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I don’t believe I’ve ever fished for a fish where you count follows.  A follow meaning the fish following the bait to the boat.  I’ve counted strikes before when fishing and I’ve counted fish that have “long distance released” themselves, but never follows.  I learned last week that in musky fishing you count follows.  Otherwise what do you have to show for when you fish for them?  When you fish for the “fish of a thousand casts” you have to keep the optimism, counting follows makes sense, it helps to keep you casting and helps to keep that bait in the water.

I did a float last Sunday up in Tennessee with fellow Jackson teammates Chris Funk and Josh Tidwell.  Josh, having fished for musky a handful of times was our resident expert, which wasn’t saying a whole lot (no offense to Josh, I think he’ll understand), but he was the only one of us who had ever actually touched one.  We didn’t get too early of a start, getting a good breakfast in us before hitting the water.  We had heard a different section of the river we planned to hit was blown out, so we were a little nervous about the condition, but upon arrival it was in great condition, we would have a good day, even if we didn’t catch anything. which is entirely possible in musky fishing.  It was a little low, but clarity was excellent, with just the slightest of stain to it and all more important no one was at the put-in or the take-out – the water was all ours.

I have previously fished for musky before.  One time, four years ago, same stretch of water actually.  It was when Jackson first came out with the Coosa and a bunch of the OG fishing team guys went to the factory to find out a little more about the boat and this whitewater company that was making it.  We had a huge group on the float and none of us really knew what we were doing.  I remember getting a bite from something, probably a smallie, and that was it.  Not very memorable, other than it was the first time any of us had floated in the Coosa, or even in a Jackson Kayak at all.  I trusted that Drew knew what he was doing when he designed this boat and rolled the dice.  Fast forward to today and I am super happy to have made that decision, it has been a lot of fun being a part of the Jackson team and the boats just keep getting better and better.

Because of our slow day last time and because I really haven’t thought about musky fishing in the four years since that first trip – I really didn’t have high hopes of even seeing one, even though Josh was saying, “we will at least see one”.  Imagine my surprise when not fifteen minutes into our trip Josh is hooked up and it’s a musky.  Fish of a thousand casts my ass.  It was a juvenile fish, maybe around 24″, but it was really cool to actually see one up close and to know that it really was possible.  Unfortunately for me, he caught him on a walk-the-dog style bait and all my walk-the-dog style baits were in a saltwater box back in Louisiana.  Josh hooked up with musky below:

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The musky fishing quieted down after that fish and brought us back to reality.  More typical musky fishing took over and we began counting follows whenever we could get them.  I had two throughout the day with a near hook-up boat-side on a figure 8 retrieve with a buzzbait.  I finally got a solid eat almost within sight of the take out – a testament to the “fish of a thousand casts” moniker.  I was throwing a black/blue chatterbait hoping for musky or smallies when I got a vicious eat near the bank.  I saw the giant musky head shake and when I reared back to set the hook it came back limp.  He easily broke me off as I wasn’t fishing wire tippet.  It was enough to get the adrenaline pumping and to give me a fish story I can tell the rest of my life, where the subject keeps growing as I get older.  Right now I’ve got him at around 36″, but by the time I die that musky will be damn near 72″.

Conditions were excellent for the first half of our float, everything was beautiful, unfortunately the skies opened up on the second half.  Smallie fishing was pretty good throughout and the rock bass were on fire for Chris.  That man can flat work a jig, he was picking up fish left and right, especially right along any bluff wall.  I didn’t land too many of my fish, but managed to boat a nice smallie who hit a buzzbait pretty much on impact with the water.  I learned on this trip that I fish way too fast for freshwater.  Chris landed a couple personal best smallmouth and had a few heart stopping moments with musky as well.

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It was a good float and like Josh said, we did end up seeing some musky.  I’d love to have that one that ate back, that would have really been something special, but I wasn’t prepared and I paid for it.  I know better than that.  That was the first time I’ve fished with Chris and I’ve got to say, it is a hoot!  You’ll never meet anyone out there on the water that has more fun than that guy.  He has jokes for days too, which goes a long way in a good fishing partner.  Chris is an excellent photographer, so I didn’t really take too many, knowing that he would have better quality shots.

Back at camp we had just enough time to change clothes before we headed off to EJ’s house for a little pre-summit social.  It was a pleasant surprise to see that Jackson teamed up with Ninkasi Brewing out of Oregon and they had several of their craft brews available for us to partake.  Good people, good beer, and good food are the elements of a great party and the Jackson’s always hit on all parts.

