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I had a weekend in November set aside to fish and I wanted to continue targeting different species. It was getting increasingly difficult to target different species in the watersheds close to me(for a variety of reasons) so I was looking to venture out and do a solo overnight trip. I wasn’t interested in fishing the saltwater, even though that could have been a boon for new species, and it was getting late in the season for freshwater, so I figured a trip to some spring fed rivers in the Florida panhandle fit the bill. It had been a while since I fished over there and I really enjoyed the one river trip I made so it was time to head back.

I made the drive east on I-10 after work one night and set up camp in the dark. I woke up to an empty campground and the creek I wanted to fish within walking distance – can’t beat that!

I paddled downstream hoping to check out a large spring run, but was stopped by a giant laydown blocking passage downstream. I didn’t care to portage through the swamp around it so I headed back upstream a ways and began chucking my trusty popper/dropper rig around all the timber in the water. The dropper nymph I had on was quickly attacked by the local shiners.

This was a new species for me, a weed shiner, so I wasn’t made at him. Eventually I started catching sunfish too.

The swampy scenery found along this creek gave it a Louisiana feel, but given that the water actually had a decent flow to it, there was no mistaking I was somewhere else. In my mind this was old Florida, a place overlooked by tourists who were quick to pass it up on their drive to the beach. They’re missing out, but let’s not shout that out to the rooftops.

Next fish to the boat was a redbreast sunfish. A sunfish species I am familiar with from my time in northern Alabama, but one I had not caught in a while – add it to the list. This one was not as colored up as others I’ve come across, it may not be the right time of year for that.

After the redbreast I landed another new sunfish species for the year, the spotted sunfish. I’ve caught lots of their cousins, the redspotted sunfish, but this was the first spotted sunfish for me this year. These little stumpknockers are subtly beautiful with red tinged dorsal fins, brilliant blue halos under their eye, and a purple iridescent sheen on their flanks. It’s safe to say the old adage holds true that pictures don’t do them justice.

The sunfish bite wasn’t fast and furious, but it was frequent enough to keep me entertained. I knew Choctaw bass and chain pickerel could also be found in this creek, but they were eluding me on this morning. I picked up at lunch, fixed a bite to eat, and decided to explore a different stretch downstream.

After chatting with a nice lady who worked for the Northwest Florida Water Management District(the folks that managed some of the launches on this creek and the campground I was staying at) at the next put-in, I hit the water and again headed upstream. Being solo on a river with current, it just makes sense to paddle up and fish back down, so that was my strategy throughout my trip. Soon after starting my paddle the skies opened up and of course I had left my rain jacket back in the truck. I did my best to hide under the trees for the hard stuff, but man that rain was cold! When I made it to an area with heavy aquatic vegetation that’s where I began targeting the resident chain pickerel.

I was stripping a big articulated streamer around the big mounds of salad in the slow bends of the creek and before long I had a massive eat from what was probably the biggest chain pickerel I’ve ever seen! This thing absolutely nailed my fly – it was incredible! After a short fight, that had me trying to maintain pressure while the fish ran through the weeds, it then leapt out of the water and crashed back down. Shortly after that jump my line went limp and I realized I made a serious error in my tackle set up. I thought I didn’t need to switch to a wire leader for the little ‘ol pickerel I was targeting and that decision cost me dearly. My line had been cut and I lost one of my favorite articulated streamers that Blake had tied. It was one that has fooled several big trout at the cabin, so it was almost just as heartbreaking to lose that fly as it was to lose that fish. Oh well, lesson learned, I had to re-rig.

I pressed onto a different stand of vegetation and now, armed with a wire leader, threw a much less appealing fly into the water and began stripping it back. Luckily the pickerel didn’t mind and soon enough I was rewarded with another eat, this fish though didn’t hold a candle to the previous one. Still it was a 20″ fish and netted me another fly caught species on the year.

I tried to take a picture of the plant I was fishing around and the place where I found the pickerel, but with the rain it did not come out that great at all. I’ve got some pictures of it from my last trip out this way in 2016 that I posted a link to earlier. If anyone knows what it is please let me know. I’ve tried doing a bit of research, but I’ve yet to figure it out. Whatever it is, the pickerel love it, and so I love it.

After a bit more rain I was soaked and decided to just paddle down the creek through the fog. It was cold and beautiful. It actually felt like Fall here in north Florida with the color in the cypress trees. I didn’t come across any bass as I had in my previous trip to this creek, but I did have a pretty good day on the water, despite the rain, and accomplished my goal of landing a few more species on the fly.

I made it back out to Johnson Beach a few days later and this time I decided to put some miles under my feet before I wet a line. There’s about 7 miles of beach I could cover in this section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and so far I’d only fished the bay side. On this morning I decided I’d try and cover both the bay and the surf.

I got out there a little later than I probably should have as people were already beginning to line the side of the road, but I was still early enough to catch the sunrise and greet a fellow angler of the avian variety. He was a local so I didn’t have any beef with him being there before me.

