Awesome Hiking, Slow Shad Fishing

Shad Fishing on the Econ River

So today I decided to try something completely new and leave the kayaks at home and make a hike in to the Little Big Econ State Forest to a center section of the lower Econ River. It is about a two mile hike to a section labeled a prime shad spawning area which meant it would take a lot less time to reach by foot than by kayak. My brother joined me, and we set out with our waders, fly rods, and provisions on our backs. We started our hike at Brumley Rd around 9:00am and enjoyed an easy walk along a truck road for about 1.25 miles where we reached the white trail heading towards the river. This trail is a single track about .75 miles long and decently defined until you get to the river. Once you reach the river you have a choice to head up river on the white trail, or down river on the yellow trail. We spotted two very large alligators in the area, so we fished from shore a bit. Back casting in this area can be challenging due to high banks and foliage. We did not spot or find any shad, so we made the decision to travel further up river along the white trail. Be aware that if the water is on the high side, you would find a deep creek that you would need to traverse to get there if you follow the white blazes. Check out the video below to see how NOT to cross it! LOL!!! Most of this area is high banked and not ideal for fly fishing. You would be better served bringing conventional tackle to fish this area. However, once you near the area of the Yarborough shelter, things flatten out a bit and there are some nice sand banks on the inside turns.

We fished for a couple of hours in the upper stretch of the prime spawning area and did not see or land shad. We stopped for lunch around 1:00 and then made our way all they way up to the Yarborough shelter where we ran in to the only other people we saw all day. We fished the area with no luck and confirmed that the others did not land shad either. At about 2:00 we decided to hoof it back to the yellow trail which took about 45 minutes. We moved down about another 15-20 minutes to the next turn and quickly found shad washing… on the opposite bank. This area is high banked, but there are areas you could step down to fish. I was able to reach the shad with my switch rod making Skagit casts but as many accounts can confirm, when you see shad washing, they generally won’t take a fly.

There are definitely shad in the Econ River right now, but if you decide to hike out this week to find them, you may want to start looking for them on the yellow trail and then make your way back up river. Also, conventional tackle would be a good idea to help search for them as a lot of the area is just not conducive to fly fishing right now.

My brother and I really enjoyed the hiking aspect of this trip and would certainly do it again!

Note to self: You could definitely mountain bike the truck trail and most likely the initial portion of the white trail until you get to the river to save time. Once you get to the trails at the river, it is probably easier to just hike it.

Shad Fishing on the Econ River

map of kayak trip Shad Fishing the Econ River

I launched from CS Lee on Saturday and was greeted with 15mph NNW wind. I fished the creek mouths on the way down to the Econ using my switch rod paired with a 10ft T8 sink tip and hourglass weighted fly. The St Johns River is still outside its banks and the wind was not helping that one bit. Even with the sink tip and heavy fly, the swing was quick downstream and the high water made it difficult to reach the main channel in most places. I made my way up to a point that juts out in to the river on the east bank before reaching the Econ. With the banks submerged, I found myself wading in waste high water with no room for a backcast. This is really where the switch rod shines, as it allows me to make waterborn casts rather than false cast. Fishing the east bank with a NNW wind means my casts were off of my weak side, but I still managed 40-50 feet and then could throw some line in to the mends. Note to self, you really need to practice your off hand casting more. 🙂 I managed one nice shad in about 45 minutes of fishing. The cold water and wind finally got the better of me as I decided one shad an hour was not worth freezing my butt off over. Time for a change of scenery.

I have grown bored of fishing the same old spots for little action this year and decided to do some shad fishing on the Econ River instead. I started up the river at about 11:15am and found that, even though the St. Johns River was outside its banks, the Econ was well within its banks. I decided to paddle to the Culpepper Bend, as I know I can generally make it there in about 30 minutes using Hobie pedal power. I arrived around 11:45 and I fished both the Culpepper bend and the bend following for about 45 minutes and did not find fish. The current was minimal due to the wind and raised water on the St. Johns, so I fished with a 5ft polyleader on the one hander. I have caught shad on both of those turns before, but not today.

