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Fly Fishing

I had a weekend in November set aside to fish and I wanted to continue targeting different species. It was getting increasingly difficult to target different species in the watersheds close to me(for a variety of reasons) so I was looking to venture out and do a solo overnight trip. I wasn’t interested in fishing the saltwater, even though that could have been a boon for new species, and it was getting late in the season for freshwater, so I figured a trip to some spring fed rivers in the Florida panhandle fit the bill. It had been a while since I fished over there and I really enjoyed the one river trip I made so it was time to head back.

I made the drive east on I-10 after work one night and set up camp in the dark. I woke up to an empty campground and the creek I wanted to fish within walking distance – can’t beat that!

I paddled downstream hoping to check out a large spring run, but was stopped by a giant laydown blocking passage downstream. I didn’t care to portage through the swamp around it so I headed back upstream a ways and began chucking my trusty popper/dropper rig around all the timber in the water. The dropper nymph I had on was quickly attacked by the local shiners.

This was a new species for me, a weed shiner, so I wasn’t made at him. Eventually I started catching sunfish too.

The swampy scenery found along this creek gave it a Louisiana feel, but given that the water actually had a decent flow to it, there was no mistaking I was somewhere else. In my mind this was old Florida, a place overlooked by tourists who were quick to pass it up on their drive to the beach. They’re missing out, but let’s not shout that out to the rooftops.

Next fish to the boat was a redbreast sunfish. A sunfish species I am familiar with from my time in northern Alabama, but one I had not caught in a while – add it to the list. This one was not as colored up as others I’ve come across, it may not be the right time of year for that.

After the redbreast I landed another new sunfish species for the year, the spotted sunfish. I’ve caught lots of their cousins, the redspotted sunfish, but this was the first spotted sunfish for me this year. These little stumpknockers are subtly beautiful with red tinged dorsal fins, brilliant blue halos under their eye, and a purple iridescent sheen on their flanks. It’s safe to say the old adage holds true that pictures don’t do them justice.

The sunfish bite wasn’t fast and furious, but it was frequent enough to keep me entertained. I knew Choctaw bass and chain pickerel could also be found in this creek, but they were eluding me on this morning. I picked up at lunch, fixed a bite to eat, and decided to explore a different stretch downstream.

After chatting with a nice lady who worked for the Northwest Florida Water Management District(the folks that managed some of the launches on this creek and the campground I was staying at) at the next put-in, I hit the water and again headed upstream. Being solo on a river with current, it just makes sense to paddle up and fish back down, so that was my strategy throughout my trip. Soon after starting my paddle the skies opened up and of course I had left my rain jacket back in the truck. I did my best to hide under the trees for the hard stuff, but man that rain was cold! When I made it to an area with heavy aquatic vegetation that’s where I began targeting the resident chain pickerel.

I was stripping a big articulated streamer around the big mounds of salad in the slow bends of the creek and before long I had a massive eat from what was probably the biggest chain pickerel I’ve ever seen! This thing absolutely nailed my fly – it was incredible! After a short fight, that had me trying to maintain pressure while the fish ran through the weeds, it then leapt out of the water and crashed back down. Shortly after that jump my line went limp and I realized I made a serious error in my tackle set up. I thought I didn’t need to switch to a wire leader for the little ‘ol pickerel I was targeting and that decision cost me dearly. My line had been cut and I lost one of my favorite articulated streamers that Blake had tied. It was one that has fooled several big trout at the cabin, so it was almost just as heartbreaking to lose that fly as it was to lose that fish. Oh well, lesson learned, I had to re-rig.

I pressed onto a different stand of vegetation and now, armed with a wire leader, threw a much less appealing fly into the water and began stripping it back. Luckily the pickerel didn’t mind and soon enough I was rewarded with another eat, this fish though didn’t hold a candle to the previous one. Still it was a 20″ fish and netted me another fly caught species on the year.

I tried to take a picture of the plant I was fishing around and the place where I found the pickerel, but with the rain it did not come out that great at all. I’ve got some pictures of it from my last trip out this way in 2016 that I posted a link to earlier. If anyone knows what it is please let me know. I’ve tried doing a bit of research, but I’ve yet to figure it out. Whatever it is, the pickerel love it, and so I love it.

