President’s Day on the Econ River

Fly Fishing for Shad on the Econ River

I decided to take Monday off for President’s Day to hike in to the Little Big Econ State forest. Todd and I planned a day to bring our wives along to experience the peace and tranquility of the stretch of the river that we have come to enjoy over the last couple of years. We decided to make the hike from the Brumley Road trailhead again and make our way up river some on the white trail to a turn we knew had a good grassy area that would be comfortable for a picnic with the ladies. Todd, always the optimist, thought we might get lucky and run in to shad, as he had seen fish moving up the Econ River a week or two prior. A little bit of rain had pushed the discharge up ever so slightly, so I thought anything was possible but, I tend to be a bit more of a pessimist and fully expected to switch over to tossing poppers for pan fish pretty quickly.

We got to the river close to 11am and setup a spot for a picnic. Todd and I quickly setup the 5 weights and started working an area where he had caught shad on his last trip out. Within a couple of casts I had a fish on, but was not initially sure what I had hooked up with. As I got the fish about 15 feet away from me I did indeed identify it in the clear shallow water as either a small male American, or small Hickory shad. However, I lost the fish before it came to hand. I was just happy to finally hook one this season, and even better, now we knew that they were indeed there.

Todd was gracious enough to yield the head of the first pool to me and continued upstream to the next bend. There was decent current there as well as several deep holes, at least one of which was 8 feet deep. There was a ton of activity at the tail of that pool, and both of us at one point clearly saw a shad leap from the water not once, but twice. However, no fish were caught there.

I continued working the head of the pool I was on and hooked a better fish than the first. This fish made two decent runs as well as a couple of small jumps before a quick release. A quick release in my book is when I have touched the leader, but lost the fish before coming to hand. I count that as a catch even though I can’t provide photo evidence. 🙂 That shad was my first catch of 2017.

I continued working downstream through the head of the pool and hooked up with my next fish. The water I was fishing was maybe knee deep and I clearly saw the shad take the fly, then make a run to a jump. This is the first time I have actually seen a shad take my fly! However, I lost this fish as well. Fighting shad in such shallow water is a unique experience. The fish seem to shake their heads more than I have felt in open water, and I think that gives them a slight advantage as they are more easily able to throw the pinched barb flies that I typically fish with. That is my theory at least. 🙂

After a quick break for lunch and a couple of beers, I continued fishing downstream through the slack water of the pool and hooked up with a nice hen there. I got this one to hand and managed a quick picture.

Shad on the Fly- Econ River 2017

Todd made his way to the head of the pool that he yielded to me earlier and I continued down to the tail of the pool where I hooked up with two more fish but lost them as well. Todd faired a lot better. He managed to land five fish, lost four more, and was even good enough to let the ladies fight a couple.

Fly Fishing on the Econ

The fishing is still tough this year and while we thought it might be possible to find shad, we were pleasantly surprised to have made it to the right place on the right day. I never did tie on that popper by the way. It seems our wives were our lucky charms and brought the shad right to us, further solidifying one of my favorite sayings…

If a man is truly blessed, he returns home from fishing to be greeted by the best catch of his life.”

A Walk in the St. Johns Wilderness- Shad Fly Fishing Trip on the Lower Econlockhatchee

A Walk in the St. Johns Wilderness- Shad Fly Fishing Trip on the Lower Econlockhatchee

On 01/24/17, I joined a group of seven for a walk in the St. Johns Wilderness for a shad fly fishing trip on the Lower Econlockhatchee River. Philippe Richen, long time member and organizer of the Orlando Kayak Fishing Club, has set up a series of five hikes in to prime shad fishing areas, and I was lucky to join him on the first of these trips. Philippe, John, Tony, Reid, Devon and I met up at the Brumley Trailhead of the Little Big Econ Wildlife Management Area at 8:00am, and decided to make the hour long hike down to the Culpepper Bend area of the river using the yellow trail service road, and then work back upstream. Todd was running a bit late and when he arrived he decided to make his way up to the white trail where we would meet him later in the day.

