Blake and I spent Election Day in his boat, fishing for redfish and bass. Hurricane Zeta had just come through southeastern Louisiana the previous week so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we opted to make the trip anyway knowing the ramp we wanted to launch from was open.
As we drove down signs of damage from the storm increased as we went further south into St. Bernard Parish. There were power poles leaning or snapped, houses missing shingles or damaged from downed limbs and trees, the typical stuff you see after a named storm comes through, something our state has dealt with far too much this year. The real eye opener came along Hwy 46, where it’s common for folks to grab their boats and campers that they keep south of the levees and flood gates and park them on the side of the road, above the flood gates, to ride out the storm. Nearly every one of these recreational vehicles had been blown over and was on their side. Bucket trucks and linemen were everywhere working to restore power to the area and as we launched I wondered if we were down there too soon. That’s always a tough call to make.
We motored to where we wanted to start fishing and it really didn’t take too long for us to find fish. We started working some islands in a bay with no luck, then we hit a protected shoreline where Blake picked up a red.
Once we made it into a bayou that connected two larger waterbodies the action really heated up. Fishing spots in the bayou where the water was falling out of the marsh we began catching bass one right after the other. Mixed in with the bass were redfish too.
Most of my fish caught in the bayou came on a watermelon fluke I had rigged weedless. I didn’t pick up the fly rod until we got into a big pond where we could see fish. The water clarity in the pond was excellent which made seeing fish easy. The wind made casting a little tougher, but I was able to connect with a few fish. The tide was falling hard on us and the shallow pond kept getting shallower which forced us to retreat back to the bayou.
The fishing was hot and we doubled up a few times throughout the day, which is always a hoot. We didn’t know what to expect going into the day, but it ended up being a banner day. One of those days you have every so often where it seems like everything goes right and the fish cooperate. It was nice to just be back on the bow of Blake’s boat fishing, for us to have an awesome day like that was lagniappe.
I have this idea that I would like to catch a fish in all 50 states. If it’s a native fish to that state, even better, but that isn’t necessarily a requirement. I want to fish in every state. That is the impetus for a lot of the trips I plan. If it’s a new state, or a new fish species to me, I’m more likely to plan that trip ahead of going back to places I’ve been. I have a constant desire to explore the country and see new water.
I’ll admit Oklahoma wasn’t my first choice for a trip this year. It wasn’t my second either. But these are unprecedented times and you got to play the hand your dealt. A trip to Arizona in May got cancelled. Then, a trip to New Mexico around Labor Day also was cancelled. The back-up, back-up trip I considered was the Lower Mountain Fork in Oklahoma. At the time it looked like a cold front was going to sweep down and it would actually be a pretty nice weekend to camp and fish Oklahoma in early September. That cold front never materialized, just par for the course in 2020.
We packed up the truck on a Thursday night and made the 6.5 hour trek up to Hochatown from Baton Rouge on a Friday morning. First stop was the Beaver’s Bend Fly Shop in the state park to find out where we needed to fish and what worked there. We are not tailwater fishermen, but we were assured this wasn’t your normal tailwater. Coach Eddie Brister runs the shop and was a great guy to talk to. He was eager to help us and it was really one of the nicer fly shop experiences we’ve had on a trip. Armed with newfound knowledge we set out to catch some trout on the Lower Mountain Fork River.
It didn’t take Blake long to hook a couple of rainbows right below the campground. What did I catch you say?
Native fish of course. That’s how much of a native fish magnet I am. Fishing the same water and the same flies as Blake. Even when I’m making every effort to catch their coldwater, stocked cockroach-esque neighbors, I end up catching bass and chubs.
It didn’t take long to wear out the water behind the campground so we hit another spot that had better potential to hold wild trout as the river does have natural reproduction of both rainbow and brown trout, so we were told.
We got into the little wild rainbows, I think we both caught several of them, so we had proof that there were streamborn trout here. I later had a good opportunity at a really nice rainbow that I hooked and fought in some fast water. I felt like I had him beat, but netting him was proving to be an issue as there was no slow water around me. I’d get to the point of bringing him into my net, then he’d take off and head back into the current. Maybe I didn’t quite have him beat. On about the third or fourth time of doing this he was finally able to throw the hook. It was a little heartbreaking, but the trip was still young, so I wasn’t too beat up about it.
I got a little redemption in the form of a nice little brown trout that was hanging out in a riffle while I was making my way back to the car (Spoiler alert, that little brown would be the best fish I’d bring to hand all weekend). After that fish we headed back to the campground to dine on jamabalaya and white beans to finish out a successful day. I could check a new state off the list.
