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Fish

It happens every year. When the azaleas start blooming the desire in me to fish a creek is at it’s strongest. The creeks are calling, beckoning me to wet my legs in the cool water, and tease some poppers around fallen timber in search of spotted bass and longear sunfish. This year that flame was fanned a bit more by my friend Brian, who had just recently taken a trip to Arkansas in search of smallmouth bass. His pictures were inspiring and as soon as I had a chance to hit a local creek I did.

It didn’t take long for me to catch my first spotted bass of the year, that happened right under the bridge where I accessed the creek, it fell for a little black Clouser minnow. I soon switched up to a popper-dropper so I could target the bass and the sunfish at once and eventually I coaxed a little largemouth from a lazy side channel with one of Ron Braud’s beautiful stippled poppers that I had won from last year’s Red Stick Flyfishers’s Jambalaya Challenge. That same lazy side channel then produced a couple beautiful longear.

There’s been recent research to suggest that the longear sunfish complex are comprised of more than just the two species that we currently recognize; Lepomis megalotis(longear sunfish) and Lepomis peltastes(northern sunfish). It’s been proposed that there are as many as six ancient lineages of longear sunfish (that includes northern sunfish). According to the paper, the longear we catch in the Amite River watershed, like the ones above, are suggested to be Lepomis solis.

The variability in the appearance of longear sunfish across their range has been pretty obvious to the discerning fisherman for quite some time, hell, there’s even a Facebook group dedicated to this observation: Lepomis Megalotis Morphology Project. When you see specimens from totally different watersheds side by side it’s easier to note the differences. The longears I’ve caught in Bayou Sara or Thompson Creek, which both drain into the Mississippi River, certainly look different than the ones we catch in the Amite, or any other northshore river, so this research doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Call me a splitter, but this research is very welcome, I’m definitely all for it.

I continued my way through the stream catching bluegill, shiner, more longear, and eventually another spotted bass. I swear I use to catch more spotted bass in these streams when I first started fishing them, but then again that was pretty much the only species I targeted. These days I’m trying to catch everything I see, which has me doing a lot of switching of flies from poppers to nymphs to streamers to size 26 micro-nymphs. It takes away from the time my fly is in the water, but I find it pretty rewarding to catch a wider variety of fish.

On my way back to the vehicle I found another lazy side channel that was loaded up with topminnow, some looked large enough to catch with a fly, so I re-rigged and spent some time dapping for them. It’s a little tougher to do it with a 6wt than a 1wt, but I got the job done and hooked one of the bigger ones. I made it back to the bridge and tied a popper back on to work the pools that formed behind the stacked up debris that clings to the pylons underneath seemingly every bridge around here I walk under. I don’t think there is a big budget for debris cleanup on our waterways, which is probably not the best thing for flooding, but it does increase the fish habitat within a river, so I’m not really complaining. Sure enough the best bass of the day was happy to explode on my black BoogleBug and I was as happy as a river clam when it happened.

The creek was calling and I’m glad I listened, it was a great day on the water, experiencing nature. No cool agate finds on this trip, but I was pretty happy with the diversity of fish that came to hand. I always tell myself that I shouldn’t wait so long before my next creek fishing trip, but then life always finds a way to interject. Hopefully this post will inspire someone out there, the way Brian’s pictures inspired me, to hit up a local creek and spend half a day on the water just taking it all in.

I had another opportunity to take the new kayak out to the marsh one day last month and man did I hit it right!

The last two trips in the kayak I’ve failed to wake up early enough to make it down there before sunrise, which is not a big deal to someone who sightfishes as much as I do, but it prevented me from making a longer paddle at the beginning of the day last time and I was determined not to do it again this time. It at least gave me an opportunity to see this stranded Ford Ranger, across the canal from the nearest place a vehicle should be, in the daylight. Thanks Ida.

It was near-perfect conditions though and I couldn’t have been happier about it. Apparently the fish were just as thrilled as very shortly after I got to the first flat I wanted to fish I started seeing activity.

After seeing a couple of bigger than average redfish and blowing shots at them the thought began to creep into my mind about my previous trip and how awful I was at making the most of my chances then, somehow I shook that mindset though and was able to connect on the next opportunity. I spotted a big black drum feeding on bottom and what I thought was another black drum with it. I made a cast toward the big drum and he began to track the fly, but the other fish beat him to it and I set the hook. It was a big fish and very soon I could tell it wasn’t a black drum.

This red gave me some good runs and put up a solid fight on the 8wt. I was after a redfish over 30″ for the Massey’s CPR tourney and it had been a while since I eclipsed that mark on the fly from the kayak, but this one was at least 5″ past my 30.5″ board, so goal accomplished for the day.

I didn’t have my 45″ ruler on board because for some reason the 321 ruler wasn’t stated in the rules as an approved measuring device this year for the yearlong Massey’s CPR tourney, so I quit carrying it around. This fish had to be submitted as 30.5″, which tied a previous submission by another participant, so it’ll only be good enough for 2nd place redfish on the fly in that tourney, despite it clearly being longer. I play by the rules and sometimes those rules are pretty dumb. Still I like the Massey’s CPR tourney because I can participate on almost every trip I take in the kayak, there’s a fly rod category, and I don’t have to keep the fish. It’s the only kayak tourney I continually participate in. I’m over the conventional meathaul kayak tourneys. I won one once, I’m happy with that. Sorry for the aside, back to the fishing.

I made the decision to head back to the main canal and fish the flats there on out to the bay, thinking I’d keep seeing big fish out there. The fish weren’t there though, they were on the shallow flats in the marsh. It wasn’t until I made it back into a marsh cut that I started seeing fish again. After that it was on.

