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Fishing

Met up in Grand Isle with the boys from Alabama this past weekend and despite conditions being pretty favorable the fishing was still somewhat tough. I’m not sure if Hurricane Zeta had anything to do with that, but it seems like a pretty convenient excuse that I’ll go ahead and use. The island had just got power back a few days prior to the trip so the locals were still feeling impacts from the hurricane, maybe the fish were too.

I drove down after working Friday morning and got a few hours fishing in off the side of the road in Leeville. It was windy, the tides were high, and the water was dirty back in the marsh – so sightfishing wasn’t happening. The bays were in decent shape and I was able to get on a trout bite right at dark catching 12-15″ trout that I found holding behind an island in a bay where the water was being blown around it.

After talking with everyone that night it seemed like high dirty water was everywhere, so since I found some clean water in the bays outside of Leeville I decided to head back up there Saturday. The tide was actually low in the morning so there was some optimism that fishing would be pretty productive. That really didn’t prove to be the case as fish were few and far between for me. I did a ton of paddling and really didn’t come across many fish at all. At about 10:30am I caught one red out of a pair of cruisers I saw after a morning where I may have seen a handful and had very few opportunities to even get a cast off to a fish. Just tough fishing.

Fishing was so slow I actually stopped and ate lunch, something I almost never do because I’m usually so focused on fishing I never remember to eat, but Saturday I was hungry. I did catch a rat red a little later on in the day, he was hanging out in front of a broken weir that had water moving around it. Shortly after that I got on another trout bite. I had seen some diving birds in a bay and near where some canals meet and I went to invesitgate and sure enough trout were holding there. Unfortunately none of them were keeper sized. They were still pretty fun though as everything I caught was on the fly, it was a mix of small specks and white trout, and they were pretty voracious tearing apart a clouser I had tied on. When I was tired of catching them I headed back to the truck, paddling into the wind to get there.

Sunday would be the best day of fishing for me. The tides stayed low longer, winds weren’t as steady, and a move to a different spot proved to be a good decision. We fished the mangroves on Sunday and even though the water was fairly dirty I was seeing a lot more fish in this area. I was seeing less mullet and more shrimp popping out of the water too. For some reason there was a ton of mullet in Leeville.

My best fish on Sunday went 28″ so no kayaker bulls as the skiff guys call them, just a bunch of mid to upper slot fish, which are still a blast on the fly. One of my favorites was a 24″ fish I caught was way back into one of the skinny mangrove creeks and he was hot when I hooked him. It was kind of chaotic as he ran up and down this tight channel, there was no way to keep a tight line the whole time, but thankfully I was still able to land him. Another red had the eye of Sauron, which was pretty crazy looking. I have no idea why that happens sometimes, but I’ve seen it before, not often though.

Sunday morning was a lot of fun, I left right after lunch to make the drive back home, but Sunday was a good redemption day for me. This weekend the fishing wasn’t easy, which was a shock to some of those Bama guys. It ain’t always topwater blow ups and bull reds down here in Louisiana, especially when you fish from a kayak. The weather cooperated too and I think that’s what was throwing people off.

This is the 10th year a group of guys has been coming down to Grand Isle from Alabama to fish, so they’ve experienced the good times and the bad and everything in between by now. I look forward to their trip every year because even if the fishing is bad I have a lot of fun hanging out with them. They’re good for a belly laugh at least a few times throughout the course of the weekend. It reminds me of the early days of kayak fishing when there weren’t so many folks doing it and it was a real small tight knit community. Tournaments weren’t cutthroat, they were excuses to just get together and fish. That’s what attracted me to the sport after getting started in it and I’m glad that idea still persists in places.

Blake and I spent Election Day in his boat, fishing for redfish and bass. Hurricane Zeta had just come through southeastern Louisiana the previous week so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we opted to make the trip anyway knowing the ramp we wanted to launch from was open.

As we drove down signs of damage from the storm increased as we went further south into St. Bernard Parish. There were power poles leaning or snapped, houses missing shingles or damaged from downed limbs and trees, the typical stuff you see after a named storm comes through, something our state has dealt with far too much this year. The real eye opener came along Hwy 46, where it’s common for folks to grab their boats and campers that they keep south of the levees and flood gates and park them on the side of the road, above the flood gates, to ride out the storm. Nearly every one of these recreational vehicles had been blown over and was on their side. Bucket trucks and linemen were everywhere working to restore power to the area and as we launched I wondered if we were down there too soon. That’s always a tough call to make.

We motored to where we wanted to start fishing and it really didn’t take too long for us to find fish. We started working some islands in a bay with no luck, then we hit a protected shoreline where Blake picked up a red.

Once we made it into a bayou that connected two larger waterbodies the action really heated up. Fishing spots in the bayou where the water was falling out of the marsh we began catching bass one right after the other. Mixed in with the bass were redfish too.

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Most of my fish caught in the bayou came on a watermelon fluke I had rigged weedless. I didn’t pick up the fly rod until we got into a big pond where we could see fish. The water clarity in the pond was excellent which made seeing fish easy. The wind made casting a little tougher, but I was able to connect with a few fish. The tide was falling hard on us and the shallow pond kept getting shallower which forced us to retreat back to the bayou.

The fishing was hot and we doubled up a few times throughout the day, which is always a hoot. We didn’t know what to expect going into the day, but it ended up being a banner day. One of those days you have every so often where it seems like everything goes right and the fish cooperate. It was nice to just be back on the bow of Blake’s boat fishing, for us to have an awesome day like that was lagniappe.

