My adventures fly fishing the Cumberland River and other streams in Kentucky and elsewhere.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

This is how Chimney Top Creek in Red River Gorge looked on 1/3/2006.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

November 6, 2005

Went to the Cumberland yesterday. First time I’ve been down there in what seems like a couple months. The forecast called for warm and sunny, only a slight chance of showers—pretty good for the first week in November, by which time here in Kentucky it’s usually overcast and around 40 degrees.

The water level in the river has been low for months, as we’ve had little rain. I believe the figure for this entire past week was 3.9 cfs. It can get even lower than that but that’s plenty low enough for wading.

I was interested in seeing if switching to 6X leader and tippet would improve my luck with small nymphs. It seems lots of other anglers have been having success with tiny nymphs and midge pupae imitations but I haven’t, and I wondered if the 5x line I’ve been using has been spooking the fish. So yesterday I put a brand new 6X leader on. For the first few hours I used a strike indicator, a size 16 copper john and a size 18 WD 40 trailing off the back of it. Results were mixed. Fish would slash at my flies but I wasn’t catching any. The slash came mostly at the end of the drift, as the flies were hanging up near the surface directly downstream of where I was standing, just before I picked the line off the water to cast again. When I finally did bring a couple fish to hand, I found that I had foul-hooked them, one in the tail, the other above the gill plate. Apparently, these fish had chased on of the nymphs, only to have been snared by the other. This happened earlier this year when I was fishing with two flies. I have to say, fishing with two flies can be annoying. I thought I was casting pretty smoothly yesterday but twice the “point” fly (the WD 40 tied to the hook bend of the copper john) got tangled with the one above it. The third time it happened, I just gave up and cut off both flies. At that point I discovered even my strike indicator had gotten knotted up in the leader.

I switched over to my sink-tip line and a wooly booger. By then I was wading down along a gravel bar where the current is pretty swift. I had a solid strike and soon was releasing my first fair-hooked fish of the day. I’ve been fishing this particular bar all year and I almost always catch one—and only one—fish there. After I’d worked it over pretty thoroughly I paddled back upstream to the long rocky run where I’d started the day. I had a couple more strikes on the streamer. I thought the size 8 hook might be too big for the 10-inch rainbows that were attacking it, so I switched to a stonefly nymph, which I believe was a size 10. I fished it like a streamer, cross current and then with a jigging, stripping retrieve as it swung down below me. I’m sure a real stonefly nymph doesn’t behave that way, and there were certainly no stoneflies on the water at all yesterday. In fact, I hardly saw a flying bug all day long. Nevertheless, I brought three more fish to hand and lost a fourth when I horsed it too vigorously upstream against the strong current I was standing in. I did have one spectacular strike, when a fish smashed the fly on the swing. The fish immediately forced my drag to release line in a hurry—something that rarely happens with the trout I typically catch in this area. I just let the fish pull out all it wanted. A moment later it leaped a couple feet in the air. I could see that the fish was no bigger than the ones I had been catching earlier. But this one seemed to have a bit of steelhead in it. It broke free a second or two later. If I hadn’t seen the fish, I’d have thought it twice its actual size. I had numerous strikes throughout the afternoon on the stone fly, although some probably were just drifting leaves momentarily snared by the hook. Still, for November I thought it had been a pretty good day. Chances are, this warm weather won’t hold till next weekend. But if it does, I’ll be back on the river again. Meanwhile, I need to tie up more wooly boogers, maybe in a smaller size, and stock up on stone fly nymphs.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Oct. 2, 2005

The time seemed right for a trip to the Kentucky River yesterday. We had a bit of rain earlier in the week and then the temperature dropped down into the forties on Thursday night. Since it was a Saturday I didn’t want to hit the upper Dix, where I figured I’d have too much company. And I wasn’t in the mood for the long drive to Burkesville. It would have meant leaving my dogs locked up in the house for twelve hours, since my wife was out of town; and I hadn’t done particularly well there last weekend anyway. It just didn’t make sense to spend thirty bucks on gas getting there and back.

There was only one other vehicle in the lot at the boat ramp I use just upstream from the High Bridge lock and dam. As the day went on, I only saw two other motorboats, plus a canoe on the river. I might have had the Dix to myself. Then again, there may have been guys camping overnight who would have arrived on Friday, as happened last week.

As I started paddling upstream from the boat ramp the water was dimpled everywhere, as if it were drizzling. But the sun was shining and the dimples came from dozens of schools of shad swimming near the surface. I also glided past scores of carp, some in schools, some alone. I had come prepared with my fly rod rigged with a small dry fly to toss in among them. I managed to do so without spooking them. But that dry fly might as well have been in a parallel universe, for all the attention the carp paid it.