Trailhead at Brumley RoadWe took the main service road to the turn just upstream of the Culpepper Bend, as it is a straight shot, an easy hike, and when we arrived, then hugged the river to get to the bend. The road was high and dry until we got to the pasture where we found a bit of standing water. I have made the hike to Culpepper before, but last time I used the section of the yellow trail that hugs the river. The service road is quicker, and with a mountain bike, you could be there in a half an hour I would say.

We found decent current at Culpepper and fished the river on both sides of the bend diligently, but did not find shad. The wind had picked up to 10-15mph so we decided to start moving back up river where trees and deep cut banks provide some shelter from the wind. We fished each of the bends with current methodically as we worked upstream with guys catching sunfish, bass, and gar along the way. The great thing about fishing with a group like this is you can quickly and diligently work a stretch of river and you either find fish, or move on.

Diligent and Methodically
Diligent and Methodically

Todd reported catching a shad up on the white tail, so after a lunch stop, we made our way up to that area of the river using the section of the yellow trail that hugs the water. This is a great hike with gorgeous views of the Econlockhatchee River. There are areas of the trail where it is a little less defined, but just follow the yellow blazes on the trees until you hit the trail marker where the trail splits. Here you have the option to follow white blazes back to the service road, or continue following white along the river where there is good current and prime spawning area. The blazes looked to have been repainted since the last time I made this hike, and were easy to spot.

Todd's Shad

We fished these turns for a bit and I finally managed to get the skunk off of me with this little guy. Impressive huh? 🙂 Soon after, Mark Benson made a surprise visit by boat and gave folks a chance to try casting a switch rod for the first time. While Todd spent the day using his switch upriver of us, my two-hander never made it off of my pack, as I was quite content using single hand Spey casts or overhead casts on the smaller waters of the Econ. Reid hooked up with what seemed to be a large hen which broke off before coming to hand. Mark reported slow fishing as well.

While the shad fishing continues to be slow, this was a great hike and I made some new friends that I hope to fish with again very soon. Special thanks to Philippe for organizing and hosting this event!

There are still four more group hikes planned if you missed this one. Here are the dates and tentative locations:

# 2 Tues Jan 31^st – Hatbill Park (location may change)
# 3 Tues Feb 7^th – Paw paw Mound
# 4 Tues Feb 21^th – Seminole Ranch Conservation area.
# 5 Tues Feb 28^th – Tosohatchee Conservation area

If you are interested in joining a great group of people for a day of hiking and fishing, join one of the events on the OKFC Facebook Group. Groups are limited to eight people, so sign up early!

Hike to the Indian Mounds

Indian Mounds Panorama

Better late than never, here is the report from my hike to the Indian Mounds on 01/14/17. If you are interested, check out the video below to see a timelapse of the hike to Heifer Mound.

The fishing has been slow the early part of the shad season, and I decided I needed a change of scenery, even though folks are having 1-2 fish days near the Econ. With hopes of finding good current with some depth, and potentially finding shad that had decided to pause there, I decided to make the 3.2 mile hike through the Charles H. Bronson State Park to an area known as Indian Mounds on the St. Johns River. This area is peppered with mounds that were created when ancient Indian tribes discarded the mussel shells they ate. These mounds are now grown over, and most of them have palms that can be seen for miles. One exception is Heifer Mound, which is completely void of trees, so I decided I wanted to see that with my own eyes.

Trailhead at CurryvilleI left around 9:00am from the Trailhead at the end of Curryville Road. I started my walk and within just a few minutes, I startled 8-10 deer and they went flying across the road about 20 yards in front of me. I guess there is a reason this area is known for its hunting. If you are interested in making this hike, check the hunting schedule here before making plans. The trail here is a simple service road, and is well defined as hunters with a permit are allowed to drive to their destinations in season. The road is flat and basically takes you through several pastures along the tree line. This hike is not technical, just stay on service road #3 for just under three miles and you will come across a 3 way split. Two of the three are service roads, and the last is a little less clearly defined. You will see a fence to your left, a gate nearly in front of you, and a gate off to your right. Walk in the gate that is nearly in front of you and you notice a lesser defined path that leads along the fence line to a rise with a large oak and palm trees on it, that is Saddle Mound, and from there you can clearly see Heifer Mound.

