Shadows of the Piney Woods

Background

In search of new species of fish to catch and new places to catch the, I have spent a good deal of time researching and traversing an often overlooked part of Louisiana. The Florida Parishes are located between the Pearl River and the Mississippi River, above lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, and below the 31st parallel. Being born and raised in Baton Rouge, the parishes closest to the Mississippi are very familiar to me, but I knew very little about the areas to the east and north. I have visited the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain regularly, and driven up I-55 occasionally when passing through to other states, but have never spent any time at all in the area historically referred to as “the Piney Woods.” https://lsupress.org/books/detail/pistols-and-politics-second-edition/

So called because the landscape was historically a virgin Longleaf Pine forest, which was logged out almost entirely in the early 1900s. In addition to the hilly and densely forested landscape, the area is also home to numerous clear running creeks and rivers. Unfortunately, after the original pines were logged out, any reforestation attempted by tree farmers was done with Loblolly Pines (or nothing at all). The countryside is still beautiful, but I often try and imagine what it was like to be in the old Piney Woods. There are some conservation efforts ongoing, such as the Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve. Which is an amazing place full of interesting native plant species like the carnivorous Pitcher Plants. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/abita-creek-flatwoods-preserve/

The Piney Woods area is still relatively quiet and undeveloped, especially away from the larger rivers such as the Tangipahoa and Bogue Chitto. The creeks that feed these larger waterways are gems. Small, clear, and cool, they can transport you back to the old Piney Woods as the hardwood canopy surrounding many of them has remained untouched. The native indigenous peoples and later European settlers would likely have used this more fertile land in low lying areas surrounding the creeks to do their first farming, as the sandy soil in the hills of the pine forest was less productive. Its fun to imagine who has stepped in these creeks over the last thousands of years.

Its also fun to put the history books down, pick up a fly rod, and see what’s swimming in the creek.

The Creek

These creeks are pretty small, and they don’t look like much from the road, but once you start venturing up or down stream, they can open up and take you by surprise.

This particular stretch featured a nice gravel bed, and numerous open mussel shells, I assume raccoons or otters forage for mussels here.

The Fish (part 1)

My first visit to this creek was cut short by encroaching thunderstorms, but I was able to catch the most common creek sunfish, the Longear Sunfish. I also caught some striped shiners, and had my fly constantly harrassed by smaller shiner species (perhaps Cherryfin, which are supposedly abundant in this watershed). As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I have been trying to catch the Shadow Bass, and some research indicated a strong population in this area, but the same was said of the Bogue Falaya (https://downsouthflyfishing.com/2022/06/01/bogue-falaya-paddle-and-wade-hunting-for-the-shadow-bass/).

I did also catch a couple Green Sunfish, which I have caught in creeks before, but more often in urban areas where the creeks are more like ditches.

Perhaps most interesting from this trip was the fish below. It is definitely a hybrid (creating by two different sunfish species breeding together), but I’m not sure exactly what mixture. A very common hybrid sunfish is the “Greengill” which is a cross between a Green Sunfish and a Bluegill. If you look up pictures of Greengill, they do look similar to this, but I did not catch any Bluegill this trip (or the next), and the same research paper I referenced earlier showing an abundance of Cherryfin Shiner also showed a very low count of Blugill in the system. Could this be a rare cross of a Longear Sunfish and a Green Sunfish?

The Fish (part 2)

After my first fishing session on this creek was cut short, I used the rest of that day to drive around and scout out other potential creeks I had marked on my map. I did find a few promising spots, but I felt I had some unfinished business at that creek, as I only waded upstream but had mentally noted some good looking habitat downstream. I started the second trip out going upstream again, but the fish seemed a little harder to fool this time. I worked some nice deep pools with my “jigged white hot damsel” that has been a creek staple over the last couple months. I had a few curious follows but no hard strikes. I also tried a Chubby Chernobyl for a while, and had alot of sunfish rise and “smack” it without really committing to the bite. I was also able to observe, due to the clear water, some surprisingly large bass hanging around a submerged stump. Any flies drifted through their run were ignored.

With no success upstream, and feeling that the fish were in a mood today, I decided to explore downstream. The nice bit of habitat I had noted before did indeed hold some fish, as I watched at least six longear come up to smack my chubby chernobly without actually taking it. After this round of refusals I switched back to the small white streamer and swung it through the deep run. I was finally able to watch a longear chase it down and take it aggresively!

Moving a bit farther downstream, I saw a partial logjam in deep water. This type of structure is guaranteed to hold fish, and I had a renewed sense of confidence after finally landing a longear. I began to swing my fly down and get it as close to the timber as possible. On the first couple passes I saw a good size sunfish come out from the dark and chase it, but I set the hook to early and pulled it from his mouth. On the next swing I watched another come out of hiding, and I managed to catch this one. It was either a longear or a dollar sunfish, but it wriggled free from my hand before I could snap a picture.

On the next drift, I made a good cast, again getting the streamer close to the cover, and watched another fish come out and grab the fly. Once I saw it on the hook I immediately knew it was something different than the last two fish, and in another instant I recognized it as a Shadow Bass. I let out some words of excitement and was extremely careful during the brief fight as to not pull the hook. I swung the fish over towards the bank as some extra insurance in case it came loose, and grabbed my phone to take a quick snap while it was still on the line. Luckily it was hooked well enough in the side of its mouth that I was able to land it, hold it, and snap a bunch of photos. I was shaking from the moment I realized it was a Shadow Bass until a few minutes after the release. While this small fish would never be hung up above any fireplace, it had loomed large in my mind all year, and finally landing one was a great feeling.

3 thoughts on “Shadows of the Piney Woods

  1. Pingback: Big Streamers for Spotted Bass, and Shadow Bass? – Down South Fly Fishing

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