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After driving north through the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas River valley we made it to our next destination with daylight to spare.  At an overlook we got to see the river we’d get a chance to fish over the next couple days, it was as it looks in a summer time aerial image, low and teal in color.  A sign told us the color was due to the high mineral content in the water.  Large quantities of sulfur, manganese, and iron combined with the sediment load carried in the water causes it to appear aqua in color.  We continued on and got camp set up fast to walk down to the river and try our luck.

Chucking spinning rods it didn’t take long to get into fish.  The big green sunfish were ever present on this river as on the last, but so were the juvenile Neosho smallmouth.  We were able to catch a few before it got dark.  I even managed to catch a rock bass, a fish I haven’t caught since I spent some time in the Tennessee River watershed in North Alabama.  This river was quite different than the last, far less elevation change, no more big boulders, but tons of gravel.  Big long gravel bars along big long pools, not many fast flowing sections.  A tougher place to fly fish due to the slow water, but we’d give it a shot tomorrow.  I wasn’t too worried about tomorrow at this point, I was looking forward to dinner.  The NY strip, onions, and potatoes that were made on the cast iron pot were incredible.  I think we are getting better at camp cooking, even with interruption from dive bombing cicadas.

The next day was spent dodging rain showers and spot hopping along the river.  There were several access points upstream of where we camped that we checked out.  We fished at a few of them and probably should have spent more time at some rather than others, but that’s the joys of scouting.  It was nice to have a road alongside the river for much of the way, the only slight annoyance was when the large groups of ATVs drove by.  We must have been near some major OHV trails with the amount of ATV traffic that was in the area.  The fishing was pretty good, no real big fish, mostly smallmouth with some spots and sunfish mixed in.  There were plenty to keep us interested though which was nice.

After lunch we drove up to the local general store to have a look around.  The Ozarks seem to have no shortage of these types of places.  We each got a slice of caramel apple pie a la mode that may have been the real highlight of the trip.  Really good stuff.

After pie we hit arguably the best spot on the river that we had found, where a major trib emptied into the main stem of the river, we fished sections of each and caught multiple Neosho smallmouth.  This spot had more riffle and run than any other section we fished and that suited us perfectly.  Wish we would have stumbled upon it earlier.  It was there we wrapped up the fishing portion of our trip.  We had a long drive ahead of us on Sunday so we would not be hitting the water in the morning.  We had another solid dinner that night when Blake cooked up some chicken fajitas that had been marinating a couple days in the ice chest.  The trip, even with the shorter planning period, came together nicely.  I don’t know where the next one will be but I always have ideas.

 

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.

Last weekend I wanted to get Marin out of the house so I asked her if she wanted to go see what fish lived in the “creek” at the nearby park.  That wasn’t reason enough for her to commit to going, but then I sweetened the pot and told her that we could play on the playground after we fished which got her to immediately put her shoes on and head toward the door.

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The “creek” is a drainage ditch that runs through the park near our house.  It’s not very long, I’m not even sure it has a name.  You can jump across it and not get wet in some places, at bends it slows down and deepens enough to make a pool.  Those pools will hold fish.  On a hot, cloudy February day those fish were hungry.  We caught several species of small sunfish, some on tiny nymphs, but more on dry flies.  I brought a 1wt and had fun making bow and arrow casts to the pools and watching fish explode on the surface shortly after the fly landed.  Marin had a blast holding the fish and releasing them back into the water.

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Dollar sunfish (Lepomis marginatus)

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Redspotted sunfish (Lepomis miniatus)

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Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

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Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

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Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

I was surprised at the diversity within this tiny trickle of a ditch, but really it shouldn’t come as a surprise as Louisiana is truly a melting pot for Lepomis species.  This was borderline microfishing but it was actually pretty entertaining, especially with ultralight fly tackle.  Marin loved it too, which is really all that matters.

I’m always looking to add species to the fish page here on the site and I know there are some smaller sunfish species found locally that have eluded me thus far, so I put in a couple hours with the fly rod on a local ditch on Friday afternoon to see what I could find.

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The bream beds were thick in one stretch of the creek and I caught quite the variety of sunfish in short time.

IMG_6578Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

IMG_6577Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

IMG_6579Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

IMG_6580Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)

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The ditch was very shallow, but full of life.  There were also redear on beds and bass and gar cruising around, none of which I managed to fool with a fly.  It’s not the prettiest place in the world to fish and it’s hotter than hell right now, but you can’t beat the diversity of species.

