Great Day in spite of the Forecast

Great Day in Spite of the Forecast

I got up this morning expecting to head to church, but the river, well she is a siren. The original plan was to meet up with Todd and one of his friends from out of town, but a last minute business trip and the forecast pushed Todd out a day. I have a hike in to Seven Palms scheduled for Monday, and while it was initially starting to look like that was going to be rescheduled, well, the river she is a siren. Unfortunately with both trips now falling on Monday, I had to make a decision, and after much deliberation this morning, I chose to stick to the original schedule and join Phil and team tomorrow on the hike (sorry Todd and Tigg.)

So what to do about Sunday? The weather forecast seemed to indicate that by 2:00 there was a 90 percent chance of rain, and the wind was supposed to be in the twenties. Looking at the radar, it seemed like the majority of the front headed our way due to a winter dip in the Jetstream, was tracking well north towards Tallahassee. Being an amateur meteorologist, as any fisherman should be, I hemmed and hawed for a bit… figuring the weather brainiacs were likely off by a few hours. However, add to that reports of tons of airboats on the water yesterday, and I just didn’t think it was worth the effort. The wind forecast, while high, was from the Southeast, the river was basically within its banks, and I was pretty darn sure there would be mosquitofish in the water.

Incapable of making a decision, I decided to put it all on the table and let my wife decide. Without hesitation, Marci said something to the effect of “this is your time of year, you were already planning on fishing… JUST GO! What’s the worse that happens, there are tons of airboats and the weather is crappy, it still beats a day at work.” Decision made (thanks Birdie!)

With all of the deliberation I did not get out on the water until 11:00. I found a stiff SSE 15 mph wind gusting in to the twenties. To my excitement though, I found the entire stretch of river from the ramp, bridge, creeks, and every inch of water up to the mouth of the Econ (and likely far beyond) boiling with fish on the surface. It has been a few years since I have seen that much activity.

While the ramp at C.S. Lee was not busy, it seemed that all of those boats were anchored up around the Econ. I decided not to venture up and fished around the bridge, creek mouths and beyond. I found the fish were taking flies just subsurface. Fishing the switch rod, I used a floating tip, 6-8 feet of level 10lb leader, and fished flies like the Fry Fly, Crazy Charlie, and Kip Tailed Clouser until about 2:00 when the surface activity disappeared, and the fish dove deep, likely due to the drop in pressure, and increase in wind (gusts up to the high 20’s, low 30’s.)  I then switched to a T8 tip and heavier flies. I got 8 shad to hand, and lost at least that many (the price I choose by pinching my barbs to minimize stress on the shad.)

I was hoping to hit double digits today, and I likely could have, but I decided to call it quits around 3:00. The wind really picked up to solid mid twenties, gusts well in to the thirties, and the rain started. Not worth the trouble, as I have a hike planned tomorrow. 🙂

Selfie

Spey Casting Clinic on the St. Johns River

Spey Casting Clinic on the St. Johns River

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a Spey casting clinic on the St. Johns River conducted by Leslie Holmes from Leslie Holmes International School of Fly Fishing, and hosted by TJ Bettis from Orlando Outfitters. We met up at C.S. Lee around 9:30 and then made our way down to the mouth of the Econ. Leslie demonstrated casting a long belly line, a Scandinavian head, plus a Skagit head, showing us the difference in cadence when casting each line, and then walked us through the fundamental casts such as the roll cast, switch cast, single and double Spey, as well as the snap casts.

The class was made up of six anglers, which allowed Leslie to then provide individual attention and instruction to help us to work through any issues we were having with individual casts. I have been Spey casting a switch rod since 2014, and this was the first time I have been able to work with an IFFF certified Master Casting/ Two Handed Casting Instructor, and I learned a lot! Leslie worked with me on my snap casts, changing how I approach the sweep by starting from a high position rather than placing the rod tip to the water. This small change dramatically improved the tightness of my loop while also reducing the overall circumference required to make the cast. This change will allow the use of the cast in tighter quarters, which will open up new sections of the river to me, and the tighter loop will allow further reach and better wind penetration.

Perhaps even more exciting is that in watching Leslie perform the double Spey, I was able to apply a change to my cast that has transformed the cast for me. The double Spey is a simple cast, that most of us make more complicated than it should be. Applying what Leslie showed me in lifting the rod to 10 o’clock and then bringing the rod tip to the opposite shoulder, resulted in an immediate and repeatable change in proper anchor placement. Also, keeping the tip of the rod high, and following the “brim of my hat” as Leslie pointed out, opened up a new world of power to my cast, while allowing for tighter quarter casting. This was absolutely transformational to my double Spey cast, and I will forever be in Leslie’s debt. Thank you Leslie!

