Great Conditions but Slow Fishing

Econ River below Snowhill


With recent rain pushing the Econ River up 1.5 feet, I decided to give the pools at Brumley a break, and make the paddle downstream of Snowhill again on Saturday. The plan this time was to make my way down to the pool below the power lines, as I have wanted to fish this area for multiple years. After recently finding out that Ray Ayala lived quite literally two minutes away from me, I asked whether he wanted to join me, with the caveat that this was a lower probability trip, but we would get to fish some lesser traveled areas.

This section of river is indeed a gamble, but there is some quality water to fish, at least in years where the Econ has good current relative to the St. Johns. In this section you will find sand bottom, good current, pools with eddies and some with whirlpools… all the makings of perfect holding areas for shad making their way upstream to spawn. With the rain and a report or two of slower fishing at Brumley, my thoughts were filled with good numbers of fish moving upstream, but alas, it is more difficult to think like a fish than it may seem.

I picked up Ray at 8am and we made the trip to the bridge on Snowhill Road. We were greeted with more cars parked along the bridge than I have seen in a while… Boy Scouts making the paddle to C.S. Lee, with an overnight stay on the Econ. This is actually a trip that Ray and I had been considering ourselves. We loaded up the canoe and decided to get in front of the crowd, using the current to our advantage to quickly make our way to the confluence where I caught fish last trip. Ray fished the head of the pool with the fly rod, and I covered the depth and tail of the pool with the “fish finder” and found no takers.

The Pool above the Power Lines
Ray fishing the pool above the power lines

Back in the canoe, we skipped the big pool with the nice whirlpool, and decided to stop at the pool above the power lines. We were greeted by a nice gar, actively working the surface of the pool, along with considerable surface activity. Same story, different pool… we covered the area by fly, and by spoon, and found no takers.

We continued downstream another 1.5 miles through a section of deep, straight, slow moving water and arrived at the pool below the power lines at around 11:00. There we found two nice sized alligators, one of which slipped under, not to be seen again that day, and the other just meandered, guarding the stagnant side pool outside of the current of the river. There was considerable current at the head of the pool, which came to a crawl at the center and then accelerated in to a run below the tail of the pool in to the next turn. It looked like prime water to find shad. Next verse, same as the first… Ray began working the area with the fly, me with the spoon on the spinning rod. After several casts, I hooked up with what looked to be a small hickory, or a large blueback herring, but I lost the fish right as I slipped my hand in the water to grab it, so I did not clearly identify it.

The Power Lines

We fished the area thoroughly from the inside bank, but found no other takers. However, from nearly the moment we arrived, I noticed non-stop surface activity outside of the best of the current coming in to the turn, near that stagnant side pool. This was an area we could not reach from the inside bank, so we mustered up some courage and jumped back in the canoe to see if could drive the alligator out, circling behind it, through the stagnant pool, banging on the side of the canoe with the paddles.

The gator submerged, and we opted not to fish the shoreline that would have given us prime access to the surface activity until we had waited long enough to ensure the gator did not surface again for air. Instead we fished just upstream of the stagnant pool on high and dry bank, and a section of submerged land bridge just about knee deep. Fourth verse, same as the first… Ray worked the area with the fly, and I with the spoon and found no takers. I finally rigged up the switch rod for some extra reach, trying heavy flies with sink tips, and light flies on floating tips to no avail. Right as I started to consider moving over to better shoreline, our buddy showed back up, dashing any hopes of wading in that area.

The Pool Below the Power Lines
The Pool Below the Power Lines

What we did start to figure out though, was just why that gator was so interested in guarding that side pool. We began to see surface activity not just right outside of the current, but right in to the stagnant pool itself. While the recent rain had reconnected the pool to the river, after looking at satellite images of the area, it is now clear to me that once the water receded just another foot or so (a couple of days in Econ time,) that pool would once again be cut off from the river, likely trapping fish and creating an all-you-can-eat buffet for our reptilian friend(s.)