 

 

Amanda and I took a somewhat last minute, short notice road trip over the Independence Day holiday to the Texas Hill Country, where we stayed in a cabin outside of Fredericksburg. We set out after work Wednesday evening and made it to the cabin REAL early Thursday morning, driving in the dark from about Houston westward. Over the last 1.5 hours of the drive we counted about 62 deer passed on the road, which was both exciting and a little nerve racking.

We woke up Thursday morning and stepped outside on our deck to a pretty impressive view, where we were soon joined by a couple of hungry deer. The reason we had a view was that our cabin actually sat on the ridge that separates the Pedernales and Guadalupe watersheds.

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Thursday was spent in and around Fredericksburg just playing tourist. The downtown historic district was pretty cool, but I think Amanda got the biggest kick when we got back to the cabin. We chatted with the owner who lives on site and he invited us over to come see the baby skunks and fawn they had been raising. The skunks had just been descented so they were okay to handle and the fawn had lost its mother, so they were bottle feeding it back to health. Amanda is not much of an
“animals as pets” person, she loves them at a distance, so it was fun to watch her pet the skunk and the deer. We ended the day in true American fashion with steaks on the grill. Admittedly we didn’t go see any fireworks on the 4th, opting to stay in and watch them on TV.

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On Friday I convinced Amanda to head to the South Llano with me so that I could try and catch a Guadalupe bass while I was within their native range. The state fish of Texas, they are only found in the Hill Country region, think of them like a Texas brook trout. The South Llano was a pretty river, much wider and deeper than I thought it would be, at least in parts, which made wading a little tough. It really looked like big largemouth territory though I didn’t catch any. I caught a few Guadalupe bass, 9″ was the biggest, and lots of different sunfish, which was a nod to how diverse the river is. I also got to see the Rio Grande cichlid in it’s native environment while I watched pairs of them protect their spawning beds.

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Neither of us had really ever visited the Texas Hill Country (sure I’ve been to Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, but that hardly counts) so the landscape was a pretty stark contrast to what we were use to. The hills are covered in short, stubby Texas live oak and prickly pear cactus, it was almost like being in a different country as I walked back to the car.

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We headed back to Fredericksburg via US 290 and had to do a double take as we passed a herd of deer under some trees. They weren’t the normal white tailed deer we had been seeing, they had to be something exotic, I know the ranches have plenty of exotics. We just couldn’t put our finger on what exotic they were. Some locals tried to tell us they were Axis Deer, but their antlers looked more like Reindeer to us, I’m still not really sure what we saw, but there is a large herd of them under some trees on a ranch outside of Harper.

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We capped the day at Old Tunnel State Park, where we got to see the bat emergence. No good pictures were taken as it was close to 9pm, but imagine a swirling vortex of millions of bats leaving an old tunnel and flying downhill just over the tree tops – a pretty cool sight to behold.

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Saturday we decided to take a trip over to Enchanted Rock to do a little hiking. Enchanted Rock, like Stone Mountain in Georgia, is a huge granite batholith. Enchanted Rock though is a bit further from civilization and by default, less touristy. Don’t get me wrong there were plenty of tourists there (including us), but  Stone Mountain is like the Gatlinburg of Atlanta, you’ll just have to check it out for yourself. I like to imagine Enchanted Rock being more like Uluru out in Australia, landscape and all. We hiked to the top, then came down and made a loop around the rock. It was a nice hike that got pretty hot toward the end. I failed to mention so far that the weather was awesome the entire time we were there. Highs were in the mid 90s, but lows were mid 60s – mornings were very pleasant.

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We stopped for lunch in Fredericksburg where I had some killer enchiladas at Mahaley’s Cafe. Then we headed over to the Pedernales Brewing Company for a tour and some beer. Wore out from our hike, we napped at the cabin after that and finished the trip with another solid meal at Alamo Springs Cafe – one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

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On the way back to the cabin I had to stop for a picture with this agave, as you can see it was a pretty impressive size. We also ran into some more deer. As we came to find out, the Hill Country has a deer problem. We counted over 260 deer during our stay there.

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Sunday we woke up and hit the road for the long trek back to Baton Rouge. We really had a lot of fun on our trip to Texas. If you are looking for lodging in the area, I can safely recommend the Walnut Canyon Cabins near Alamo Springs. Dave and Laurie were incredible hosts and the cabins were the perfect getaway for just the two of us.

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