One of my favorite catches on the day wasn’t the biggest fish, but the situation was pretty awesome. I got to a pond that was super shallow. Shallow to the point where I commented to myself that no self-respecting redfish would be caught dead in that pond and wouldn’t you know there was one way in the back happily cruising with his back out of the water. There is no shallow that’s too shallow apparently. There was only one way into this pond and I was at the opening so I just waited for him to swim into casting range. I even captured video of him with my phone before I put it down and made a cast to him. I put a fly out in front of him, twitched it a couple times, and he pounced on it, much to my delight! It’s nice when you don’t screw it up!

After catching those two redfish, which were both around 28″, I spotted a little shark crusing around the shallow flats of the marsh. I made a few casts his way, but could never get him to eat. I popped back out into the bay and then made my way to another marsh cut back into the marsh. After traversing that cut I made it to a big flat at an intersection of waterbodies where I could see black drum were actively feeding. They were so focused on whatever it was they were rooting around for on the bottom that I could get real close before casting and it didn’t take long to hook up with one.

I then hooked another.

These weren’t the biggest drum I’ve ever seen, but black drum over 30″ are pretty heavy fish and fun to fight on the fly rod. My 8wt was definitely doubled over as I fought to bring these guys within arm’s reach of the boat. My net was far too small to handle them so the fish grips had to work.

Just up the bank from the black drum I spotted a good redfish working the shallow bank. It gave me a good opportunity at one more redfish over 30″ and I was lucky enough to make my shot count.

It was a pretty fish with bullseye spot on his tail and a great way to end the day. I couldn’t believe the luck I had on the day and the fact that almost every fish I came across was a big fish. There’s something to be said about mild late winter days in the South Louisiana marsh – the big fish just seem to come out this time of year!

This was one of those days that make you remember why you put in all the hard work trying to fly fish from a kayak for bull redfish. It’s not easy. Nothing about the process is easy. It’s a lot of work. It’s downright difficult. It would be much easier to use a boat. It would be much easier to throw conventional tackle. It would be much easier if I could spend an endless amount of time on the water and know exactly where these fish are at all times. When it all comes together like it did on this day it makes it all worth it. This doesn’t happen nearly often enough, but when it does happen I’ve learned to cherish it.

I got a chance to get down to the marsh on New Year’s Eve and try out a new-to-me boat that I picked up off of Facebook marketplace. I had been looking for a tandem boat with a framed seat that also had a solo configuration and had a couple brands and models in mind. I finally came across a good deal on a Crescent Crew around Thanksgiving and jumped on it.

This trip to the marsh was my first opportunity to really dig into the new boat, but it also gave me an opportunity to see how post-Ida Lafourche Parish was coming along, which I’ll get back to at the end, let’s talk fishing first.

I paddled out from the launch to the first flat directly in front of the mangroves you see in my launch pic above and immediately saw fish tailing. The tide was out so it was real shallow in there and after a few errant casts I plopped my fly in front of a cruising fish and hooked up. First fish in the new boat was a red on the fly!

After that first fish I really thought that the fishing was about to be on fire, but truth be told, the next four hours were downright frustrating. I wasn’t seeing tons of fish to begin with, missed the shots I did have, and was pretty much just blowing opportunities left and right. Odd things were happening too. I’d have fish eat my fly, I’d set the hook, and then a few seconds later they’d spit the hook. Stubborn me never changed the fly, insisting that it was getting the eat, but in retrospect that was foolish. I finally got my shit together and caught another red (with the fly in question).

I caught another red just as I was ready to call it quits for the day and head back home. The long gap between fish catching was tough, but at least I ended the day on somewhat of a high note.

Overall, I was happy with the new boat and happy with my purchase. It’s the first non-Jackson I’ve paddled in quite some time and it definitely has a different feel to it. The deck is pretty much the same as the Bite, wide open, which I like. It’s not as wide a boat as the Bite, so the primary stability doesn’t compare(a little more wobble when standing), the secondary stability is definitely there though. The boat paddles and tracks a straight line very well and it’s pretty fast, closer in comparison to my old Kilroy, which is my favorite boat I’ve ever owned. It has a deeper keel(which probably explains the tracking) and it sits higher out of the water than a lot of my previous Jacksons. A big plus is that the weight of the boat balances nicely on the side handles when carrying it overhead and makes it more manageable to throw it on top of my truck solo. The weight comes in at 80 lbs, which I think is pretty light for a tandem, slightly heavier than the Bite, but due to the weight balance it is actually easier to cartop than the Bite. I don’t that it’s fair to make a bunch of comparisons between the Crew and the Bite as one is a tandem and one is a solo, but these are the two boats I currently own, so that’s what I can speak to.

It was good to get back down to the marsh and see with my own eyes that, at least at this spot, which is a favorite of mine, that the marsh was healthy post-Ida. There was plenty of fish and bait around and I didn’t come across any big areas of vegetation die off. The natural ecosystems bounce back from these big events pretty well so I really didn’t expect to encounter any issues. Still you never know until you can see it for yourself.

Infrastructure though and the human side of life in South Lafourche has been severely impacted by Hurricane Ida. Things are going to come back very slowly down there. The areas where there is a lot invested, like Port Fourchon, are back up and running, but for folks living from Lockport south times are tough. I didn’t make it as far as Grand Isle on this trip, but Leeville was pretty much wiped out. So many structures damaged, so much debris still on the side of the road months later; this storm was devastating to these rural fishing communities.

Keep these folks in your thoughts and prayers. They won’t be down long. The fishing is too good and the people are too strong to scare them away.