I have this idea that I would like to catch a fish in all 50 states. If it’s a native fish to that state, even better, but that isn’t necessarily a requirement. I want to fish in every state. That is the impetus for a lot of the trips I plan. If it’s a new state, or a new fish species to me, I’m more likely to plan that trip ahead of going back to places I’ve been. I have a constant desire to explore the country and see new water.

I’ll admit Oklahoma wasn’t my first choice for a trip this year. It wasn’t my second either. But these are unprecedented times and you got to play the hand your dealt. A trip to Arizona in May got cancelled. Then, a trip to New Mexico around Labor Day also was cancelled. The back-up, back-up trip I considered was the Lower Mountain Fork in Oklahoma. At the time it looked like a cold front was going to sweep down and it would actually be a pretty nice weekend to camp and fish Oklahoma in early September. That cold front never materialized, just par for the course in 2020.

We packed up the truck on a Thursday night and made the 6.5 hour trek up to Hochatown from Baton Rouge on a Friday morning. First stop was the Beaver’s Bend Fly Shop in the state park to find out where we needed to fish and what worked there. We are not tailwater fishermen, but we were assured this wasn’t your normal tailwater. Coach Eddie Brister runs the shop and was a great guy to talk to. He was eager to help us and it was really one of the nicer fly shop experiences we’ve had on a trip. Armed with newfound knowledge we set out to catch some trout on the Lower Mountain Fork River.

It didn’t take Blake long to hook a couple of rainbows right below the campground. What did I catch you say?

Native fish of course. That’s how much of a native fish magnet I am. Fishing the same water and the same flies as Blake. Even when I’m making every effort to catch their coldwater, stocked cockroach-esque neighbors, I end up catching bass and chubs.

It didn’t take long to wear out the water behind the campground so we hit another spot that had better potential to hold wild trout as the river does have natural reproduction of both rainbow and brown trout, so we were told.

We got into the little wild rainbows, I think we both caught several of them, so we had proof that there were streamborn trout here. I later had a good opportunity at a really nice rainbow that I hooked and fought in some fast water. I felt like I had him beat, but netting him was proving to be an issue as there was no slow water around me. I’d get to the point of bringing him into my net, then he’d take off and head back into the current. Maybe I didn’t quite have him beat. On about the third or fourth time of doing this he was finally able to throw the hook. It was a little heartbreaking, but the trip was still young, so I wasn’t too beat up about it.

I got a little redemption in the form of a nice little brown trout that was hanging out in a riffle while I was making my way back to the car (Spoiler alert, that little brown would be the best fish I’d bring to hand all weekend). After that fish we headed back to the campground to dine on jamabalaya and white beans to finish out a successful day. I could check a new state off the list.

On Saturday morning we got back out to what they call Spillway Creek, the part of the river that holds more wild fish, and we nymphed the runs hard.

Blake caught a few rainbows, I didn’t catch squat. So we hit the road and went to a local brewpub at lunch.

Mountain Fork Brewery had decent beer, a nice variety of old world styles, but they didn’t have much to offer us hopheads. No fruited sours, no pastry stouts, one hazy IPA – I don’t know if national craft beer trends seem to have skipped Oklahoma or if this brewer just turns his nose up at us hipsters and our fads. The burgers we had were outstanding though and it was nice to talk shit to a Sooners fan at a bar while in town.

Fishing in the afternoon was pretty uneventful. It was Saturday and it was pretty hot out so Beaver’s Bend State Park was full of people. The evening hole, which we’d heard so much about was always occupied. Zone 2 was unfishable as they were constantly generating power. Flow from the generation pushes backwater up all the way up until our campground (Grapevine) so any spots I scouted on Google Earth that looked good downstream from us were covered with water. Really the only place to get away from folks was on Spillway Creek. It was our first time up there and it showed. We had so much learn in so little time. Steaks and whiskey next to the campfire made it all better though.

Sunday we ventured out again, this time we hit the river from a different parking area. It was a good call as Blake was able to stick a nice fish pretty early that came up and sipped a Chubby.

It was a really colored up old male rainbow that made the trip worth it. It’s funny how one fish can do that.

We fished on up, working the seams, Blake was having better luck than I was. I wasn’t having problems catching the chubs or the little wild rainbows, but anything bigger was eluding me.

I got one more shot at a good fish that I hooked in a good looking run, but the fight didn’t last long and after a few headshakes it was over. Oh well, on to the next brewpub.

The beer at Beaver’s Bend Brewery was good (they had more than one IPA at least), but kind of reminded me of a lot of the beer you get from homebrew kits. The “gourmet” hot dog though was really damn good and was appreciated coming off the water.

We hit the evening hole Sunday evening and really had nothing to show for it. We got to chatting with a guy who had been euro-nymphing and caught a few fish. I was genuinely intrigued with his set up, but he ended up being pretty knowledgeable about the fishery and a good dude to talk to. As we’d come to find out we were that at quite possibly the worst time of year. It was late summer, the water was hot, the trout were deep. They were not as spread out as they are in the winter. Not only that, but the water was stained, the lake was possibly turning over, and the level was higher than it gets in the winter when they bring it down to it’s lowest point.

I don’t know if this newfound knowledge made me feel better or worse about the tough fishing we experienced. It does make me want to go back in the winter though because we really had a great time camping, the state park was very nice, and I’d much rather fish (and judge) a river at it’s peak than at it’s low point in a year. It’s going to be tough to make the trek back though because he made some really good arguments for some of spring creeks in Missouri…..