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Fish

As I mentioned in the Grand Isle post, I spent some time recently working up in West Virginia.  It was actually my fourth trip up to the state for work and I’ve still yet to squeeze any fishing in.  This time, since I was working at a site that was along the New River, I packed a fly rod thinking I may have time to break it out once I wrapped up what I needed to do at the end of each day.  That extra time never materialized, but on the day of our departure I had a few early morning hours to kill between sunrise and when we would need to drive to Charleston to fly out.  The night before I hatched a plan and picked a nearby Bluestone River access trail and crossed my fingers that everything would work out.

The next morning I woke up super early and drove to the trailhead.  I rigged up by iPhone light and waited until 6:00am to hike in – that’s when the trail opened according to the sign.  It was still dark as I walked, but twilight had broken through the trees as I came to my first landmark, a waterfall on a tributary stream, which was the main purpose of the trail.  I accessed the stream below the falls and decided to try my luck there, hoping the place was ate up with smallies.  It was beautiful water.

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After drifting flies through prime looking runs and only catching a chub of some kind I decided to head back up to the trail and head down to the main river, which was another mile or mile and a half in.  I was short on time so I didn’t waste it deliberating on what I should or shouldn’t do.  Worse comes to worse this would be a nice hiking trip as opposed to a nice fishing one.

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Now that I was hiking in daylight I could see how beautiful the trail was too.  The rock bluffs were reminiscent of those in the Bankhead, but the vegetation more resembled that of North Georgia.  As I continued hiking along the trail I began to notice that the tributary was getting pretty far from the footpath, not necessarily as the crow flew, but in terms of elevation.  I was hiking into a gorge and I didn’t even realize it. I figured there would be some elevation between myself and the trail, but this was getting to be a bit much.  The slope down to the river wasn’t gradual, all I could do was keep hiking and hope that it would taper off somewhere.  In time it did and I rambled my way down the hillside to the water.

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I quickly went back to fishing and caught another fish on the dropper, this time a shiner or minnow of some kind.  Chubs and shiners weren’t what I was after and as I looked up in the trees above me making sure not to foul my backcast I could see a giant bucktail jig hanging on some mono.  It was time to re-rig I thought.  I was throwing a popper/dropper thinking it would be a good way to cover water, but nothing was hitting the surface fly so I switched to a crawfish pattern that Blake tied up.  I was starting to run out of time if I wanted to catch a smallie, I had maybe a good half hour left to fish.  Up ahead I could see more pocket water, different than the runs that I had been fishing, a good place to swim a crawfish I thought, so I moved on up.

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My instincts were right and thankfully I did catch my smallie.  It wasn’t but maybe 8-10 inches, but I caught one.  Then I missed another one that was even smaller.  Then I hooked a chunky chub.  I looked at my watch and decided that I should head out before I got too caught up in the fishing.  I had to be back at the hotel for 9:30am and I definitely needed a shower before meeting up with my coworkers.

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It was a very nice hike out and I’m happy to report that I made it back to the hotel in time to shower.  In fact we were early enough to have lunch in Charleston and caught our flight out without issue.  I’m very thankful that my coworkers allowed me the time to do this.  I’d love to spend more time in West Virginia with a fly rod in hand, but it is hard for me to justify a personal trip up there when flights are as expensive as they are.  Maybe one day though, I’ve got a bucket list that seems to grow every year, it won’t hurt to add another trip to it.

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I truly went from mountains to marsh this past weekend after spending last week working in West Virginia then heading on a weekend guys trip down to Grand Isle Friday afternoon.

I left Baton Rouge Friday mid-afternoon and contemplated putting the kayak in once I passed Leeville just to fish for an hour or so before it got dark.  I didn’t though, opting instead to hit a culvert where water moves under the road before I went to the camp.  Not much doing there except a few ladyfish on a clouser.  I could hear reds crashing on bait in the marsh though, man what a tease that was, I was hoping that scene would play out tomorrow.

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I met up with everyone at the camp just as they were heading down to the beach to run the crab traps.  I threw the clouser in the surf for a bit, out of curiosity more than anything, but fishing was not really the priority at this point.  We spent the evening drinking good beer and catching up.

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I was the lone kayaker in the group so on Saturday when everyone took off in boats I hit the backside of the island in the Cruise FD and went looking for redfish.  Conditions weren’t ideal when I launched, but the high tide was the biggest thing putting a dent in the sightfishing game.  I managed to fool one overslot redfish and got broken off by another.  I caught more ladyfish on the fly rod and at lunch time decided to get off the water before the thunderstorms that began to surround me closed in any further.

