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So this will be the third time I will have written this report, hopefully this one sticks.  Prepare yourself for a picture dump.

I got an opportunity to spend a week working in lower St. Bernard parish back in October.  Normally work trips to rural parts of the state are not met with such enthusiasm, but I was downright excited for this one.  Mainly because the marshes of lower St. Bernard are full of life and excellent fisheries.  Redfish, speckled trout, largemouth bass, and even flounder all share the same water down that way.  I’d have some downtime during the days, so I brought my Kraken 13.5 along for the ride.  I was able to grab some much needed seat time each day exploring just what this part of Louisiana had to offer.

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What makes lower St. Bernard such a great fishery is it’s proximity to both the Mississippi River and Lake Borgne, well, really just saltwater in general.  It is right in between the two, basically where they mix together.  This mixing of salt and freshwater creates a myriad of intermediate and brackish marsh that is some of the finest inshore fishing you’ll find anywhere.  It’s hard to beat catching reds, specks, and bass out of the same ponds.

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In the above pic you can see the amount of submerged vegetation that’s found in lower St. Bernard, most of the time I had to fish weedless baits.  One of the baits I liked to throw in the really matted up areas was a Stanley Top Toad topwater frog bait.  Seeing the red below blow up on the lure was amazing, one of the best strikes I’ve ever witnessed, such fun, I’ll be throwing that lure in the weeds more often.

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I fished a lot of different places around the parish – Shell Beach, Yscloskey, Delacroix, and Hopedale.  Each spot was similar, but they also had their own unique qualities.  I found clear water and lots of submerged vegetation in Shell Beach and Yscloskey.  Submerged vegetation, but dirty water in Delacroix and Hopedale.  As you’d expect fishing was much better where the water quality was better.  Fish were still caught at each stop though.

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Baits like topwater poppers and weedless rigged flukes and other soft plastics worked well throughout the week.  Flies worked pretty well too, especially on trout.  I used an EP-style shrimp that my buddy Hays had given me way back in January to do most of my damage.  Finding clean, moving water was the ticket.  Whether it was in a deep cut or bayou or on a flat where a cut or bayou was draining into a pond or bay – finding those conditions meant finding fish.

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It was an awesome week of fishing and yes, I did manage to get what work I had to do done.  It’s too bad these kind of projects don’t come around more often.  It was SO nice to fish during the week and have every spot I fished essentially to myself.

Hmm, let’s see, only 25-30 years before I can retire…. sigh.

My next trip out in the kayak would be on a spring fed creek that holds the newest member of the black bass family, the Choctaw bass.

The put-in I chose to use for access had a spring right next to the launch, amazing how clear the water was in the pool where it was bubbling in.  The creek was a beauty too.  From afar it really didn’t look all that different from a slow bayou in Louisiana, with all the cypress and gum trees.  The water clarity though, was much better than anything you’ll find in Louisiana, thanks to the numerous springs that fed the creek.  There was also a large amount of submerged vegetation too, this was a very healthy environment, full of life, and it looked bassy as hell.

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I paddled up about a mile and floated and fished back from there.  It didn’t take long to land a few fish on the fly rod.  The stumpknocker were plentiful as were the redbreasted sunfish.

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I put the fly rod down and started tossing a soft plastic around the stumps and lilies, that’s when I landed my first chain pickeral on the day.

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He wasn’t too big, but he was fun.  I’d soon find out that this creek was loaded with them and that soft plastics were a bad choice for what the locals called jackfish.  I was broken off shortly after catching my first one, then broken off again moments later.  I decided that was enough of that and tied on a buzzbait.  A wise man once said “any fat kid can catch a fish on a buzzbait” or something like that, so I decided it was time to exercise my inner fat kid.

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I was having a blast catching pickeral on the buzzbait.  They would absolutely hammer it, sometimes launching themselves out of the water like rockets!  Most were small, but a couple went over 20″.  I missed one choupique that I would have liked to have back. He nailed the buzzbait, not sure how I didn’t get a hook in him, he was every bit of 30″ though.

