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A Weekend of Returns

I am running two weeks behind on this post. With a busy week trying to tie up loose ends at work before a week of spring break with the kids, I just did not have time to process pictures and to sit down and write. However, I need to put it in the books.

After finding fish at Snowhill Thursday after work, Ray was already planning a trip there on Friday (03/04.) I pinged him after my workday was done, and he asked if I wanted to join him.. heck yea I did! We returned to Snowhill and made the hike straight to the Double Gator Pool. Ray picked up a small bass, sunfish, and gar, but unlike the day before, we did not find shad.

We made the short walk up to the Willow Pool and fished it briefly. We did see a small school of shad, but they were moving downstream at speed and didn’t even give us the opportunity to make a cast. They were likely post-spawn Hickories booking it downstream in their return to the ocean. I must have got lucky and found some fish holding on Thursday, because fast movers are a tell-tale sign they are done doing what they came for.

We decided to leave Snowhill and take a look at the Econ River at the SR 419 bridge, as neither of us had ever stopped there. For whatever reason, I expected the river to be bigger here, but to my surprise, even with the gage at 11.5 feet at the bridge, it looked a lot like Snowill (or Barr Street,) but with steeper carved banks, and the main channel must obviously be deeper. That said, even with the deeper water, from what we saw, the water was relatively unnavigable due to the sheer volume of downed trees in the channel. Maybe it gets better downstream, but if not, you would be doing some regular portaging to get around all that timber.

Also to our surprise, there is a series of trails near the river similar to Snowhill. I did not know that. We did some exploring upstream and found the confluence of the Little Econlockhatchee River and the Econlockhatchee River. The Little Econ had some serious current pushing out of it, however with all the trees in the water, it would be tough to fish. We did not explore downstream, but it may be worth doing some scouting off-season to determine whether there are any fishable spots accessible by foot, and whether the river clears up downriver. Note to self, see if you can track down any maps to see how far the trails go.

Sportpal canoe on the water

Fast forward to Saturday morning (03/05) and Ray and I returned to Hatbill. I had a family function and needed to be off the water early. After a successful trip further downstream the previous weekend, we thought that maybe there would be more fish around First and Second Junction and that we may not have to venture too much further than that. However, we did not see activity at First Junction so quickly made our way to Second Junction by way of the east channel.

With the SR 50 gage height at 2.5ft, the section of channel just upstream of Baxter Point was so shallow I had to pull the motor and paddle it. However, once we made it to Baxter Point it was navigable once again. We fished at Second Junction and Ray quickly landed a nice shad that was still clean and full of fight. I fished the switchrod and the little 5/6 Eagleclaw Featherlight. Somehow I broke the stripping guide on the little yellow rod which made things interesting. Its also proof that riverlife in the canoe is hard on gear. Those glass rods are built like tanks, the guides… not so much. I landed several species of panfish on the fly but did not connect with a shad there.

Ray with a Nice Shad at Second Junction

With limited fishing time, we decided to continue to push downstream and do a little recon, then circle back to where we caught fish the weekend prior. We made it to the spot approaching Nellie Dora Mound on the east channel with the hard bend and long run that I had eyed the previous weekend (we never made it that far because we found fish upstream.) There was good current, a nice eddy, and a ton of surface activity, but we did not find shad.

After spending the better part of an hour picking apart the run downstream and the pool, we made our way back upstream to the spot we caught shad the previous weekend, only to find the wind had picked up to 25-30mph. We both switched gears and began fishing the ultralights and quickly hooked up with shad again, even though they were not showing themselves up top.

I moved back to the switch rod and caught a couple more before swapping again to the little EagleClaw where I managed to pick up another, on the inside of the cut that fed into the slough, again VERY cool!

Author holding an American Shad

We could have caught plenty more, but with the wind, the satisfaction of finding shad once again, and the need to get off the water early, we enjoyed a lunch and a beer instead, and then made our way back to Second Junction.

We fished Second Junction thoroughly for the second time this day. Ray got brave and crossed the slough to the spit of land near the marker before a gator got a little too close for comfort. When it raised his head, then body, then tail out of the water… something alligators do to show their dominance, and assert that this was THEIR spot, he high tailed it back to where we landed.

I managed a very nice hybrid on the switch rod, but lost it on a jump before coming to hand. It was the largest I have ever hooked, and I clearly saw its football sized chunky body. It was that fish’s lucky day, because I would not have returned it to the water. They are fun to catch, but I feel we are doing a disservice to our native species by continually introducing them. The amount of large “Sunshine” Bass caught this year should make you question if our resources could be better utilized in other places (i.e. not on a sterile hybrid that devours everything it can fit their mouth around, in the name of “sport.”)

There are still fishermen pursuing shad in March… perhaps only two, Ray and me (but seriously, there are still a committed few beyond that.) We saw one bass boat, and one commercial Hoplo Catfish boat the entire day. We can attest, there are still plenty of fish in the system though. I still have another entry to write that confirms this fact. 😉

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