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As I mentioned in the last post, I got my start in a Pelican Castaway, which is not a bad boat to start in:

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The most important thing about the Pelican Castaway is it got me on the water, and for cheap.  It had terrible stability and paddled like a wet noodle, but I didn’t know any better and it floated, so I didn’t care. I had it for a little over a year before I found another good deal to pounce on that gave me a chance to upgrade.  A lot of good fish were caught out of the Pelican that year, which really helped indoctrinate me into the kayak fishing lifestyle.  I went from the Pelican Castaway to a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120.

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The Tarpon 120 was an excellent upgrade.  You could just look at it and tell it was a better boat than the Pelican.  It was a faster boat, with better tracking.  The quality of the build was so much better than that of the Pelican.  The Tarpon was the quintessential sit-on-top fishing kayak a few years prior to my purchase of the boat.  It was a great boat for me.  It helped that I got a great deal on it too.  Bought it off Craigslist from an old guy with a camp.  The only time he used it was when the camp flooded and he needed a way to get to and from his vehicle.  You can still find essentially the same boat in the Perception Pescador.  The downside to the Tarpon was the stability was not enough that I could stand and fish from it.  It also was not very comfortable to sit in on long trips.  I had the Tarpon for two years and like the Pelican actually made money on it when I sold it.  I got rid of it because I found another great deal on a boat – one that would allow me to stand and sight fish in, but still handle the rivers that we liked to fish.  Capt. Danny Wray put a couple of his Native Ultimate 12’s for sale and the deal was too good to pass up.  I called up my dad to see if he wanted one then made the drive down to Grand Isle and picked up both kayaks from Capt. Danny.

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Owning the Ultimate finally gave me a boat I could stand and fish from.  I had actually gotten pretty good at kneeling and sight fishing from the Tarpon, but that does a number to the knees.  With the Ultimate I also got to experience the comfort of a nice, semi-elevated seat.  Getting my butt off the boat and having my feet lower than my knees while seated helped me to be comfortable longer.  I learned how to stand and sight fish from the Ultimate, it was a great boat for the marsh, and still is.  The Ultimate turned out to be an outstanding boat.  It wasn’t as fast as the Tarpon, but it tracked well.  It was light and easy to transport.  What I didn’t like about the Ultimate was that the standing area was not flat.  With the tunnel hull you had to put your feet in the tunnels and after a while they became cramped.  I also didn’t find it to paddle too well in swift water.  I fell out a few times, which in all likely hood was more my fault than the boat’s.  I actually didn’t own the Ultimate for very long, maybe half a year.  An incredible opportunity came up at that time to join my friend Drew Gregory on the Jackson team and I couldn’t pass it up.  He assured me that the Coosa would be a good fit for me and they wanted to see what it could do in the marsh.  That winter I made a trip up to the Jackson factory, learned about the company and how kayaks are made, met some of the other team guys and of course picked up my new boats.

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The Coosa was a really fun boat.  Like the Ultimate, it was stable enough to stand and fish from and had the elevated seat that was comfortable to be in from the start of the trip to the finish.  The deck was wide open so standing was comfortable and fly fishing was very easy to do – no snags.  The Coosa is the best handling boat I’ve ever been fished out of, making it  the perfect swift water boat.  It’s home is in rivers and that is where it shines.  It performed well enough in the marsh that I didn’t notice a drop off in performance when coming from the Ultimate.  Where it lacked was it’s open water performance.  With it’s low draft and tall bow, it can catch wind like a sailboat and on open, windy ponds you can expect to be blown to the bank in no time.  The only time this was an issue for me was tournament time because tournament weather is always terrible.  It is a better paddling boat in open water when you weigh down the front of the bow a bit to get it in the water.  I figured that out because as I would catch and keep fish in the front hatch the boat was easier to paddle as the day progressed.  I owned a Coosa up until the Cruise came out from Jackson.  Like I said earlier, it is a fantastic river boat and I owned one just for that purpose.  It wasn’t long after the Coosa came out that the Cuda followed.  The Cuda, in both the 12 and the 14 ft versions has been my go-to boat in the marsh ever since.