The fishing was solid this day, and the mouth of the Econ was busy. There were several boats anchored up in the channel, a couple others on the west bank, and of course six of us swinging large sticks in the air. My favorite quote of the day was to the effect of “this is likely the nucleus of guys Spey casting for shad on the St. Johns.” While there are surely others that have caught the two handed bug here in Florida, there is a high probability that if you see a strange guy making water borne or aerial casts with what looks to be a strangely long fly rod while you are shad fishing, it is one of us. We are a friendly bunch that will talk your ear off about the joy of Spey casting, so don’t be afraid to say hello to us.

My numbers were not great, catching three for the day, including the smallest shad I have ever caught. It is pictured above, and I believe it actually might be a blueback herring. I have never caught one before, so while its size may not be impressive to some, the fact that it is another anadromous fish making its run to spawn, and I managed to hook one is pretty neat. To be honest, I was really more focused on casting this day than racking up numbers anyway, and I was happy to see just about everyone at the Econ catching fish throughout the day. While the run is not super thick yet, there are indeed good numbers of fish in this area now, which I know is what folks really want to hear. 😉

Many thanks again to TJ Bettis and Leslie Holmes for putting together the clinic!

Cat on the Fly

Cat on the Fly

Not much of a report here, but I will log it. I was not planning on fishing today as the shad fishing was slow last weekend, and the water is still outside of the banks of the St. Johns river. However, the river calls me this time of year, and I decided to make an impromptu solo trip. I thought about heading downstream to the turns before Lake Harney, but that seemed like a lot of work, and I was feeling lazy. I purposely avoided the mouth of the Econ as it was busy up there.

I spent time working around the bridge, creek mouths, and trying some new spots anywhere I found a decent current. I fished for about four hours, working the upper water column with the single hander, then the deeper water with the switch rod and did not hook a shad. They may have been slaying it up by the Econ for all I know, but I suspect the front moving through may have shut things down.

I thought the skunk was on me and double checked the kayak for bananas. Luckily for me the catfish pictured above decided he wanted a taste of the orange Shad Dart that was trailing behind a pink Kip Tailed Clouser I was swinging, and he proceeded to darn near spool me on the six weight switch rod. Good fun, but this is Shad on the Fly, not Cat on the Fly. 🙂

It was a productive day none the less. I probably made hundreds of Spey casts, taking my time and really working on technique to get the rust off of my fundamentals. My casting is coming in to good form again, just in time for a Spey casting clinic I am attending next week. When the fish arrive en masse, if they decide not to eat, it will not be because of a bad cast if I have anything to say about it!

What’s in my Backpack?

What's in my Backpack?

As the shad fishing ramps up in the early part of the season, it’s time to start planning and preparing for some trips to different areas of the river. For me, that not only means getting the kayak and canoe rigged and ready, but ensuring I have what I need in my backpack to do some hiking when its time to head down the path less traveled to find fish.

Luc Desjarlais’ book Wade Fly Fishing The Upper St. Johns River Basin (Florida) for American Shad provides a wealth of information on places to hike to fish for shad on foot. Some of these hikes can put you many miles from civilization, so being prepared is key. For example, my hike to the Indian Mounds last year covered around 12 miles where I barely saw a boat or another person. Even if you are not planning a long trip, it is important to make sure you are prepared. Cellphone coverage can be spotty in areas, and even if you have coverage, help could be hours away.

In the video below, I invite you to take a look at what I normally carry in my backpack. There are likely things I could add, and perhaps things I could remove, but this is what I choose for me. I hope that you will also give some thought as to whether you have what you need in your pack, not only to ensure a great day on the water, but to provide first response that could save your life in an emergency.  The video focuses primarily on the preparedness items that live in my backpack, rather than the items I would add to go fishing. In addition to the items highlighted in the video, I would of course add what I need for the day such as rod(s,) reel(s,) flies, vest or sling pack, lunch, water, etc.

If hiking is not your thing and you plan on using your boat, kayak, or canoe to pursue shad, give some thought as to whether you have everything you need in your float bag. I have a very similar list of items that live in my float bag that I bring every time I head out in the kayak or canoe. Regardless of how you are going to get to the shad, the key is to BE PREPARED!

UPDATE:

Here is a list of the items in my pack along with weight.

