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I recently revisited that old brownline from last year to see how the fish were doing. As Spring progresses into Summer there are still a few local species I can add to my catch list for the 2022 edition of the Red Stick Fly Fishers Jambalaya Challenge, and I was hoping to do that here.

The water in the ditch was low and clear and made for some exciting and challenging sight fishing. We’ve had drastically less rainfall this year when compared with last. We had the wettest year I’ve ever seen in Baton Rouge last year, but this Spring we’ve been dealing it’s been a mild drought. A mild drought here just means more of these ditches are fishable as the water isn’t super dirty from runoff, so in terms of my local fishing a drought is not the worst thing.

When I walked up to the first “hole” I could see the male sunfish actively protecting their beds. You could see the blues, greens, reds, and orange flanks of sunfish flash through the water as they swam in circles around their nest. These fish will do this all summer as they spawn multiple times in a year. Here in south Louisiana we have a much longer spawning season than locations to the north, so you may see male fish on their bed from March through September, depending on the species of sunfish. I’ve noticed they don’t all spawn at the time. As they are doing this the bass are not far away. They patrol the periphery and show up when they see an opportunity to prey on a weakened fish. The bass have already spawned this Spring, so they’re ready to eat. I targeted the bass first, catching a few small ones, but really today was a sunfish-fest. They are so aggressive this time of year it’s hard keeping them off the hook.

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When I call it a sunfish-fest, it was really the longear sunfish-fest. They were the stars of the show today and I love them for it. They are arguably the most attractive fish in any body of water at any time, but right now, in full spawning regalia, they really are putting on a show. Their variability, even within the same stretch of stream, is impressive. Some are more blue or turquoise while others have more reds and oranges. The size of their opercle is never consistent; on some fish they are quite large, and others they are not. The forehead too. They don’t have a massive cranium like a Rio Grande cichlid, but they can develop a case of fivehead and make for interesting looking fish. I sometimes catch longear, especially the larger ones, with long black tendril-like tips on their pelvic fins. There is just so much to look at on a longear and I think it’s cool how no two look the same.

I was having a great time catching longear and seeing how different they were from fish to fish, but I had yet to catch a species I had not logged this year to up my Jambalaya challenge tally. I made it to a bit bigger “hole” where I found a few spotted gar. They looked like they were busy doing the spawning thing too and really weren’t interested in flies. Soon after I found one tucked up next to the bank I was standing on and ran a blind Clouser minnow (a poorly tied Clouser that lost his lead eyes) and had a strike and a hookup. I quickly muscled him onto the bank where the fly broke off and the fish began to flop. I took a quick pic and got him back in the water. Not ideal, but like Charlie Kelly, gar are wildcards.

After driving home from fishing north of Lake Pontchartrain, we ultimately decided it was in our best interest to pack up that night and head north with the kids in the morning, far out of the cone of uncertainty that surrounded Hurricane Ida. We ended up booking a cabin in Oklahoma, near Hochatown, Beavers Bend State Park, and the Ouachita National Forest. There were several cabins available and after Blake and I had visited and fished last year up that way I commented how that would be a fun place for the whole family. It seemed like now was as good a time as any to head back. We turned it into an impromptu vacation that I think we all enjoyed.

While we were up there I did find a little bit of time to sneak away and fish. I fished the Lower Mountain Fork in Beavers Bend last year in early Fall and remember the fishing being tough. This time around I decided to explore a bit of the Ouachita NF backcountry and find a creek where I could target some native fish. After a lengthy drive down numerous dirt roads I arrived at a creek crossing and decided to check it out.

The water was beautiful, some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. There were lots of baitfish swimming around too. I decided this was as good a spot as any to string up the 3wt and explore it further. It did not take long to catch fish.

The longear were timid, but eventually obliged and ate up my offering. The longear were nice, beautiful fish, but I was really looking for a smallmouth, which were proving to be elusive.

The water was so low and still that fishing was tough, especially for the larger predators. I saw a few smaller smallmouth, a fish I would normally consider aggressive for their size, but they were extremely wary. I may have had one mouth a bait and I pulled it from him before he could get hooked. I didn’t want to be gone from the family too long either so eventually I had to call it a day without the smallmouth I was after, which was a little disappointing, but I was happy to have gotten out.

The next afternoon I was able to get out again, this time I had Marin along for the ride, so it was less of a fishing trip and more of an exploratory one. I went a different route and ended up on a different creek. I knew she probably just wanted to play in a creek, but I brought along a 1wt, just in case she wanted to see what lived in said creek.

I wasn’t so certain I’d find a fish big enough to hit my flies in a creek this small, but I did when this creek chub sucked down my dry. There were a lot of creek chub in the creek, this one just happened to be big enough to get hooked.

We had fun playing on the slippery rocks in the creek and checking out a part of Oklahoma I’m sure not many people know about. The Ouachita’s are beautiful with some of the prettiest creeks I’ve come across, I definitely recommend checking them out if you ever get a chance. Next time I’ll hit some bigger water though and give myself a better chance to locate the smallmouth.

We headed back to Baton Rouge on Tuesday not really knowing the hornet’s nest we were driving into. We knew that things were bad back home, but to what extent was unknown. We knew our home was fine and that power had actually been restored that day, but much of area was severely impacted. I was really glad we made the decision to head elsewhere during the worst of the storm and that my kids didn’t have to live through the experience of riding that one out.

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Last month I got the opportunity to spend a few days working near Breaux Bridge.  In my down time I explored Lake Martin, though not by kayak on the water, but on foot at the Cypress Island Preserve, which is property around the lake owned by the Nature Conservancy.

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In two mornings I covered the entire trail system and can say with certainty that there is no better place in south Louisiana to take someone to see an alligator than Lake Martin.  The clear waters of the lake hold an abundant population of the big lizards.  The fishing for bass, bream, and sacalait can be pretty good too, from what I hear, I haven’t put in the time there to tell you from experience.  It is a beautiful lake, full of Spanish moss covered cypress and tupelo trees.  It’s a place, I imagine, that is exactly what tourists picture in their minds when they think of our part of the country.  The levee trail at Cypress Island makes for a great place to take a walk.

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IMG_4670Common blue violet (Viola sororia)

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