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Early in the Season at Tosohatchee

convergence of channels on the St. Johns River

Last Saturday I decided to do something I have not done before, fish from Tosohatchee early in the season. Last year I learned the area downstream pretty well after adding a motored canoe to the fleet. However, the low water last year prevented me from checking out some of the areas well upstream of the launch, and to that end I decided to launch from the power lines and head upstream to where the east and west channels meet.

A cold snap the night before meant I was not in any hurry in the morning, and I hit the water around noon. Unfortunately that also allowed the wind to come up to full speed before even casting a line, and what was forecasted as 10-15 mph wind with 20mph gusts, was actually 15-20 mph with 30 mph gusts (and plenty of them!)

wind blowing through bush
Never a good sign

After a short motor, I made it to where the two channels converge and found a spit of land that was just barely noticeable because the tips of grass were just peeking out of the water. With the S.R. 50 gage at 5.3 feet, the water is still a foot or so high for optimal wading and walk-ins, but I managed. With the wind in my face I opted to use the ultralight rather than the switch rod, and fished the area very thoroughly with a Hardcore Shad Spoon. While there was a ton of current, and decent depth, I did not find shad in this spot.

I decided I wanted to continue upstream and set sail, quite literally, to my next intended spot. However, with the water up I found it difficult to find the channel, and kept hitting bottom with the motor, eventually having to pull it up and paddle… well, try to paddle. What I learned was, a square stern canoe with 80 pounds of ballast up on the bow to keep the nose down, tracks like total crap, and is nearly impossible for me to turn to get the bow upwind by myself in 30 mph wind. The rodeo that proceeded would probably have caused more than a chuckle if I would have had an audience, and after a comedy of laughter mixed with expletives, I gave up the effort to make it upstream, and got out and walked the boat using the painter line back downstream to the east channel.

author with a shad

In hindsight, I guess I could have dumped the ballast bags and rowed on my knees from the center of the boat to make it upstream, but at the end of the day, 30 mph wind just isn’t that fun to paddle in either way. Instead, I motored just downstream to a spit of exposed cut bank on the north side of the west channel, that when the water is lower, splits the channels in two. Todd and I fished from the same place last year and there is significant current and depth in this area. With the water high, wading was a challenge but doable. While Todd and I had no luck from this spot last year, this is where I picked up my first fish of the season, and a couple more.

I generally would not leave fish to find fish, but I noticed a considerable amount of bird activity a turn or so downstream and decided to investigate. My interest was rewarded and I not only found busy birds, but shad feeding on the top of the water column. I removed the T8 tip I was using, opting instead for an intermediate, and tied on a Gambusia Hair Wing Fly and proceeded to pick up several nice shad, including nice big fat hens. The activity was solid enough that I was able to test out the double version of the Gambusia fly, along with a single trailing behind it, and caught fish alternating back to front, and even managed to hook two very nice fish at the same time. What a ride that was, as both fish cartwheeled over each other until one popped off!

nice roe shad caught on gambusia hairwing fly

Generally I like to catch a few fish and then move on, always careful not to pound pools to death. The fish are here to spawn, and we should respect that, particularly this early in the season. However, I was pretty disgusted to see 4-5 guys cast netting just downstream, and while they were respectful of my space (for the most part,) they were keeping shad, and it was clear that they were just waiting for me to move, so they could pull every fish they could out of there. On this day, I spent the better part of two hours in the same spot, until the bite finally turned off, in the hopes that maybe at least some of the fish I caught, decided to head upstream to get away from me, and by proxy, the cast netters. At the end of the day, these guys were not doing anything illegal, and perhaps were just trying to feed their families, but at any rate, I just found it to be incredibly unsporting, and disrespectful to a fishery that I love. Add to that, information that came to me after the fact, with a conversation with a regular pack at the parking spot, that these very characters have been seen feeding alligators in the past, and my anger level increased even further. Feeding alligators IS illegal!

As the sun hung low in the sky, and the airboat noise finally way out in the distance, I decided to visit the well known airboat stop one turn downstream of the powerlines known as Catfish Hotel. Most days it is full of folks drinking beer and barbequing, but late in the day when they head back to the boat ramp, its worth trying. While the current is not as swift on this turn, there is nice depth, and acceleration coming in and out of the pool. I was happy to find good numbers of fish here as well, and caught my fill until just before dark. Tosohatchee closes at dark, and I would say I pushed it to the very end, getting the boat loaded and making my way down that long dirt road, headlights on. It was a great day on the water on a beautiful section of the St. Johns River.

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