Last Friday I decided to hike the Econlockhatchee River from Snowhill Road after work, as I had plans on Saturday afternoon that would keep me off the water. With the gage around 2.4ft, water levels were not quite optimal for sight fishing, but I hoped I may find some fish holding in troughs and deeper pools on the bends. I took a look at the bridge when I arrived but did not see a school of fish there. A work truck had parked downstream of the bridge and was having their lunch by the river, so I did not fish the deeper bend there, instead I began working my way up stream.
Turn by turn, and occasionally on the runs, I would find a perch to pop out from behind the brush or trees to scout for any signs of fish, either cruising or holding. I did not spot any fish, and never wet a line until I got to the Double Gator pool. Here I found the big alligator I have come to recognize, and it never moved from its position near shore, even when I accidentally snagged it with the spinning rod! I know, right?!? Surprising! Yes, I used a spinning rod, I can pattern a pool more efficiently when I am bling casting. Furthermore, for those not in the know, the Econ does not offer a lot of room for false casting in this section of river, and while I also had my little glass flyrod, I can cover more water with the… oh, that is probably not what you were surprised by, huh?
Yes, I hooked an alligator! There was some activity directly in front of it that I was targeting, and I got a little overzealous in my casting. I tightened the drag all the way down and yanked and pulled, clearly rocking the alligator back and forth like an old log in the river, and it never budged. I was thankful it never made a run on me, and I finally managed to bend the hook and retrieve my tungsten jig. Those things are expensive, and I lose my fair share every time I fish here!
The alligator was just fine. The plates on a gator’s back are so strong, supposedly a 9mm bullet will bounce right off of it, so a little 1/32 jig did not even cause an itch. I continued fishing the pool for another half hour with the spinning and fly rod and never got a bite. I struggled with the amount of white “fluff” being blown in by the wind. Not sure what tree does that (Sycamore maybe,) but it was everywhere and wrapped around the line and fowled the hook.
I continued working upstream, checking regularly for fish until I got to the Willow Pool. We might need to flip-flop the names of these pools, as Willow actually had two large alligators in it, and Double Gator now has a willow that fell into the creek feeding it a couple of year ago. At any rate, I did not fish there, as there is no longer any current in it. High water a few years ago moved the sand around, and there is no longer any depth to hold fish either.
I decided to scout all the way to the foot bridge and did not see any shad. I did find a surprising amount of erosion and downed trees. It will be interesting to see how this effects the currents, runs, sandbars, and troughs in coming years. Some of my normal spots that hold fish have not produced in a few years. Maybe some new ones will materialize.
On the way back down river from the foot bridge, I noticed an alligator sitting on the bank on a run upstream of the Willow Pool, a strange spot for it, as they generally hang near deeper water. There was a nice sandbar, a trough, and some cover there, so I thought maybe the gator knew something I didn’t. I ran him off, wading in about knee deep and fished the area working downstream towards Willow with the fly rod and ultralight. While I did not find shad, I did catch about a dozen redbreasts and a nice bass. This is a productive way to fish the Econ but keep your head on a swivel. Also, as I have mentioned before, beware of quicksand! Those sandbars are not always what they seem.
I returned to Double Gator pool later in the day, found the wind had died down, and the white fluff had cleared from the surface of the water. My old friend was now fully perched on the sand, so I got to work. Again, I did not find shad, but this time I picked up a nice crappie. All in all, it was a productive day of fishing on the Econ.
Even with the water a little higher than average for this time a year (here,) I figured with the warmer than average temperatures, either the fish had begun falling back, or were holding deep in the pools, just outside of my reach. I was really focused on sight fishing for them on this trip and did not spend any real time dredging for them. They may be there, but I did not see shad holding or moving, nor did I see any surface activity at all.
I am not sure which of my hypotheses was correct but can confirm that Zain Khalid did catch at least one shad the same day near the bridge, so there may still be an opportunity to sight fish for them yet. For what it’s worth, sight fishing in this area is generally better under 2ft on the gage, and the Econ has been “high” relative to the St. Johns for several weeks, so it may be worth another trip. Now we just need the temps to cool back down. A freshet wouldn’t hurt either.