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Scouting

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.

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My next trip out in the kayak would be on a spring fed creek that holds the newest member of the black bass family, the Choctaw bass.

The put-in I chose to use for access had a spring right next to the launch, amazing how clear the water was in the pool where it was bubbling in.  The creek was a beauty too.  From afar it really didn’t look all that different from a slow bayou in Louisiana, with all the cypress and gum trees.  The water clarity though, was much better than anything you’ll find in Louisiana, thanks to the numerous springs that fed the creek.  There was also a large amount of submerged vegetation too, this was a very healthy environment, full of life, and it looked bassy as hell.

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I paddled up about a mile and floated and fished back from there.  It didn’t take long to land a few fish on the fly rod.  The stumpknocker were plentiful as were the redbreasted sunfish.

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I put the fly rod down and started tossing a soft plastic around the stumps and lilies, that’s when I landed my first chain pickeral on the day.

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He wasn’t too big, but he was fun.  I’d soon find out that this creek was loaded with them and that soft plastics were a bad choice for what the locals called jackfish.  I was broken off shortly after catching my first one, then broken off again moments later.  I decided that was enough of that and tied on a buzzbait.  A wise man once said “any fat kid can catch a fish on a buzzbait” or something like that, so I decided it was time to exercise my inner fat kid.

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I was having a blast catching pickeral on the buzzbait.  They would absolutely hammer it, sometimes launching themselves out of the water like rockets!  Most were small, but a couple went over 20″.  I missed one choupique that I would have liked to have back. He nailed the buzzbait, not sure how I didn’t get a hook in him, he was every bit of 30″ though.

The fishing was going great, everything was visual, so I was enjoying myself, but the bass were eluding me to this point.  I was finally able to change that around a group of submerged cypress, catching a healthy 14.5″ Choctaw.  After the release of the Choctaw I noticed that the mother of all spiders was on my bow.  I guess he hopped on from one of the nearby cypress trees.  We’ve got fishing spiders in Louisiana, but I’m not sure we’ve got them that big.

 

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I continued throwing the buzzbait and picked up a few more pickeral, mostly in the slack water, either around cypress trees or lilies.  Just before takeout I was able to pick up a couple chunky little largemouth too.

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The mission was accomplished, I was able to land a Choctaw bass, on a beautiful stretch of river.  The real story though was catching a dozen or so chain pickeral, or southern pike as I’ve decided to start calling them.  What they lack in size they make up for in fight – what a fun fish.  I might have to check out some other spring creeks next time I’m on the panhandle, such amazing fisheries.

Fished my first tournament abroad last weekend and headed over to Dauphin Island to compete in MBKFA’s Bagwell tournament.  The Bagwell isn’t all that different from BCKFC’s Paddlepalooza or Fall N Tide, except that instead of a traditional slam category, they have a super aggregate category in which you can turn in one slot red(16-26″ in Alabama) and any combination of four trout or flounder for a five fish stringer.  It places more emphasis on trout, which in Alabama is not a bad thing, as it is an inshore area that has been known to produce big trout, and more consistently than southeastern Louisiana.

In preparation I spent some time scouting Google Earth, but really relied on a fellow Jackson teammate from the area, Justin Seiffert, to impart whatever local knowledge he could to a Bama rookie like myself.  The plan was to maximize my time on the water (always my strategy with any “go anywhere” tournament) and fish the west of Mobile Bay, hoping to catch my redfish, trout, and flounder all out of one launch spot.

I launched in the dark early Saturday and was greeted with a nice sunrise as I made my way across a bay.

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As I got to my destination I started out by throwing topwater while the sun continued to rise.  I missed a decent trout early on, but managed to connect on the next one, and at 16.5″ it was a fair start to the day.  I continued to throw the topwater, but the action was very inconsistent, I switched it up with a swimbait and caught a 14.5″ trout targeting a small area of slick water.  I alternated between the topwater and the swimbait and missed one really nice fish on top that was truly a heartbreak, it was a brief fight but in that short time I could tell it was a good fish.  A few good, slow head shakes later and my line went limp.  It was a bummer to miss those few fish as I could have had my four trout that I needed, but I only had two.

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I fished my way down the shore and finally made it into a small cut that headed into the marsh interior.  One cast into the cut and I was connected with my first redfish.  He was a keeper at 20″, I knew I’d need an upgrade, but Alabama lets you keep three slot reds, so he went in the fish bag.

Unfortunately after that fish everything went quiet for me.  The action slowed down big time, despite how nice the water looked.  I finally hooked up with another fish as I saw a nice red heading my way, cruising down a shoreline.  I made a good cast with the swimbait and he pounced on it.  Immediately I knew it was too big to keep, but he made for a fun fight anyway.

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He ended up topping the 30″ mark and after a few pics I lowered him into the water and sent him on his way.