I continued on to my first stopping point—one of the fallen trees just before the mouth of the Dix. This is where I had an hour of tremendous action on a rubber worm about six weeks ago. I guess it’s going to take me a long time to forget that spot and what I caught there. I’ve been back four or five times already since then and haven’t caught a thing. As on that day in August, I tried the Senko worm. Nothing. Then I tried a spinner bait and a buzz bait, both of which I had bought the day before for today's trip. Still nothing. I went around the bend and up the Dix River a little ways, casting toward the fallen timber.

I still had the skunk in the boat a couple hours later, when I changed to a black curly tailed grub on a small jig head—the same lure I had caught a bunch of small crappie on at a lake in northern Kentucky back around Memorial Day. Now I had a fish on the first cast—a six inch largemouth. Another cast, another hit. A third cast and another six-incher. It’s funny how quickly fish let you know when you finally put something on the table they want to eat. I had the feeling that the black grub was about the size and maybe had similar color and action to the shad that were in such abundance on the river yesterday.

I worked both sides of the Dix and before long had a better fish—around twelve inches, quite fat and healthy. Throughout the day I had a few more fish in the 9-10 inch range. Nothing braggable. The day I was having on the Kentucky brought to mind days I used to have, 10-15 years ago, wading for smallmouth on the Hanging Fork of the Dix River—nothing very big, but lots of action on small bass and bluegill. I caught a couple of those yesterday, along with a white bass, not far from where the Dixie Bell was tied up.

The action continued off and on for the next several hours. I reverted to the worm for a little while, just to see if I could entice something a little bigger to strike. Nope. So back to what was working.

After a while I started to run out of black grubs. Those small fish had been attacking them so steadily that the plastic part that slides up near the hook eye had gotten chewed up and those fake grubs wouldn’t stay properly on the jig head. Also, I was back on the main river and had hit a bit of a lull. So just for the heck of it, I switched to a bright yellow grub that I’ve used for smallmouth on the Elkhorn.

The action started right back up again. Apparently, the color didn’t matter a bit, just the size and the action. I'd say they liked the bright color even better.

I caught fish pretty much all the way back to the boat ramp. I’d only been out of the canoe for thirty minutes total over the course of the day, and all that time spent sitting on my backside had taken its toll. I got out of the water a little after four o’clock.

I would gladly have given up every half dozen six-inchers for one fish twice that size. But that’s not the way fishing works. Those little ones were what was on offer yesterday. If I’d stuck with larger baits for larger fish, I probably wouldn’t have caught much of anything.

I didn’t have a stream thermometer with me yesterday but I estimate the water temperature in the mid 60’s. A fishing guide in today’s Lexington paper is saying the big fish won’t come up to hit those shad at Lake Cumberland until the water temperature reaches the 50’s. That may be the case on the Kentucky River as well. That should happen over the next few weeks, although I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back there again. I will probably stay home next weekend and prepare for my annual salmon trip to Michigan that starts Oct. 10.

Monday, September 12, 2005

September 11, 2005

Went down to the Cumberland yesterday near Burkesville. Hadn’t been in several weeks. The last time I was there, fishing (catching, that is) was a bit slow. I knew conditions were going to be similar yesterday, in terms of weather and river flow, so I was prepared not to do very well again. But it was about a year to the day since I’d been in that spot with my friend Michael, and we’d brought home a few fish then, so I thought maybe I’d have a similar kind of day.

The river flow was 6.8 thousand cubic feet per second. That is, that’s what it had been on Friday, and what you get at Burkesville a day later. From past experience I know it’s tough to paddle upstream to Bear Creek with that amount of water coming down from the dam. So my plan was to fish around Traces—below the boat ramp, across the river along the rocky beach, and downstream a little ways at the gravel shoal.

My old reliable spot just below the ramp has been a disappointment all year. Usually I can count on picking up two or three trout there, no matter what else happens in other spots. That hasn’t been happening this year. I’m not sure why. As far as I know, the state still dumps trout in right at the ramp. I don’t know why, but those trout aren’t staying in the area just below the ramp. Yesterday I had one hit on a wooly booger in an hour of casting. When I struck back, a small chub came spinning back over the surface of the river toward me.

The river hadn’t dropped by around twelve thirty in the afternoon, which meant that I couldn’t wade below the long deadfall that’s been in the river for years a few dozen yards below the boat ramp. I’ll usually make a second wade down along the beach if I’ve had some luck on the first wade. Since I hadn’t had any, I hopped in my canoe and paddled across the river to the rocky beach across from the boat ramp.

I stayed with the streamer on that side of the river and hooked three rainbows, all of which came unbuttoned before I could bring them to hand. Wading on that side was also tough. The water was a bit shallower but the flow was so strong that it was tough to hold my footing when it got above my knees. By around two o’clock, the rocky wall below the beach was still mostly submerged. I knew the river would have to drop eventually—no water was coming through the dam when I had driven across it at 10 a.m. But it might not be until late in the afternoon before that happened.