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After lunch I hit the beach outside the camp with some of the guys where we alternated throwing cast nets for big shrimp, running crab traps, and trying our luck surf fishing.  With the cast nets we’d catch one or two shrimp every few throws, but that added up after a few hours.  We ended up putting a nice little ice chest of palm sized shrimp together by the end of the day.  The crab traps produced as well and those began to fill an ice chest of their own.  In the surf the white trout and ladyfish were abundant and fun to catch on light tackle, our target fish however proved elusive.  No bull reds and only a few speckled trout were landed, but we had plenty of seafood for a feast that night.

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That night we ate like kings, redfish from Friday and Saturday were grilled on the half shell while the crabs and shrimp were boiled to perfection.  There was even a good bit of Best Stop boudin shared among the group.  Everything was incredible.

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After a long night of cornhole and beers most folks opted to sleep in, clean up, and head home.  The weather was too nice not to get out one last time for me so I stopped in Leeville on the way out and put in off the side of the road.  I kept a watchful eye on the thunderstorms that were off to the west and the south of me this morning, but thankfully I was far enough north to be clear of them.  The high tide again made it tough to sight fish, but I found a good spot with moving water where the fish were a bit stacked up.  In short time I caught three reds, multiple ladyfish, and had another break off (I think my leader line is finally too old to be useful).  It was almost like fishing a winter hole.

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After the bite slowed down at that spot I pedaled around the area just to explore and found another spot were water was moving over a flat and fish were present.  I caught a couple speckled trout off a point and as lunch time crept up I decided to get off the water and head home.  I didn’t want to be home late and sightfishing wasn’t going to pan out so it was an easy decision to leave.

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Truly though my wife called and didn’t flat out say it, but it was inferred that I needed to head home.  She also wanted me to pick up shrimp so I stopped at the Seafood Shed on the way out and picked up some $4/lb 16/20 sized shrimp (same size as we caught in the surf) to take home.  We made New Orleans style BBQ shrimp with a few pounds that night and she got to eat a few leftover crabs from the weekend.  I put mine over instant grits and had a poor man’s shrimp and grits, which was surprisingly very good.

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I really enjoyed hanging out with the guys this past weekend.  Fishing was what brought us down there, but it’s the camaraderie that will keep us going back.  Big thanks to Ray for letting us stay at his camp.  Grand Isle in the summer is an amazing place.  The beach won’t win any beauty contests, but it sure is bountiful in it’s seafood production.  I look forward to doing it again next year.

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I wanted to take a moment to profile one of the more unique fish found in Southeast Louisiana – the shadow bass (Ambloplites ariommus).  In Louisiana they are only found in the sandy creeks that drain the Florida parishes – you won’t find them anywhere else in the state.

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I’ve caught maybe a handful in my life as by-catch while fishing for spotted bass or longear sunnies.  They hold real close to cover and don’t stray far from their hiding place to strike a bait.  I’ve caught them on poppers and subsurface nymphs so they are fairly aggressive eaters, like their sunfish cousins.  They are very closely related to rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris) and resemble them in appearance.  Their black-and-white mottled pattern makes them fairly easy to ID, especially when they are the only Ambloplites in the watershed like the ones here in Louisiana.  The pattern can be well defined or somewhat faint, but combined with the big dark red eye they are hard to mistake for anything else.

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They don’t get very big, a record was established in Georgia at 10 ounces, 9.25″, and I’d venture to guess that is about as big as they’ll get around here as well.

Keep an eye out for them if you do any fishing on rivers and creeks on the Northshore.  If you spend enough time on the water between Baton Rouge and Slidell I’d imagine you’ll run into one one day and now that you’ve read this post you’ll know what it is.

I’m always looking to add species to the fish page here on the site and I know there are some smaller sunfish species found locally that have eluded me thus far, so I put in a couple hours with the fly rod on a local ditch on Friday afternoon to see what I could find.

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The bream beds were thick in one stretch of the creek and I caught quite the variety of sunfish in short time.

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IMG_6577Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

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The ditch was very shallow, but full of life.  There were also redear on beds and bass and gar cruising around, none of which I managed to fool with a fly.  It’s not the prettiest place in the world to fish and it’s hotter than hell right now, but you can’t beat the diversity of species.