvenile goggle-eye
Flier

The grass pickerel was the species I was after so I was pretty pumped to catch one at the first stop. The flier was a surprise bonus catch and as an unabashed sunfish nerd I was thrilled to land it as well. I knew they existed in South Louisiana somewhere, but I really had no idea where I needed to go to target them because I never hear anything from other anglers about them. In the Freshwater Fishes of Louisiana book by Dr. Neil H. Douglas, their range map says they exist statewide, but that to me is extremely vague and unhelpful. I may be asking too much of a nearly 50 year old book. I ended up catching three flier which tells me that they are at least established at this spot and should be a clue as to what type of habitat I should have been looking for them in all along.

I ended up fishing here longer than I thought I would because I was catching fish in the rain and frankly that’s better than not catching fish in the rain. All good things come to an end though and when things shut down I moved on to spot two. Spot two came on the recommendation of Chris Williams as the place I needed to go to target the grass pickerel and my whole reason for making a side trip here in the first place. He had added them to his species list for the RSFF Jambalaya Challenge and never having seen one before I was curious about them, so he passed on the knowledge to me. For that I’m very appreciative – anglers helping anglers, got to love it.

This spot was very similar to the first as it was a deep spot in a tributary, right off the highway. I worked it similarly and soon was rewarded with fish.

Dollar sunfish

Another mixed bag, no flier this time, but a few more grass pickerel, with the last one being pretty respectable, trending toward the max of their length. You got to watch those pickerel as they do have teeth and if they hit a fly up toward the line you may not get that fly back. I lost a couple flies to teeth while targeting them on this trip. They hit a fly like any Esox, they T-bone it, and I had a little trouble securing the hook up early on with them. I caught enough of them though that I wasn’t kicking myself over it.

After getting my fill of pickerel I picked up and moved on down the road. The rain wasn’t letting up and I spent a little too much time at each of these first two stops to go wade fish a stream now, especially one that may or may not get blown out with all the rain, so I opted to keep on spot hopping and scout a few more different roadside spots in the area.

The rain had made the day’s fishing tougher than it had to be and by the time I was ready to drive home I was sufficiently soaked. I caught a few fish here and there, no more new species to report, but found some good looking water. No spot was as productive as the first two. Also the more time I spent listening to the radio in the truck between spots the bleaker the forecast looked with Hurricane Ida. The track continued to jog westward toward Baton Rouge so I eventually decided I needed to head home. We needed to make a family decision as to what our plan was in regards to riding out the storm.

I’ll have more on that in another post, but know that our household and family made it through Hurricane Ida just fine. We were very lucky as there were many people in south Louisiana that were impacted and continue to be impacted by that storm to this day. It was a monster and one of those life changing events for some folks.