After a bit more rain I was soaked and decided to just paddle down the creek through the fog. It was cold and beautiful. It actually felt like Fall here in north Florida with the color in the cypress trees. I didn’t come across any bass as I had in my previous trip to this creek, but I did have a pretty good day on the water, despite the rain, and accomplished my goal of landing a few more species on the fly.

Back in October as the RSFF Jambalaya Challenge was beginning to wind down, Chris Williams and I made it out on a creek in search of shadow bass. Shadow bass are not a species you can directly target IMO, but we at least made it out somewhere that I’ve caught them before, so I figured our odds of seeing one were at least a little better there. This was the first time Chris and I had fished together and I was glad we were able to make it happen.

We got an early start that morning and had an unseasonably Fall-like chill in the air when we first stepped in the water. It was cold enough that it took a little bit of time for the fish to warm up and become active.

The first fish I came across was a blacktail shiner, a fish I had come across earlier in the year and a common catch on the creeks that I wade fish here in south Louisiana. I caught a striped shiner soon after that and unfortunately for me he came off the hook before I could get a photo. That would have been another species on the list so a bit of a bummer. Soon enough the normal targeted species began to show up as well; the longear sunfish and spotted bass.

The fishing remained pretty slow for most of the morning into the afternoon, but Chris did well to add three species to his list; striped shiner, blacktail shiner, and spotted bass and put a little distance on his Jambalaya Challenge lead.

Unfortunately we didn’t turn up any shadow bass on our trip, which was not wholly unexpected. Like I said before, they are difficult to target directly. They are always bycatch for me and I certainly don’t catch one every time I fish a creek. As my mom would say “maybe we just weren’t holding our mouth right”.

I enjoyed my day on the water with Chris and I know we will do it again soon. We still have to track down a shadow bass for him and he knows where to go to catch chain pickerel in Louisiana, which is something I’ve yet to do.

I got out on the water a good bit this year, more so than in recent years, which has been pretty exciting. I haven’t done a good job of documenting it here, but I’m working on that now. These trips don’t last as long as they used to, but I’ve gotten to fish a lot of new water and a variety of different types of water. The reason for the diversification was pretty simple; I wanted to target as many different species of fish as I could.

I found myself motivated to catch new species this year as I decided in the spring to participate in the Red Stick Fly Fishers Jambalaya Challenge, a contest our local fly fishing club started this year to see which member could catch the most species on the fly in the given timeframe. I figured I could catch 25-30 species and run away with the victory, but little did I know fellow Baton Rouge fly fisher and blogger, Chris Williams, had big plans to catch as many species as possible this year on the fly as well. Thus began a back and forth competition between Chris and myself that went on from March – November which put me fishing all over the Baton Rouge area and beyond looking to catch anything that swims.

On one of those trips I found myself in Zachary, checking out a BREC park there. The main fishing pond there had some stained water and the pond itself was pretty boring so, armed with my 1wt, I ducked off into the woods to check out the outlet creek.

With apologies to Johnny Cash, “I’ll fish anywhere man, I’ll fish anywhere…”

At this point I’ve committed to full blown microfishing, something I never thought I would do in my life, but a species is a species in a competition. I didn’t take pics of every tiny fish I caught, as many of them I’ve caught this year already. There were a variety of juvenile sunfish, mostly warmouth and green sunfish, and a couple topminnows, which from my research afterward were blackspotted topminnows.

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I can only take so much microfishing so I left the ditch in the woods and headed to check out another smaller pond at the park. I found it loaded with submerged vegetation and much better clarity than the bigger pond, or the ditch for that matter. I began tossing my 3wt with a beadhead leech pattern in pockets and around grass edges and working it back slowly, but fast enough to not to get it caught up in the weeds. On one cast a fish exploded on my fly as soon as it hit the water. It was a nice largemouth for the 3wt and after a short fight and some tugging through the weeds I got him to the bank for a few pics.

I wasn’t expecting a largemouth of that size in this small pond, but I was happy to have found him there.

Fishing a bunch of different ditches and parks around town has been a lot of fun this year. They don’t all reward you like this one did, but it’s this kind of trip that makes the exploration worth it. It keeps me interested in continuing the pursuit, fishing anywhere and everywhere, wondering all along just what the heck lives in the water around us and how can I catch them.