On Saturday morning we got back out to what they call Spillway Creek, the part of the river that holds more wild fish, and we nymphed the runs hard.
Blake caught a few rainbows, I didn’t catch squat. So we hit the road and went to a local brewpub at lunch.
Mountain Fork Brewery had decent beer, a nice variety of old world styles, but they didn’t have much to offer us hopheads. No fruited sours, no pastry stouts, one hazy IPA – I don’t know if national craft beer trends seem to have skipped Oklahoma or if this brewer just turns his nose up at us hipsters and our fads. The burgers we had were outstanding though and it was nice to talk shit to a Sooners fan at a bar while in town.
Fishing in the afternoon was pretty uneventful. It was Saturday and it was pretty hot out so Beaver’s Bend State Park was full of people. The evening hole, which we’d heard so much about was always occupied. Zone 2 was unfishable as they were constantly generating power. Flow from the generation pushes backwater up all the way up until our campground (Grapevine) so any spots I scouted on Google Earth that looked good downstream from us were covered with water. Really the only place to get away from folks was on Spillway Creek. It was our first time up there and it showed. We had so much learn in so little time. Steaks and whiskey next to the campfire made it all better though.
Sunday we ventured out again, this time we hit the river from a different parking area. It was a good call as Blake was able to stick a nice fish pretty early that came up and sipped a Chubby.
It was a really colored up old male rainbow that made the trip worth it. It’s funny how one fish can do that.
We fished on up, working the seams, Blake was having better luck than I was. I wasn’t having problems catching the chubs or the little wild rainbows, but anything bigger was eluding me.
I got one more shot at a good fish that I hooked in a good looking run, but the fight didn’t last long and after a few headshakes it was over. Oh well, on to the next brewpub.
The beer at Beaver’s Bend Brewery was good (they had more than one IPA at least), but kind of reminded me of a lot of the beer you get from homebrew kits. The “gourmet” hot dog though was really damn good and was appreciated coming off the water.
We hit the evening hole Sunday evening and really had nothing to show for it. We got to chatting with a guy who had been euro-nymphing and caught a few fish. I was genuinely intrigued with his set up, but he ended up being pretty knowledgeable about the fishery and a good dude to talk to. As we’d come to find out we were that at quite possibly the worst time of year. It was late summer, the water was hot, the trout were deep. They were not as spread out as they are in the winter. Not only that, but the water was stained, the lake was possibly turning over, and the level was higher than it gets in the winter when they bring it down to it’s lowest point.
I don’t know if this newfound knowledge made me feel better or worse about the tough fishing we experienced. It does make me want to go back in the winter though because we really had a great time camping, the state park was very nice, and I’d much rather fish (and judge) a river at it’s peak than at it’s low point in a year. It’s going to be tough to make the trek back though because he made some really good arguments for some of spring creeks in Missouri…..
I got out to the marsh on Labor Day intent on catching fish on fly. It was the first time in a long time that I made it on the water before sunrise.
Waiting for the light to get right to sightfish I started off throwing a topwater on conventional tackle. No redfish hit the frog, but I did manage a few small bass. Despite the low sun angle the first redfish was sightfished when I noticed a back out of the water on top of a grass bed. I actually thought it was a gar at first because of the lack of movement, but quickly realized after setting the hook on him that it was a red, and a decent one at that. After that fish I put my spin tackle down and focused on fly fishing. It was the right call because for about three hours there I could do no wrong. I was seeing fish with ease, casts were well placed, hooksets were tight, and fish were repeatedly brought in the boat. It was magical.
Redfish were anywhere from 18-28″, no true bulls, but a lot of nice slot fish. Great tournament fish. I even made it a point to blind cast the fly a bit so I could catch some bass and that worked too. Anywhere water was moving through a cut made for a great spot to blind cast.
Water clarity was excellent where there was submerged vegetation and it was in most of the bayous and ponds I fished. Conditions were pretty nice too, partly cloudy with a little breeze, super hot though. Fish activity was off the charts. Baitfish, shrimp, and crabs were in abundance and that brought out all the usual predators. I even had a shot at sightfishing for a few blue cats, but I pulled the hook from one of their mouths when I got all excited.
I always enjoy exploring new water and I got to do some of that as well. Gotta love it when that new water is productive too. Days like this are why St. Bernard parish is becoming my new favorite place to fish during the summer.