While I had a trip planned with Todd for New Year’s Eve, I had the opportunity to hit the St. Johns River yesterday for the first time of the 2018/ 2019 season, and decided to do some solo scouting. Because it is still early in the season, I took my time in the morning, enjoyed some time with my girls, a couple cups of Crio Bru, and ate some sweets left over from Christmas before hitting the road. As a bonus, this gave plenty of time for the dense fog to lift before I would be dropping the kayak in the water.
While still pretty early in the run, I decided to do some scouting from C.S. Lee to see if any fish had made it this far upstream. I contemplated heading down to the turns upstream of Alderman where I have caught fish early in the season in years past, and then maybe meandering all the way to the mouth of Lake Harney. The forecast for highs in the mid 80’s changed my mind. Rather than sweat to death paddling back and forth to Alderman, I decided to stick to the water right upstream of the SR46 bridge, purposely avoiding the mouth of the Econ, as I knew I would likely venture up there with Todd. If I found shad great, and if not, no big deal. Frankly, the extra 10 pounds I put on since Thanksgiving likely had some input in my overall disinterest in paddling any real distance in the kayak. 🙂
I was on the water by noon and made my way to the creek mouths upstream of the bridge. With a slight south breeze, there was enough discharge for me to swing a Skagit Head with a 10ft t3 tip, and a dumbbell weighted Kip Tailed Clouser. I covered a fair amount of water quickly, making a short, medium, and long cast before moving down stream ten steps at a time and caught several red bellies and several respectable sized crappie, but did not find shad.
I walked back upstream to the kayak, and decided to grab the ultra light spinning rod and continue working downstream to see if I could locate fish. Early in the season when the fish are sparse, I find this to be an effective way to cover the water and locate fish. After making several casts with a Hardcore Shad Spoon rigged with 4 split shot about 18 inches above the spoon on the line, I hooked up with my first shad of the season, a small hickory!
After landing the fish and snapping a quick picture I grabbed the switch rod, and proceeded to work the same area of water. After a dozen or so swings, I hooked up with another small hickory, which was “quick released” before I could snap another pic.
I continued working my way upstream, fishing each of the creek mouths all the way up to where the two channels converge, and landed countless bycatch throughout the day, but no more shad. I ran in to Cas Summers, this year’s winner of the First Shad of the Season Contest, and he reported slow shad fishing as well. At close to 3:00, the wind died down, and I was sweating to death in my waders, so I started to contemplate heading downstream towards the bridge where I could wade in the cool water, when I got a tug on the fly, which quickly turned in to what felt like a bowling ball on the end of my line. I fought the fish for several minutes, while it just seemed to keep putting its face down in to the deep water, not really making any runs, but slowly taking line. Figuring I had a large catfish on, imagine my surprise when I finally brought the fish to surface and landed this guy…
Fast forward to this morning, and I met Todd at C.S. Lee at around 8:00am. We loaded up the canoe, and motored up to the mouth of the Econ where we found absolutely no one. With a fair amount of trailers in the parking lot, we figured it was likely going to be busy, but it seemed they must have been duck hunting, or possibly crappie fishing down at Lake Harney.
With a 10-15 south wind forecasted, and switch rods in hand, we decided to fish the east bank, which is still partially submerged, but wadable. I decided to fish a Crazy Charlie, tied in traditional bonefish tan ,in memory of the legendary guide, and creator of the fly, Charlie Smith, whom I found out yesterday had passed away.
We wet waded and fished for an hour and a half or so, catching several small crappie and red bellies as we made our way downstream, but no shad. Right as we were talking about moving to the other bank, almost on queue, I felt a strong tug on the end of that Crazy Charlie, followed by a jump, and a run on the drag. I quickly landed the fish to find my first American Shad of the season!
Well, you don’t leave fish to find fish so we decided to keep fishing the east bank, even though the wind had shifted slightly to the west, and was pushing our swings quickly in to the cut bank. Now that we knew there were indeed fish here, the mission quickly shifted. Todd has never landed a December Shad, and even though it was the last day of the year, there was ample opportunity to make that happen. I happily yielded the downstream position, and Todd skillfully began working the area with his switch rod. After several swings, wading near waist deep, he hooked up, and landed his first December Shad!
We continued working the area but did not hook up again. A couple of boats joined us, and we decided to yield the spot, and try the west bank. We fished for 20-30 minutes without a bite, even with the wind at our backs, and firing cannon like casts.
We made our way back downstream to fish the creek mouths and covered the water thoroughly without success. Jokingly I told Todd I was going to grab the “fish finder” and relented to fishing the spinning rod with the spoon. After I think just 3 casts, I landed another American. I immediately switched back to the switch rod and both of us worked the area thoroughly, as well as the area just upstream of the bridge without another bite. We called it a day just short of 3:00.
While there are indeed fish here, you are going to have to work for them. If you are looking for them to jump in to the boat near the Econ River, I think we still have a couple of weeks.
By the way, if you are ever fishing the St. Johns River and wonder who those nuts are in the canoe with a trolling motor hanging off the side, and/ or wading in places that make you do a double take… that is likely us, so stop and say Hi! LOL.