The fishing was going great, everything was visual, so I was enjoying myself, but the bass were eluding me to this point.  I was finally able to change that around a group of submerged cypress, catching a healthy 14.5″ Choctaw.  After the release of the Choctaw I noticed that the mother of all spiders was on my bow.  I guess he hopped on from one of the nearby cypress trees.  We’ve got fishing spiders in Louisiana, but I’m not sure we’ve got them that big.

 

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I continued throwing the buzzbait and picked up a few more pickeral, mostly in the slack water, either around cypress trees or lilies.  Just before takeout I was able to pick up a couple chunky little largemouth too.

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The mission was accomplished, I was able to land a Choctaw bass, on a beautiful stretch of river.  The real story though was catching a dozen or so chain pickeral, or southern pike as I’ve decided to start calling them.  What they lack in size they make up for in fight – what a fun fish.  I might have to check out some other spring creeks next time I’m on the panhandle, such amazing fisheries.

My cousin got married in Santa Rosa Beach, FL earlier this month which provided us a great opportunity to go on a week long beach vacation.  Baton Rouge has been pretty chaotic lately so it was nice to get out of town for a while.

Our trip started with a stop in Fairhope, AL.  It broke up the drive and we were able to visit another brewery.

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Fairhope Brewing Company has some really good beer, but two of their offerings really stood out to me.  Judge Roy Bean is an excellent coffee stout and (Take The) Causeway IPA is a solid IPA brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops.  I’m a sucker for Citra, so I really enjoyed it.

Fairhope is a pretty cool little town, but we learned that Sunday is not the best day to visit as nearly every shop was closed.  We were disappointed, but at least they have a great little community park in town with a splash pad and top notch playground equipment.  These are the things that get me excited – life is much different than it was when I started this blog – I wouldn’t have it any other way though.

Once in Florida I was able to get in a couple of half days of fishing from the kayak.  Most folks would probably fish the saltwater being so close to the beach, but I guess I’m not like most folks.  I chose to fish a couple of different freshwater spots.  The first was one of the coastal dune lakes that are unique to South Walton County.

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The water in this lake was very tannic which gave the bass and bream a very dark look, almost entirely black at times.  I ended up catching lots of small bluegill on nymphs, but only landed one skinny bass on a popper.  It felt great to get out in the kayak again, it had been a while.

The AFWC was held down in Delacroix earlier this month and though I didn’t fish the event, I did get a chance to fish with a friend who was in town for the event while he was staying in Delacroix.  James McBeath is the Director of Marketing over at Jackson Kayak and a former Musky Fly Fishing Championship World champion.  We’ve had the pleasure of fishing together in the 10,000 islands of Florida and the Pacific coast of Panama  and I was excited to get the chance to fish with him again, but this time on some local water.

We picked a really great day to get together as the weather turned out to be absolutely gorgeous – it was about as good as you could ask for when it comes to Louisiana redfishin’.  Little to no wind, bright blue skies, tide not too low or high, and absolutely perfect temps, which all added up to great sightfishing conditions and active redfish.

We explored an area within the AFWC boundaries that I had yet to fish and was happy to find as I fought and landed more reds than I cared to count, and in some of the shallowest and clearest flats I’ve ever seen in Lousiana.  A bonus to fishing in Delacroix was the bass bycatch – It shouldn’t, but it always surprises me when I see them on the end of the line while I’m redfishing.

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It was an absolute pleasure to fish with James again.  I have not done a whole lot of fishing in Delacroix and am still learning the area so it was nice to check out some new water with James and have some success while we were at it.  We had a lot of fun, caught a bunch of fish and hopefully I was able to help him in some small way with his top 10 finish in the AFWC.

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It has been a short while since I’ve fished in the kayak and was able to remedy that this past weekend.  I didn’t make the decision to fish until mid-week as I was weighing my options between the Zapp’s International Beerfest and BCKFC‘s Redfish Rumble.  I finally decided to fish since the weather forecast looked decent enough and after all the rain we’ve had I was really itching to get out.

