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Freshwater

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 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.

Shadow Bass Range

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.

IMG_6578Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

IMG_6577Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

IMG_6579Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

IMG_6580Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)

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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.

 

 

I don’t get out much to fish anymore, but I found some time Sunday to do just that.  I loaded everything up late Saturday with plans to make the long drive to catch some redfish the next morning.  When I woke up and checked the weather it was evident that inshore fishing wasn’t an option.  The entire Gulf was covered in rain.  Everything inland looked alright though, at least for the time being, so I had to come up with plan B fast.  I decided to head down the road a bit and check out a lake in the Maurepas swamp that I’d heard good things about.  I had no idea how much time I’d have before rain chased me off or if I’d even have any success, but I had to get out.

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I arrived at the launch shortly after sunrise and was out on the water as fast as I could possibly load my boat.  I was happy to see the black water was fairly clean and the lake seemed to have a healthy amount of submerged vegetation.  I didn’t use the flex drive of the Cruise FD much today because of the grass and I couldn’t help but think on trips like this how much I missed the Kilroy.  I started out throwing a hollow body weedless topwater frog and was treated to a couple of quick hits from largemouth bass.  I connected on my second one and hoped that the trend would continue.

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As I worked the shoreline and nearshore grass I had a few more slashing hits on the frog that were more likely from gar than bass.  In time I came to a spot where the lake narrowed and a couple tributaries dumped in.  It was a beautiful spot with an obviously healthy swamp.  The water was visibly moving in the bayous as it drained into the lake.

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IMG_6461Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

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I rounded a bend in the bayou and heard a tremendous toilet bowl flush that made the hair on my neck stand up with excitement.  After scanning the area I was able to pinpoint the location of the activity and made a cast with the frog beyond the spot so I could run it through the area.  On my second cast I got an eat and as soon I was hooked up the fish took to the air and I could see that I had a choupique on the line.  After a nice fight and the fish getting caught in a wad of grass I was able to boat the dinosaur.  A lot of people call these things trash fish, but you know what they say about one man’s trash?  If I’m catch and release fishing I’ll take a fight from a choupique all day long.

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After the battle with the choupique, and replacing my frog, I headed back toward the lake and continued fishing topwater.  The bite began to wane so I switched things up and went to the fly rod.  I began working a popper-dropper around the trees and stumps that weren’t covered up in duckweed and soon began catching fish again.  The stumpknocker were active that morning and repeatedly hit an electric blue Boogle bug that they couldn’t possibly fit in their mouth.  Every once in a while they’d see the dropper and I’d be quick enough to set the hook.

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I continued fishing the fly rod and had a couple surprises.  The first one was a fish that I thought was going to be a big bull bluegill on hookset.  The popper slowly began to sink so I gave a little hookset and then I felt a lot more resistance than normal and the popper began going sideways.  After a nice fight with my glass 4wt double over at times I landed a bass – and a wad of grass.

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The second was a spotted gar that came after the popper and when I set the hook on the eat my popper came out and my dropper tagged him under the chin.  Not the conventional way to catch them on the fly, but it sure was easier to handle than a rope fly.

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I continued to fish the fly rod and explore the bayous that drained into the lake.  I caught a few more stumpknocker before the rain began to fall.  It was a little after noon when it began to fall hard enough that I decided enough was enough and pedaled my way back to the launch.  For being a last minute backup option the Maurepas swamp sure was a good one.  It was a beautiful place to explore and home to a good variety of hungry fish – I’m sure I’ll be back.