A view of Heifer Mound from on top of Saddle Mound
A view of Heifer Mound from on top of Saddle Mound

It took me about an hour and a half to reach Heifer Mound. I took my time, stopping to take pictures along the way, so I would say this could be done in an hour. I also started down the path upstream and changed my mind. Think about it this way… how long does it take you to walk a 5k? If you don’t doddle (like I did) and as long as the water is low and roads are dry, it is no more difficult than walking a 5k. Take a mountain bike and you could cut that in half easily, even with 15-20lbs of gear on your back.

The river near Heifer Mound did not seem to have much current so I headed downstream. Here I found several turns where the current was substantial and the water was deep on the outside cuts. I was able to swing a polyleader and hourglass eye fly without issue on each of the turns. When I did not hook up with shad, I switched to a beadchain eye fly paired with a polyleader and then eventually removed the polyleader and fished with just the beadchain eye fly. When that did not work, I swung an unweighted fly. I caught several panfish with just the beadchain eye fly and the unweighted fly. While “Crappiepalooza” can be fun, that was not why I was there and moved back to the heavier setup. I methodically fished each turn this way for nearly four hours, up past Nellie Dora Mound and did not catch shad.

Panfish on the St. Johns River
Panfish on the St. Johns River

At about 2:00 I could see a larger front coming in and the wind picked up to about 15-20mph. It started to pour rain, so I donned my poncho and packed it all up. I made the trip back to the trailhead in a little over an hour. In all, I covered nearly 12 miles, and never sat for a rest. I was ready for a whiskey when I got home!

Alligator near Heifer Mound
Alligator near Heifer Mound

While I did not catch shad on this trip, I very much enjoyed the hike, and would definitely return again, although most likely on a mountain bike. I could see why shad would spawn in this area. There is good current and deeper water on the turns. I also enjoyed the remoteness of the area. I only saw a couple of boats early in the day and just two airboats during the afternoon.

The view is gorgeous in this area and the wildlife is plentiful. You can see for miles as the terrain is so flat. I saw hundreds of sandhill cranes, white pelicans, herons, ibises, and kingfishers. I saw deer and of course tons of cattle. I was surprised to only see two alligators the whole day. If fact, I saw more alligators the last time I was out with Todd when we explored the mouth of Puzzle Lake. No complaints here.

Hopefully the fish start to arrive in better numbers this week. Decisions, decisions… where will I go next? 🙂

Here is a map of the area that I hiked today. Many thanks to Luc Desjarlais and Tom Choma for the time they spent exploring these areas, and for sharing their knowledge with others that are willing to venture off the beaten path.

Indian Mounds

 

First Shad Fishing Report of 2017

First Shad Fishing Report of 2017

While I had not intended on returning to the river for two weeks, the anticipation got the best of me, my schedule cleared, and the weather was perfect so here is the first shad fishing report of 2017!

I contemplated moving up river to SR50 as the guys at Orlando Outfitters reported catching a couple of large hens this week, and then considered Hatbill Park as a change in scenery would be nice but, ultimately decided it is still too early in the season for me to move on from the ease of the river upstream of SR 46. This was an impromptu trip, so I decided to just keep it easy and launch from CS Lee again. I launched the canoe at about 10:30 am and found the water had dropped another 4-6 inches from last week. I had difficulty using the trolling motor until I cleared the first post line upstream of the bridge, and there is a sandbar exposed basically connecting the island near the bridge and the island across from the first creek mouth.

I worked the creek mouths pretty thoroughly and hooked up with several small bass and crappie. Todd met me at 12:30 and we decided to motor straight up to the mouth of Puzzle Lake to see if we could find shad. We found little current there but did see a nice sized gator slide in from the bank just about 100 yards upstream of the Econ. There was plenty of surface activity so we decided to fish the area for about a half an hour but did not hook up.

