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Wade Fishing

With the itch to take a trip and a weekend set aside, Blake and I set out for Arkansas after work one Thursday earlier this month.  We drove 7 hours to a campground in the Ouachita National Forest and set up our hammocks as fast as we could to maximize the time we’d have to sleep.  Just like everywhere else in the South, western Arkansas is hot in the summer, even at midnight.  Despite the heat I slept pretty well and woke up to a sweet lakeside campsite.

We aren’t much on fishing lakes so we headed on over to a nearby river where we met Jason who drove over from Little Rock to fish with us for the day.  This trip was all about smallmouth bass, a fish Blake has never caught before.  We were hoping to catch both the Ouachita strain and the Neosho strain on this trip – two unique forms of smallmouth found in Arkansas.  First up was the Ouachita, which are found on a few different rivers that run south off the Ouachita Mountains.

The river was beautiful.  I feel like I say that about every river, but this one seemed special.  It was a classic freestone river, with water as clear as any you’ll find in the South.  There was a riffle at our point of access that was too appealing to pass up so that’s where we started fishing.  The riffle was chock full of boulders and loads of bait darted around as we moved upstream.  Upstream of the riffle was a long pool and as we continued further it was clear this was the set up – riffle, long deep pool, riffle.  We caught a few sunfish (some were massive green sunfish), but it took a while before we figured out the smallmouth.

We got to a point where a tributary emptied into the river and it was there that Blake caught the first smallmouth on a RLD.  

Blake explored the trib a bit further and caught a few more fish, while Jason and I focused on the main stem of the river.

It was in the bubbles to the left of the run above that I finally caught my first Ouachita of the trip.  It hit a streamer almost as soon as it hit the water.

Blake met up with Jason and I soon after and we continued our way upstream.  As we got further from our access point the river got prettier and the fishing got better.  This is nearly always the case, but we tend to get caught up fishing a new river right where start wading because it just looks too good to pass up.

I tried several different flies out early to try and establish a pattern, covering the water from top to bottom.  What I ended up using most was a crawfish pattern tied on a jig style hook that Blake had tied for me prior to heading to West Virginia last year.  Blake had good success on a RLD, the crawfish loved it too.

Not wanting to set up camp again in the dark we parted ways with Jason and left the river some time in the mid-afternoon.  I really wish I had budgeted more time for that river, it was an awesome one, definitely somewhere you could spend a whole weekend.  We only saw a few other people when we were leaving too.  I’ll be back at some point.  Right now though we had to drive north to the Ozark Mountains and Ozark National Forest to make it into a watershed that held Neosho smallmouth.

Got an hour to kill?  Enjoy this film shared by Joe Tomelleri of the native trout of Mexico.  A description of the video reads “Truchas Mexicanas is a bi-national group that has been studying the trout of Mexico since 1997. As many as 12 species of native trout inhabit Mexico’s rugged and forbidding Sierra Madre. This is the saga of her trout, her native people and the struggle to save a dwindling resource.”

The first three days of our Georgia trip were devoted to bass fishing.  We were able to wrap up our redeye bass slam and as a bonus I was able to get the Georgia bass slam as well.  Now that we had made it to the cabin it was time to switch gears and target trout.

We hit the creek at the cabin early Saturday morning.  I had two rods rigged up; one with a big honking streamer that Blake tied for me and another with my standard hopper-dropper rig.

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I had a follow on the streamer in the first spot I fished, which had me excited, but then things were quiet as I fished subsequent spots.  Blake had an eat from a big fish, but it spit the hook early on in the fight.  It was beginning to look like we might skunk at the cabin that morning, but I finally made it to a spot I could effectively fish and I had another fish follow and even an attempted eat, but I pulled the fly out of his mouth.  I stuck with it though and luckily got another good eat and I stuck him with a strip set this time.

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Not the biggest rainbow we’ve caught at the cabin, but it was cool to get one on the big ass streamer.  I released that fish and went back to work and just downstream of my first eat I got another one.  This one was a little better fish.

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Getting to watch fish chase down and eat a big streamer was very cool, but it was obvious that throwing one was not a great way to fish every spot on the creek.  Hell you couldn’t fish every spot with one because there really wasn’t enough room for it in most places.  For the 3 or 4 spots though where it seems like it will be effective I’ll make to sure to have a streamer tied up every time I fish them from now on.  We headed up for lunch shortly after that and then hatched a plan to fish some wild water that afternoon.  Blake had brought a 1wt on the trip that needed to be fished.

After lunch we headed up the road to what has become our favorite small stream in North Georgia.  We were looking forward to some wild trout on dry flies as we had not had much topwater action this trip.  After a short hike into the stream, we dropped down off the trail and toward the bottom of the valley into the creek.  It was a little disturbing to see as much hog sign as we did on the walk down, but what are you gonna do, feral hog are everywhere now.  I let Blake fish the first good looking pool so I could tie on a nymph dropper and he took advantage of the opportunity and hooked a nice wild rainbow.

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It’s not often you get into wild trout over 10″ on North Georgia small streams, so this fish was pretty special.  We continued working our way upstream catching tiny rainbows in pocket water and nicer fish in the plunge pools and deeper runs.

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I hooked a fish in one pool that gave me a heck of a fight on the glass 3wt.  I was standing on the downstream side of a debris filled logjam fishing the pool upstream of it when the fish came up and hit the dry toward the back of the pool.  He ran all over the pool and under the logjam.  Thankfully I was able to keep the line tight and he wasn’t able to shake the fly.  I was able to pull him out of the logjam and back into the pool to land him.

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It was a heck of a wild rainbow that pushed 12″.  One of the best blueline rainbows I’ve caught in a long time.  We fished for a little while longer hoping that maybe a rogue brown trout would show up.

