It has been surprisingly cold (well…cool) in SE Louisiana the past few weeks, and I’ve found myself relegated to the indoors more often than out in recent days. It has allowed plenty of time for tying and trip planning, but time for reflection as well.
Looking back at 2020, I’m thankful for many things in a year that has been difficult for so many. I have my health. I have my livelihood. And most importantly, from the perspective of this blog, I have astounding number of fond fly fishing memories. Some of these memories have been shared previously, others are new to the blog, but here are my Top 10 Fly Fishing Moments/Memories from an eventful 2020!
#10 – Crappie on the Fly & the Start of my Journey
This blog was born out of the spring lockdown, but a single black crappie caught spin fishing for bass truly deserves credit for planting the seed. For whatever reason, this spin fishing experience left me thinking about fly fishing and, more specifically, about all of the species I had yet to catch on a fly rod.
Setting my sights on the black crappie to start, I began tying a variety of Fluff Butt style flies with plans of testing them on a local river. Though it took until my last cast of the day, I finally landed my elusive quarry no more than 100 yards from where I had launched my kayak.
Along with four other species landed on the same pattern, I quickly began compiling what would become my 2020 Species List.
#9 – My backyard Test Pond
When I bought my current home in mid-2018, I was excited by the prospect of fishing in my back yard. With the rear fence abutting the community “Lake,” I would never be more than 50 feet from fishable water. When I later learned that it contained largemouth to 10 lbs (if neighbors are to be believed), black crappie, bluegill and bullhead, I could hardly contain myself.
I fished the pond regularly during my first 18 months in the home, landing countless bass (to 5 lbs), bluegill and the occasional crappie.
The pond took on new meaning this spring as I ramped up my warmwater tying. It was now my test pond, allowing for real world application only seconds removed from the vise. Not only could I see how a pattern swam (as in a test tank), but I could observe sink rate, test castability, and, most importantly, it allowed the fish to weigh in on my creations. And more often than not, the fish did.
The results of this instant feedback have made me a better tyer and allowed me to tweak a number of patterns long before they ever saw public waters. Given my neighbors may wonder about bearded man flailing a long rod around in the back yard on his lunch breaks, but no one has complained thus far.
#8 – We’re going to need a bigger boat
Every once in a while nature reminds us that we’re not the only predator left in the world.
A midsummer visit to Grand Isle gave me such a reminder as my kayak suddenly rocked as I rerigged my line.
I had spent the morning catching speckled trout on an EP Shrimp fly. Deciding to keep a particularly nice 17″ fish for dinner, I had placed it on a stringer tied to the handle of my kayak.
With salinity high from recent storm surge this proved to be a mistake.
I had long heard sharks could be an issue after tropical storms, but was complacent as I had never had a run in myself.
I have now and will be sure to use a cooler in the future.
#7 – Wade fishing Pushepatapa Creek
Pushepatapa Creek is one of those places that had long been in the back of my mind, but it took the limitations of COVID for me to make the trip.
Roughly two hours drive from my home in Sorrento, it is a unique water by Louisiana standards with its crystal clear flows over a sandy/rocky bottom. Local fly fishermen love it, especially midsummer when wading the cool waters provides a start contrast to other local fishing opportunities.
Making the trek early in August, the stream was all others had made it out to be. A clear, cool oasis more reminiscent of waters in Appalachia than Louisiana.
The fishing, however, left much to be desired. That is until I tied on a Half-drowned Hopper. I was three hours into a skunk when I finally tied on the small, black cricket imitation. Casting into a deep, tree shaded eddy along the opposite bank, my luck instantly changed as a bluegill rose and smashed the fly. The most stunning Longear Sunfish I’ve landed followed two casts later.
And finally, the most unexpected catch of the day as a large, dark shape emerged below the size 14 fly and delicately sipped. The battle that followed made the day as the fish leapt repeatedly, testing my 5x tippet as it turned downstream in the current. Though the jumps should have given it away, I was still surprised when eventually I landed a 16″ Largemouth. The clear, cool flows after all are far better suited for spotted bass.
#6 – Chasing Golden Bones: My First Carp on the Fly
In early December, I decided it was time to try and check off one last bucket list species before year’s end. While common carp had long intrigued me, they always seemed to take a back seat to other species. Determined to change this, I turned to google for advise.
Tying a mix of the most frequently recommended patterns, I rigged my 7-wt and headed for the LSU Lakes. Far from a fishing Mecca, I knew the lakes were home to both Common and Grass Carp. Whether or not they’d bite, only time would tell.
Timing my first attempt perfectly, I was greeted by sunny skies, no wind and carp actively feeding within casting distance.