I got back in the canoe and floated down toward the gravel shoal. As I drifted I cast the streamer over the submerged rock wall and in the turbulent water just below it. When I got down to the shoal a few fish were swirling on sub-surface nymphs, so I cut off the wooly booger and tied on a double nymph combination below a strike indicator-- a copper john with a tiny midge pupae trailing behind it. I landed two or three trout by drifting these flies close to the drop-off just beyond the shoal and over the little rocky riffle just below it. One of these trout was foul hooked in the tail by the midge pupae—apparently it had gone after the copper john and been snared instead by the smaller fly as it turned away. This same thing had happened earlier in the summer at this spot.

Each time I caught a trout here the others would become spooked for twenty minutes or so afterward. At the end of the shoal the roiled water gave way to a long run of circling current. I was intrigued by this and wanted to try drifting my double nymph combination through it, even though it would mean I’d be that much further downstream. It would mean paddling back upstream against current but I thought I could handle it.

I fished that deeper water for about ten minutes or so. There were probably fish there but my flies weren’t getting down to them. Time was getting short, so I paddled back up along the shoal toward the rocky beach across from the boat dock, where I’d fished earlier. The river had finally begun to drop and I wanted to see if I could wade more extensively in this area than I’d been able to earlier. This time I was able to push out into the current about ten feet further than at midday.

I’d only made a cast or two with the double nymph rig when I saw trout swirling out toward the middle of the river. In the Traces area I’ve noticed that this tends to happen later in the day. I’m not sure if it’s the diminishing of the light that causes mayflies to hatch, or the shallower water. Probably a little bit of both. Then I spotted some large white mayflies floating on the surface. I watched one struggling to get free of the surface film. A trout came up and snatched it before it could take flight. A light went off in my head--I knew what I had to do: I changed my nymphs for a size 14 Royal Wulff dry fly. Its wings were white and appeared to be about the same size as the mayflies I’d been seeing.

The trout chasing these mayflies were a bit further out in the river, so I carefully waded another ten feet toward them. I got a good drift on my first cast and a trout with a brilliant red stripe along its side porpoised to the surface and gulped it down. This was the defining moment of the day. For me, the best part was observing the trout rising to the mayflies, being able to match the hatch, and then presenting the fly so that the trout took it for real. Experienced trout anglers do this routinely. But for me it was a first.

With the strong current in the river at that point it took me a few minutes to bring the fish in. Once I released it, I took a few steps downriver, and after a few more casts had another good fish on.

The mayfly hatch hadn’t been very extensive to begin with, and twenty minutes after it started, it was over with. Before it ended, I might have been able to catch another couple fish if I’d been able to get out further into the river, where the trout hadn’t yet been fooled by my fly. But with the current as strong as it was, I didn’t want to risk it—every slow, careful step out toward the middle of the river would necessitate another one back toward shore later. If I’d had a boat with an outboard, it would have made sense to drift down through this area several times with a dry fly or nymph. But you need to have power in order to buck that current on the trip back up river at the end of each drift.

I’ve had my ups and downs this year. But this fishing season marks the first time I’ve been able to catch trout consistently on dry flies. In the past I would try it when I saw trout rising but give up quickly, believing my presentation was too coarse or my leader not long or thin enough or my fly inappropriate. From now on I’ll have a bit more confidence, both to try dries and to stick with them for a while. And I must say, it’s neat to hold your breath as you watch your fly slide down the river and then see a fish come up to swallow it—just as it happens in fishing books and magazine articles.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

September 3, 2005

Went to the upper Dix yesterday in search of trout, as it was a weekday, the weather report was clear and the KU hotline stated that generation was unlikely and, given the current situation with gas prices, it made more sense to stick closer to home than to drive all the way to Burkesville.

At the parking lot near the boat ramp on the Kentucky River, I saw one empty boat trailer when I arrived around 9 o’clock. I’d have to wait until I got to the “quarry riffle” at the beginning of the trout water to see if the folks in the boat from that trailer had beaten me up there.

When I arrived at the riffle, I had the place to myself, which was a relief--after paddling for over an hour I didn’t want to find that there were already anglers fishing there. It was a cool, clear morning with no wind. A bit of fog hung over the pool just above the riffle.

Before fishing, I portaged my canoe and stuff upstream along the rocky shoreline and lodged the canoe in some heavy moss off to the side of the pool above the swift water. Then I waded in and started to cast with a size 14 Royal Wulff dry fly, the fly the trout had liked on my previous two visits. A few trout were swirling here in there in that first pool. Whatever they were eating was subsurface, because I saw nothing above it. But I’ve found that the trout on the Dix will go for a dry fly even if there’s nothing else floating on the surface. I think the trout on the Dix can’t be too picky about what they eat, since there don’t appear to be any crayfish or small bait fish in that coldwater habitat. Their diet consists of bugs, wherever they can get them.

