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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.

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.

These are exciting times for fish nerds like myself. In March it was published in Lake Magazine that four new species of redeye bass have been discovered. I say “discovered”, but it’s more like “recognized”. They’ve always been there, people had always fished for them, but no one really knew they were genetically divergent from the Coosa strain redeye bass.

The same is true for the newly described Choctaw Bass. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced on May 7th that the spotted bass that inhabit the streams of the Florida panhandle are actually an entirely different species, though they are almost identical in appearance. They offer the name Choctaw Bass as they shared the same geographic footprint as the Native American Choctaw tribe. Example pic and map below courtesy of FWC:

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What peaks my interest though in the Choctaw Bass (besides the fact that they are an entirely new species – that is fascinating in it’s own right) is their proposed range map:

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FWC seems to suggest that the bass I catch in Florida parish streams that don’t drain into the Mississippi River are possibly Choctaw bass, rather than spotted bass. I’ve long suspected that the spotted bass I catch around here are somehow different than those that lived in the Tennessee River drainages in Northern Alabama, mainly because they look different with their orange eyes and their habitat is completely different, and given the amount of time they’ve been cut off from the Mississippi River, I imagine their genetics have to be somewhat divergent. So I think it IS possible that they are Choctaw bass, but I also think it’s possible they are their own species, and the reason they aren’t already described is because no one has funded the research. The difference would most likely be genetic, just like with the Choctaw bass, and I guess that is important as it would illustrate diversity. But if it looks just like a spotted bass, acts just like a spotted bass, tastes just like a spotted bass, is it not just a spotted bass?