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Waterfall

I have this idea that I would like to catch a fish in all 50 states. If it’s a native fish to that state, even better, but that isn’t necessarily a requirement. I want to fish in every state. That is the impetus for a lot of the trips I plan. If it’s a new state, or a new fish species to me, I’m more likely to plan that trip ahead of going back to places I’ve been. I have a constant desire to explore the country and see new water.

I’ll admit Oklahoma wasn’t my first choice for a trip this year. It wasn’t my second either. But these are unprecedented times and you got to play the hand your dealt. A trip to Arizona in May got cancelled. Then, a trip to New Mexico around Labor Day also was cancelled. The back-up, back-up trip I considered was the Lower Mountain Fork in Oklahoma. At the time it looked like a cold front was going to sweep down and it would actually be a pretty nice weekend to camp and fish Oklahoma in early September. That cold front never materialized, just par for the course in 2020.

We packed up the truck on a Thursday night and made the 6.5 hour trek up to Hochatown from Baton Rouge on a Friday morning. First stop was the Beaver’s Bend Fly Shop in the state park to find out where we needed to fish and what worked there. We are not tailwater fishermen, but we were assured this wasn’t your normal tailwater. Coach Eddie Brister runs the shop and was a great guy to talk to. He was eager to help us and it was really one of the nicer fly shop experiences we’ve had on a trip. Armed with newfound knowledge we set out to catch some trout on the Lower Mountain Fork River.

It didn’t take Blake long to hook a couple of rainbows right below the campground. What did I catch you say?

Native fish of course. That’s how much of a native fish magnet I am. Fishing the same water and the same flies as Blake. Even when I’m making every effort to catch their coldwater, stocked cockroach-esque neighbors, I end up catching bass and chubs.

It didn’t take long to wear out the water behind the campground so we hit another spot that had better potential to hold wild trout as the river does have natural reproduction of both rainbow and brown trout, so we were told.

We got into the little wild rainbows, I think we both caught several of them, so we had proof that there were streamborn trout here. I later had a good opportunity at a really nice rainbow that I hooked and fought in some fast water. I felt like I had him beat, but netting him was proving to be an issue as there was no slow water around me. I’d get to the point of bringing him into my net, then he’d take off and head back into the current. Maybe I didn’t quite have him beat. On about the third or fourth time of doing this he was finally able to throw the hook. It was a little heartbreaking, but the trip was still young, so I wasn’t too beat up about it.

I got a little redemption in the form of a nice little brown trout that was hanging out in a riffle while I was making my way back to the car (Spoiler alert, that little brown would be the best fish I’d bring to hand all weekend). After that fish we headed back to the campground to dine on jamabalaya and white beans to finish out a successful day. I could check a new state off the list.

On Saturday morning we got back out to what they call Spillway Creek, the part of the river that holds more wild fish, and we nymphed the runs hard.

Blake caught a few rainbows, I didn’t catch squat. So we hit the road and went to a local brewpub at lunch.

Mountain Fork Brewery had decent beer, a nice variety of old world styles, but they didn’t have much to offer us hopheads. No fruited sours, no pastry stouts, one hazy IPA – I don’t know if national craft beer trends seem to have skipped Oklahoma or if this brewer just turns his nose up at us hipsters and our fads. The burgers we had were outstanding though and it was nice to talk shit to a Sooners fan at a bar while in town.

Fishing in the afternoon was pretty uneventful. It was Saturday and it was pretty hot out so Beaver’s Bend State Park was full of people. The evening hole, which we’d heard so much about was always occupied. Zone 2 was unfishable as they were constantly generating power. Flow from the generation pushes backwater up all the way up until our campground (Grapevine) so any spots I scouted on Google Earth that looked good downstream from us were covered with water. Really the only place to get away from folks was on Spillway Creek. It was our first time up there and it showed. We had so much learn in so little time. Steaks and whiskey next to the campfire made it all better though.

Sunday we ventured out again, this time we hit the river from a different parking area. It was a good call as Blake was able to stick a nice fish pretty early that came up and sipped a Chubby.

It was a really colored up old male rainbow that made the trip worth it. It’s funny how one fish can do that.

We fished on up, working the seams, Blake was having better luck than I was. I wasn’t having problems catching the chubs or the little wild rainbows, but anything bigger was eluding me.

I got one more shot at a good fish that I hooked in a good looking run, but the fight didn’t last long and after a few headshakes it was over. Oh well, on to the next brewpub.

The beer at Beaver’s Bend Brewery was good (they had more than one IPA at least), but kind of reminded me of a lot of the beer you get from homebrew kits. The “gourmet” hot dog though was really damn good and was appreciated coming off the water.