I covered the water with the dry fly where I had seen fish swirling for about half an hour without attracting a strike. I moved up in the pool and switched to a nymph and indicator rig. More fish were swirling now. I switched nymphs about half a dozen times, maybe more. Nothing worked. I tried a size 16 prince nymph all the way down to a size 20 wd40, from professionally tied flies to my own ragged contraptions. I stared at the surface of the water and saw the usual assortment of tiny dead bugs, most of them smaller than a mosquito. I don’t believe the fish were interested in these floating dead bugs; instead they were going for the live nymph version of them as they rose to the surface. If a size 20 isn’t small enough to imitate these bugs, then I give up. I can barely grasp size 20’s with my fingers. Forget anything smaller.

After over an hour of fruitless casting I decided to paddle upstream to the dam and try my luck there. As I came in sight of the powerhouse I saw two people casting into the small waterfall beside the base of it. At first they seemed to be wading but as I got closer I could see they were standing in a jon boat. Maybe these were the folks whose boat trailer was back at the parking lot on the Kentucky River.

In any case, fishing etiquette decreed that I not crowd them. I was really dismayed not to be able to fish where they were. But what can you do?—they had gotten here first.

Instead, I started casting downstream from them a few hundred yards. Fish were swirling here and there but the water was shallow and a bright sun was shining straight down on it. I had been spooking fish on my paddle up to this point and I didn’t think there was much chance I’d be able to catch anything. I might just have to go back to the pool above the riffle that I had just left and spend the rest of the day there.

Within a few minutes the two people in the jon boat drifted downstream away from the dam. We hailed each other as we passed. I had been willing to concede the spot right below the dam to them. But now that they had moved away I felt I could take their place. I switched back over to the Royal Wulff that I had started with earlier in the day. Within a few minutes I had a strike or two, then I caught a ten inch rainbow. Things were looking up.

Five or six times I paddled up to the base of the dam and then cast into the flow created by the waterfall, as the current pushed me gently back downstream. On one of these drifts a trout slashed at my fly. I let it take line for a second, then tightened up on it. The moment I put pressure on it, the fish shot up out of the water. It was a big one, possibly the one that had broken my line the last time I had fished this spot. It jumped four or five more times. Earlier in the day I had loosened my drag to keep a fish of any size from snapping the line. That helped now. I played this fish very carefully—it wouldn’t take much for it to break my 5X tippet. Fortunately, it was solidly hooked, so all its jumping and head thrashing couldn’t dislodge the fly. I worked it slowly toward the boat, until I could reach out and slip my net beneath it. What a relief! This one wouldn’t get away. I laid the fish, a rainbow, on the bottom of my canoe along a set of markings I had traced there. The fish extended out about an inch beyond the 15 inch tracing I had made with my magic marker. I believe this was the biggest fish I’ve caught in 2005, and by far the biggest trout I’ve ever caught on a dry fly. Folks out west won’t be impressed but I don’t see many trout this size—at least not at the end of my line.

I fished the area just below the dam for another hour or so. Meanwhile, the folks in the jon boat had motored back up several times and stopped just below where I was fishing. It seemed one or the other of them had a fish on every time I glanced down at them. They were fly fishing with nymphs and indicators.

After a while I gave up on the Wulff and switched back to nymphs myself. Still nothing. Eventually, I paddled back downstream toward the first pool above the riffle. By then, the folks in the jon boat had anchored at the head of head. As I passed them, one of them asked me if I’d come up via what he called the “quarry road.” I said that I hadn’t; that I’d paddled all the way upstream from the Kentucky. They themselves must have come up via this quarry road, as there is no way to get a jon boat with an outboard up past the quarry riffle. I’m not sure but I believe you need either to work for KU or have some connection to KU to use that road. The rest of us have to get there the long way.

I fished the tail-out of the pool for a little while—again with the Royal Wulff and again with nymphs. Meanwhile, I kept hearing shouts of glee from the folks above me, as they brought in fish after fish. It finally just got too depressing. What were they using that worked so well? I am clearly doing something wrong. This has been a problem all summer and it’s frustrating that I haven’t yet been able to figure it out. John Stewart showed me how to tie the fly that works for him. I’m using 5x tippet and an indicator just like everyone else. I’m casting near fish that are attacking subsurface bugs. My canoe is as quiet as any jon boat.

I gave up on the trout water around 3 o’clock. I would have liked to fish the upper part of the pool. But the folks in the jon boat had claimed it. And I just couldn’t stand to know that they had figured something out that I couldn’t.

Still, catching a nice rainbow on a dry fly…I usually complain about catching a bunch of smaller fish and nothing of any size. This time I’d gotten a big one.

I left the trout water around 3 o’clock. I was thinking I’d hit that spot at the mouth of the Dix for bass for an hour or so before I had to head for home. So that’s what I did.

