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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.

Back in October as the RSFF Jambalaya Challenge was beginning to wind down, Chris Williams and I made it out on a creek in search of shadow bass. Shadow bass are not a species you can directly target IMO, but we at least made it out somewhere that I’ve caught them before, so I figured our odds of seeing one were at least a little better there. This was the first time Chris and I had fished together and I was glad we were able to make it happen.

We got an early start that morning and had an unseasonably Fall-like chill in the air when we first stepped in the water. It was cold enough that it took a little bit of time for the fish to warm up and become active.

The first fish I came across was a blacktail shiner, a fish I had come across earlier in the year and a common catch on the creeks that I wade fish here in south Louisiana. I caught a striped shiner soon after that and unfortunately for me he came off the hook before I could get a photo. That would have been another species on the list so a bit of a bummer. Soon enough the normal targeted species began to show up as well; the longear sunfish and spotted bass.

The fishing remained pretty slow for most of the morning into the afternoon, but Chris did well to add three species to his list; striped shiner, blacktail shiner, and spotted bass and put a little distance on his Jambalaya Challenge lead.

Unfortunately we didn’t turn up any shadow bass on our trip, which was not wholly unexpected. Like I said before, they are difficult to target directly. They are always bycatch for me and I certainly don’t catch one every time I fish a creek. As my mom would say “maybe we just weren’t holding our mouth right”.

I enjoyed my day on the water with Chris and I know we will do it again soon. We still have to track down a shadow bass for him and he knows where to go to catch chain pickerel in Louisiana, which is something I’ve yet to do.

I got out on the water a good bit this year, more so than in recent years, which has been pretty exciting. I haven’t done a good job of documenting it here, but I’m working on that now. These trips don’t last as long as they used to, but I’ve gotten to fish a lot of new water and a variety of different types of water. The reason for the diversification was pretty simple; I wanted to target as many different species of fish as I could.

I found myself motivated to catch new species this year as I decided in the spring to participate in the Red Stick Fly Fishers Jambalaya Challenge, a contest our local fly fishing club started this year to see which member could catch the most species on the fly in the given timeframe. I figured I could catch 25-30 species and run away with the victory, but little did I know fellow Baton Rouge fly fisher and blogger, Chris Williams, had big plans to catch as many species as possible this year on the fly as well. Thus began a back and forth competition between Chris and myself that went on from March – November which put me fishing all over the Baton Rouge area and beyond looking to catch anything that swims.

On one of those trips I found myself in Zachary, checking out a BREC park there. The main fishing pond there had some stained water and the pond itself was pretty boring so, armed with my 1wt, I ducked off into the woods to check out the outlet creek.

With apologies to Johnny Cash, “I’ll fish anywhere man, I’ll fish anywhere…”

At this point I’ve committed to full blown microfishing, something I never thought I would do in my life, but a species is a species in a competition. I didn’t take pics of every tiny fish I caught, as many of them I’ve caught this year already. There were a variety of juvenile sunfish, mostly warmouth and green sunfish, and a couple topminnows, which from my research afterward were blackspotted topminnows.

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I can only take so much microfishing so I left the ditch in the woods and headed to check out another smaller pond at the park. I found it loaded with submerged vegetation and much better clarity than the bigger pond, or the ditch for that matter. I began tossing my 3wt with a beadhead leech pattern in pockets and around grass edges and working it back slowly, but fast enough to not to get it caught up in the weeds. On one cast a fish exploded on my fly as soon as it hit the water. It was a nice largemouth for the 3wt and after a short fight and some tugging through the weeds I got him to the bank for a few pics.

I wasn’t expecting a largemouth of that size in this small pond, but I was happy to have found him there.

Fishing a bunch of different ditches and parks around town has been a lot of fun this year. They don’t all reward you like this one did, but it’s this kind of trip that makes the exploration worth it. It keeps me interested in continuing the pursuit, fishing anywhere and everywhere, wondering all along just what the heck lives in the water around us and how can I catch them.