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The next day I decided to drive a little further east and check out the only watershed in Florida that held shoal bass – the Chipola River. I scouted a few launch sites and debated my plan before settling on one. I was under the assumption that I had to have shoals to target shoal bass and from what I could tell at each launch site that I stopped at(and from what I saw in imagery online) that was going to be difficult. The water level must have been a tad higher than normal and there were no visible shoals at places where I thought there would be so I was flying blind on this one.

I put the boat in and started paddling up anyway. I drove all the way out here, I may as well fish. The clarity was pretty good and the weather was gorgeous – I took that as a sign that there was a good chance I’d catch something.

I paddled up until I reached a spring run tributary and was amazed at how clear the water was dumping out of this creek. I paddled/walked up the creek a little ways and spooked a ton of small fish – pickerel, bass, sunfish, shiner – there was lots of life here. There was no way for me to effectively fish the creek so I hoped back in the boat and started my downstream float and fish.

Shoal bass, like most bass, are ambush predators so my idea was to just strip streamers around any place I thought looked like a good ambush point – pretty standard bass fishing stuff, I know, it’s not rocket science though. If that area had discernible current around it I assumed that was prime territory.

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I flogged a good stretch of water, beating the banks and working areas around submerged timber, before I had a strike, which came from the timber pictured above. The eat happened on the bank side of the big limb as the current swiftly carried my boat around on the other side of the laydown. Things were precarious for a bit as I paddled myself back up to remedy the situation. At some point I figured I lost the fish when my fly line was caught on the limb, but as I worked to free the line with my hand I could see him still hooked and fighting. Luckily for me I had a solid hookset and I was able to bring the 12″ shoal bass to the boat.

I was pretty stoked for this fish! I did not have a lot of confidence in catching a shoal bass here. Like I said, not a shoal in sight, so I felt a bit out of place. It fell for a beat-up crawfish pattern that Blake had tied up a while ago. This fly has landed bass all over the place, from spotted bass in Louisiana to smallmouth in West Virginia and Arkansas to redeyes in Alabama and Georgia, and now a shoal bass in Florida. I’ll see if I can get him to do a step-by-step for it. It’s been a while since we’ve done one of those here. My favorite flies, and those that tend to be the most durable, are the flies that Blake ties. No matter the pattern, he just does a really great job.

With renewed confidence I kept on swimming that crawfish pattern around anything and everything I floated by and eventually caught the spotted sunfish above. It was a good sized stumpknocker that looked like he’d seen better days. I was happy to have caught something else because despite my confidence the fishing was terribly slow. The river was beautiful though with the cypress trees giving it a little Fall color. Part of me feeling out of place was the river was a little bigger than I like to fish. I’m a small water guy. I dig the creeks. So medium or large rivers always intimidate me.

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There were low limestone bluffs every so often that were super pitted, like the one above. Some of the most unique geologic formations I’ve seen along a river. I ended up catching my second shoal bass along one of these walls. It makes total sense too as bass love a bluff wall. They are scoured out far underneath what is visible and make excellent ambush spots. That made it two shoal bass on the day! I was pumped and paddled the rest of my way back to the launch looking to get back to the campsite before dark.

On the drive back I made the realization that I just caught two shoal bass below I-10. That seemed so crazy to me; the fish known as the “fish of the waterfall”, Micropterus cataractae, were still hanging on down here in Florida, well below the fall line.

I stopped at a local grocery and bought a steak and whatever beer they had that was local to celebrate accomplishing a goal that was probably meaningless to 99% of the general population. Combine that with a campfire and it made for a much better night than the rainy one I had the night before.

This is THE hottest time of year to be fishing in South Louisiana. If you’ve got to get out to fish, now is the time to go wade one of our sandy rivers. There will be plenty of spotted bass and longear sunfish waiting to hit your topwater fly, they are the perfect fly rod fish. Just bring plenty of fluids and shoes that will handle gravel/sand. Heat stroke is no joke and being in the water will help regulate your body temp. The last time I got out on one of my favorite local rivers was back in June, but the info should still be pertinent.

I don’t take wade trips often enough, but I always really enjoy when I do, this day was no different. I had not caught any spotted bass this year prior to this trip so they were the target species. Everything else was lagniappe. I started off by throwing a hopper/dropper and it was pretty darn effective on the sunfish. The longear were very active. Bluegill were in the mix too, but not nearly as numerous as the longear.

In a shallow run I got a chance to notch another species for the year when the school of blacktail shiners attacked my dropper fly. This is a shiner species that gets big enough that you don’t have to result to microfishing to hook one. As long as your dropper is not too big you’ll eventually run into one on a sandy river. They are very common in our Florida parish streams.

It took me a while (and a fly change) before I brought a spotted bass to hand, but eventually I found a willing participant. I slowly fished my way back to the truck making sure to keep my eyes peeled for anything interesting while walking the gravel bars. Sure enough I came across a really nice banded agate. The last few times I’ve gone wade fishing in this river I’ve been rewarded with one or two. Just something else that makes this place special.

I picked up another spot and a really colored up longear before I called it a day. I had only spent a few hours on the water, but it was a productive trip and time well spent. Give a river trip a shot if you want to fly fish in the summer down here and don’t want to die of heat exhaustion. I can attest it will certainly make you feel like a kid again the moment you step into the water and you’ll be smiling the whole drive home.