The Kentucky was up about a foot over where it had been the previous Sunday and had a bit more color, thanks for the rain that Katrina had dumped on us on her way north.

There were no fish in that spot that had worked so well for me a couple weeks earlier. Apparently I had cleaned out the bass and none had taken their place. I tried the rubber worm, crayfish crankbait and a chartreuse grub. I did catch one small bass off the rocks just upstream from High Bridge.

After that hour of great action a couple weeks ago, I’d been elated that I’d finally found a place and a method to catch bass close to home. But after getting skunked twice now in that same spot, I’m thinking I just got lucky that day. I’ll be back to the Kentucky and to the Dix. But I’ll probably give them a rest now for a few weeks.

For fishing reports across the state, check out John Stewart’s website:

Monday, August 22, 2005

August 22, 2005

Went fishing twice last week during the second of my two weeks off.

On Wednesday I paddled up to the trout section of the Dix, right below the dam. The day was somewhat cooler than it’s been, due to an overcast sky. I thought the overcast would make for better fishing but it didn’t work out that way.

I started off casting size eighteen parachute Adams dry flies in the pool just above the riffle. Trout were swirling far more sporadically than the previous time I was there, back in mid July. Whatever was hatching then was not hatching now. Still, I managed to catch several brown trout. I switched from the Adams to larger Royal Wulffs and the trout seemed to like these better. I followed the advice I’d gotten from some fellow anglers about hook setting. Instead of striking back right at the splash, I waited a beat or two and then tightened the line rather than whipping the rod back over my head at the instant the trout attacked my fly. This improved my hookup percentage somewhat. I still missed more fish than I stuck. But I have a feeling the missed fish never had the fly in their mouths to begin with but had simply slashed and then turned away.

An hour or so after I got there I was joined by two guys who’d motored upstream. They didn’t have waders, so I knew they’d be limited in where they could fish. They concentrated on the riffle, which I’d already cast over on my way upstream without much success.

After having watched the guy in the kayak carry up over the riffle and then paddle upstream toward the dam the last time I had visited the Dix, I had in mind the possibility of doing the same thing. With the action somewhat slow in the pool just above the riffle, I decided to give it a try.

I hauled my canoe and gear up over the dry rocks alongside the riffle. There’s really no other way to do it. The flow through the bottom of the riffle is too strong to float the canoe through. If you tried towing it behind you, you’d most likely lose your footing, which would cause you to let go of the rope and your canoe would end up capsizing as it swung out sideways in the current. You only need to carry your boat and gear fifty feet or so over the jagged and uneven riprap piled alongside the riffle, so you might as well just accept it and get the job done without risk to yourself and your boat.

Once above the bottom of the riffle I was able to get back in the canoe and paddle all the way to dam. It’s been a good fifteen years since I’ve been that far up the Dix and I thought I remembered places where you could get out and wade in the stretch between the riffle and the dam.

Well, my memory was somewhat faulty. The river is uniformly deep from bank to bank most of the way to the dam. I did pass swirling fish here and there, which was encouraging. But there was no way to cast to them except while seated in the canoe. Small feeder creeks entered the main flow in two or three places. There were shoals at these points where you could wade, But none were very wide and none extended more than a few feet into the water. I decided to paddle all the way to the dam and then make my way back downstream.

Just below the dam another of these feeder creeks entered the river and I pulled the canoe over and got out to wade. I saw a sign from Kentucky Utilities stating that if they blew a warning horn, you had two minutes before water before water would begin swirling out of the bottom of the dam. I’d called the “hotline” recording before leaving the house that morning, and it said generation was unlikely. Still, as I was wading I was quite mindful of the mass of water that could engulf me if that horn sounded. I wasn’t raising fish while wading anyway, so I got back in the canoe and tried casting from it into the flow coming out from a small waterfall beside the dam. I’d been watching trout rising in the “bubble line” of this flow. Fairly quickly I caught a small rainbow. A little while later I hooked a substantial fish. It immediately began pulling line off through the drag on my reel. No sooner did I realize that I finally had a good fish on than it broke off. I guess my drag could have been set a little looser. But I’m not sure it would have made a difference. That fish’s first violent run had broken the fly off at the knot. Probably the knot itself had failed, though it was same improved clinch knot I’ve been using all year. It’s frustrating to lose a good fish like that but a whole lot more fun than not having any action at all. It’s also good to know there are trout capable of breaking you off in the Dix.

I fished that area below the dam another hour or so but by then the fish were ignoring my fly. I switched to a nymph below an indicator for a little while but attracted no interest.

