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We woke up to frost on our vehicles the next morning; it was cold as hell for Southern Mississippi. We met up with fellow Red Stick Fly Fisher and blogger Chris, the Fat Fingered Fly Tyer, and came up with a plan of attack that involved fishing the deepest parts of the southern end of the lake. The wind and the bitter cold made executing that plan difficult. We fished and gave it our best in a sheltered cove, but eventually decided that wasn’t working. It was starting to look like the morning was a complete bust, which wasn’t unexpected. There was enough time to try one more spot and I had at least caught fish in the upper part of the lake yesterday so I told them that’s where I was planning to head and Chris decided to come with.

We launched our kayaks at the northern end of the lake and fought the wind, paddling across to where the river dumps in. There the trees were tall enough to protect us from the wind and the channel was pretty deep too, so if the bass were holding on the bottom we could at least target them in the deep channel. The temps were starting to increase to the point of being comfortable, but the wind was non-stop.

Things were looking up once we got in the river. It wasn’t too long after we made it to the river when I was slowly stripping a Clouser minnow with my 7wt sinking line around some standing timber and felt an eat with some solid resistance. When I strip set the line started moving and I got excited. Not long after a fish comes rocketing out of the water! It clearly wasn’t the target fish though, too long and skinny, no this wasn’t a largemouth, it was a bigass chain pickerel! It bulldogged after the jump and put up a really nice fight before I was able to slip my net under it. No points were awarded for big pickerel so I decided to let it go. Chris had mentioned I may want to keep it as it could be a state fly rod record, and I contemplated it, but in the end I let it swim.

It was a great fish that put up a great fight, a really good representative of our southern species of Esox. I was thrilled with the catch and relieved to not skunk on this tough day. A day when I thought for sure that no one was going to catch anything in this crappy weather. Just as soon as I release my fish back in the water Chris hooks into a bass. At 11″ it wasn’t the monster we were hoping for, but any bass on this day was better than none. I was happy to see our change in location had paid off and we both avoided the skunk, and now Chris was at least on the leaderboard.

The rest of our trip was pretty uneventful, I don’t know that I caught another fish. We did explore up the river a ways and found a lot of really good looking water that would probably be worth fishing at a later date, much like on my scouting trip the day before. It was eventually time to head back to the “weigh-in” and see what everyone else had caught.

Fly tying was in full swing by the time we got back and shortly after we arrived back an awards presentation was held for the big bass contest. As I suspected Chris did make it on the leaderboard as there were only two fish submitted. His 11″ bass was good enough for 2nd, while Roger Apperley turned in a 12″ bass minutes before the end of the contest. After the awards came the silent auction and then the raffle prizes. I was lucky enough to have my named called for a Fred Hannie watercolor of a largemouth bass, which now sits in my office at work.

The Sweetwater Classic was the first event I attended put on by the FFI Gulf Coast Council and I really did enjoy it. I thought they did a great job curating an event that catered to area fly fishermen. It was great spending time on and off the water with Brian and Chris, and meeting all the other folks who made the trip up to Percy Quin for the event.

I think the plan next year is for the Classic to be held in early May at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama. More details can be found on the FFI GCC site, and it already looks like it will be bigger and better than this year’s event. If you’re a fly fisher-person in the South you may want to consider making the trip and booking your lodging now.

Brian and I stayed one more night at the cabin and left the next morning to make the drive back down to Baton Rouge. Music was one of the wide variety of things we discussed and we both figured that no trip to this part of Mississippi was complete without a stop at the Lynyrd Skynyrd memorial site. There are a lot of Skynyrd songs I like, but one of my favorite fishing related lyrics from any song comes at the end of “Don’t Ask Me No Questions”

“I said don’t ask no stupid questions and I won’t send you away
If you want to talk fishin, well I guess that’ll be OK”

I chuckle every time I hear it, because it’s so relatable.

I made it to Percy Quin and Lake Tangipahoa in time for the start of the big bream contest. Catch Cormier was running the show and, as I suspected, it was a very laid back, no pressure affair – just my style. “Go out and catch some bream, take some pics, and we’ll see who’s got what and afterwards there will be some prizes.”

I took off for the northern part of the lake and found shallow water with lilies and vegetation and loads of grass carp. I spent a little bit of time trying to fool one and had a rod at the ready, but I wasn’t really all that prepared for carp so I focused more on targeting bream. I started with a popper-dropper setup and things were pretty slow early on in the lake. I caught my first bluegill off some vegetation closer to the river channel and decided maybe it was best I stick to the deeper water if I wasn’t having any luck in the shallows.

I took the popper off and put on a bobber so I could fish the dropper even deeper and continued to target the vegetation and structure closer to deep water and I then started catching more fish. I had heard there were some big redear in the lake and I was really hoping to run into one, thinking I’d need at least 9″ to compete in any sort of big bream contest, but the best I could muster was a 7.75″ bluegill. Oh well, let’s go see what everyone else caught. As it turned out that 7.75″ bluegill was good enough to tie for first place, lol. The sunfish gods had rewarded me for the many years of targeting these fish!

I met up with Brian, my cabin bunkmate for the next two nights, and really enjoyed his company over the weekend. Be sure to check out his blog over at Down South Fly Fishing, he’s been putting out some great content this year. He made some bomb fajitas that night with limited resources (I totally dropped the ball on food or any cookware for the weekend) and we discussed a wide variety of things. Strategy for the next day’s big bass tourney was anyone’s best guess. The wind was howling through the chimney of that old cabin as temps began to plummet. Fish were going to be put off, there was no way around it. I had some 7wt sinking line and some streamers that I figured I’d dredge through the deepest parts of the lake to say I gave it my best shot. Being a mostly fair-weather fisherman had me pretty unprepared for the next day’s event.

Back in the beginning of March I drove up to Percy Quin State Park to attend the FFI Gulf Coast Council Sweetwater Classic. The Sweetwater Classic was an event for area fly fishermen which featured regional fly tiers, fly fishing presentations, and a couple of fishing contests. Normally early March would be a great time for such an event as things are just starting to warm up and the freshwater fishing is getting good around here, but Mother Nature decided to bring one of the last few frigid cold fronts of the year down to the Gulf Coast that very weekend. I think it scared away a potentially larger crowd and made for some difficult fishing conditions on Saturday. The front rolled through overnight on Friday which meant there were decent conditions on Friday to fish and the big bream contest was held that afternoon, so it wasn’t a complete crapshoot weather-wise. I decided to scout different rivers and accesses on the ride up before joining the group to hunt for big bream.

Florida Anise (Illicium flordianum)
Striped shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)

A striped shiner saved me from a skunk on the scouting trip, but I did get to see a lot of pretty water – good habitat for spotted bass, longear sunfish, and potentially shadow bass. It was probably a better place to fish a little later into Spring, the rivers usually take a little longer to warm up than the lakes, but I liked what I saw. Future trips saved for a later date, for now it was off to the Sweetwater Classic and the big bream contest which would be held that afternoon.