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Scouting

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 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.

 

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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.

So this will be the third time I will have written this report, hopefully this one sticks.  Prepare yourself for a picture dump.

I got an opportunity to spend a week working in lower St. Bernard parish back in October.  Normally work trips to rural parts of the state are not met with such enthusiasm, but I was downright excited for this one.  Mainly because the marshes of lower St. Bernard are full of life and excellent fisheries.  Redfish, speckled trout, largemouth bass, and even flounder all share the same water down that way.  I’d have some downtime during the days, so I brought my Kraken 13.5 along for the ride.  I was able to grab some much needed seat time each day exploring just what this part of Louisiana had to offer.

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What makes lower St. Bernard such a great fishery is it’s proximity to both the Mississippi River and Lake Borgne, well, really just saltwater in general.  It is right in between the two, basically where they mix together.  This mixing of salt and freshwater creates a myriad of intermediate and brackish marsh that is some of the finest inshore fishing you’ll find anywhere.  It’s hard to beat catching reds, specks, and bass out of the same ponds.

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In the above pic you can see the amount of submerged vegetation that’s found in lower St. Bernard, most of the time I had to fish weedless baits.  One of the baits I liked to throw in the really matted up areas was a Stanley Top Toad topwater frog bait.  Seeing the red below blow up on the lure was amazing, one of the best strikes I’ve ever witnessed, such fun, I’ll be throwing that lure in the weeds more often.

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I fished a lot of different places around the parish – Shell Beach, Yscloskey, Delacroix, and Hopedale.  Each spot was similar, but they also had their own unique qualities.  I found clear water and lots of submerged vegetation in Shell Beach and Yscloskey.  Submerged vegetation, but dirty water in Delacroix and Hopedale.  As you’d expect fishing was much better where the water quality was better.  Fish were still caught at each stop though.

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Baits like topwater poppers and weedless rigged flukes and other soft plastics worked well throughout the week.  Flies worked pretty well too, especially on trout.  I used an EP-style shrimp that my buddy Hays had given me way back in January to do most of my damage.  Finding clean, moving water was the ticket.  Whether it was in a deep cut or bayou or on a flat where a cut or bayou was draining into a pond or bay – finding those conditions meant finding fish.

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It was an awesome week of fishing and yes, I did manage to get what work I had to do done.  It’s too bad these kind of projects don’t come around more often.  It was SO nice to fish during the week and have every spot I fished essentially to myself.

Hmm, let’s see, only 25-30 years before I can retire…. sigh.

It’s been a while since I’ve got out and waded a local creek with the fly rod, so I did just that this past Saturday.  Ever the explorer, I hit a stretch of creek I’ve never fished.  In fact I’ve never really thought much about fishing this stretch until they recently opened a park along it.  I didn’t think it would be much different than other stretches of the creek I’ve fished or some of the creeks I’ve fished in the past but I was wrong.  This one was much tougher.

Most of the creeks I wade around here have big sandy spoil banks and shallow riffles that connect them, making wading a breeze.  Quicksand is about the only thing that can slow you down.  In fact, unless you get hung up structure or a tree on the other side you rarely have to wade deeper than your knees.  This one wasn’t like that.

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The hike in was fairly muddy and full of these guys.  Most you could avoid, but some had their webs a bit too low for comfort, so careful tip-toeing was required to negotiate around them.  I know they’re harmless, but they’re still a big spider.

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Then I cut through the woods, navigated my way through briers and poison ivy (I made a poor decision that morning and chose shorts instead of pants), then amble down a 20-30 foot muddy bluff face just to access the water.

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I caught a fish and took a picture just in case it was the only one I caught on the day.  Usually the wading part is no big deal once I get to the water.  Not here though, the bottom wasn’t as hard as the others, the water clarity wasn’t as pretty as the others and it had spots that seemed deeper than the others and soon enough I stepped off a mud ledge into a hole up to my chest.  It’s been a while since I’ve done that, glad it was super hot out.

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The wading wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the multiple downed trees that forced me to go up and down the bluffs just to get around them. Eventually though the wading got easier and of course the fishing picked up.

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Then it became a longear-fest.  If it wasn’t for the early bream and the world’s smallest bass that’s all I would have caught.  They were very aggressive, in full spawning regalia.

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I probably only covered 3/4 of a mile in five hours and didn’t catch anything bigger than my palm.  Scouting trips can be like that though, you really don’t know until you go.  Well now I know and I don’t think I’ll be going back.

Still beat sitting at home though.  Fishing trips always do.