We continued in to Puzzle Lake for another 30-45 minutes seeking some sort of water movement, junctions, outside turns, and narrowed shoreline. We saw plenty of alligators, but not too much more than that as the current was a trickle. We considered making the run up to the Two Cuts or White Sticks section upstream but decided it was too much motoring this late in the day, especially at the whopping 2-2.5mph we were getting with the 36lb trolling motor. I would love to fish these areas but because of the distance, I will need to plan better, start earlier, and potentially bring a second deep cycle battery.Tilapia on the Fly

We returned to the mouth of the Econ and fished the east bank. I caught a few more small bass and Todd caught a nice Tilapia. I have decided to make “Tilapia” Todd’s nickname, as I am not sure I have ever seen anyone else catch as many Tilapia while swinging a fly. I swear he catches one every time we go out. I have caught them when they are nesting before, but cannot say I have ever caught one swinging flies. Hey Marco, if you are reading this… Todd released this beauty. No ceviche for you! 🙂

 

We moved just downstream of the Econ and Todd found a nice shallow area with firm, crackle bottom, good current and a nice hole where he caught his first shad of 2017, and his very first shad on the two hander! Way to go Todd! A #6 tan/ gold Crazy Charlie was the fly of the day.

I did not fair as well, still working the east bank a little bit further upstream where there is an illusion of shallow water just off the exposed bank… followed by a distinct muddy drop off in to deep holes. If you have ever wondered whether you are able to swim with waders full of water, you can indeed. Don’t ask me how I know. LOL!

Based on talking to everyone we found on the river today, it looks like Todd was the only one to catch a shad. It will probably be another couple of weeks until we start to see better numbers so I will likely wait to return to the river for another two weeks… yea right! 🙂

Todd’s first shad on the two hander!

New Years Eve Shad Fishing

Mew years Eve Shad Fishing

My buddy Todd and I made one final attempt to land a December shad in 2016 and did some New Year’s Eve shad fishing. We launched from C.S. Lee and fished each of the creeks on the way to the mouth of the Econ River. The water is low and the wading is fantastic. That said, beware of deep holes where water converges. I found myself chest high on one occasion when I slipped on the slick mud underwater in to an unseen hole and filled the boots on my chest waders.

The water discharge was minimal in the morning and we found it difficult to even swing a fly with T3 tips on the switch rods. I switched to an intermediate tip and then eventually a floating tip to even get some semblance of a swing downstream. I am pretty sure it is time to put the sink tips and maybe even the hourglass eye flies away for good this run. Quartering downstream and animated retrieves will likely be the tactic for this run.

We fished the creeks for an hour or two without any luck and made our way upstream to the Econ. The wind did finally pick up from the south southwest which pushed the water downstream and we were able to swing some flies there. We fished both the east and west banks for multiple hours without a bite. Fish were breaking surface near the mouth of the Econ, but I suspect they were bass or crappie. I never saw the tell tale silver of shad washing. The fishing was painfully slow and I even tried throwing a gurgler to try and grab a bass at one point. No luck.

Cold beer kept us happy as we made our way downstream to work several areas of the river we skipped on the way up. We found good current and crackle bottom which are both ideal, but no shad. We both finally got the skunk off of us late in the day with Todd landing a nice keeper crappie and me landing a largemouth that put a serious bend in the 6 weight switch rod while it performed acrobatics.

The reports have started to trickle in of shad being caught upstream of SR 46. However, it still seems pretty sporadic and I will likely skip a week before heading out again. Happy New Year and may 2017 be filled with shad on the fly!

Something of note, in addition to the lack of current in lieu of a south wind, I noticed the river was muddier than usual, and seeing your fly even four to six inches under the water was difficult even with polarized glasses. As you can see in the picture above, the cut banks we have missed for the last couple of high water years are starting to expose themselves and as boats fly by, the mud of course travels downstream. This will likely subside some as the pasture dries out and firms up, but you may want to keep it in consideration when choosing flies in the early part of the season. While I am generally not a chartreuse guy, I do remember having success with them in low water years versus high water years. I will be tying some up, and will likely jump from a size 6 to a size 4 for the early part of the season, but at the end of the day, who knows? 🙂