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With the itch to take a trip and a weekend set aside, Blake and I set out for Arkansas after work one Thursday earlier this month.  We drove 7 hours to a campground in the Ouachita National Forest and set up our hammocks as fast as we could to maximize the time we’d have to sleep.  Just like everywhere else in the South, western Arkansas is hot in the summer, even at midnight.  Despite the heat I slept pretty well and woke up to a sweet lakeside campsite.

We aren’t much on fishing lakes so we headed on over to a nearby river where we met Jason who drove over from Little Rock to fish with us for the day.  This trip was all about smallmouth bass, a fish Blake has never caught before.  We were hoping to catch both the Ouachita strain and the Neosho strain on this trip – two unique forms of smallmouth found in Arkansas.  First up was the Ouachita, which are found on a few different rivers that run south off the Ouachita Mountains.

The river was beautiful.  I feel like I say that about every river, but this one seemed special.  It was a classic freestone river, with water as clear as any you’ll find in the South.  There was a riffle at our point of access that was too appealing to pass up so that’s where we started fishing.  The riffle was chock full of boulders and loads of bait darted around as we moved upstream.  Upstream of the riffle was a long pool and as we continued further it was clear this was the set up – riffle, long deep pool, riffle.  We caught a few sunfish (some were massive green sunfish), but it took a while before we figured out the smallmouth.

We got to a point where a tributary emptied into the river and it was there that Blake caught the first smallmouth on a RLD.  

Blake explored the trib a bit further and caught a few more fish, while Jason and I focused on the main stem of the river.

It was in the bubbles to the left of the run above that I finally caught my first Ouachita of the trip.  It hit a streamer almost as soon as it hit the water.

Blake met up with Jason and I soon after and we continued our way upstream.  As we got further from our access point the river got prettier and the fishing got better.  This is nearly always the case, but we tend to get caught up fishing a new river right where start wading because it just looks too good to pass up.

I tried several different flies out early to try and establish a pattern, covering the water from top to bottom.  What I ended up using most was a crawfish pattern tied on a jig style hook that Blake had tied for me prior to heading to West Virginia last year.  Blake had good success on a RLD, the crawfish loved it too.

Not wanting to set up camp again in the dark we parted ways with Jason and left the river some time in the mid-afternoon.  I really wish I had budgeted more time for that river, it was an awesome one, definitely somewhere you could spend a whole weekend.  We only saw a few other people when we were leaving too.  I’ll be back at some point.  Right now though we had to drive north to the Ozark Mountains and Ozark National Forest to make it into a watershed that held Neosho smallmouth.

The first night in a hammock is always tough.  I’ve said that in the past and on this trip it was no different.  The hammock is comfortable and it beats sleeping on the ground, but it takes a bit of adjustment coming from a king bed.  Throw in an overzealous whip-poor-will, who was vocal for nearly the entire night, and sleep for me on night one was sporadic at best.

We were up at dawn, ate some breakfast, got packed up, and rolled out of the campground to make our way a few miles up the road to Cheaha Mountain and visit the highest point in the state.

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It was tough to get an unobstructed view of the surrounding area at the top of the tower, there was lots of communication and radio equipment up there.  A better view was had at the restaurant deck a little further down the mountain.  It’s neat what a little bit of elevation can do though.  At 2,400 feet the trees were still leafing out, whereas nearly everything just 1,000 foot down in elevation was pretty much done and making that transition out of Spring.

We came down off the mountain after checking out the view and headed down the road a way to where we planned to fish that morning for Coosa bass in the Talladega National Forest.  I had been told this was as close as I was going to get to a bonafide southern Appalachian blue line trout stream in Alabama and it held our target species so I figured it was worth a visit.

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It didn’t take long for me to get on the board with my second redeye species of the trip, the Coosa bass.  I let Blake play through after that and took time to explore my surroundings.

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It’s always a good idea to stop what you’re doing and take it all in sometimes, it’s amazing how much more you notice when you’re a little more observant.  I found loads of crawfish in the little feeder creeks and a handful of snakes like the one above, which made me a little more cautious while I was doing a bunch of rock hopping knowing they were out and about.

It took a little longer than expected, but Blake got on board with a Coosa bass of his own.  It was about this time that the creek picked up some elevation, entered into a bit of a canyon, and took on a whole new character.

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It was a beautiful stretch of water to wade.  We caught a few more Coosa bass through that section, but I knew it was time to turn around and hike out once I caught a chub in a big pool below a falls, especially when that was the only action we saw in that pool.  It was pretty good timing too because the locals were just making it up the trail to their swimming hole as we were heading out.

