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Fish

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.

I saw a good weekend day to go fishing a couple weekends back and pounced on it.  The weather looked pretty cooperative and usually if you can catch mild weather in the winter luck will be on your side.  I woke up early and got on the water shortly after sunrise.

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It was a chilly start, but I knew the day would warm up so I wasn’t too bothered by the cold.  Besides, the winds were light and the clouds were nowhere to be seen, it was looking like it could be a pretty good day to sight fish.

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The tide was low, which is normally not a bad thing for sight fishing, however this tide was extremely low.  This extreme low had the water pretty dirty.  I knew it was low when I launched, but I didn’t realize that it would continue to fall throughout the morning.  There were entire flats that were exposed that I’ve never seen exposed.  The fish were nowhere to be seen and even when I did see them it was too late for me to make a cast.  Fishing was tough.

I did manage to avoid a skunk though.  Right around lunch I had made my way to a flat where I’ve always found fish.  It is off of a deep canal, so even if the flat was mostly exposed, there was still some refuge that could be taken in the canal for the fish.  Sure enough that’s where they were.  There were a handful of big black drum (they looked white in the water) with their tails up in the canal.  I moved into position and dropped my fly in the path of one of them and he vacuumed it up.  The fight was on.

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It was a hefty fish.  It gave me a couple of good strong runs and put a solid bend in the old TFO Mini Mag.  The drum was a square, nearly as heavy as it was long (35 lbs, 37 in. long).  It was a fun catch and I was glad to have caught something, even if it did slime up the boat and my pants.

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After that I tried to make my way through the marsh back to the launch, but without any water it was futile.  I headed back the way I came, through the bay, and ran into Scott from Bayou Chronicles and his neighbor on the paddle back.  We chatted and fished for a bit.  He ended up catching a beast of a redfish later in the day as I was already loading up the boat to head home.  The tide was coming back in after lunch and if  I were patient enough I probably would have had better opportunities at redfish in the afternoon.  It had been a long day on the water for me though and I packed it in.  There’s always next time I guess.

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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