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Exploring

Got an hour to kill?  Enjoy this film shared by Joe Tomelleri of the native trout of Mexico.  A description of the video reads “Truchas Mexicanas is a bi-national group that has been studying the trout of Mexico since 1997. As many as 12 species of native trout inhabit Mexico’s rugged and forbidding Sierra Madre. This is the saga of her trout, her native people and the struggle to save a dwindling resource.”

Last weekend I wanted to get Marin out of the house so I asked her if she wanted to go see what fish lived in the “creek” at the nearby park.  That wasn’t reason enough for her to commit to going, but then I sweetened the pot and told her that we could play on the playground after we fished which got her to immediately put her shoes on and head toward the door.

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The “creek” is a drainage ditch that runs through the park near our house.  It’s not very long, I’m not even sure it has a name.  You can jump across it and not get wet in some places, at bends it slows down and deepens enough to make a pool.  Those pools will hold fish.  On a hot, cloudy February day those fish were hungry.  We caught several species of small sunfish, some on tiny nymphs, but more on dry flies.  I brought a 1wt and had fun making bow and arrow casts to the pools and watching fish explode on the surface shortly after the fly landed.  Marin had a blast holding the fish and releasing them back into the water.

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Dollar sunfish (Lepomis marginatus)

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Redspotted sunfish (Lepomis miniatus)

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Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

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Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

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Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

I was surprised at the diversity within this tiny trickle of a ditch, but really it shouldn’t come as a surprise as Louisiana is truly a melting pot for Lepomis species.  This was borderline microfishing but it was actually pretty entertaining, especially with ultralight fly tackle.  Marin loved it too, which is really all that matters.

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.

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.

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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