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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.

In late April I checked on the fish down in the Maurepas Swamp. I was hoping to run into some sacalait or maybe a choupique on the fly. I think I was a bit late in the year for any sacalait action and unfortunately I didn’t come across any choupique either, but I had decent action on the local sunfish. It wasn’t as hot as the last time I was down there, but I was happy to have fished it this year while the irises were in bloom and prior to Hurricane Ida’s arrival.

Redear sunfish
Bluegill
Largemouth bass
Warmouth (Goggle-eye)

It was a nice little mixed bag, which tends to happen in the swamp, and a nice day on the water before a front rolled through. That’s what forced me off the water, the rain moved in and it stormed a good bit as I was loading the kayak.

There were three separate day trips I took down to Fourchon in January and February of this year. These weren’t extremely productive trips, which is probably why I didn’t bother to write about them, but like the Bayou Fountain trip, they were very instrumental in helping me win the fly division of the BCKFC/Massey’s kayak CPR tourney last year.

In late January I went for the homerun and made a long-ass paddle to some proven big redfish flats, but when I got out there the bulls were not there. I did manage to fool a slot red and then followed that up with a nice black drum so at least I had something to show for my long paddle.

It was a little disheartening failing to upgrade my redfish for the contest, especially because the weather cooperated for me. It just meant that I’d have to give it another shot in February and hope for the best.

I watched the weather until I saw another window to make a decent paddle in and when it came I jumped at the opportunity. This time it didn’t take long to get the upgrade I was looking for, but at 33.5″ it still left room for me to target an even bigger red.

I kept at it, but sightfishing was proving to be tough. The winds were light and favorable, but there was so much fog that it made seeing anything just about impossible. I landed one more redfish on the day coming in at 29″ and decided I’d call it a day and hope for the best with the tourney.

It was late February and I was checking the leaderboard the night before the last day of the tourney. I was sitting in first place the last time I had checked, but now I currently was not. I needed to upgrade my trout as someone had knocked me down a spot and lowered my point total. I was already planning on fishing the next day, but where I was planning to head was not known for trout so I had to hatch a new plan while laying in bed.

The wind was not as calm as the previous time I’d fished, but I had arrived at a spot that I had in mind to cover. I knew it held trout in the winter, I just hoped they were still there. After a bit of blind casting my rod came tight and after the seeing the familiar headshake of a trout I knew I had my upgrade.

It didn’t take much to best my previous trout, but it was enough to bump me back up a spot and into a tie for points, so long as other folks weren’t upgrading fish on the leaderboard.

I kept fishing hoping to run into more trout and improve my chances, but that was the only one I came across. I caught one more slot red before calling it a day. The wind was getting pretty brutal so it was getting tough to fish spots effectively.

Thankfully the one trout proved to be enough and I was able to win the fly division of the tourney. It was a pretty awesome feeling to be able to catch three upgrade fish in four trips right at the end to sneak out the W. I had fished the fly division of the CPR tourney for several years now and always come up just short so to finally win one was nice. I’ve got nothing but love for BCKFC and Massey’s for continuing to put on a tourney for us fly rodding kayak fishermen.