There is another turn close to a mile upstream of Culpepper where I have caught fish before so I decided to make my way up river again. When I arrived I found the current to be dismal and decided to continue upstream for a while to see what I could find, and then fish all of the turns on my way back down river. I paddled until 1:15 and pulled off for some lunch. That is the end of the red line on the map above. While another mile of paddling upstream would have put me in prime shad fishing territory, I knew it would likely take another 30 minutes to get there and then I would only have a short time to fish before having to turn around and make the journey home. I stopped and fished most of the turns with decent current on the way back down river with no luck. This is probably because I really did not spend more than 20 minutes or so at each stop, but, I figured they were either there in numbers and I would hook up, or it was as slow as it was back on the St. Johns and I would not.

This was the furthest up the Econlockhatchee River that I have ever ventured. I now know that I am quite capable of the long paddle to make it to the most fruitful water, but, I would say I would need to make shad fishing on the Econ River the plan, skip fishing on the St. Johns River, and head upstream earlier in the morning. My guess would be a 2.5-3 hour long paddle to make it, so an early start would make sense. Figure 3 hours upstream, 4-5 hours of fishing, and 2-2.5 hours back downstream and a total of about 11 miles. Its doable, but a long day for sure.

Note: I did talk to a couple of guys in a canoe that said they saw shad washing like crazy on the Econ about 2-3 miles upstream of Culpepper. Looking at the maps, I would say that would be right where the prime fishing typically is. On my way back down river I also talked to some folks that spent most of their day lower on the Econ than Culpepper and they said they managed six shad between the two of them all day. Slow fishing for sure.

High Water and Wind + Cold Temps= No Shad on the Fly

Weather Report for 02-07-16

I am not sure that I can really qualify this post as “on the water” as in fact, I never made it on the water at all. That said, it is still a Florida shad fishing report for the archives. My intention was to fish from CS Lee on Sunday February 7th, but mother nature had other ideas. Serious rain through the week kept the water levels high, which can change the game sometimes, but I don’t generally care as I throw a 10 foot T8 tip on the switch rod and go dredging. However, take high water and a NW wind at 17-20mph plus cold temperatures and you have the perfect recipe for a day of lounging at the house rather than shad fishing. As I get older (and debatably wiser,) I have lost some of my “Eddie would Go” spirit when it comes to fishing, and I have to say, I no longer worry about the fish I may have missed. I have learned through good old fashioned stubbornness that there are days better spent doing something other than fighting wind, freezing your butt off, and just plain getting frustrated. I still have my moments, but take in to account the wind direction was from the northwest and I knew the water would stack up, kill the current, and keep the water levels even higher. There has not been much relief in the water levels so far this week, but the wind has started to die off and I am jonesing to get on the water. Wind, temperature, or water be damned… I am going this weekend! Now there’s that “Eddie would Go” spirit I was talking about. 🙂

Florida Shad Fishing- Hatbill Skunk

map of kayak trip from Hatbill Park on 01-31-16

I decided to try something different today and launch from Hatbill Park in search of shad. There have been reports of fish being caught up by SR 50 and everywhere in between already, so I decided to break the monotony of fishing the same areas near CS Lee, particularly since it is busier each day. Hatbill Park is a bit off of the beaten path and requires a 5 mile journey down a worn out dirt road to get to. The concrete boat launch is VERY steep as well, so this matched with the long dirt road keeps the power boat traffic to a minimum. Air boats, well that was another story and if you are a kayaker like I am, you want to be real aware that the airboats are not very accustomed to seeing you out there, especially on the inside of a turn. Some of the area is very narrow and the grass very high, so you need to be aware that an airboat may not see you until its just about too late. Take the outside of turns to be safe, and a flag would be even better.

My intention when I set out was to bring my copy of Luc Desjarlais’ book Wade Fly Fishing The Upper St. Johns River Basin (Florida) for American Shad as a guide, as I have not spent as much time on this area of the river as I have others. Luc quite literally circles the fishy areas of the map, so it is an amazing resource to the fly fisherman in pursuit of shad. Of course in my haste, I left the book at home and had to depend on a mixture of dead reckoning and google maps to find areas to fish. The water on the river in this area was up nearly a foot from the rains we had during the week, and a lot of the area was under water. The water flow was whipping and I managed to find a few areas where I was comfortable wading, and a few more that were underwater, but I knew would be dry once the water receded. Upon inspecting my route on google earth and comparing it to places Luc recommends in his book, I was surprised to see that I naturally chose quite a few of the same areas in the book. My natural inclination was to seek the current of the main channel, narrow or deep turns, and areas where the channel splits and reconvenes causing increases or turbulence in flow.