I then drifted back to the pool above the riffle. The two guys I’d seen earlier had given up. I fished until about four o’clock without catching anything else. The sky darkened and I began to think it was time to head home. I might have made it safely through the riffle in my canoe. But I carried around it anyway, to be on the safe side. As I set off for the hour long paddle back to my vehicle a light rain began, which turned into a steady shower. No lightning came with it. I thought about the Elkhorn trip I took in mid-August two years ago in which I had to wait out a horrendous electrical storm and rain-pelting on the bank of the creek before I could continue back to the take-out point. The weather this year has been far more benevolent in general than what we went through last summer and the one before.

I’ve now been up to the trout water on the Dix three times this summer and each time I’ve taken note of what looks like excellent bass habitat in the lower stretch. I did catch one largemouth earlier in the summer, just below the transition point where the cold outflow from the dam meets the warm water pushed up from the Kentucky River. If I could catch a bass that far up from the mouth of the Dix, it seemed reasonable that bass could be found anywhere from the mouth to the trout water. The Dix is, of course, much smaller than the Kentucky and gets a bit less boat traffic. And since there isn’t much current at all, it seemed like a good spot to try for bass while floating in my canoe. But except for that first trip this summer, I haven’t left myself any time to try for it, after spending the whole day in the trout water.

I thought I would change that yesterday (Sunday.) I figured the trout action on the Cumberland would be pretty slow (it was last Sunday and conditions hadn’t really changed.) And I didn’t want to paddle all the way up to the trout water on the Dix again, especially since I expected weekend I’d have a lot of company on a weekend. So my plan was to concentrate on the “bass” water on the Dix. I’d have to do less paddling to reach it and I wouldn’t have to compete with the trout anglers upstream.

I paddled just a few hundred yards past the mouth of the Dix and began fishing around 9:30. I started with a popper on the fly rod. There was no wind and one bank of the Dix was in deep shade, as the sun hadn’t yet gotten above the ridgeline on that side of the river. I stayed with the fly rod for about half an hour before giving up and switching over to spinning tackle. For the next four and a half hours or so I tried pretty much everything in my tackle box—a big crayfish crankbait, a floating Rapala, a mid-sinking minnow that I occasionally yanked upward and skittered across the surface like the bait fish I’d seen fleeing from larger fish all day, two kinds of rubber worms. I had a hint of a fish on one of the worms. That was it. Apparently, that bass water on the Dix wasn’t so “bassy” after all. Or maybe I was there during the wrong time of day or the wrong time of year. The heat of the sun was starting to get to me and it didn’t make sense to spend any more time out there, so I started paddling toward the Kentucky. I’d give the main river a try for a little while and then go home. Since I’d scarcely had a hint of the fish in the smaller, more manageable Dix, I had no expectation whatsoever for the Kentucky.

I remembered an internet posting back in the spring from someone who’d done well right there at the mouth of the Dix. So upon exiting the Dix I turned downriver and through my Rebel crawfish toward the bank between two fallen logs. On this first cast I felt a bump, then another and finally a solid strike. The fish pulled hard on my rod and my drag began to let out line. When I got the fish to the boat it was a largemouth of around 15 inches. It certainly had felt bigger than that but I was glad to have something to show for my time out on the water. I lost a second, smaller fish a few minutes later in the same area. I thought maybe this whole bank between the mouth of the Dix and High Bridge might be holding fish. So I paddled slowly toward High Bridge and stopped frequently to cast. I may have had one more hit on the Rebel Crawdad but that was it.

I decided to switch to a rubber worm rigged “wacky style” that I’ve used for bass in the Loxahatchee Wildlife Management Area in southeast Florida and go back to where I’d caught that first fish.

I hit the jackpot. I caught five or six more largemouths in that area just beyond the mouth of the Dix. (I guess you could call it the “lip” of the mouth.) None were over fifteen inches but they fought like hell. One came leapt out of the water and slammed into the side of my canoe as I was cranking it in. It’s amazing how quickly a skunky day turns productive when you find fish and toss them what they’re hungry for. You go from feeling like a dunce to someone who knows a thing or two about how to catch fish.

I believe I cleaned out that entire hole. I’d stuck fish on almost every cast for a while, then the action abruptly ceased. This all had happened between around three o’clock and four o’clock in the afternoon, with the temperature near 90. Earlier I’d been blaming the sun and hot weather for the lack of action on the Dix. Clearly that didn’t bother these fish in the Kentucky. Too bad I didn’t discover them earlier in the day!

Since I got my canoe two years ago I’ve been looking for a place to catch largemouths that isn’t too long a drive from Lexington. None of the smaller lakes I’ve tried has produced for me. I’ve avoided the bigger lakes like Cumberland and Herrington because I didn’t think my canoe was appropriate in places where people race around in bass boats and jet skis. I did catch a few fish in the north fork of the Elkhorn back in the late spring. I haven’t been back there since, because I figured boat traffic would be bad on a weekend, and the level must have dropped pretty low, with the drought we’ve been having.