I walked a couple of miles down the beach, stopping and casting around anything that broke up the homogenous sand flat. There really wasn’t much action going on in the surf. That’s not to say there wasn’t fish there, it just wasn’t happening for me. I decided to move to the bay side and try my luck on the grass flats there.

Eventually I made my way into a bay off of Big Lagoon proper and it was there that I began catching fish. The pinfish were in abundance at this spot and I caught several of them, this was one of the bigger ones I caught. It was also here that I saw a few different redfish. I never got a good cast off to any of them, but at least I saw some Florida redfish.

I waded along the edge of the bay and into a very shallow inlet tucked away that looked fishy and figured if I was going to catch a red it would be here. I did catch a fish along the edge of the spartina, but it was small, a longnose killifish as I’d come to learn.

I was still throwing a charlie with a nymph trailer as there were a lot of smaller fish around. In the back of this inlet though was a big fish lying still on the bottom, a nice sized gar. I had no idea the species as I was in brackish water and the only gar I knew that liked brackish water in Louisiana were alligator gar. This was no alligator gar as his snout was way to narrow. With research I found out that longnose gar are common in Perdido Bay so that’s what I assume this was. I made several casts running my charlie along the length of his body and finally managed to get him to follow and then swipe at it. Surprisingly I was hooked up!

The fight wasn’t all that glamorous, he made a few strong runs, but was easy to wear down with my drag. As he got closer I could see that there was some trauma to his upper mandible as the top part of his snout was missing! That may have played into the fight and why it was so easy to make a solid hookset. I brought him to hand, thanked him for coming in easily, popped my fly out, and sent him on his way. It was definitely a cool experience to catch a gar while wading a sand flat. The close combat fight was a thrill.

I exited the inlet and kept covering water in this bay, making sure to fish all the grass edges, deep troughs, and deeper shoreline spots I came across. This tactic landed me a pretty good sized cocahoe minnow (Gulf killifish), more pinfish, and the juvenile pigfish showed up again.

It was starting to get close to lunch time so I made my way back toward the surf to make some casts there while walking back to my car. While walking the beach I came across a massive conch (I assume) shell that was partially buried in the swash zone. It was the biggest I’ve ever seen.

It was a hell of a find and really made the day that much cooler. Not long after that I noticed a school of fish in the surf and after a few missed eats I got a solid hookup. After the first jump it was clear it was another ladyfish.

After a fun fight with some aerial acrobatics I got him to hand. The ladyfish was really the cherry on top of a pretty stellar morning! I kept walking and casting at fishy looking spots down the beach, but never hooked up with anything else or came across another solid school of fish like that.

After two mornings I had quite the mixed bag on Perdido Key and came away really enjoying the experience of fishing both the grass flats and the surf. It was totally different than the style of saltwater fishing I do in Louisiana which is typically from a kayak, purely out of necessity. If I could wade fish for reds in Louisiana I would absolutely prefer it to the kayak. There is something about covering ground and catching fish on my own two feet that I really appreciate.

I had a family beach trip to the Alabama coast in late July and was lucky enough to find time to fish on two occasions. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a fishing license, so I stuck to saltwater both days and drove a little bit further east to fish in Florida, where the cost of a license is acceptable. I opted to access the water via the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Perdido Key. This was strictly a wade fishing trip as the kayak didn’t make the cut when it came to packed family beach gear.

On the first morning I decided to see what I could catch on the grass flats behind Perdido Key. I assumed the ground would be hard enough to walk on and for the most part I was right as I only encountered a few soft spots.

Things were pretty slow early on. I was throwing a charlie over and around the edges of grass flats and anywhere that I found deeper troughs. My hope was to run into some speckled trout, but really I would have been thrilled catching anything.

After a couple hours with nothing to show I waded back toward the vehicle and grabbed my nymph box. At this point I just wanted to catch something and I knew there were smaller fish around. With the mentality of “catch anything that swims” I went back out in and waded in a different direction.

With a nymph trailed behind my streamer I quickly got into fish. The first was surprisingly not a pinfish. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a juvenile pigfish, which it turned out were relatively abundant on the grass flats as I’d come to find out.

Shortly after the pigfish I got the pinfish I had expected to get. I knew these were ubiquitous on grass flats in Florida, so it was only a matter of time before I ran into one. I’d proceed to catch several more.

The next species I ran into was the inshore lizardfish, which is one I’ve caught in the past, and another I expected to run into. They weren’t quite as abundant as the pinfish and the pigfish so I was happy to have caught the one I did. I made my way to a pretty significant cut between the bay I was fishing in Big Lagoon and a different cove. It was here that I noticed some nervous baitfish activity and after casting into it a couple times I hooked into a more substantial fish.

After a really fun fight complete with a couple of big jumps I had a ladyfish to hand. This poor man’s tarpon was a hoot on the fly rod! These things don’t get enough love.

I worked the run a bit more, but never ran into anything else. Satisfied with the morning I headed back to the condo to rejoin the fam, but was eager to see what else was out there.