Last Sunday Ray and I made another trip upstream of 528 in search of shad, and what a difference a week makes… at least from a navigation perspective. With the SR50 gage at 5.9ft, you could more easily see the channels, and with plenty of water still in the river, I decided to try the channels I have marked as alternates (i.e. not the main channel) to see if we could shave some time off of the trip. The gamble paid off and we shaved about 20 minutes off the trip in both directions. Time will tell at what gage height these alternates will become too shallow to use, but at this water level they were no problem at all.
Our plan this week was better defined than the previous week, with clear targets and tactics. The first goal was to motor all the way to Pipeline Mound, paying special attention to any surface activity that may be shad. If we did not find activity, we would work our way back downstream. For a second week in a row, we found absolutely no signs of fish on the surface. This meant another round of blind casting for fish.
With fish in the system, but not readily showing their position, our second goal was not to give in to what I call “motor madness.” Unlike using kayaks as the conveyance, where your range is limited and you tend to naturally spend more time in a given location, having an outboard on the boat allows you an easy out when the fishing is “slow.” There is a tendency to not really fish areas as thoroughly and methodically as you would have had you made a paddle, and there is that ever-present Siren’s call of the next bend, or next mile upriver. We pre-selected multiple spots prior to the trip, most upstream of 528, and one downstream.
The first location was near Pipeline Mound. With water levels still relatively high, the spot we chose was still shin to thigh-high to wade, and there were plenty of alligators on banks everywhere around us. We found a nice pool with good current coming in and out of it and proceeded to fish it five steps at a time with conventional gear as well as switch rods. We did find panfish but did not find shad.
We continued downstream to a section of river marked “possible habitat” by the St. Johns River Water Management District where we had selected two spots to stop. In both places we found long runs with optimal current, crunchy clean bottom and nice pools with depth. Ray and I fished both of these spots thoroughly, 5 steps at a time, working in opposite directions for close to 100 yards, with both conventional and switch rods for the better part of 1-2 hours a piece. Again, we found panfish but no shad. As we enjoyed a lunch break, we both remarked that we could not believe we did not find fish in these two runs. The conditions were absolutely perfect.
We continued downstream near Possum Bluff, and again found good current, deep cut banks and firm bottom with no shad. The pool at Possum Bluff is busy on weekends, and with half a dozen airboats, a couple of small craft, and a large center console parked on the beach, we opted not to fish the pool there.
With the sun getting lower in the sky, we made our way downstream and stopped at our one choice north of 528 for the day, a gorgeous pool that we have fished one-time prior last year. While we were there, that center console we saw at Possum Bluff came flying around the sharp turn at full speed, and damned near ran aground on the outside of the turn, throwing a solid wave 2-3 feet high ashore, terrifying an alligator that was sunning itself there. SMH! He was followed by the rest of the crew shortly after. We opted to stay on shore until AFTER they came back the other direction, working the depth of the pool and tail of the pool thoroughly. Again, we did not find shad.
Frankly, we were both really surprised we did not find fish. We know there are shad around, maybe not in huge numbers yet, but others have found them. We tried to “think like the fish,” only spending time in what could only be described as “perfect” spawning habitat. We fished the spots we stopped at hard, throwing everything in our bag of tricks at them with no luck. At the end of the day, early in the season, some of it just comes down to being in the right place, AND being there at the right time. A little luck doesn’t hurt either.
As the river continues to drop into its banks and more fish make their way upstream, those odds WILL get better! Now, where to next?