I made it to Junction One detailed in Lucs book and spent a fair amount of time swinging flies there without much luck. I also made it to the area detailed near Ruth’s Lake and did not hook up there either. I fished several areas in between and got nothing but a skunk. I would imagine that there are indeed shad in this area of the river already, but the high water probably allowed them to disperse rather than concentrate in the main area of the channel.

A couple of other things to consider if you are thinking about venturing out to Hatbill this week. First, the high water and flow has pushed TONS of water hyacinth in to free flow on the river. Of course the small amount of wind helped push it all to one side of the river today, the one that had shallow or dry areas free of high grass or in other words, the side that I was standing on. 🙂 This quite frankly was not very fun to fish. Second, there are a lot of alligators in the area… BIG ONES! There were several areas that I wanted to wade where I was greeted by toothy friends. Being alone, I decided to play it safe and yield. The water temps are still low, but the air temperature has increased making the gators much more active. There were two areas of the river where I was wading and heard alligators bellow. If you have never heard this in the wild, let me tell you… it is disconcerting to say the least to hear an alligator but not be able to see it. I got my butt back in my boat like a flash and went on my merry way.

Although the fishing was slow, I enjoyed exploring different places along the river to try next time. The Hatbill area is a nice change of scenery and I look forward to fishing there again soon. That said, I will wait for the water to recede and leave me some dry areas to fish from, and would prefer to fish the area with temperatures in the 50’s rather than the mid to high 70’s.

Water levels of around 2.5-3.0 feet are considered optimal if kayaking and wading. As you can see, the water level was much higher leaving a lot of the area under water.

USGS Water gage

Florida Shad Fishing- Chilly, but Starting to Heat Up

Shad caught on a fly in Florida

I braved the chilly weather today and I am glad that I did, I ended up landing eight shad and missed seven more. The temperature barely broke the mid 50s and there was not a cloud in the sky. The cold kept most people off of the water so I felt like I had the whole river to myself. Only a handful of others were as nutty as me and ventured out. The wind was light so I fished with my 5wt single hand fly rod a lot. Water clarity was incredible I could see down to my knees while wading waste high and the discharge was significant enough to warrant the use of a polyleader and 5/32 hourglass weighted flies.

Most of the morning I fished a pink and white Kip Tailed Clouser or an orange and white Shad Dart. Later in the day, I found no love from the shad for those offering so I switched tactics. I fished a tandem in the early afternoon with a 5/32 pink and white Shad Dart about a foot in front of a bead chain orange and white Shad Intruder. I caught shad on both the front and rear flies (not at the same time) and the fish seemed to have no real preference for one over the other. Later in the afternoon as what little wind we had completely died down, I used a Soft Hackle Shad Fly as the sun was still bright and I was fishing pretty shallow water. Doing so saved my afternoon.

I caught most of my fish between the 46 bridge and the mouth of the Econ. Most of the fish were caught near shore while hanging the fly straight down stream. My guess is that the shad were seaking the warmer shallow water as the sun came out. Later in the afternoon I tried the mouth of the Econ and I had absolutely no luck, but saw a couple tearing it up with spinning gear and roadrunners. They were anchored in the channel so the fish must have left the shallows for deeper current. I eventually gave up trying to reach and went back downstream and found fish again.

I have to say, I caught some absolutely gorgeous looking fish today. They had incredible color and contrast and I even caught a couple with well defined spots, which is rare down here. There is no doubt that the early fish are the most beautiful. While the weather was chilly, the action is definitely starting to heat up!

Here is some video of me fishing earlier in the day. I tried out something I learned from Luc Desjarlais’ presentation a couple of weeks ago. I generally retrieve with a figure-of-eight retrieve, but Luc recommended making large aggressive strips when retrieving the fly from the hang straight downstream. I gave it a shot and almost right on queue, I had a strike! If the slow retrieve is not catching fish, don’t be afraid to mix it up.