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Warmwater

It happens every year. When the azaleas start blooming the desire in me to fish a creek is at it’s strongest. The creeks are calling, beckoning me to wet my legs in the cool water, and tease some poppers around fallen timber in search of spotted bass and longear sunfish. This year that flame was fanned a bit more by my friend Brian, who had just recently taken a trip to Arkansas in search of smallmouth bass. His pictures were inspiring and as soon as I had a chance to hit a local creek I did.

It didn’t take long for me to catch my first spotted bass of the year, that happened right under the bridge where I accessed the creek, it fell for a little black Clouser minnow. I soon switched up to a popper-dropper so I could target the bass and the sunfish at once and eventually I coaxed a little largemouth from a lazy side channel with one of Ron Braud’s beautiful stippled poppers that I had won from last year’s Red Stick Flyfishers’s Jambalaya Challenge. That same lazy side channel then produced a couple beautiful longear.

There’s been recent research to suggest that the longear sunfish complex are comprised of more than just the two species that we currently recognize; Lepomis megalotis(longear sunfish) and Lepomis peltastes(northern sunfish). It’s been proposed that there are as many as six ancient lineages of longear sunfish (that includes northern sunfish). According to the paper, the longear we catch in the Amite River watershed, like the ones above, are suggested to be Lepomis solis.

The variability in the appearance of longear sunfish across their range has been pretty obvious to the discerning fisherman for quite some time, hell, there’s even a Facebook group dedicated to this observation: Lepomis Megalotis Morphology Project. When you see specimens from totally different watersheds side by side it’s easier to note the differences. The longears I’ve caught in Bayou Sara or Thompson Creek, which both drain into the Mississippi River, certainly look different than the ones we catch in the Amite, or any other northshore river, so this research doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Call me a splitter, but this research is very welcome, I’m definitely all for it.

I continued my way through the stream catching bluegill, shiner, more longear, and eventually another spotted bass. I swear I use to catch more spotted bass in these streams when I first started fishing them, but then again that was pretty much the only species I targeted. These days I’m trying to catch everything I see, which has me doing a lot of switching of flies from poppers to nymphs to streamers to size 26 micro-nymphs. It takes away from the time my fly is in the water, but I find it pretty rewarding to catch a wider variety of fish.

On my way back to the vehicle I found another lazy side channel that was loaded up with topminnow, some looked large enough to catch with a fly, so I re-rigged and spent some time dapping for them. It’s a little tougher to do it with a 6wt than a 1wt, but I got the job done and hooked one of the bigger ones. I made it back to the bridge and tied a popper back on to work the pools that formed behind the stacked up debris that clings to the pylons underneath seemingly every bridge around here I walk under. I don’t think there is a big budget for debris cleanup on our waterways, which is probably not the best thing for flooding, but it does increase the fish habitat within a river, so I’m not really complaining. Sure enough the best bass of the day was happy to explode on my black BoogleBug and I was as happy as a river clam when it happened.

The creek was calling and I’m glad I listened, it was a great day on the water, experiencing nature. No cool agate finds on this trip, but I was pretty happy with the diversity of fish that came to hand. I always tell myself that I shouldn’t wait so long before my next creek fishing trip, but then life always finds a way to interject. Hopefully this post will inspire someone out there, the way Brian’s pictures inspired me, to hit up a local creek and spend half a day on the water just taking it all in.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d try to get Blake to send me a SBS of the crawfish pattern that I’ve had success with and wouldn’t you know the man came through. See his instructions below if you want to tie up a really effective crawfish fly that various species of bass and sunfish love:

This fly is a variant of the Crayfish X tied by Dron Lee. There wasn’t an SBS on his site and I liked how it looked so I tied it how I assumed it was tied. You can find more patterns by Mr. Lee here: https://flytyingnation.com/

Materials:

  • Eagle Claw 410 Jig size 2
  • Lead Dumbbell Eyes sized to match hook and sink rate
  • Spanflex
  • Sow Bug Dubbing
  • Fox Squirrel Zonkers
  • Mono Eyes
  • Furry Foam

Tie dumbbell eyes in at the front of the hook right at the bend. This helps to ensure that the fly falls hook point up and will allow space to whip finish later in the process.

Tie in the antennae and wrap to a point around the bend.

Make a small ball of dubbing right behind the antennae. This is to help splay out the claws and eyes.

Cut two zonker strips to length. These were 1” of hide that ended up being 1.5” in total length. Wrap them all the way up to the dubbing ball.