Looks like conditions on the trout rivers won’t change much for a few weeks. I have a feeling I’ll be back on the Kentucky this coming weekend.

For a more comprehensive Kentucky fishing report, visit John Stewart's website:

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Saturday, August 13, 2005


Got back from a week in Florida last night. Of course, Florida and Alaska are the two best fishing states in the country, so every time I’m there (usually twice a year) I try to take advantage of the opportunities.

My daughter was with me (and my wife) until mid-week. Since she and I love ocean swimming, I only got out with a rod and reel for a couple hours one night. Someone on the internet had answered a query I’d posted by suggesting I try casting into the surf from the beach around any of the various inlets. I couldn’t be there before nine in the morning, but did get out onto the beach around 7:30 in the evening. The beach just south of the Boynton Beach inlet is lined with rocks, and the evening I was there a thick mat of seaweed extended out from the waterline about 15-20 feet. The wind was blowing in from the sea and so I had a hard time getting my Rapala out very far. (Trying to flip a popper on a fly rod would have been an exercise in futility.) Two cranks of the reel and the treble hooks were full of weed. I then crossed the bridge over the inlet to try the north side. Surprisingly, the water was clean and there were no rocks to climb over to reach it. I worked the beach for about forty-five minutes. Didn’t feel or see a fish. A lot of people catch fish from the surf down there—judging by what I’ve read in books, magazine articles and internet postings—but I’ve never done a thing. All I do is get frustrated by the wind and seaweed. And the ocean is so vast (obviously) that tossing a five inch Rapala into it, which on the Elkhorn seems large, feels like trying to catch a fish with a matchstick. I guess like any other body of water, you just have to go out there a bunch of times and teach yourself how to catch fish it.

That little ocean trip was really just a time filler. Once my daughter left I intended to make a more serious effort at catching something. I’ve been following some south Florida fishing bulletin boards for a couple months now to see where I might be able to fish either fresh water or one of the brackish canals that you see everywhere down there as you drive along. The problem with the canals, though, is that the only foot access is from a busy street. You have to find a place to park your car (like a shopping mall) and then hike across the grass to the water. The canals are essentially motionless and set down about fifteen feet below the top of the bank. You can scramble down the bank to the water but if you try to wade your feet will sink into black, stinking muck. If you stay at the top of the bank, you run the risk of stepping on a nest of fire ants. Plus which, after about nine in the morning the sun beats down on you like a sunlamp. Apparently, these canals do hold lots of fish—if you can find them—but the experience of fishing them isn’t altogether pleasant.

In past years I have waded the Indian River along Hutcheson Island. I’ve caught a few fish there but it’s about a two hour drive from where I stay in Delray Beach. Then this year there have been lots of warnings about the Indian River because of toxic discharge into it from Lake Okeechobee. It seems that last summer’s hurricanes dumped a ton of rain into the lake and the discharge from it is filled with lots of bad stuff from farms and other things within its drainage. Anyway, it seemed best to avoid the Indian River this year.

I got another suggestion from someone on a bulletin board to check out John D. MacArthur State Park just north of West Palm Beach. Their website indicated they rent kayaks and you can paddle around the Lake Worth lagoon in them. One angler reported he had a great day fishing for snook in that area a couple weeks ago. So I decided to check it out after I dropped off my daughter at the airport on Wednesday morning.

Of course, you never know what you’ll find the first time to try a new fishing spot. I got to the Nature Center at the Park just before noon and inquired about kayak rentals. It was quite easy and inexpensive. They take your credit card and charge you when you get back, depending on how long you’re out in the boat. The tide was just then coming in, so I’d have no problems with shallow water anywhere in the lagoon. I put my stuff in the sit-on-top kayak and took off.

Once I got beyond the A1A causeway that crosses the lagoon I saw large fish “busting” bait out in the open water. I cast my Rapala out in amongst them. I had no takers there, so continued on to Munyon Island, in the vicinity of which the guy on the internet said he had hooked up with a 30+ pound snook in late July. Reaching out from east side of Munyon I found a curving spit of white sand. I pulled the kayak up onto it and then cast while wading along it. I also now had wade-access to mangrove-lined beaches along the north and east sides of the island. Along the north beach there’d be an explosion every few seconds of small bait fish fleeing some larger predator. Apparently, my Rapala didn’t look like what the larger fish were eating; neither did the Rebel crawfish I tried. (Not that I thought it would; but it sank deeper than the Rapala and it has a different action through the water.) Like the Indian River further north, the Lake Worth Lagoon has lots of what are called “grass flats,” a shallow sandy bottom with some kind of aquatic weed growing out of it in long strands. This environment makes for great fish habitat but it’s pretty well impossible to pull a lure with treble hooks subsurface without picking up strands of grass almost immediately. I tried a slow retrieve with the Rapala, to keep it on the surface above the weeds, but it attracted no attention, except when I happened to toss it on a school of minnows, which immediately scattered in all directions.