This by no means guaranteed I would catch a fish, but with shots at nearly 30 feeding fish over the course of the trip, I am thankful to have landed not one, but two carp on that day. That feeling of appreciation has grown since as two additional trips resulted in zero fish. These fish are clearly smart, and, I swear, the ones I’ve caught remember.
#5 – Redfish in a Barrel
I closed out my year completing what has become an annual pilgrimage. Venturing to the marsh near Grand Isle, I combat launched into water so low I could barely traverse it. My intended destination was a pair of small deep holes perhaps a quarter mile from my launch. I’ve ventured to this spot, under these conditions every winter since a friend and I stumbled across the hole in 2010.
With water so low that the summer ponds have become mud flats, the reds congregate in these deep holes. The result, something reminiscent of fish in a barrel.
Rigged in tandem with an EP Shrimp trailing a Purple & Chartreuse Redfish Ritalin, I methodically worked the holes. And while the bite started slow (and small), the larger slot reds eventually turned on as 30 fish came to hand over the course of three hours.
#4 – Chasing Blue Lines
I had long been acquainted with the idea of “chasing blue lines” as it applied to small stream trout fishing, but it took the year that was 2020 for me to apply it to my life and fishing in Louisiana.
Limited to local waters, I found myself taking to google earth and my gazetteer in search of little blue lines worthy of exploration.
While many proved no more than a trickle, a few were true gems. Some were wide and crystal clear. Others dark water shaded by trees. All contained an abundance of bass, panfish and shiner species eager to take a fly.
And perhaps more important than the fish, the process prodded me to expand my boundaries and see more of the state I call home than I have otherwise in the past decade. Post-COVID, I’ll continue to visit a number of these sites, and, with a bit of work, add a few more to the rotation.
#3 – Creating & Field Testing the Half-drowned Hopper
The closest I’ve come to a “fish-worthy” original creation during my years on the vise is my Half-drowned Hopper pattern. Inspired by the Moodah Poodah‘s use of a Klinkhammer-style emerger hook, my aim was to create a pattern that rode lower in the surface film in hopes of imitating a dying grasshopper on the verge of succumbing to the current. The result of my effort, though unassuming in profile, seemed as if it might provide just the silhouette I was looking for on the water.
Hoping to field test my creation beyond the banks of my Test Pond, I rose early on the morning of June 2nd and headed for a clear, sandy stretch of bayou an hour to the north. Armed with only my new creation, I proceeded to work every small pocket the stream offered.
My reward, once I settled on a #14 black version, was not simply confirmation that the pattern would work, but a string of 20+ fish spanning five species.
While the pattern has since produced more impressive fish (see #7) and even drawn a few strikes from trout, that first morning on a new stream with a new creation will always rank high on my list.
#2 – The Smoky Mountains
While #2 admittedly feels a bit off message in a list that otherwise emphasizes a renewed appreciation for fishing opportunities close to home, there’s simply no way a trip to the Smokys could ever be omitted from my Top 10 list. In a year where we all needed to escape, it provided just that.
It is a special place. One that rewards even when the fish aren’t biting. Sharing it with my wife and parents in a year like 2020 simply made it all the more special. Even disrupted by a Hurricane crashing into the coast, there’s no taking away from the experience. My father’s first trout on a fly rod. Beer on the back porch above clear, flowing water. And a picture that captured the experience in a way words cannot.
#1 – My wife’s Adventures in Fly Fishing
Let’s face it. For those who have followed my blog, the top spot was likely obvious from the beginning. For all the amazing (and uniquely 2020) fly fishing moments I have experienced in 2020, the events of August 8th and 9th were clearly the most unexpected.
Five-plus years into our time together, my wife had only once picked up a fly rod. It was on a guided trip to the Smokys in early 2016, and not once had she expressed interest in repeating the process. So, it should come as no surprise that I was a little shocked when she took up my offer to join me on the water that weekend in early August.
Altering my plans slightly to accommodate the unexpected company, I tied up a new back of Half-drowned Hoppers and headed for a favorite stream early the following morning. More guide than fisherman, I found myself astonished at how quickly she picked up casting and eventually was mitigated to standing back and helping her pick her spots. She took care of the rest.
By morning’s end, she was accurately placing casts to 40 feet and had landed half dozen fish with little assistance.
More surprising still, she left the experience enthralled with it. Going so far as to ask if she could have her own rod. A request I quickly fulfilled.
With that I’ll call it a wrap and wish you all a happy, healthy and fish filled 2021! Thank you all for sharing in my adventure this past year!