# Item Weight (ounces) Pounds
1 headlamp 1
2 germx 2.2
3 Sun & Bug 0.9
4 Swiss Army Knife 3.5
5 TP 0.4
6 Duct Tape 0.7
7 Signal mirror 0.7
8 Poncho 1.6
9 Compass 0.8
10 Whistle 0.4
11 Paracord 3.2
12 Tinder Kit 2.5
13 Bivvy 3.9
14 Lightmyfire 1
15 Pillcase 0.4
16 First Aid/ Trauma 15.6
17 Water Kit 4.9
18 Green Dry Bag (for clothes) 1.2
19 Blue Chamois 0.7
TOTAL 45.6 2.85

First Shad Caught in 2018

Above is a picture of the first shad caught in 2018! Well, the first shad I caught in 2018. 🙂

I met up with Todd at CS Lee around 9:30. The weather was cold, with air temps around 43 when we arrived, and a 5-10mph wind that provided a wind chill that cut through you, particularly when wading in 48 degree water. My original plan was to check out the bridge, hit the creek mouths on the way down to the Econ, and then potentially head up to Culpepper bend to do some scouting. I decided to start shallow with the single hand fly rod and a light weighted fly, thinking the shad would potentially be looking for warmer water.

Based on the gauge height of just under 4 feet and a quick look by the bridge, we determined the water was still a little high to wade around the bridge. It could be done, but figured we would be in thigh to waist high water at times, and with the cold temps, we decided to skip it. As we passed, we noticed a couple guys fishing near the bridge from a gheenoe. A message from Suede confirmed that it was them fishing, and that they did find shad near the junction.

We worked the creek mouths for an hour or two, me working shallow with the single hander, and Todd swinging deep with switch rod. Todd noticed a fish shallow, right in an area of convergence where there was a nice eddy, and some odd current upstream of it, likely caused by the wind and water coming off of the pasture. After a couple of casts with a 7.5ft T8/ 2.5 Ft Intermediate tip, Todd was the first to hook up with a nice American shad using a size 2 Gold-@ss Gotcha with a tan wing. The fish made several good jumps and a decent run before coming unhooked. Todd graciously yielded the spot to me as he thought I would be better off fishing the single hand rod shallow in that particular area due to the backward current. I worked the area using a beadchain Crazy Charlie but found no takers. Todd promptly hooked up with a Hickory (pictured) quite literally 5 feet from me which was hugging the bank.

I decided to change rods and rig up the switch rod. I rigged a 5ft T8/ 5ft Intermediate tip, 6 feet of level leader, and a size 4 Pink/ White Kip Tailed Clouser, tied with a long wing and began swinging flies through the eddy. After several attempts I hooked and landed the fish pictured up top. While I had given up on the single hand rod and was using the switch with a sink tip, after some discussion, we both agreed that the trigger was likely the larger flies. Our thoughts were, with the cold water, a small meal might not be worth the effort, but a large source of protein likely made the fish bite… IF you believe they are actually eating on their way up to spawn. 😉

The fishing was slow, so we decided to join the masses up by the Econ. When we arrived, there were two or three boats working the channel, and at one point I counted six. We were surprised there were as many people out fishing for shad this early in the season on such a cold day. We wondered if it had anything to do with this strange guy that is compelled to blog about his adventures in fishing for, and sometimes catching said shad. 🙂 Who knows? But I say the more the merrier, there is plenty of river to explore if you get tired of the crowds.

We fished the west bank, which is comfortably wadable with gauge heights under 4 feet and did not find fish. In fact, we never saw anyone catch any fish, even the boats. The west bank has been spotty in the last few years. It used to be a great place to hang all day, working your way up the Econ a couple of turns, but honestly, it is starting to get to the point I am not sure it even warrants a stop. The east bank seems to produce better in years of late, but the water is still too high to comfortably wade there. Gauge heights of under 3 feet are much preferred but be aware, high weeds can make false casting tough depending on wind. Single hand Spey casting, or Skagit/ Spey with a long rod is my preference. That said, it seemed the fish were further downriver today.

With the slow fishing we decided to head up to Culpepper bend. We motored up with the trolling motor in about 25 minutes and found no current. We worked the turn upstream of Culpepper for about 20 minutes and decided to head back. The deep cycle battery pooped out about a turn from the mouth of the Econ on the way back, so we resorted back to paddles and made our way back down to the creek mouths. We fished for another hour or so before calling it a day around 4:00. It was a fun day, despite the cold. I will likely skip going out next weekend and wait for the run to thicken up a bit before heading back out.

Hooked a shad

SR46 Bridge in the Distance

Buzzard Roost Mound

Stand of Palms on the Econ River

Stand of Palms on the Econ River