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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.

After driving home from fishing north of Lake Pontchartrain, we ultimately decided it was in our best interest to pack up that night and head north with the kids in the morning, far out of the cone of uncertainty that surrounded Hurricane Ida. We ended up booking a cabin in Oklahoma, near Hochatown, Beavers Bend State Park, and the Ouachita National Forest. There were several cabins available and after Blake and I had visited and fished last year up that way I commented how that would be a fun place for the whole family. It seemed like now was as good a time as any to head back. We turned it into an impromptu vacation that I think we all enjoyed.

While we were up there I did find a little bit of time to sneak away and fish. I fished the Lower Mountain Fork in Beavers Bend last year in early Fall and remember the fishing being tough. This time around I decided to explore a bit of the Ouachita NF backcountry and find a creek where I could target some native fish. After a lengthy drive down numerous dirt roads I arrived at a creek crossing and decided to check it out.

The water was beautiful, some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. There were lots of baitfish swimming around too. I decided this was as good a spot as any to string up the 3wt and explore it further. It did not take long to catch fish.

The longear were timid, but eventually obliged and ate up my offering. The longear were nice, beautiful fish, but I was really looking for a smallmouth, which were proving to be elusive.

The water was so low and still that fishing was tough, especially for the larger predators. I saw a few smaller smallmouth, a fish I would normally consider aggressive for their size, but they were extremely wary. I may have had one mouth a bait and I pulled it from him before he could get hooked. I didn’t want to be gone from the family too long either so eventually I had to call it a day without the smallmouth I was after, which was a little disappointing, but I was happy to have gotten out.

The next afternoon I was able to get out again, this time I had Marin along for the ride, so it was less of a fishing trip and more of an exploratory one. I went a different route and ended up on a different creek. I knew she probably just wanted to play in a creek, but I brought along a 1wt, just in case she wanted to see what lived in said creek.

I wasn’t so certain I’d find a fish big enough to hit my flies in a creek this small, but I did when this creek chub sucked down my dry. There were a lot of creek chub in the creek, this one just happened to be big enough to get hooked.

We had fun playing on the slippery rocks in the creek and checking out a part of Oklahoma I’m sure not many people know about. The Ouachita’s are beautiful with some of the prettiest creeks I’ve come across, I definitely recommend checking them out if you ever get a chance. Next time I’ll hit some bigger water though and give myself a better chance to locate the smallmouth.

We headed back to Baton Rouge on Tuesday not really knowing the hornet’s nest we were driving into. We knew that things were bad back home, but to what extent was unknown. We knew our home was fine and that power had actually been restored that day, but much of area was severely impacted. I was really glad we made the decision to head elsewhere during the worst of the storm and that my kids didn’t have to live through the experience of riding that one out.

Whenever I research a slam trip like this I make sure to have backup options for each species in mind for just this type of situation. If I wanted to complete the Arizona wild trout challenge I needed to catch a brook trout and I was down to my last afternoon/evening to do it. Insert your clever sports cliché here. I knew of three creeks with brook trout in Arizona, two in the White Mountains, one on the Mogollon Rim. I’m sure there are several more, but in my research I only came across three. No one publicizes small streams, even ones with invasive species, so it’s up to me to try and develop intel with the help of local knowledge or books, other publications, and things I come across online.

Blake and I drove a couple hours from the Whites to the Rim to a lake outlet stream that I had heard held brook trout. After striking out twice this was last my chance so I took the lead on the creek. This creek was unlike any other we’d come across thus far on our trip. It was a narrow creek, one you could jump across in spots, but it held deep, still tannic water so you couldn’t see the bottom where it was deepest due to it being so dark. It was full of submerged vegetation too and really seemed like a good place for any coldwater fish species to live.

I started with a dry-dropper rig and really worked the spots faster than I should have been as Blake ended up catching a brook trout in a likely looking spot behind me.

It had come out from under a rock and hit the dropper nymph. I continued to cover water ahead of him at a faster pace than I should have, throwing a rig I probably shouldn’t have been. I was too focused on targeting the one dumb fish that every stream has, you cover enough water and you find him. Every once in a while I’d see a fish holding near the bottom, but they never took interest in my offering. After some time a young lady fly angler came by on the adjacent trail heading downstream of us. I took the opportunity to gather some much needed intel and switched up my rig after speaking with her. She convinced me to go small streamer and the closest thing I had was a tungsten jig bugger that my local Orvis in Baton Rouge always has in stock. I use it a lot for the bass and sunfish at home, it’s a good all purpose fly. The first or second hole I dropped it in and starting swimming along a weed edge I feel the rod come tight.

It was a damn brown trout. A gorgeous one, but these things are apparently like cockroaches in Arizona. I sent him back along his way and kept at it. I was looking for the obvious spots and fishing them hard. After Blake’s fish came from under a big boulder I had structure in mind.

Eventually I was able to swim the fly by a submerged log and out came the brook trout I was looking for. After a quick pic and a sigh of relief I realized just how far ahead of Blake I was and started trekking my way back toward him.

After I met back up with Blake that same young lady fly angler came walking back by. I thanked her for her help and I’m sure she thought I was completely nuts, but I had blinders on before talking to her and she showed me the light! With daylight fading we made our way back to the vehicle and continued on up to Payson. In Payson we found a hotel, had a proper Mexican meal, and found a local IPA worthy enough to count as a trip capper.