 

We were after hours guests at Brierfield Ironworks Park and the on-site hosts were very accommodating.  As I understood their instruction, any place we saw fit was available for primitive camping, though there were some designated spots with picnic tables and fire pits.  We picked a spot, recommended by the host, up on a hill overlooking the rest of the park as it had some suitable trees to hang our hammocks.  It was the warmest night of the trip, but not too warm to where it was tough to sleep.  In fact I got great sleep that night and I needed it.  The camping spot was away from everyone else so there were no dogs to growl at me and there weren’t any whip-poor-wills going berserk – it was the best camping spot we had all trip.  We also stayed dry, the rain moved quickly through the area and didn’t linger.  We looked forward to a blue bird morning fishing for Cahaba bass.  A huge bonus to staying in a State Park was that we were actually able to shower that morning.  A hot shower after a couple of days of living in your own filth does wonders.  We left the park re-energized and ready to cap off our slam.

We had a short drive to fish a tributary of the Cahaba River right where it dumps in to the main river, giving us the option to fish either.  We are small water guys so fishing the tributary was more appealing than fishing the shoals of the Cahaba.  If we had an entire day we would have done both, however it was Sunday and we still needed to drive home, so we really only had a half day to devote to fishing.

After traversing a long, bumpy gravel road we were at our destination and began making our trek upstream.  We split ways after stepping in the water with Blake fishing downstream of me as I began working my way upstream.  It wasn’t long before I heard him holler that he had caught his Cahaba bass.

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After a long day of feeling the pressure the day before I’m sure it was a big relief for Blake to knock out his slam early and put that pressure back on me.  I wasn’t too worried as it was early and his fish ate aggressively.  I fished on and actually missed chances at two separate redeye in places by pulling the fly out of their mouth.  Meanwhile Blake pulled out a redeye behind me, after that I switched from my hopper-dropper to a subsurface fly.  Soon enough I was catching fish.

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They just weren’t the target species.  The bluegills were feisty that day.  We had very little luck on topwater this entire trip, which goes against everything I read about redeye.  The trusty woolly bugger was catching fish though.  I finally fooled a bass, but to be honest I couldn’t tell if it was entirely redeye or if it was a hybrid.  I went through the slam protocol as if it were a Cahaba bass, but I still felt like I needed to catch another one, just to make sure.

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This creek had no shortage of good-looking water and we fished every fishy looking part.  Much like on other creeks they weren’t holding in the mid-water trout-type holding areas, we had much better luck catching them in slower water, so we worked the pools and any other slow water pretty hard.

We ran into a stand of Cahaba lilies on this tributary.  They are similar to the spider lilies that grow in ditches on the side of the road here in Louisiana, but the Cahaba lilies have a much more specialized habitat, living only in shoals in the middle of rivers above the Fall Line in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.  They bloom around late May, early June so we were a little early for their peak, but it was pretty cool to at least catch a few blooming.

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IMG_5460Cahaba lily (Hymenocallis coronaria)

We weren’t exactly lighting the world on fire catching fish.  It was slow, not as slow as the day before, but still slow.  Things did start to pick up as it got hotter out.  I finally caught another redeye, it was a baby, and then I caught another baby.  There’s no size requirement for this slam so I was fine with the micro fish.  I was now confident that the slam was in hand.  Blake would catch another one as well and it had to be bigger.

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We got to a big pool and decided that this was it, it was past noon at this point and we still had a six-hour drive ahead of us so after the pool we would turn around and hike out.  It was the right call as we both managed to catch decent sized Alabama bass from the pool.  I always like to end a trip with a good fish and this was a pretty sweet way to do it with us both catching nice fish in the last hole.

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IMG_5490Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica)

After a walk through the woods we made it back to the vehicle and chowed down on some sandwiches before hitting the road.  It’s funny how nonchalant we are when we finish trips like this.  There is a sense of accomplishment in putting together a successful trip, but we’re not hoot-n-holler kind of guys, so we just smile and keep fishing.  It was a great trip, we fished a ton of awesome water, caught a bunch of fish, and had a good time hanging out with each other.  Now it’s time to start putting in the work to plan for Georgia.  The Altamaha, Bartram’s, and Chattahoochee bass are all we have left to finish our 7 species redeye slam and I can’t wait to do it.

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