Saturday Fishing Report with Mr Murphy- Hatbill Park

Shad Fishing Hatbill Park St. Johns River

I had been wanting to do some shad fishing in the Hatbill Park area for several weeks. With the rain this week, I saw an uptick in current and depth on the SR 50 gauge and decided that today was the day. My plan was to head to the first junction and fish that thoroughly, then maybe make my way to the turn just downstream, and if neither held shad, to head up to Orange Mound to fish that pool for shad and tilapia. However, it seemed that Mr. Murphy, you know… of Murphy’s Law fame was riding tandem with me today.

A turn or two downstream of the launch, right where the river narrows and there are high reeds that might block an airboat from seeing a lowly canoe, I ran aground and cracked my hand-me-down trolling motor’s case. Broken Trolling MotorLuckily there were no airboats coming or going and the circus that ensued by me trying to turn said broken trolling motor off, failing at that, getting out of the canoe to reach the battery in the bow to disconnect everything while trying not to lose the canoe, while cursing (but also laughing at myself,) went completely unnoticed by anyone other than a few white pelicans that must have thought I was nuts! Or at least a total NOOB. By the way, I was not too broken hearted at the damage to the trolling motor, as this had obviously happened before, as the copious amounts of epoxy filling the cracked case would testify.

Luckily I had not forgotten my paddle, as I did on a trip with Todd this year, and I made my way the short 3/4 mile trip to the first junction quickly. Of course when I did arrive, I realized I left my cooler in the car, water and all. SMH. Anyway, I found great current at the first junction and just upstream of it. There was also decent depth in the main channel, maybe waist high. Since I was now motor-less, I decided I would fish the crap out of this junction, and skip the rest of the scheduled trip. I hooked up with two nice bass at the head of the first junction on an orange over white size #4 Kip Tail Clouser Minnow, and got a couple of pics (see below.) I worked the first junction, 5 steps at a time, from had to tail, and picked up two more dinky bass.

At about noon the wind kicked up to 15-20mph, and everything seemed to turn off. I worked the first junction thoroughly for about 3.5 hours and decided I had enough of the wind. I made my way back to the ramp slowly and I fished each interesting turn with current or depth, and did not find shad. I did see one spent shad in it’s dying throws drifting in the current. Some days are better than others, and I am just thankful for the two respectable bass on the five weight today, in lieu of Mr. Murphy!

Bass on the St Johns River

 

 

 

Impromptu Trip to the Econlockhatchee River

Alligator on the Econlockhatchee River

I took Tuesday off to extend my long President’s Day weekend and planned on joining the group that Philippe was hosting on a hike/ paddle to do some shad fishing. Unfortunately that trip was postponed due to the high winds in the forecast. As I could not reschedule my day off to join the group on the new date due to other obligations, I decided to venture back out to the Econ River, fish the pool we had success on the day before, and then make my way further upstream to see if I could find other congregations of fish. The Econ is a good place to fish in high winds, as there is generally good shelter provided from the wind, particularly on low water years where you will be fishing well below the high bank line.

I arrived at the river at the white/ yellow trail split and decided to hug the river on the high bank to watch for current and see if I could spot fish from the high vantage point. I was quiet as I moved and found a lot of alligators that we did not see the day before. On each turn I found at least one alligator, and by end of day, I had seen twelve, including a dragon that was confident enough not to slide in to the water the moment it sensed me. In fact, it was not until I made it nearly directly across the water from it before it slid in, and even then, it left its tail on shore and did not submerge. I decided not to fish that turn!

Fly Fishing for ShadI reached the pool from the day before, and the gator that was there slid in quietly, surfacing every 10-15 minutes, keeping a keen eye on where I was. I gave him plenty of room and wet waded no deeper than knee high. I fished the head of the pool again and did not find fish in the best of the current. Instead, the fish seemed to be hanging in the depth of the relatively still water in the pool just downstream of the current. This meant that I was swinging flies in to the gator zone. I hooked up with two shad, lost one and got one to hand. The alligator made no attempt to come after a hooked fish.

I worked my way downstream through the pool, fishing five steps at a time until I got to its tail where the current picked up. At the tail I caught another shad, and lost two more. I was surprised by the amount of Orinoco sail fin catfish in this stretch of river and just how close they would let you get to them before swimming off. I made several nice presentations to multiple cats, but had no takers. I bet they would be fun on a fly rod though!

I moved up to the next turn and fished the tail of the pool. I caught two more shad and lost another two as I worked back downstream to the head of the first pool. By noon, the front had started to move through and the fish turned off, so I decided to hug the river on the high banks and do some spotting until I reached the old shelter. There are a few areas of possible interest on the way, including some turns with decent depth and current at their heads and tails. However, the stretch of river approaching the old shelter is very shallow this year. While this stretch can be good in normal water years, this year I would not waste the time hiking up again. I did not spot any fish, or really see any activity of any sort. I did find that dragon on the one turn of interest that I did want to try, but I played it safe and yielded.

All in all it was a good day, and I was happy just to actually catch fish again. There are fish in the Econ, albeit not very thick. If you are going to venture out, focus on the areas of current, however minimal it seems, accelerating in to, or out of the pools on the turns. Hopefully the rain this week will kick up the discharge of not just the Econ, but the St. Johns River and get some fish moving upstream. I have heard of shad runs in Florida heating up in March. Hopefully this is one of those years.

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