Munyon Island is an estuary, a kind of mini-Everglades, with watery passageways winding all through it. I entered the mouth of the main passageway on the north side of the island. But this main passageway soon devolved into a maze of smaller ones. I paddled up a number of these before coming to dead ends. There were occasional fish explosions back in the island and so I did stop to cast from time to time. The map I was given at the Nature Center showed it is possible to paddle through the island from one end to another. But the passageways aren’t marked and I kept coming to dead ends. I wasn’t really afraid of getting lost in there. But I didn’t want to spend time trying to find my way through to the other side when I could be fishing. So I headed back the way I had come and eventually came out at the inlet I had entered. I fished a little there at the mouth of the inlet and then once more by the sand spit. It was mid-afternoon by then and blazing hot. But I was able to stay wet by wading and by the water dripping onto my legs from the double-bladed kayak paddle.

Even though I didn’t get a strike all afternoon, I was pretty happy at this place I had found. First of all, it was closer than Hutchison Island, so I could spend more time fishing and less time on the road. Being able to rent a kayak was also a big plus. With the kayak I could fish open water as well as gain access to Munyon Island, with its various small creeks, the sand spit, where it was easy to beach the kayak and get out and walk around, and the mangrove beaches.

I had to get the kayak back by four o’clock and managed to do so. I’d been out on the water four hours. I attributed getting skunked to the time of day I was fishing—late morning to mid afternoon, probably the worst time to be out there. I also wasn’t confident that my Rapala was the best kind of plug to be throwing out there. The treble hooks caught grass-strands too easily and the lure itself didn’t seem big enough to attract the attention of anything out on the water. I was already thinking I would try to get back there one more time before we left for home on Friday.

As it turned out, I was able to head back there Friday morning, as our plane wasn’t until late in the afternoon. I stopped in a tackle store on Blue Heron Road before entering the park to see what advice about lures I could get there. The guy in the store recommended what he called a very “hokey” but effective lure. It consisted of a plastic shrimp attached by monofilament to a neon orange float. When you “popped” the float, the artificial shrimp would rise and then fall behind it. I bought a couple of these to try out.

Unlike Wednesday, the tide was at low ebb on Friday morning. However, the tide would be moving toward flood at two o’clock in the afternoon. When renting the kayak I was warned to stay away from the exposed mud flats, where I could easily get stuck.

As I got out onto the water I could see these flats and paddled around them. The water was less than a foot deep but this was no problem for the kayak. My plan for the day was to “sight fish”—no blind casting where there might not be any fish. I was going to head straight for Munyon Island and fish the north side of the sand spit, where I’d seen those large fish chasing bait on Wednesday. But between the A1A bridge and the exposed mud flat there was a school of fish chasing breakfast. I paddled up to the bridge, then allowed the incoming tide to push me toward into these fish. I tossed out the fake-shrimp contraction and started working it.

A minute or two later I heard a loud clap of thunder to the west. I glanced over to see a typical Florida mass of storm clouds heaped up over a third of the sky. Their movement toward me was slow but inexorable. There went my plan to get out to Munyon. There are some shelters on the island but I certainly didn’t want to be stuck out there most of the morning. I continued casting for another fifteen minutes or so but then headed back to the put-in point near the Nature Center. I waited a few minutes, then headed back out again. The storm had reached a certain point and then stopped. Apparently, the east wind coming in from the ocean was holding back its progress. Eventually I did get all the way over to Munyon. There were not as many fish busting bait there on the north side of the sand spit as on Wednesday. But the tide was rushing so quickly over the tip of its outstretched finger, forming a deep hole on the far edge of it, that it reminded me a bit of the gravel shoals on the Cumberland, where fish linger in the deep water waiting for bait to be washed over the gravel. I began casting to the front edge of the finger so that the plastic shrimp would drop down into the hole.

Well, it seemed to make sense. But on Friday there were no fish where my theory said they should be. In fact, it was another day with the skunk in the boat. I had to be back at one o’clock, in order to make my late afternoon plane.

I’ve now put in eight hours in a kayak on the Lake Worth lagoon without so much as a bite. But I’ll be back, not for a while, but eventually. Unfortunately, the Nature Center doesn’t open until 9 in the morning, long after sunrise, and it closes at 4 in the afternoon. So it will always be a problem to be there at either first or last light. Next time I will bring some other lures, also. That sand spit would be a great place for a fly rod. I can see casting a big popper along the beach there. You can buy weedless poppers, which would avoid the grass-strand problem you have with lures with treble hooks. And you can make a nice commotion in the water with a fat popper. The wind would not have been too big a problem there this past week. But in March, which is most likely my next chance to be down there, the wind tends to be an issue. We’ll see. That’s a long way away. But I’m anxious to get back.