We hit the evening hole Sunday evening and really had nothing to show for it. We got to chatting with a guy who had been euro-nymphing and caught a few fish. I was genuinely intrigued with his set up, but he ended up being pretty knowledgeable about the fishery and a good dude to talk to. As we’d come to find out we were that at quite possibly the worst time of year. It was late summer, the water was hot, the trout were deep. They were not as spread out as they are in the winter. Not only that, but the water was stained, the lake was possibly turning over, and the level was higher than it gets in the winter when they bring it down to it’s lowest point.

I don’t know if this newfound knowledge made me feel better or worse about the tough fishing we experienced. It does make me want to go back in the winter though because we really had a great time camping, the state park was very nice, and I’d much rather fish (and judge) a river at it’s peak than at it’s low point in a year. It’s going to be tough to make the trek back though because he made some really good arguments for some of spring creeks in Missouri…..

Last month I took the family on a road trip up to Northwest Arkansas where we rented a cabin in the Boston Mountains at Devil’s Den State Park.  The impetus for the trip was LSU’s road game in Fayetteville – I’ve always enjoyed travelling to see the Tigers play and have typically made it to one road game a year.  Amanda and I had never been to that part of Arkansas and a trip to see some Fall color wasn’t a bad idea so we decided to make a trip of it.

The drive was about 10 hours, most of it coming on the highway rather than the interstate.  The drive from Little Rock toward Fort Smith on I-40 in the Arkansas River valley is quite pleasant.  When you’re from Louisiana just seeing elevation change is nice.

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Any road trip with a 1 year old is always longer than it should be, but for the most part she handled it like a champ.  After breakfast in Natchez we had to stop and play at a park in Monticello.  We then managed to make it all the way to Alma before Olivia had really had enough of the car.

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My first impression of the park was of admiration for the old CCC architecture.  There were rustic old stone and log cabin buildings spread in the woods among Lee Creek Valley, they actually fit in well with the scenery.  We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of Fall up there, with lots of orange, yellows, and reds throughout.  The temperature change from Baton Rouge to NW Arkansas was pretty sharp, it was bitterly cold through our entire stay up there.  We were determined to not let it be a deterrent to our enjoyment in the woods and we enjoyed a few different hikes around the park.

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The Devil’s Den trail is a 1.3 mile loop that really showcased the sandstone caves, crevices, and bluffs that the area is known for.

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One of the more interesting parts of the trail was along Lee Creek where people, over time, had constructed a seemingly endless amount of rock cairns.  Olivia did her best to play Godzilla and knock a few down, I’m sure eventually a flood will take out the rest.

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Lee Creek, which was shallow and clear, had me longing for warmer temps so I could try my luck for some Ozark smallmouth.  The forecast had been so cold though that I didn’t even pack a rod.

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In a bid to see more Fall color in the area we made the drive one day over to Natural Dam, a natural rock dam spanning 200 feet along Mountain Fork Creek.  The kids loved playing with the rocks on the cobble beach just below the dam.

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We did make our way into Fayetteville on Saturday for the game where we went to the Farmers Market in Downtown Square then spent the rest of the day tailgating until game time.  The Razorbacks had not done much this season to capture the attention of local fans so we basically had the campus to ourselves.  There really wasn’t even a strong LSU contingent there.  My parents also made the trip to Devil’s Den and were nice enough to keep the kids while Amanda and I went to the game.  We were treated to some complimentary tickets not long before game time by a nice Arkansas fan, I can’t thank that woman enough, they were great seats too!  The game wasn’t a thriller by any stretch of the imagination, but the stadium was nice, they had hot chocolate delivery, the fans were pleasant, and the Tigers got the W so it was a good experience all around.

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It was really nice to spend quality time with the family where cell service was shoddy at best.  I think the kids really enjoyed being somewhere new and spending as much time outside as we did.  After this trip and spending the night in a tent at Audubon Zoo with Marin back in October I’m hoping we will make more of an effort to go camping next year.

A much better night’s sleep was had on night two.  I could have done without the dog in the adjacent site that growled at me every time I moved, but at least it didn’t make noise through the night, or break free from its leash and try to murder me as I slept peacefully in my hammock – that may have crossed my mind at some point.  Luckily the dog was well-behaved, just protective I guess.

Much like the day before, that morning we ate breakfast, packed up, then headed down the road to the river.  This time, though, there was a lot more people in the parking lot where we were planning to fish.  They weren’t fishermen though, it looked like a group of Boy Scouts was getting ready to go on a hiking trip into the Bankhead National Forest.  A short ways up the trail we encountered some boys swimming, which was a little unfortunate because their swimming hole looked like a great place to fish.  We fished a bit downstream of them before walking around where their group was camping in the middle of the trail.  I don’t know why one would pick the middle of the trail, or at the base of a waterfall, like we saw another group doing, as a good place to camp, but what do I know I was just here to fly fish.  Speaking of fishing, Blake managed to catch an Alabama bass in that first spot we tried before we moved on.  After the early fish I was feeling optimistic.

