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Alabama River Fishing's 2007 River Rendezvous

This is my first glimpse of the Locust Fork and this picture really doesn't do it any justice at all. At higher levels the river flows through the rocks and trees where Josh is walking. You can see the beautiful rock bluff and the river in the background.

     I've seen hundreds of southeastern rivers in the last decade, but I have to admit my first glimpse of the Locust Fork nearly took my breath away. I was looking through about an acre of cypress trees growing on the edge of the river bed and saw clear flowing water buttressed by a rock bluff that was at least fifty feet high. When north-central Alabama isn't in drought conditions it is possible to canoe through the cypress stand I was walking through and possibly even catch fish from it. The Locust knows how to make a first impression.

    It was about 7 PM and myself and a handful of other ARFers had arrived for our first River Rendezvous, a weekend of camping, fishing, and swapping stories around the campfire. We were faced with drought conditions and the Locust Fork was currently running about as low as any of the locals had ever seen (around 18 cfs and 1.5 feet at the Cleveland gauge). Despite it's beauty, the river was hardly moving at all, and it resembled a series of small, thin ponds separated by rock piles with a tiny bit of water trickling between them.

Nice, huh?

    Current is the river fisherman's best friend because it provides a conveyor belt of food to the fish and governs where they are going to be positioned. Without much current, the fish could be located pretty much anywhere and would be less likely to respond to traditional river presentations. The clear water was going to make the fish a little spookier than normal also. I was bracing myself for a tough weekend of fishing.

There'd be a ton of fish in this area with a couple more feet of water!

    Josh quickly proved that there were still hungry fish in the river, however, as he made a cast up against a similar bluff overlooking a large pool. A nice spotted bass inhaled his black spinnerbait and the fight was on! By the time I reached him a couple minutes later, Josh had landed the first spotted bass of the weekend. Actually, other ARFers had already encountered a bunch of the Locust's feisty spots, because a lot of the guys had arrived earlier in the day for some wading around our campsite at King's Bend. It was my first encounter with a Locust Fork bass, and I was pretty impressed.

Here's Josh with a pretty Locust Fork spotted bass that nailed a black spinnerbait.

    Josh and I arrived back at camp around 9 PM and we sat around enjoying  a few adult beverages and swapping stories until around midnight. A lot of the ARFers already knew one another, but this was my first time hanging out with them in person and they are a great bunch of guys. A lot of fish stories and good places to fish were traded around the propane lantern that night (we were too lazy to start a proper campfire) and we spent time gathered around the map trying to figure out where we could find some floatable water the next day.

Ozzybass, Kreekn, FishTaco, and Fishhawk map out the next day's fishing strategy.

    I slept like a baby and didn't even know it had rained that night until I put my shoes on early the next morning to find them filled with water. Not everybody slept well, however. Joel was having air mattress difficulties and couldn't sleep, so he decided to go fishing. Joel ended up catching some really nice spotted bass that night and managed not to get carried off by any snakes or the boogeyman.

    We broke up into three groups for the next days float. One group stuck around to wade-fish the area around the campground and another group drove over the ridge to the Mulberry Fork, which is also a great river and it had a little more water. Tham and I were the third group, and we decided to float a section of the Locust farther downstream from our campsite.

    Though the area at the put-in bridge was pretty much trashed, the Locust was a very scenic river, though not quite as gorgeous as the area upstream. We launched our kayaks around 8 AM and immediately began catching fish on small plastic worms. We were mainly catching small spotted bass off woody cover well off the banks. Though the current was negligible in most places, we only had to hop out and drag our kayaks a few times. About an hour into the trip, Tham started catching bass on a motor oil colored finesse worm rigged wacky-style (weightless with an exposed hook through the middle of the worm). Tham caught our first nice fish of the day just upstream of a shoal in a shallow area where the current had picked up a little.

We caught a bunch of fish this size early. This one's a largemouth.

Tham with a nice spotted bass taken on the wacky worm.

    I had decided to try and target larger fish and put down the small worm for a bit in favor of a large white spinnerbait. I managed a few fish here and there, but my "big bait equals big fish" tactic really didn't pay off well at all today. In retrospect, I probably should have hung in there with the small worm and hopefully put it in front of a large spot hungry for a little snack.