That initial weather forecast called for 15 mph winds and as any veteran saltwater angler can attest, you can add 10 mph to that when fishing the marsh, so by that logic the forecast was spot on.

I woke up at 3:00 am, hit the road by 3:45 am and was on the water no later than 6:00 am.  The tournament started at 5:00 am, but the sun didn’t rise until after I launched, so I wasn’t bothered by my late start.

The tournament objective, which is one that I really like, was the heaviest combined weight of three redfish and one bass.  Having this style of tournament in St. Bernard Parish makes this format achievable as there is seemingly endless amount of water where you can catch both redfish and largemouth bass.

As is typical for any tournament my original plan was scraped at the last minute as the steady N to NW winds really put a damper on where I wanted to head.  So I hit up plan B, an area I’d never fished and only looked at on Google Earth, but looked like somewhere I could do well and maybe even get some protection from the wind.

I started my day paddling into the wind, stopping to blind cast at points, islands, and cuts.  I picked up a mid slot red doing this on a weedless Zoom swimming super fluke jr. (that’s a mouthful).  There is so much submerged vegetation in St. Bernard Parish that fishing weedless baits is a requirement and this is one I like to throw in the grass.

Eventually though I was getting tired of pulling grass from my “weedless” jig head and tied on the smallest gold spoon I had, which I believe was a 1/16th oz Johnson Silver Minnow, though it may have been an 1/8th oz.  The idea for going with the small spoon was that I wanted to swim it over the grass, I really didn’t want it to sink too far and redfish love gold spoons.  The area I was in didn’t have the big grass mats that went all the way to the water surface, but the bottom was still covered, leaving varying depths of clean water on top.

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Soon enough I picked up a 13.25″ bass blind casting with the spoon, which was a welcome addition to the fish bag.  I spent the next two hours or so trying to emulate my early success, but having no luck.  I decided that conditions were good enough for me to to stand up and try my luck sight fishing.  The cloudy skies that we had in the morning had parted.  The water clarity was very excellent where I was at.  The only negative was the steady wind, which was something I thought I could work around.

After another two hours of not seeing or even spooking redfish I was getting pretty frustrated.  I  knew that I had to start heading back toward the launch soon as I was miles away and two fish just wasn’t going to cut it, so I sat down and began to come up with another strategy as I let the wind blow me back where I came from.  By the way, I should mention that at this point, I was under the impression this is a five fish stringer tournament of four reds and one bass, so my bag seemed that much worse than what it actually was.

As I’m seated, speed drifting through a pond thanks to the wind, blind casting my gold spoon wherever looked good, I see a flash of red just below the surface some distance off.  I knew exactly what it was and headed that way.  As I stood up I could see it was two reds cruising through the pond, making their way toward me.  I made a cast past the fish and pulled it at back at an angle toward them, in a flash one of the reds saw and attacked the spoon. With no time to react I never got a hook-set in him and the spoon was spit.  I was lucky because he didn’t spook either, just kept moving along, and I put another cast in front of them and this time got a solid eat.

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I could tell during the fight that it was a solid fish.  It was too solid of a fish, at 28.5″, he was 1.5″ over the slot and no good for our tourney.  I tagged him and sent him back into the water to give someone else a thrill, a little disappointed he was too big.

As I’m releasing him though I glance up into the area you see above in the picture and catch another flash of red.  What are the odds?  I move up a little bit and tuck myself along the right bank once I realize it’s not just one fish but a few reds moving through the cut.

I make a cast in front of that group and pull out a 24-25″ fish that went somewhere around 5-6 lbs.  I’m feeling a bit more optimistic at this point – I went from seeing no activity to seeing two different groups of redfish in a matter of minutes.  I was a little nervous about time as my alarm to start heading back to the truck had already gone off, though it was set pretty conservatively in the first place.  So I set another alarm for when I absolutely had to start heading back and kept fishing.

