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Blake and I completed the Mobile Basin redeye bass slam a couple weekends back, catching the 4 native redeye bass of Alabama – the Tallapoosa, Coosa, Warrior, and Cahaba.  It was an awesome road trip through the state where we fished and camped on all sides of Birmingham.  The trip was every bit as fun as the cutthroat slam trip we took in Utah last fall.  A bit of backstory for anyone interested:

Earlier this year my buddy Matt published a book about fly fishing for redeye bass.  It was a good read about a fish that a lot of people down south overlook – the redeye bass.   The book brought back memories of the fishing I did when I lived in Northern Alabama for a year after college.  Admittedly though I never caught many redeye bass as I lived in the Tennessee River watershed.  Fishing dominated my life then and has been a passion of mine ever since.  The book profiled the redeye bass and the work that’s being done to define the species into seven further distinctions.  A redeye bass trip was moved higher up the idea list for me after reading the book, but then in March, it was moved to the top as Matt and a few other folks got together and came up with the idea for a redeye slam, and y’all know I just love a slam trip.  So after details of the Redeye Bass Slam 2018 were released I went ahead and began planning to complete the 4 species Mobile Basin redeye slam in Alabama and then finish the full 7 species redeye slam with a trip to Georgia at a later date.

Of course any time I’m planning a fishing trip I ask Blake if he wants in and usually it doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing to get him aboard.  After that it’s just picking a date to go and then we hope for the best.  We settled on early May to at least complete the Alabama portion of the slam as we’d be hammock camping and anyone from the south knows the further you get into summer the more unbearable it is to be outside, let alone try to sleep.

 

One thing that the redeye book lacks is any kind of range map of where you may find the fish, so embedded above is a map I created of the watersheds where redeye bass live in Alabama.  One thing to note is that redeye bass aren’t found below the Fall Line so don’t waste too much time on water below an imaginary line that runs from Tuscaloosa – Montgomery – Columbus.  I included the range of the Chattahoochee bass as well since it slips into the state.  I don’t know that they are found in any streams in Alabama.  We will target Chattahoochee bass in Georgia later this summer.  In order to try and catch the 4 different Mobile Basin redeye species in a 4-day trip we set out before dawn on Thursday and drove 6.5 hours to where we’d fish that afternoon for our first redeye species, the Tallapoosa bass.

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We fished a tributary to the Tallapoosa River that was loaded with shoals and grass with lots of shallow and deep water throughout – great river bass habitat.  We’re small water guys and even though this was a tributary it initially felt like big water.  Neither of us has ever fished shoals like this, so it was a new experience for both of us.  The water really didn’t feel that big once we started fishing and it didn’t take long to get into fish.  In fact the first set of shoals we fished were the most productive.  Blake got on the board first with a decent Alabama bass.

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Soon after I caught my first Tallapoosa bass, who took a buggy olive stonefly imitation I was hanging off the back of a hopper pattern.

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I followed that up with another Tallapoosa bass, this one though was loaded with iridescent blues, it was a beautiful specimen, no doubt the prettiest fish of the day for me.

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Blake soon caught a Tallapoosa bass of his own and the pressure of getting that first fish of the slam was off for both of us.

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After that it didn’t take long for Blake to upgrade his Alabama bass.  His dropper rig was hammered in some slower water toward the bank where a tree provided the perfect cover.  The big Alabama bass would be the largest fish of the trip that was caught and if you’ve been following the blog the past few years that’s just par for the course for “Big Fish Blake”.

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The action slowed down after the big fish, Blake and I did manage to pull out a few more redeye before the day was done, including one by Blake that pushed the 12″ mark.  At least that’s what we estimated it to be, we measured it against the rod, but truth be told I’m not sure we ever went back and measured the rod.  Either way, it was a fine fish.

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After things went flat we got off the water and hit the road toward our first campsite.  We had an hour drive ahead of us to the Talladega National Forest where we’d camp in the shadow of the tallest point in Alabama, Cheaha Mountain.  Ribeye and beers that we bought at Filet & Vine in Montgomery were calling to us from the Orion cooler in the back of my truck.  We were in such a rush to get fishing that afternoon that we neglected to make or pick up lunch, so hunger was almost an afterthought at this point.

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I’m happy to report we were able to successfully set up camp and get a fire going before dark and before long we were tearing into some seriously good steaks.  Big thanks to Josh Rhodes who met us at the campsite with more beers, butter, and for helping collect wood for the fire.  Day 1 was a success and we had another big day planned for Day 2 where we had the Coosa bass in our sights and then a trip up to the Bankhead National Forest to camp.

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I had to work in Monroe last week and I brought a kayak just in case there was down time.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much down time and I was only able to get out for a few hours one day.  I elected to spend that time on Caney Lake, launching from Jimmie Davis SP.  It was chilly post-front conditions that day which resulted in some quality time paddling and no time reeling in fish.

IMG_5045 Although I didn’t catch any fish, I did see a few deer, a beaver, and several nutria.  I had no idea they were on freshwater lakes too, but Caney was ate up with ’em.

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I fished a lot of good looking water, maybe it was a case of right place, wrong time, or maybe I have no idea what I’m doing, it was my first time fishing Caney so I wasn’t too bothered to not catch anything.  This is a lake known for big bass and I could see why, even if I only explored one branch of the lake.