After swinging flies, a couple of beers, some conversation, and something like four hours, we finally saw those boy scouts pass us. I have no idea what took them so long, but we decided to motor our way back upstream. On the way we stopped and fished the pool above the power lines again where Ray caught a bluegill. We continued up river and fished the pool with the whirlpool, and later fished the opposite bank at the confluence and did not find shad. We did however nearly get swamped by three jackasses on jetskis, I kid you not, under a mile from the Snowhill bridge. The river is what, 20-30 feet wide here?? Idiots!

It was a good day of exploring, and I enjoyed fishing with Ray. I am glad he is as laid back as I am, just enjoys being on the water, and doesn’t mind trading a sure thing for a chance at catching fish in new places.


Partridge and Peacock

The Partridge and Peacock is a traditional soft hackle fly, that I have modified to meet my needs when fishing for shad on the Econlockhatchee River. During years when the Econ has high flow relative to the St. Johns River, the shad can make their way up the Econ in considerable numbers, and when the water levels are right, they can even make their way to the section of river above Snowhill Road, and beyond.

Don’t let the dark bottom of the pools deceive you, the water in this section of river can be very clear. You will also often find schools of shad sitting above white sandy bottom in very shallow water where you can sight fish for them. So swinging a big, flashy fly will inevitably spook them. In these conditions, longer leaders with finer tipits are required, and attached to that, a smaller fly that looks natural and buggy. Everything in the river eats a soft hackle, and the Partridge and Peacock is my go-to fly when the shad get spooky.

Partridge and Peacock:

Hook: Size 10 Nymph Hook
Thread: 8/0 Dark Brown Uni-Thread
Body: Ice Dub- UV Peacock Eye
Wing: Hungarian Partridge
Eyes: Black Bead Chain

Fantastic Saturday at Brumley

Econlockhatchee River

Todd and I plotted and schemed most of the week as to where we were going to fish this weekend. We have not fished together since New Year’s Eve, so I think we were both looking forward to some comradery in addition to swinging flies in the middle of nowhere. Earlier in the week there were talks about making the trek from the trailhead at the Seminole Conservation Area on Hatbill Road, down to the swift current near the second junction. This is a hike that both of us have wanted to make, but have not done solo, as there is some wading to be done to get there, and this area in general, is gator city. Better to go with a buddy, at least the first time. We have both had success in this area before, but have made the journey by boat. Ultimately the forecast for 15-20 mph wind and rain eliminated this trip as an option.

Brumley Trail Map

Where there is wind, there is shelter on the Econ River. There were a couple of reports of shad upstream of Snowhill, but Todd walked the upper section of river there prior to our planned trip and did not find fish. I contemplated another canoe ride downstream, but we decided with potential for rain again, the easiest option would just be to head to Brumley. The question was, were there fish there? A couple of recent reports after my last successful trip to Brumley had seen slow fishing there. With rain that bumped the gauge at Snowhill two and a half feet in one day, I was beginning to wonder if the fish had just booked from that area of river, upstream of the section accessible from hiking Snowhill.

Todd was not going to be able to join me on the river until around 1:00, so I decided to hit the trail early and see if I could find fish. If not, we would do some bushwhacking to see if we could make it to the turn above the Yarborough shelter, a particularly fishy looking section of river not accessible by marked trail, and a paddle and a half to reach from Snowhill.

White Trail Marker
White Trail Marker

I arrived at the trailhead around 9:45 and it took me about 10 minutes to make it to the white trail marker on the service road by bike. There I locked up the bike to make the short hike to the yellow/ white junction at the river. For what its worth, it should be noted that technically these trails are not designated for bike use. In my mind, riding a bike on the service road, even all the way out to the pasture that gives you access to the river near Culpepper Bend, does no damage, and even if you saw a ranger or FWC, no one would likely give you a hard time. That said, the section of trail leading to the yellow/ white junction, and then the section of trail that runs along the river is more sensitive, and if dozens of us biked it, the trail would quickly become very well worn like the areas around Snowhill. This would likely garner more attention from the powers that be. So if you choose to make this journey by bike, please lock the bike up at the white trail marker at the service road, and make the remainder of the trip by foot. The bike does not buy you that much of a time advantage on these trails anyway.