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The Cuda has been an incredible boat for me, handling everything pretty well.  The 12 foot version you can take anywhere.  Not as fast as the 14, it is every bit as stable though.  The Cuda is a great platform to stand and fish from.  I have a love/hate relationship with the center hatch.  It catches fly line when fly fishing but that is easily solved by placing something over it, like a towel or a shirt.  I do love the center hatch for storage – whether that be fish or tackle.  No need to turn around and put your center of gravity somewhere other than where it needs to be.  The 14 is a bit faster and provides a bigger front hatch that I find more usable than the small hatch of the 12.  It is heavier though and not as easy to transport as the 12.  The 12 balances really well overhead because the weight is centered on the side carry handles.  You’ve got to compensate for that on the 14 (the Cruise too).  Both the 12 and the 14 have been great boats for the marsh and are better options than the Coosa for inshore fishing.  The Coosa is still the better river boat though.  I owned both until I saw a good compromise between the two was introduced from Jackson – enter the Cruise.

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The Cruise, to me, is a simplified version of the Cuda.  I’ve always been drawn to 12-13 ft boats because they seem to be best size that does river and marsh fishing well.  They are also easier to store when living in a condo, which why I never had a boat over 13 ft until we built our first house and actually had a garage.  Like the Coosa there is no center hatch on the Cruise, which is a good thing for the fly fisher.  It also has the bigger front hatch found on the Cuda 14 – a much better option for dry storage than the small hatch.  The quick day hatch between the legs is convenient and stays dry.  The big plus on the Cruise is the price – right around $900.  In my opinion it is a hell of a boat for $900.

I started carrying two boats once we built our house and I’ve settled in on a Cuda 14 and a Cruise – for now.  The Cruise is great for the river and those small freshwater ponds I like to fish where the Cuda 14 is at home on inshore bays and in the marsh.  As a second boat the Cruise is a good boat in the marsh if I have someone that wants to tag along or if I’m looking to solely fly fish – that’s what I’ll take.  I’m sure another one day soon enough another boat will come along that catches my eye, but for the fishing that I like to do I can’t think of two better options than the Cruise and the Cuda 14.

I had to work in Simmesport this past week, but knew that I’d have time to sneak away and do a little fishing at some point during each day so a kayak came with me. Having never been to this part of the state no matter what option I looked at would be a scouting trip. Nothing wrong with a good scouting trip, in fact they may be my favorite type of trip. I love the anticipation of fishing somewhere new; there is always that possibility of finding a hidden gem.

My first stop was in the Spring Bayou WMA where I found a nice public launch on the southern end of the WMA . I took a quick peek at the water before I launched and noted that the clarity wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t terrible either – definitely fishable. I launched and started working the cypress trees in the immediate area and soon enough I had my first bass.

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It was definitely nice to get the skunk off so soon and it showed me that there were bass around. Unfortunately I didn’t catch anything the rest of my time on the water, which wasn’t such a bad thing because it was a beautiful place to paddle. I found some really big cypress trees on a slough off the main channel and sitting next to them in a 12 ft boat made you really thankful that they somehow avoided the heavy timber operations that occurred back in the day. Another plus to Spring Bayou was that it was super windy out that day, but it wasn’t a bother with the tall trees and the multiple directions one could head from the launch.

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The next day I headed the other way and tried out a pond in the Richard K. Yancey WMA (Three Rivers). I was super excited after doing the clarity check at this pond. It was looking good thanks to an abundance of submerged vegetation. The sub-veg hadn’t matted yet either so it seemed like I would be hitting this pond at a great time. I launched in record time and started pounding the water with various baits. Surprisingly I wasn’t getting any hits on fly rod popper/dropper rig which is usually money this time of year. I switched over to a spinnerbait and started working just over the grass. With the clarity of the water being so excellent I was able to watch a choupique pick off my bait.

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I continued working my spinnerbait, encouraged after catching the choupique, but after awhile of no action, I had to stand up to survey the water. Sightfishing I would at least be able to spook fish and see what was out there.  The pond was covered in grass from one bank to the other and the fish species I saw were numerous, however they weren’t bass nor bream. I saw carp, buffalo, gar and choupique. I’m sure bass lived here, but I was convinced they didn’t live here in any great number. It was somewhat disappointing, but  I really didn’t mind making lemonade out of lemons and I stood up and tried to sightfish whatever I could. Although the water clarity was excellent, sightfishing was tough. The overcast skies and windy conditions weren’t helping at all. I was able to sightfish a choupique in a shallow cove, but I never got a solid hookset in him.