I drifted my way through that cut and into another pond, at this point I was in full blown sightfishing mode as that’s how I spotted the last two fish I caught – I just happened to be seated at the time.  It didn’t take long to see another fish, who was just chilling on top of some thick grass, I actually thought he was over the slot when I saw him but decided to try and catch him anyway as I’m always down to fight a big fish.

After an accurate cast with the spoon and an awesome eat (so cool to see the whole process in crystal clear water) I got him in the boat and put him on the board – a hair over 27″.  I was stoked, but knew he had to shrink a little for me to be able to use him.  I didn’t have a whole lot of ice in my fish bag so I was going to have make sure to get a fresh bag when I got off the water.  I threw him in there and hoped for the best. (For anyone not familiar, fish put on ice will shrink as much as 1/4″.)

At this point I’ve got three reds and a bass, exactly what I need to weigh in, but for some reason I still think I need four redfish so I keep press on.  At some point during the next thirty minutes I reach a point of clarity and remember I only needed three reds which is precisely what I had and suddenly relief sets in.  Still though, the first redfish I caught was not a stud by any stretch of the imagination so I kept fishing.

I farmed it on the next pair of reds I saw and was kicking myself big time since time was winding down.  I soon made it out of my nice crystal clear water and into the dirtier water that was found closer to the launch (I was still drifting back to the launch).  Luckily for me soon after hitting that dirty water, I spot the faint colors of a red in a shallow pond and made another good cast and fooled him to eat.  It was a near clone of my earlier 24-25″ fish and I was happy to put him in the bag as an upgrade from the early redfish.

I was feeling good at this point, not because I thought I would win, but because I accomplished what I had set out to do – put four mid to upper slot reds and one bass in the bag.  It took all day to do it and was a lot of work in the wind, but I was glad I stuck it out.  I headed back to the launch and heard my alarm go off just as I began pulling the Kraken out of the water.

About the Kraken – I was really pleased with how well the boat did in the conditions I fished in on Saturday.  I went further than I thought I would be able to and was able to fish some really incredible water because of it.  I did it without complaint too –  I spent far less time bitching about the wind and more time fishing and there is something to be said for that.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the combination of speed and stability in the 13.5 is impressive, I’ve never seen another boat quite like it.

The weigh-in was held just up the road in Meraux at the Meraux Tackle Box, where the owner went out of the way to make us feel at home with a great big tent set up out back.  He runs a good shop too with a great selection of baits for fishing down in St. Bernard.  I’ll be back for sure next time I fish down that way.

Out of the 91 folks registered, 30 showed up to weigh fish and no one had more weight than the first person in line.  Rick Dembrun, a fellow Jackson teamer for Massey’s Outfitters, fellow Kraken 13.5 paddler, and a local to the area, set the gold standard at 24.65 lbs.

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My big red that I was slightly nervous about on the water wasn’t even that close to being 27″ when measured by Todd on the official board.  I must have been overzealous when I measured it on the water, so I was happy to retain his 8+ lb weight and come in 2nd at 21.07 lbs, the pic above is my four fish at the weigh-in table.

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I really didn’t expect to come in 2nd when I was on the water, I always assume everyone else did better than me when I’m out there, but it was pretty evident at the weigh in as folks trickled in that it was a tough day for most and 20 lbs was holding steady.

To round out the top 5, my friend Steve came in 3rd with 18.04 lbs, Michael Ethridge was 4th with 17.98 lbs and Kalon Johnson was 5th with 14.41 lbs.  There were two side pots for the tournament that you could sign up for $5 each – big fish and leopard red.  Big fish went to Wayne Lobb with a monster 8.41 lb slot red.  Leopard red went to Kevin May with 10 spots.  I declined entry into both and almost made a mistake as my big fish was not too far off from Wayne’s.  No sleep was lost over the decision.

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I’m happy that things played out the way they did and that I decided to not go to the Beerfest.  Any day that I go fishing and get paid to do is a great day.  Here’s to more great days!