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No browns showed up, but it was a heck of a trip for 8-12″ rainbows.  The fish looked fat and happy too, which was nice to see because there are other concerning things happening in the valley.  At one point while we fished we saw a small pack of hogs which confirmed the hog sign we had seen.  We saw them again on the hike out.  It’s kind of a bummer they’ve discovered this valley.  Besides the hogs the hemlocks are continuing to die off due to the hemlock woolly adelgid and there is not much we can do to prevent that as treatment involves treating individual trees.  My hope is that other canopy trees will fill in for the dead hemlocks and continue to provide the shade these trout need.

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We headed back to the cabin to catch the Tiger game.  We left Sunday before dawn as it’s a long drive back to Louisiana.  We had a heck of a time fishing in Georgia.  This was the most diverse fishing trip we’ve ever done in Georgia and it was awesome.  I plan to make more of an effort to fish different bass water from the cabin.  Coosa redeye, shoal bass, and smallmouth bass are all fairly close.

I want to extend a big thanks to all the folks who helped us as we completed the redeye bass slam.  I came up with a plan of attack for the slam, but then bounced it off as many people who were willing to listen.  If you listened, thank you.  Thanks to Matthew Lewis, who wrote the book on redeye bass fly fishing.  His passion for the fish is infectious.  He was the inspiration for me to tackle the slam.  He completed it last year and when he and a couple buddies put a formal slam together this year I knew I had to give it a go.  I’m glad Blake was along for the ride.  Thanks to Andrew Taylor, a Georgia boy in Oklahoma, who was very influential in helping us decide where we needed to target these fish.  He has done some really great research on bass in Georgia.  Thanks to Jon Hummel, fellow Jackson teammate, he completed the Georgia bass slam last year and gave some great suggestions on where we could target fish in North Georgia.  We ended up spending most of our time further south, but his help was not in vain – I did get my shoal bass!  Thanks to Chris Lynch, Mark Miller, Josh Tidwell, James Eubank, and Josh Rhodes, these Alabama guys were more than willing to help point us in the right direction as we fished our way across their state.

I’ve wanted to make a shoal bass trip for a long time and this trip provided me the perfect opportunity to do so.  Once we finished the redeye slam I knew we would probably need at least one more bass species to close out the Georgia bass slam and I knew exactly which species I wanted to target.  Shoal bass are native to the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins, but have also been introduced in the Ocmulgee River.  The Upper Chattahoochee was en route to the cabin from where we camped so that’s where we headed.

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Where we chose to fish the river there weren’t a ton of shoals, but it had some and they were close to an access point, plus there was a tributary we could fish as well.  We usually do better on smaller water so I figured this spot was our best shot at a shoal bass.

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I was able to catch a couple of juvenile 8″ fish that I think were shoal bass below and above this riffle.  Having never caught a shoal bass though I wasn’t 100% on the ID, I wanted to catch a no-doubter.

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Lucky for me I got a hold of a no-doubter.  As I floated the crawfish pattern through the tail end of a pool above the riffle and close to the shore I had a really good strike from a fish.  After a solid strip set I was into a good fight.  The fish made it easy on me and decided not to head downstream, instead heading further up into the pool.   I was able to corral the fish and grab it’s bottom lip.  Boom, shoal bass success!

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It may have only been a 13.5″ fish, but I’ve been wanting to catch that fish for a long time.  We kept fishing the rest of the shoals without any more luck so we hit the tributary stream.

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It was good looking water, but not very productive, I didn’t catch anything else and Blake wasn’t able to land a shoal bass.  Kind of a bummer that Blake wasn’t able to also get the Georgia bass slam, but we were looking forward to getting to the cabin and shifting our focus to trout.  Next time we fish for shoal bass we’ll have to find a nice big shoal complex which will probably mean making a float to put ourselves in more habitat for longer.

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Next up for Blake and I was the Altamaha Bass, which is found above the fall line in the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ogeechee river basins.

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We woke up early, packed up camp, and headed to the river to hike down to where we wanted to begin to fish.  The Chattahoochee River trib we fished the day before was much smaller than the river we were about to fish and had better clarity too, but this was still fishy looking water.

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Things were pretty slow early on, Blake picked up a sunfish or two before we got into any bass.  I caught an 8″ Altamaha in some slow water under a log to start things off.  Blake followed that up with a good one that went 10″.  These fish didn’t have the bright red fins like the Chattahoochee bass, but they did have some orange color on upper and lower part of the caudal fin, and outer margins of their second dorsal, and anal fins.

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We caught a few more bass and sunfish as the morning progressed.  The action had only slightly picked up as we worked our way through the shoals.  When we got to the end of the shoals we headed out and made our way into Athens for lunch.

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On the recommendation of my brother we stopped at Akademia brewpub for lunch, the beer and food were excellent, the bartender was top notch too.  I’d recommend it to anyone heading to Athens.

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After lunch we made our way to Watson Mill Bridge State Park where we planned to camp and fish for Bartram’s bass, the last redeye we needed to complete the slam, the redeye bass found above the fall line in the Savannah river basin.

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There was still some daylight after we had set up camp so we decided to try and knock out the Bartram’s that evening.

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We started on a tributary creek that ran through the park, but it was slow and low and Blake only managed a chub there, so we moved on to the shoals below the mill dam.  It was a good move because we were able to catch our Bartram’s there shortly after we started fishing.

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With the redeye bass slam complete we’d accomplished what we had set out to do and it was a pretty awesome feeling.  I had four of the five bass species needed to get a Georgia bass slam so tomorrow we’d set out to catch a shoal bass and knock that slam out too.  First we’d feast though, steak night tonight.

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