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Again I found a beautiful place to paddle (full of gators BTW), but the fishing proved to be tough – kind of a bittersweet experience. It was really cool to be able to sightfish a choupique, like freshwater redfishing, I only wish they were here in more numbers. The carp and buffalo I mentioned that I saw were all hanging in deep water and really didn’t lend themselves to sightfishing.

The last pond I explored was near the Old River Lock. Upon arrival the water clarity and vegetation was consistent with the last pond, however, this one had more matted veg. out in the middle. Again I started trying to target bass and bream, but that proved unfruitful. Much like the last pond standing up showed me that there was no shortage of gar. However it also showed me that this pond held more choupique and they could be sightfished. After pitching a texas rigged worm to a couple and getting eats but no solid hooksets I changed up. I decided that I was seeing enough to be able to justify tying on a redfish fly just to see if I could land one on the fly rod.

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After several spooked fish (yeah, you can spook choupique) and blown shots, I finally put it all together and got a nice one to eat. She ended up being around 23 inches and 4 lbs. It was a great fight, made tougher because you had to fight it in the salad. Pretty cool to catch a new species on the fly, but even cooler that I was able to do it sightfishing. This has huge potential in my mind. A little more challenging than redfish, but not as tough as carp – this could be a great option if the weather on the coast sucks.

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Steve and I set out last Saturday in search of Largemouth bass with a penchant for topwater frogs. We’d heard from a friend that a certain swamp to the west of town held good numbers of them and was the perfect place to try our luck. So we ignored the urge to head to the marsh and went bass fishing in the swamp instead.

It was a beautiful day, winds were fairly light, and temps hovered in the low 90s, which also meant the mosquitos were out in force. We set out around sunrise and when we reached our destination we were greeted with some super fishy looking water, which always gets the adrenaline going. Steve didn’t waste any time getting onto the water. As always, I was a little slower.

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I’m almost ashamed to admit, especially living in Louisiana, but I can’t remember the last time I fished water like this. Despite being surrounded by them, I generally avoid still, swampy waters like this because they are tough to see through and there’s no telling what the oxygen levels are like. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see excellent water clarity, that is, under the duckweed. Of course the duckweed covered most of the surface like a bright green blanket – which is why we would be frog fishing.

Steve got on the board early on with an 18.5″ LMB on a frog and I followed up with a 24″ choupique on a texas rigged soft plastic, which proved to be the only fish I’d land on the day.

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I threw the soft plastic in places where the duckweed was more broken up, however where it was thick, the frog was our best bet, in fact it was the only bait that even elicited a strike from a LMB. Steve had better luck than I did throwing the frog and ended up landing a few, all around 18″ if I’m not mistaken. I came up short on the hook set on every fish that hit. Being new to frog fishing, I was under powered and over anxious, throwing medium tackle with light braid and setting the hook way too early. Still it was a lot of fun to watch the toilet bowl flush and feel a taught line, even if it was just for a few seconds.

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Each of us did have our exciting moments though. I hooked and fought a nice 18-20″ bass for a short while, only to lose him right next to the boat, in mid air – it had my heart racing. Steve, however, lost a true beast.

We were fishing parallel to each other, with some distance in between. I was on the opposite side of where he was working his frog when I heard a huge blow up. I looked over and all I see is a giant tail and a portion of his body breach the surface as the fish leaped from the water, Steve’s line went loose during the acrobatics. It was a very large bass, one of the biggest I’ve seen in public water, “dangs” and “dagnabbits” were definitely uttered.

Fishing the swamp really opened my eyes to the opportunities I often overlook. It was tough fishing and even though I only landed one fish it was still rewarding. Above average bass are certainly there. Next time I head that way I’ll be better equipped and hopefully my stories won’t be about the one that got away.

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From one spillway to another, I fished the Bonnet Carre this past weekend. I was looking for sacalait and potentially some largemouth bass. I did find each, but not in any significant numbers. It was a good time exploring a new fishery though. I’ve driven over it several times on Airline Hwy heading to see Amanda’s family, but now I finally got to fish some of the ponds. There are tons of ponds too, so many places to check out in the future. I didn’t catch too many fish, but that doesn’t mean the area doesn’t have potential. Another thing, for such a beautiful day, I thought I’d see a lot more people, but I was able to have ponds all to myself, which was pretty nice.

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