After making it to the white trail, I decided to fish a tail of a pool I generally do not spend much time at. There was some surface activity that caught my attention, so I decided to work it with the ultralight, and if I found fish, move to the switch rod. After several casts in to the best of the current, I let the spoon swing outside and downstream of the seam where I got a hit, but did not hook up. I focused several casts in the general area and quickly landed my first of the day. I rigged up the switch rod with a Scandi Head, Type 3 ten foot tip, about 6 feet of level mono, and attached a white bead chain Soft Hackle Shad Fly. After making several touch and go casts, I hooked up again, but lost the fish before coming to hand. I continued to patiently work the tail of the pool and was rewarded with my first shad on the fly of the day.

Shad on the Fly

I decided to move to the head of the same pool, and proceeded to hook up and lose a fish or two, and then land a couple. Its a familiar ebb and flow, the price you pay for pinching the barbs on your hooks, but it is the responsible thing to do. As I continued working upstream, a light rain started, and almost on queue, a flurry of surface activity erupted. I actually stopped fishing and just watched with amazement as the surface of this pool began to boil with spawning fish. There must have been fifty to sixty fish all doing exactly what they had made the long journey to come and do. After ten or so minutes, the rain stopped, and the fish returned to the depths below.

Around 1:00 I got a text from Todd that he had arrived. We decided to meet at the “Wives Pool,” an area of the river that we had both brought our wives to for a picnic, on an outing a couple of years ago. I swung a fly through the usual suspects, and landed fish. When the fish are in the Econ, this pool generally holds fish at the head, depth, and tail.

As Todd biked/ hiked in, I grabbed some lunch, and while sitting there, decided there were enough fish in the river that I could change up flies and try some different techniques. The Soft Hackle Shad Fly is a solid performer on the Econ, but it is good to have a few different patterns to swing in front of the schools when they seem to become weary of a particular fly they have obviously seen come by their faces several times.

Electric Bugaloo
Electric Bugaloo

Days when the fish are thick are perfect for testing new patterns. I picked up some Enrico Puglisi UV Brushes from Orlando Outfitters on Thursday, and tied a couple of new flies with it. The Thunderstuck color really caught my eye, and I used it similar to how I would a soft hackle. What came to life was a translucent, yet electric, flashing buggy profile. I fished the fly in to the depth of the pool, and landed a nice, big, fat hen right as Todd arrived.

Todd rigged up and quickly began fishing. Without problem he began catching fish on a Soft Hackle. I quickly shared my latest creation with him, and we jokingly decided to name it the Electric Bugaloo, named aptly after a movie we both remembered from childhood, Breakin’ 2- Electric Boogaloo. And just like that, a star is born. 🙂

We continued fishing the pool, switching flies as they would become weary, until we had caught enough, and began to feel like we should stop bothering them. We moved downstream to the pool I had seen the washing on earlier in the day and continued catching fish as the sun started to get low in the sky. I decided to make a hike down to the first turn on the yellow trail, and left Todd to happily continue swinging flies. The first turn on yellow has slow current, but I have seen shad washing in this area before. When I arrived I thought it was hardly worth the effort, but I cast the spoon through an area where I saw a bit of surface activity, and was rewarded with my eleventh fish of the day.

Todd with a nice shad
Todd with a nice shad

As the sun continued to sink behind the trees, we met back up at the yellow/ white junction where I shared that I had surprisingly caught a fish in a spot that otherwise looked “unfishy.” Todd caught ten fish, in just a half a day of fishing, and as we recounted the day, we both agreed that we had hooked and lost around ten more each. As we made the trip back to the cars, discussing the finer nuances of all things fly fishing, we both agreed, the Econlockhatchee is loaded with both Hickory and American shad right now.

Downstream from Snowhill

Econlockhatchee River

I decided to try something a little different yesterday, and make the paddle downstream from the Snowhill Road bridge, to see if I could find shad in areas that are not fished as often, and are not necessarily considered “prime” shad spawning habitat. I found fish last weekend at the prime spawning grounds found off of the white trail hike from Brumley Road, and figured the huge surge in water (nearly 4 feet in a single day) from rain that pushed discharge close to 700 cfs would get the fish moving upstream. The question was, just how far upstream? I gambled and chose to paddle downstream versus a hike upstream.