The rest of my time in Monroe was spent working, but I did make it a point to stop by Flying Tiger Brewery one night to see how the local beer scene fared.  I went in with low expectations just based on where I was and maybe a breweries location shouldn’t matter, but I don’t typically expect to get great beer from anywhere in the bible belt.  I came away pleasantly surprised as they had several quality beers.  The saison, IPA, DIPA, and milk stout were all very well done, enjoyable beers.  On top of that the building was fantastic with a great big outdoor seating area too.  I’d recommend a stop in there to anyone heading to Monroe.

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On my way home from Monroe I did manage to fit in another short fishing outing, this time on Lake Rosemound.  I had to make sure I could still catch fish and I’m happy to report back that I can.

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I’ll just need to work on catching bigger fish now.

After a peaceful, quiet, and especially good night of sleep we packed up our hammocks for the last time, loaded up the car, and headed down the road and through town toward Bonneville cutthroat trout territory.  For the first time all trip we stopped for a legitimate breakfast at the Woodland Biscuit Company.  It was very good and I’d recommend it to anyone driving through Woodland on Hwy 35.

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The stream we fished was a tributary to the Provo River and like I mentioned before is home to Bonneville cutthroat trout, the last species we needed for the slam.

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The Bonneville cutthroat is Utah’s state fish, they can be found all around the state in coldwater streams that drain into the Great Basin.

We put the AWD Kia Sorrento to the test driving to our destination, but the bumpy dirt road was no trouble for such a capable vehicle.  I’m not being sarcastic either, okay maybe a little, but honestly we had one for both the Wyoming and Utah trips and it made it through everything we threw at it so I’ve got a lot of respect for them.

The stream was fairly small, but had a lot of character, it had lots of different types of holding water and made for great fish habitat.  We hiked down a ways before fishing it and in retrospect we should have hiked down even further because the lower section was far more open than the upper section.  I was first up since I didn’t have the slam yet and it only took one run to catch the fish I needed.

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Slam complete.  Blake was up next and didn’t waste any time catching the fish of the trip.  IMG_3107

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I had no idea we’d run into a cutthroat of that size here.  The pool he lived in was tiny by comparison – see below:

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It was a good thing I was downstream of Blake with a net because once hooked the fish went to flopping and with his size and the strength of the current he was prepared to put up a pretty mean fight.  The current worked in our favor though and took him right to me waiting with a net in a pool below and we were happy to lay eyes on a supersized Bonneville cutthroat.

We spent the rest of the day leap frogging each other and catching more Bonneville cutthroat trout.

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Blake got a pretty good shot-for-shot sequence of one that I put a bow-and-arrow cast to.

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The stream fished pretty well, it wasn’t on fire, but the action was fairly consistent.  Aside from the big fish Blake caught, the size of the cutthroat was about what I figured it would be for this trib, not too big, not too small, they were big enough fish to keep us entertained.  As we moved upstream we moved out of the more open casting water and into heavier streamside vegetation.  It was getting pretty dense in places and we had been seeing several yellow jackets hovering just above the water.  We finally found a nest, then another, and considering how many bushes I had been walking through during the day I was happy we had not been stung yet.  I figured it was best to quit while we were ahead since things were getting skinny and our cutt slam goals were accomplished, so we called it a day, found the trail and headed out of there.

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We made it back to the vehicle, drove down the bumpy dirt road, then hit the pavement and headed back towards civilization.  We stopped in Park City to do the tourist thing and grab some lunch at Red Rock – the Elephino DIPA was pretty tasty for anyone keeping score.

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After lunch we headed to Sugar House to stay with my buddy Eric that night.  He graciously accepted us into his home where we were able to do the one thing we had not done all week – shower.  One big difference in campgrounds in the south and campgrounds out west is the lack of shower facilities.  We are blessed with an abundance of water though.  There really is nothing quite like that first shower after a week of fishing and camping, it’s truly sublime.  After cleaning up we hit the town, another brewpub for dinner, and a stop at the Black Sheep at Epic Brewing for a tasting of some of the best beer Utah has to offer.  I only mention this because I was seriously impressed with the number of beers Epic has to offer and they will let you sample anything for $1 or $2 – whether it’s on draft or in bombers, they will open a bomber and pour you a 4 oz taster without even batting an eye.

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We had a great time that night and I want to thank Eric for his hospitality and letting us crash at his house before our flight out the following morning.  I’ve known Eric since kindergarten and though I hadn’t seen him in a few years it sure didn’t feel that way while we were hanging out.

The trip went incredibly well, Blake and I really enjoyed our time in Utah.  A lot of planning went into the trip in order to ensure we’d have success and with that planning came a lot of outside help from a number of different sources.  Books, maps, websites, forums, social media, people – all were used to put together an awesome trip.

I’ve got to thank a couple of biologists with Utah DWR who were a big help when I was trying to narrow down where we should chase each cutthroat species down, Matt Mckell and Michael Slater.  We probably could have completed the slam without their help, but with it we were confident in the places we fished.

Another guy we need to thank is Matt over at What Are You Wading For? who was a good follow on Instagram (@whatareyouwadingfor) leading up to the trip because his big browns and cutthroat were getting us giddy down here in Louisiana as the trip approached.  He was a big help when we were up in the Logan Canyon.

I really enjoy these slam trips, I enjoy planning for them, and then getting out there having success and accomplishing the goal of catching the slam.  Talking with other folks who are just as stoked on catching native fish as I am is a big plus too.  If you want to do something similar, like go for a slam or catch some native trout somewhere, and you think I might be able to help you, feel free to get in touch with me, I’d be more than happy to try and help.