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We went around the boys and continued to fish.  This river was much sandier than the two we fished previously, it actually reminded me a little of the rivers back home, though it didn’t have massive sand bars like you see on rivers south of the Fall Line.  Like the rivers back home it required quite a bit of wading between fishable water.  It definitely had a different feel than the other redeye streams we fished.  We went from stacked shoals on day 1 to high gradient for day 2, now we were on a fairly low gradient stream with lots of sand – we were definitely seeing a good variety of the water Alabama has to offer.  Despite the differences it was just as beautiful as the others, with some of the clearest water I’ve seen in a river, but we found out pretty quickly that it was also a tough place to fish.

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We covered a lot of territory without a bite and I was getting pretty nervous about catching a Warrior bass here.  I was within site of where I planned on turning around and heading back to the truck, but I got lucky and caught one as I floated a woolly bugger near some woody debris on the bank, it came out from a deep spot and nailed my fly.  I had my Warrior bass in hand and there was a little hope for this stream after all, so we kept fishing.

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We gave ourselves a little extra time on the water to see if Blake could land a Warrior bass.  If we didn’t have any luck soon it was onto Plan B.  I wanted so badly for this stream to work out for both of us, but it wasn’t in the cards.  I’m not sure if redeye bass numbers here are low or if the fishing was just tough, either way, we needed to get Blake a Warrior bass before dark and we weren’t having luck here so it was time to make the move.

One of the reasons I wanted to fish here was actually for the hike out.  The trail that runs along the river is one of the best in Alabama, every feeder stream that flows into the river has to go over a massive riverside bluff, so there are numerous waterfalls you pass along your hike.  It’s a really cool place to visit, whether you’re hiking or fishing, one of the prettiest in the state.

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We had been watching the weather all morning and as we hiked out the skies finally opened up.  I couldn’t help but think of how much harder it would be to catch a redeye if Plan B was high and muddy.  Our only hope was that whatever rain that came down would be brief, not only did Blake still need a Warrior bass today, but we still had to catch Cahaba bass tomorrow.

We hit the road toward our next destination, which was a little closer to Birmingham and drove through some serious weather.  It was the kind of storm that makes you put on your flashers when you drive and that’s something I never do.  Zero visibility would not be an overstatement.  We drove far enough east to get to our next creek that we had driven ahead of the line of storms, but that just meant we’d get it again soon.  Blake was out of the truck as soon as we parked, he was a man on a mission.  The dry spell didn’t last long however as the skies opened up again.

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Things weren’t looking good, but luckily the rain, although heavy, was short lived.  He hadan hour, maybe an hour and a half, before we had to be off the water – we were actually in a park that closed at 5:30pm, so the clock was ticking.

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Much like the last stream the fishing was tough.  I did spook a couple of fish that looked like redeye bass near the bank, so we at least knew they were in here, but things were looking bleak. We were down to our last 20 minutes when it finally happened.  He caught a fish and it was a Warrior bass.

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Who would have thought catching an 8″ fish could be so exciting!  What a relief that was, we had already talked about having to swing back through here when we were en route to Georgia for the second half of the slam, but thankfully we wouldn’t need to do that.  It was a tough day of fishing period.  I only caught one, thankfully it was a Warrior bass, Blake only caught two fish, we got seriously lucky.

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We got out of there shortly after that fish and headed south toward the Cahaba watershed, which held Cahaba bass, our final species needed for a Mobile Basin slam.  We found some primitive camping available at Brierfield Ironworks State Park.  We showed up after hours, but that didn’t seem to be a problem, there was plenty of primitive camping available.

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We were in North Georgia for most of the past six days, spending quality time with my family and I was able to do a bit of fly fishing as well.  The fishing wasn’t as stellar as it has been in years past, but then again I wasn’t in top form either.  Lots of missed hooksets, flies in trees, and too much time spent de-tangling terrible casting decisions.  Low and slow water didn’t help, but was hardly to blame.  Despite all that, there were times everything came together and I landed a few nice fish.

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I always enjoy fishing at the cabin but I think my daughter may have enjoyed playing with her cousins more.  It was a very relaxing trip, but we still found plenty to do beyond fishing and hanging out with family.  Hiking, tubing, catching crickets, four-wheeling, waterfalls, a festival, and a brewery visit – we had a blast.  I cherish every trip we take to Georgia and wish we could make it that way more often.  Huge thanks to Mom and Dad for having us!

2015 is over so here’s a look back at my (outdoor) year in pictures.  Click on any pic to read more from that day.

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The year started off solid, with my first ski trip with a big group of friends.  It was a ton of fun and really set the bar high for a non-fishing trip.  Then came a personal best brown from Memorial Day weekend, which was actually the same pb brown I caught last year – what are the odds?  I think the high point though will be the Wyoming Cutt Slam trip in August.  Five days of incredible dry fly fishing with a great friend is tough to beat.  It was a fine year and like any other year it had its share of ups and downs, but I’m ready to see what 2016 brings.