Snowhill Road Bridge

I think more than anything, I just wanted to do a little solo exploring and this is a section of river I have not spent any time on. I loaded up the canoe with fishing gear, provisions, and the trolling motor (for the ride back upstream) and hit the river at 10am. The current was fantastic and I quickly made my way downstream with little effort. I arrived at the first turn, parked the canoe and started to work the area with the ultralight, rigged again with a Hardcore Shad Spoon, and 3-4 splitshot. The plan again this weekend was to move quickly, work an area methodically with the spinning rod, and if I found fish, move to the switch rod and further canvas the water, and if not, move on.

I did not find fish in the first few turns, despite the good current and depth. I did run in to a couple of fishermen in a Gheenoe (man I have to buy one of those someday) that had made their way up from CS Lee. They reported catching a couple downstream, but reported slow fishing. They were making their way upstream above the bridge to see if they could find fish. Shortly after, it started to rain, and I contemplated whether I wanted to venture too much further downstream, particularly with the lack of fish in the turns I had already worked, and that report. I decided to suck it up, and just explore, if I found fish great. Even a rainy day on the Econ beats a day at work.

I fished each of the turns, as I made my way downstream, enjoying the scenery, taking my time and studying the current, and did not find fish. After an hour or so, the Gheenoe passed me again. I asked if they had any luck upstream. Nada. I continued my journey until I found a hard turn with a confluence of a small stagnant pool, and a runoff creek. The current was really booking through this natural chokepoint, and I figured if there were shad anywhere, they had to be here. I would work the area thoroughly, and if I did not find fish, attach the trolling motor and head home.

Shad downstream of Snowhill

After a half a dozen casts with the shad spoon, I hooked up with this beauty that took line and jumped five or six times. I quickly moved to the switch rod and started swinging a white Soft Hackle Shad Fly (see bottom picture in link.) I caught two more fish with the fly rod and then the action just turned off. I figured this spot was likely just a good choke point to catch fish as they traveled upstream, but they likely were not congregating there. I switched back to the ultralight and worked the pool just downstream of the head and found no takers.

I continued downstream and caught one more fish on the ultralight, and one more on the switch. After making a couple casts in to a nice pool with a good whirlpool eddy with the ultralight, I kept breaking off the spoon and splitshot. It took me three lost rigs before I noticed I had lost one of the ceramic inserts in one of the guides, and that was what kept snapping the line. Looks like I will have to figure out how to replace the guide, or I will be buying a new ultralight, as it has become a trusty part of my system.

In all, I made it about 2 miles, which put me down at the big pool a mile above the power lines, that Luc Desjarlais, mentions in his book Wade Fly Fishing The Upper St. Johns River Basin (Florida) for American Shad. I did swing some flies through the pool, but with the extra water in the river, struggled to reach the “fishy” areas. At about 3:00, I called it quits, attached the trolling motor and made my way upstream. Running wide open around 3 miles per hour with the 55lb thrust motor, I made it back to the bridge in about 40 minutes, had no problems navigating obstacles in the river with the high water, and even with the swift current, my battery still had about 64% in reserve.

I enjoyed the trip, and indeed caught fish, but I am not sure I would recommend a visit. I probably will not return this year, but will indeed consider it in similar runs when the flow on the Econ is higher than that of the St Johns, particularly early in the season. My gut tells me there are a lot of fish in the Econlockhatchee this year, but with the recent rain, they are spread out all over the river. With depth and good current, there is a lot of good water to keep fish happy, and I do not think they are congregating in typical areas in large numbers, at least not yet. As the water levels continue to recede over the next week (or two,) I would think we should start to see them again in the spots accessible from Brumley Road, and likely upstream of Snowhill Road, if they are not already there. I LOVE fishing for shad on the Econ River, and the later it gets in the season, the more technical the fishing becomes. If you want to try out trout tactics with shad, I think this year is shaping up to be one of those years!

December Double Header

St. Johns River

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.

Nice Crappie

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!

First Shad of 2018/ 2019
First Shad of the 2018/ 2019 Season

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…

Gar on the Fly
Fun way to end the day!

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.

Crazy Charlie Fly

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!

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!

Todd with 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.

American Shad

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.


The Shad on the Fly Sled
The Shad on the Fly Sled