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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.

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.