We left the creek and headed into nearby Anniston and Cheaha Brewing Company and met up with our friend Mark Miller for lunch and a flight.  No fishing trip is complete without a brewery stop and Cheaha fit the bill.  The food was good and the beer was acceptable.

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We left full and happy and drove through Birmingham en route to the Bankhead National Forest.  For Day 3 we’d target the Warrior bass on a creek that I fished a few times when I lived in Madison, the only place where I’d previously caught redeye before.  It was a much more memorable place for its beautiful scenery than anything else, it seemed only appropriate to head that way.

I had to work up in Northeast Louisiana this past week.  This was the last part of our great state that I had never visited.  Monroe reminds me a bit of Alexandria, the two being of similar size, having similar populations and offering similar amenities.  The work I’m doing sometimes affords me a bit of free time, other times I work 12-13 hour days.  I had almost an entire day to myself yesterday and decided to make the drive over to Poverty Point.  Maybe not the first choice for many people, but I figured why not go check out the monumental earthworks while I was somewhat close.

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If you couldn’t tell I had the place to myself.  No one else is dumb enough to walk around outside in rural Louisiana in the dead of summer and at high noon.  It was hot as hell, but I enjoyed it. The earthworks were impressive.  The amount of artifacts that have been found at Poverty Point were impressive.  They weren’t all from the same area or tribe either.  Their trade network was huge.  There was a thriving civilization there way back when.  Kind of humbling to walk around the site alone, like I was in a Native American ghost town.

I left Poverty Point and decided it was time to go fishing.  It had been too long since my last outing (late June) and although this would be just a little afternoon bank fishing it was welcome.  I headed over to Kiroli Park in West Monroe.  While working I learned there was a fishing pond there and some trails so I had to go check it out.

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It was actually two ponds and they both held plenty of fish.  These little bass were a hoot.  They were ambushing minnows in the shallows causing all kinds of racket.  It was tough getting them to take a fly because they were in such a hurry.  Near a submerged log, in a shady part of the lake I saw a nice bluegill working a deep bed.  I had it hit the topwater a few times, but knew it would take a nymph so I tied one on and threw it back out there twitching the bomber ever so slightly. As the bomber started moving sideways I set the hook and it was a good fish – one of the biggest gills I’ve probably ever caught.  I then moved to the upper lake and found a nice school of bluegill under a tree, all smaller than the big one, but consistent action for a little while.

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Eventually that bite tapered off and I went on a walk on the trail, taking the long way back to the truck.  The trail crossed a sandy little creek (tiny enough to jump across) and curiosity got the better of me. I walked the bank of the creek tossing a fly in every likely lie.  Wouldn’t you know it that every likely lie was holding a fish? There were bluegill, bass, sunfish, goggle-eye and beyond the fish the creek was loaded with mussels and crawfish – this little creek was full of life.

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I was very impressed by Kiroli Park, what a great resource the city of West Monroe has.  They park was in great shape and it was obvious that it was a favorite of the locals – there were lots of people using the facilities.  Having not done any fishing since June, this was the perfect place to come fish.  To top it all off, I even stopped to pick up a few local brews from Shreveport – the Commotion is pretty darn good too.IMG_3198

I went a month straight posting new content every day, but had to break that this past weekend. Amanda and I spent my birthday at Hodges Gardens State Park, near Many, LA. We booked a cabin a couple weeks ago, had second thoughts this past week due to the weather forecast, but it worked out in our favor and never rained Saturday. We walked the gardens Friday evening and Saturday morning, fished the lake Saturday afternoon. Now Hodges is no Callaway, not nearly the size or staff, and Callaway is private, but, the gardens are very nice, a unique part of the state park system. They boast an impressive array of camelias, azaleas, and some awesome water features. The lake is a reclaimed quarry, 225 acres, lined with aquatic vegetation. We rented a canoe for the day and started pounding the banks. The bass were pretty active and I caught enough to keep me interested.  We ate pretty well too, barbequed shrimp, grilled steaks, and Amanda made a fruit pizza in lieu of a cake.

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We made it back in town just in time for a crawfish boil with some friends. First of the season for us. Hit the spot too.

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It was a great birthday weekend, I really enjoyed it! I’d love to fish the lake again when it is a little warmer, it is one of the healthiest I’ve seen in Louisiana. Amanda ended up being a pretty good paddling guide as well, another good reason to get a Big Tuna.