I am running behind in blogging. There is just so much going on in my personal life right now… frankly TOO much! Have you ever felt like you saw the light at the end of the tunnel? Only to find out that it’s a train?!? I think most of us have. Add to that high water and slow fishing and my energy has just been too low to sit down and wax on poetically about shad fishing. Nothing crazy, just the normal life stuff, but in a condensed manner.
The last part of 2023 served up some curve balls to my family. A daughter who broke her arm on the first day of school, a sweeping attack of the flu in which no one was spared, car problem, after car problem, after car problem, a water leak that did significant damage to our home, and finally, a Christmas time visit by Covid Clause.
The new year started with Florida insurance company insanity (which thankfully we were able to navigate,) a big construction project to fix the above water leak, and a smack across the face by my employer of 10+ years (most of which has been remote,) that I either uproot my family and move out of Florida to be in an office 3 days a week, or find a new job. I probably need to crack open the Old Testament in my Bible to re-read the Book of Job, but I do know that I have a lot to be thankful for, even during the tough times. Fishing is one of those things, and while this year has been challenging both on and off the water so far, just getting out on the water does wonders for my mental health.
Two Saturdays ago, I ran solo out of C.S. Lee to do some fishing and snipe hunting. With water levels still above 5ft on the Lake Harney gage, I knew fishing the St. Johns was going to be tough. Instead, I ran up the Econ to see if I could find fish. The Econ was also high at 4.8ft at the Snowhill bridge which meant the water was all the way up to the tree line at the Wives Pool. I worked the entire area diligently with the switch rod and spinning rod and did not find fish. I also fished the Lilly Pool without success. I did find a nice lunch spot at the high bluff camp, which now has a picnic table, fire ring, and someone left what looked to be a double burner set and smoker/ grill.
After lunch I stopped at the Kilbee Tract to look for snipe. The birds were spooky and I only flushed two. They were both around 40-50 feet away and I did not attempt to shoot them. I am still training the eyes to properly identify snipe over dowitchers and all the other little birds in the same habitat. Better to be safe than to shoot the wrong species. Those two were definitely snipe, it just took me too long to confirm it in my own brain. I need more experience, and likely more mentorship from those more skilled in the craft.
Fast forward to last Saturday where Ray and I decided to brave the high water south of SR50. The water has basically remained north of 6.8ft for a month, likely due to the prevalent north wind, and I suspect because they increased discharges somewhere upstream. We launched out of Tosohatchee, and while they have laid gravel on the road in areas, it is still a mess. Powerline Road remains closed (indefinitely.) The longer alternate route (~30min regularly) takes even more time right now. There are five or six water crossings required to get down to the river, several of which were almost up to my running boards on the Jeep. That was before the rain this week. I would not recommend it without a 4WD. Even then a winch or a come-along and some heavy straps would probably not be a bad idea. Especially if we get more rain.
We ran down to 7 Palms where the water was well up over the cutbank, about shin to knee deep all the way to the high grass. Was it fishable? Realistically, no not really. Yes, we could fish the side channel that leads to Paw Paw mound, but the reality is, for the rest of the main run, your fly would be nowhere near the channel when casting from the submerged shoreline. I managed to catch a red breast, but that was about it there.
We did some running just to put eyes on our normal spots. Were they fishable? Again, certain areas were, but the main channel was just not reachable from shore. Is it possible you might find fish outside of the main channel? I suppose, but with the water this high, the trick is finding them. There is so much current everywhere it is really difficult to spot the “sweet water,” and unless they are active up top, they could quite literally be anywhere. Speaking of surface activity, with the bait still well up on the floodplain, there is no surface activity to speak of, unless you happen to catch them washing.
I did manage to hook (and lose) one very nice, fat shad on the switch rod late in the day. I was dredging with 10ft of T-11 and a 5/32 hourglass eyed fly. Where there is one, there are usually many, but I never figured it out. I worked this particular run methodically. Short cast, medium cast, bomb cast, then 5-10 steps, rinse and repeat, and had no takers.
While it continues to be painfully slow, it felt good to be back IN the water. There is just something therapeutic about wet wading in February… mud on your feet, wetting a line, the rhythmic meditation of countless hours of spey casting. It has a way of clearing everything else out of the mind, even if just for a while. I need that right now.