That would be my last fish on the day, but I continued to cover some really pretty water.  From healthy interior marsh to grass covered flats with good water clarity, the spot I chose to fish seemed like a good one, I just didn’t produce the results.  I think it is fair to say that the redfishing comes a bit easier in Louisiana.

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I headed back to the launch and got packed up.  I was pretty hungry at this point and was really looking forward to the crawfish boil that the MBKFA guys were planning on doing at the weigh-in.  Although I knew my fish wouldn’t sniff the leaderboard it was nice to know there would food and drink waiting for me when I got there.

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The MBKFA crew put on a first class event and although I didn’t take home any hardware I had a great time on the water and at the weigh-in.  It was good to see Justin rewarded for his efforts with a third place flounder.  I wasn’t the only Louisiana angler along for the ride.  Tyler Drude took home first place redfish and his buddy placed in the redfish category as well.  Brendan Bayard took home first place trout with 5+ lb stud caught on the East side.  That’s where all the better trout came from as the overall winner, Nick Creamer, had five solid trout pulled from that way too.

Big thanks to Justin on the solid advice and to MBKFA for hosting the tournament, really enjoyed fishing and hanging with you guys.  There is some really pretty water south of Mobile that I’d like to explore a little further.  I’ll have to make a conscience effort to start bringing the kayak on our Alabama beach trips, now that I have some clue as to where to go.

The AFWC was held down in Delacroix earlier this month and though I didn’t fish the event, I did get a chance to fish with a friend who was in town for the event while he was staying in Delacroix.  James McBeath is the Director of Marketing over at Jackson Kayak and a former Musky Fly Fishing Championship World champion.  We’ve had the pleasure of fishing together in the 10,000 islands of Florida and the Pacific coast of Panama  and I was excited to get the chance to fish with him again, but this time on some local water.

We picked a really great day to get together as the weather turned out to be absolutely gorgeous – it was about as good as you could ask for when it comes to Louisiana redfishin’.  Little to no wind, bright blue skies, tide not too low or high, and absolutely perfect temps, which all added up to great sightfishing conditions and active redfish.

We explored an area within the AFWC boundaries that I had yet to fish and was happy to find as I fought and landed more reds than I cared to count, and in some of the shallowest and clearest flats I’ve ever seen in Lousiana.  A bonus to fishing in Delacroix was the bass bycatch – It shouldn’t, but it always surprises me when I see them on the end of the line while I’m redfishing.

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It was an absolute pleasure to fish with James again.  I have not done a whole lot of fishing in Delacroix and am still learning the area so it was nice to check out some new water with James and have some success while we were at it.  We had a lot of fun, caught a bunch of fish and hopefully I was able to help him in some small way with his top 10 finish in the AFWC.

Got out again this past weekend with Blake in his boat.  Kind of a last minute deal that I wasn’t fully prepared for, but whats nice about going in someone else’s boat is you don’t have to be all that prepared when you get asked to go – you just show up and hope you can borrow some tackle.  A buff was the only thing I needed that I didn’t have as the bugs at the launch were horrendous and those buffs are a life saver in buggy conditions.  Of course once we were out on the water they weren’t too bad.

Conditions early on were great; winds were calm, skies were bright and sunny, and the water clarity ranged from decent to exceptional.  The tide was a bit lower than I’d like in a boat, but very manageable.  Basically all the boxes were checked that would indicate it would be a good day, but that actually wasn’t the case.

The first canal we stopped in we saw backs out of the water and tails up and we couldn’t help but think it was about to be on.  I was able to connect with a decent little bull.

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After that fish activity became sparse, those tails disappeared and with them went the fish.  We picked up and moved as the water clarity in the canal was dirty due to the tide ripping out.  We found some absolutely gorgeous water, some of the prettiest I’ve seen for Louisiana.  It looked like Florida at times, unfortunately redfish were few and far between.  For as much bait as we saw on the flats it was kind of amazing how few reds we saw.

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So we picked up and moved again and found more pretty water.  This time we found fish too.  It’s a big problem though when you find fish and they won’t eat.  I really have never seen such tight lipped redfish.  We were putting good casts on them and they just didn’t want anything to do with our offers.  It was almost as if they were already spooked when we showed up – maybe we were fishing behind someone else?  Whatever the case we poled our way along the flats off the coastline of this island and eventually found some active black drum.

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These were baby drum, not yet earning the “big ugly” moniker, they were actually quite pretty fish.  It was nice to feel the tug of a fish again.

So what we thought turn into a badass day ended up being really tough, but I feel like we made the most of it.  Sure, not too many fish caught, but we did put in some good scouting.  We found some really nice flats with stunning water.  I wish we had found more fish, but maybe we were just in the right place at the wrong time.

I’m not sure why some spots seemed void of redfish or why those redfish we did find did not want to eat.  Maybe barometric pressure, maybe they were spooked, who knows?  I can count on my hand the times when I’ve been on redfish and they won’t eat, it’s frustrating when it happens.  Here’s hoping that it was just a fluke and our next trip out will be a bit more successful.