Pull each zonker strip out and hit the base with some UV resin (or super glue). Probably not a necessary step but I think it reduces fouling and also makes the claws spread out when the fly is sitting on the bottom.

Tie in some mono eyes on either side of the hook. I like to tie them so that they lay right above the claws to further reduce fouling. I make my own by heating up some 50 pound mono and then dipping it in some powder paint. I will then run it through the lighter again to smooth out the powder if needed. The final step is to use a cauterizing tool to bend them how you want them. You don’t have to actually touch the mono with the tool. Just get it close and the mono will bend towards the heat. Takes some practice to not melt other materials but makes setting the eyes in position pretty easy.

Dub the body to the hook point, tie in a leg on either side, then finish the area off by using figure 8 wraps to set the legs in a position you like. I prefer to add some dubbing before tying in the legs so that I’m not trying to build bulk in the area while having to deal with the legs. Build the bulk, tie in the legs, cover the tie-in.

Bring thread to the hook eye and dub back to the hook point.

Cut a piece of furry foam that is the size of the hook gap, cut a point on one end, and put it on the hook.

Place the hook back into the vise and tie the foam in somewhere near the point. Dub the tie in point to show some segmentation in the body, then dub your way to a point in the middle between the hook eye and first body segment. Repeat the process to right behind the hook eye.

Finish dubbing the final tie-in and whip finish between the hook eye and the furry foam. Trim the foam to form the tail.

I like to brush out the bottom of the fly with a dubbing brush.

Finished Fly

This was my last day to fish and I only had one fish in mind that I wanted to target while still in the Florida panhandle, the Choctaw bass. After failing to catch one on day 1 I had to go after them again. Not having confidence in catching one on the creek I camped at, and needing to drive home after I fished, I decided to start driving west on I-10 and fish for them on a different creek, somewhere closer home. One that I could wade so I didn’t have to fool with the kayak. I’ve spent plenty of time fishing from a kayak, but I’m more comfortable fly fishing from my feet. It was super chilly that morning, had to be upper 30’s, so wade fishing for bass was going to be tough. It’s always been my experience that river bass like it when the water warms up a bit and I didn’t have the luxury of waiting them out. On top of that I forgot my river shoes at home so I was wet wading in Chaco’s. For anyone that’s ever wet waded in sandals on a stream with sand and pea gravel you know that it’s miserable. I had to do it though.

I picked a creek in the Blackwater River State Forest that I remember my friend Barret talked about and found an access with a trail that ran alongside it. This was a popular recreation site and there were plenty of campers around. This was the most people I had seen the entire trip actually. There was a red clay bluff along the creek that was reminiscent of Providence Canyon in Georgia, but on a much smaller scale. I’m sure it was formed similarly, poor irrigation practices led to drastic erosion that overtime became something that was neat to look at.

The creek was beautiful, crystal clear, cold water that glowed yellow/orange in the sandy spots and transitioned to tannic and dark where there was some depth to the water. There were plenty of deep spots too. It was tricky to tell the depth in person let alone try and portray it with a cell phone camera. That never stops me from taking pics.

As was the case for most of the trip, the fishing was super slow. I was working the water too fast though. I know I was. It was cold out and I should have been methodical about working the structure, but I was worried about leaving in time so that I wouldn’t arrive home too late. I wanted to see the family that afternoon, not the next morning. It forced me to search for the most aggressive fish by covering as much water as possible. Eventually the fish cooperated and as I pulled my trusty crawfish pattern across a log I had a follow from an interested fish. The next time I pulled it by I got the bite I was looking for and brought a pretty little washed-out Choctaw bass to hand.

Goal accomplished. I fished a little bit longer, but my heart wasn’t in it, I turned around and made my way back to the truck. These fish weren’t very active anyway. I caught what I had came for and needed to drive home now.

The Florida panhandle rivers were awesome. I went over to Florida hoping to catch a bunch of different species on the fly that I had not caught yet and I was able to do that. The diversity was there, the quantity was not. With those fish I made it to 40 different species total on the year – not a bad year at all. It’s been a lot of fun taking that journey and I’ve been introduced to a lot of new friends, fish, and fisheries that I know I’ll enjoy for year’s to come. I made this trip solo, but it would have been great to enjoy it with Blake, or other fishy friends. I’ll be back. It’s not a long drive and there is so much more to explore. I’ve still yet to catch a Suwannee bass, which are found just a bit further east of the Chipola, and I need to. It’s the last American bass species out there that I haven’t targeted.