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We woke up to frost on our vehicles the next morning; it was cold as hell for Southern Mississippi. We met up with fellow Red Stick Fly Fisher and blogger Chris, the Fat Fingered Fly Tyer, and came up with a plan of attack that involved fishing the deepest parts of the southern end of the lake. The wind and the bitter cold made executing that plan difficult. We fished and gave it our best in a sheltered cove, but eventually decided that wasn’t working. It was starting to look like the morning was a complete bust, which wasn’t unexpected. There was enough time to try one more spot and I had at least caught fish in the upper part of the lake yesterday so I told them that’s where I was planning to head and Chris decided to come with.

We launched our kayaks at the northern end of the lake and fought the wind, paddling across to where the river dumps in. There the trees were tall enough to protect us from the wind and the channel was pretty deep too, so if the bass were holding on the bottom we could at least target them in the deep channel. The temps were starting to increase to the point of being comfortable, but the wind was non-stop.

Things were looking up once we got in the river. It wasn’t too long after we made it to the river when I was slowly stripping a Clouser minnow with my 7wt sinking line around some standing timber and felt an eat with some solid resistance. When I strip set the line started moving and I got excited. Not long after a fish comes rocketing out of the water! It clearly wasn’t the target fish though, too long and skinny, no this wasn’t a largemouth, it was a bigass chain pickerel! It bulldogged after the jump and put up a really nice fight before I was able to slip my net under it. No points were awarded for big pickerel so I decided to let it go. Chris had mentioned I may want to keep it as it could be a state fly rod record, and I contemplated it, but in the end I let it swim.

It was a great fish that put up a great fight, a really good representative of our southern species of Esox. I was thrilled with the catch and relieved to not skunk on this tough day. A day when I thought for sure that no one was going to catch anything in this crappy weather. Just as soon as I release my fish back in the water Chris hooks into a bass. At 11″ it wasn’t the monster we were hoping for, but any bass on this day was better than none. I was happy to see our change in location had paid off and we both avoided the skunk, and now Chris was at least on the leaderboard.

The rest of our trip was pretty uneventful, I don’t know that I caught another fish. We did explore up the river a ways and found a lot of really good looking water that would probably be worth fishing at a later date, much like on my scouting trip the day before. It was eventually time to head back to the “weigh-in” and see what everyone else had caught.

Fly tying was in full swing by the time we got back and shortly after we arrived back an awards presentation was held for the big bass contest. As I suspected Chris did make it on the leaderboard as there were only two fish submitted. His 11″ bass was good enough for 2nd, while Roger Apperley turned in a 12″ bass minutes before the end of the contest. After the awards came the silent auction and then the raffle prizes. I was lucky enough to have my named called for a Fred Hannie watercolor of a largemouth bass, which now sits in my office at work.

The Sweetwater Classic was the first event I attended put on by the FFI Gulf Coast Council and I really did enjoy it. I thought they did a great job curating an event that catered to area fly fishermen. It was great spending time on and off the water with Brian and Chris, and meeting all the other folks who made the trip up to Percy Quin for the event.

I think the plan next year is for the Classic to be held in early May at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama. More details can be found on the FFI GCC site, and it already looks like it will be bigger and better than this year’s event. If you’re a fly fisher-person in the South you may want to consider making the trip and booking your lodging now.

Brian and I stayed one more night at the cabin and left the next morning to make the drive back down to Baton Rouge. Music was one of the wide variety of things we discussed and we both figured that no trip to this part of Mississippi was complete without a stop at the Lynyrd Skynyrd memorial site. There are a lot of Skynyrd songs I like, but one of my favorite fishing related lyrics from any song comes at the end of “Don’t Ask Me No Questions”

“I said don’t ask no stupid questions and I won’t send you away
If you want to talk fishin, well I guess that’ll be OK”

I chuckle every time I hear it, because it’s so relatable.

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.

Just before things got serious with Hurricane Ida I was able to squeeze in a last minute scouting trip to a few roadside spots north of Lake Pontchartrain. This trip was supposed to be a wade fishing trip to one of my favorite streams with a brief roadside stop on the way to try and catch a new species to me, but the weather that day made me call an audible.

I pulled up at my first stop as the skies opened up and began casting my fly into a hole where a tannic stream poured out of a set of culverts that ran under the highway. I worked the hot head damsel fly from one side of the hole to the other and I tried to work it from the top down because in some spots the deeper I let it drop the easier it was to get hung up. Here’s what I found:

Goggle-eye (Warmouth)
Grass pickerel – the target species
Bluegill
Juvenile goggle-eye
Flier

The grass pickerel was the species I was after so I was pretty pumped to catch one at the first stop. The flier was a surprise bonus catch and as an unabashed sunfish nerd I was thrilled to land it as well. I knew they existed in South Louisiana somewhere, but I really had no idea where I needed to go to target them because I never hear anything from other anglers about them. In the Freshwater Fishes of Louisiana book by Dr. Neil H. Douglas, their range map says they exist statewide, but that to me is extremely vague and unhelpful. I may be asking too much of a nearly 50 year old book. I ended up catching three flier which tells me that they are at least established at this spot and should be a clue as to what type of habitat I should have been looking for them in all along.

I ended up fishing here longer than I thought I would because I was catching fish in the rain and frankly that’s better than not catching fish in the rain. All good things come to an end though and when things shut down I moved on to spot two. Spot two came on the recommendation of Chris Williams as the place I needed to go to target the grass pickerel and my whole reason for making a side trip here in the first place. He had added them to his species list for the RSFF Jambalaya Challenge and never having seen one before I was curious about them, so he passed on the knowledge to me. For that I’m very appreciative – anglers helping anglers, got to love it.

This spot was very similar to the first as it was a deep spot in a tributary, right off the highway. I worked it similarly and soon was rewarded with fish.

Dollar sunfish

Another mixed bag, no flier this time, but a few more grass pickerel, with the last one being pretty respectable, trending toward the max of their length. You got to watch those pickerel as they do have teeth and if they hit a fly up toward the line you may not get that fly back. I lost a couple flies to teeth while targeting them on this trip. They hit a fly like any Esox, they T-bone it, and I had a little trouble securing the hook up early on with them. I caught enough of them though that I wasn’t kicking myself over it.

After getting my fill of pickerel I picked up and moved on down the road. The rain wasn’t letting up and I spent a little too much time at each of these first two stops to go wade fish a stream now, especially one that may or may not get blown out with all the rain, so I opted to keep on spot hopping and scout a few more different roadside spots in the area.

The rain had made the day’s fishing tougher than it had to be and by the time I was ready to drive home I was sufficiently soaked. I caught a few fish here and there, no more new species to report, but found some good looking water. No spot was as productive as the first two. Also the more time I spent listening to the radio in the truck between spots the bleaker the forecast looked with Hurricane Ida. The track continued to jog westward toward Baton Rouge so I eventually decided I needed to head home. We needed to make a family decision as to what our plan was in regards to riding out the storm.

I’ll have more on that in another post, but know that our household and family made it through Hurricane Ida just fine. We were very lucky as there were many people in south Louisiana that were impacted and continue to be impacted by that storm to this day. It was a monster and one of those life changing events for some folks.