After the first hour I threw a large spinnerbait pretty religiously...

...with nothing much larger than this to show for my efforts.

    Which is exactly what Tham did. I was ahead of Tham paddling up a good sized tributary when I heard him start yelling. Tham was fighting a nice spotted bass he had seen swimming in open water. It refused his first offering and swam into some cover, but hit the second time the wacky worm was offered. The fish weighed in at three pounds but was very thin. After Tham released the fish, we ate some lunch and Tham told me that was his personal-best spotted bass. Tham later lost another nice fish very nearby when it wrapped him around a log.

Tham's big spot

    It was around lunchtime when our guest arrived. A little Jack Russell terrier found us on the river and decided he would be our guide whether we wanted him to or not. This persistent little dog followed us down the river for at least three miles, trying to hop into our kayaks, swimming where we were trying to fish, and generally bedeviling us as we fished our way downstream. It was an extremely nice dog, though, and undoubtedly someone's pet. After a while I wanted to whack it with my paddle, but I knew I wouldn't like it if someone did that to my dog simply for trying to be friendly.

Our fishing guide

"Dude, you need to put that spinnerbait away. Throw the little worm over here where I'm about to swim and I swear you'll tear 'em up. See, Tham listens to me, which is why he's catching big fish and you're not..."

    We finally lost the dog about the time we encountered the goats. Tham and I had been catching fish rather steadily until about 2 PM despite the Jack Russell's best efforts. Then the bite kinda died on us. I was fishing the river-right bank when I looked up to see what was barking at us. It was a large, tan dog with a fluffy coat. It appeared to be accompanied by two other brown and white dogs with short hair, but then I noticed that the two other dogs had horns. I've seen a lot of weird things on river floats, but these goats were just hanging out with the dog like they were best friends. The goats would even softly head-butt the dog now and then in order to get the dog to play with them. Anyway, I was able to snap a few shots of the trio as we floated by.

You really never know what you're going to see on the river!

    By this time, the fishing had really turned off and Tham had begun throwing a buzzbait in an effort to entice some sort of reaction strike from something. I was paddling towards his kayak when the fish hit about ten feet from the bank. After a short fight Tham lipped our final fish of the day, a nice largemouth bass. It was our third largemouth of the day to go along with 20 or so spotted bass. Though the last three hours of the float were pretty uneventful fishing-wise, it was still a successful day on the river spent with a great guy and outstanding fisherman. And an overly friendly dog and some goats. We encountered a few other fishermen toward the end of the float, but we pretty much had the river to ourselves for most of the day.

Tham's buzzbait largemouth

    We arrived back at camp to find our ranks had swelled. While many of us were on the water, Gray from Alabama Small Boats had dropped by the campsite and allowed the contingent that had stayed behind to wade a chance to demo a few kayaks. That was really nice of Gray to do that and some of the guys were filling out their Christmas lists when we arrived. In addition, half a dozen other ARFers had stopped in to fish and a few hung around the campfire with us that night.

    As it turns out, the Mulberry Fork gang had a fantastic day of fishing with some nice bass and one of the biggest river bluegills I've ever laid eyes on. The wading crew did pretty well also, despite the fact that the fish around the campsite had seen a few lures and flies during the course of the weekend. Tired and happy, it was time to eat!

Mark hung around the campsite and waded on Saturday and was rewarded with this nice fly-caught spot!

    Mark broke out his ultra-cool camping grill and a bunch of us feasted on hamburgers and hot dogs as the sun went down. While I always enjoy the fishing at these weekend gatherings, the thing I enjoy most is simply hanging out by the campfire. The campfire conversation was excellent, as we had a few more folks and a beautiful night to enjoy each other's company. By the end of the evening I think we had all admitted to privately enjoying some pretty bad music on occasion and were already discussing where we should have next year's Rendezvous.

    On Sunday morning a few folks hung around and fished some more and others said their goodbyes and headed for home. I did notice Mark catch a few bass on the fly and saw Tham unhooking a nice spotted bass as I turned the truck around and began the long drive home.

The view from the campsite

    Despite what I told my wife, I didn't exactly come straight home, however....



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