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by Tham (OzzyBass)

Most of the people on ARF who’ll read this will know what I’m talking about as we share one passion.   We might be locals, Yankees from the north or even a ‘furner’ like me, but we love the world of rivers, big & small; bubbling brooks and secret creeks.   We love to escape to the serenity of the river where all our troubles seem so far away and all you need to think about is the moment - current, depth, cover, structure, shade, where to cast, hitting your mark and how to work the lure.   We love the comforting, closed-in feeling when we’re on a river somewhere amid the dappled shadows of the river-side trees.   We’re away from “civilization” in a place where it’s (relatively) clean & uncluttered and where the natural topography of rivers & creeks reminds us of a time when things were ruled by primeval forces awe-inspiring and relentless.

Creekstalker (Sam) wrote about our recent float on the Locust Fork R during the ARF Rendezvous weekend.   I thought I would do a write-up of our day’s float from my perspective.

I had been looking forward to the ARF get-together for some time and I tried to make sure that I could attend.   I made it back from northern PA on Thursday and by the evening, I knew that I was following ABNYAK’s (Brad) truck down the following afternoon.   He had fishhawk (John) with him in his truck and 3 kayaks.   Brad & John brought an extra SOT kayak so that Fishtaco (Ben) could try one out.

The major reason I wanted to go was to see and fish some new water.   Of course, it was going to be fun to meet new people and to put faces to their internet handles, but to be honest, I was there for the fishing and I was not going to be disappointed.

As an avid angler, I live to fish.   I guess there are 2 different approaches – know your bit of water intimately and become a top local fisho; OR you can try to enjoy and fish as many waters as you can in a lifetime.   I, and I’m sure most of us are somewhere in between – we fish locally as well as away.   Perhaps, as I’ve obviously travelled a fair bit and also having the opportunity to travel around the US lately, I’ve had to become a versatile fisherman who can adapt to whatever sportfishing is available.   However, my nomadic lifestyle also has a fishing downside.   I don’t get to fish somewhere for years and to learn every idiosyncrasy of that region – I have to come in, do my research, learn what’s swimming where, and just have to throw myself into it.   In its own way, it can be enjoyable and rewarding to find some success through your own efforts, but sometimes. . . just sometimes, I wish I didn’t have to work at it so hard to enjoy what I love doing best.   MOST of the time however, the acts of map reading, internet searching, driving around “exploring” and of course, some sampling of the fishiness of each water becomes part and parcel of the whole thing – getting on nice water and hooking some fish. 

So, us 3 Huntsville boys were going to the ARF rendezvous for 2 nights and we were determined to fish, fish, meet some new people and of course, to fish !   Alabama’s drought was on everybody’s mind and we hoped that we’ll find somewhere to have a float.   When we finally arrived at the campground just before dark we were impressed with the camp site and how beautiful it was.   Trees and shade everywhere, even a PORTA-LOO and the beautiful Locust Fork R right there.   It was at an all-time low, but there was still flowing water and most importantly, there were fish.   The people that got there early had already been fishing at and around Kings Bend and reported that a few fish had already been caught.   We took that as good news and then the group decided to break into 3 groups – hytyer2 (J. Hightower) was going to take Brad & John to the Mulberry Fork, his local water; the wader group was going to fish around the campsite and various stretches nearby; while I was honoured to fish with Creekstalker, one of the esteemed founders of the River Fishing website who came all the way from Athens, GA for the weekend.


The Huntsville crew on the way

For this occasion, the rain Gods sent some rain to central Alabama. It was strange rain – for most of the night, you could barely call it rain. A very, very light drizzle kept falling which just managed to get the ground wet and the group around the “campfire” was mostly dry with the trees keeping the light rain off us. During the night, before I got to sleep (I think) the rain got heavy enough for me to start worrying about the next day and whether John’s tent was going to leak.

I was sharing a tent with Brad & John and being a snorer, I made sure I had my anti-snoring nose strips. Bloody hell!  I shouldn’t have bothered or at least I should’ve brought ear plugs too ! I don’t usually fall asleep quickly and within minutes there was plenty of snoring coming from Brad which kept me up for what seemed like hours before I finally fell asleep. The next morning, Brad and I both got a good-natured earful from poor ol’ John who had to contend with two snorers. ZZZ Stereo !

Nice tent !

Anyway, after some breakfast & coffee, the SAMTAM Team headed off to float the Locust between the Nectar Bridge and Hwy 13.   I was champing at the bit to get on the water and very soon we were leaving my car at Hwy 13 and heading off to Nectar.   I didn’t see the water at Hwy 13 so I was still “in the dark” about the river.   Of course, I haven’t been here before and Sam hasn’t been here for some time and I had no idea how long it was going to take us.   Every canoe fisherman knows that their progress is influenced by water level, water volume & speed and how much fishing one does on the way.   I really didn’t care as long as we got to the end before dark.

When we got to the Nectar Bridge, we quickly moved our yaks to the water and saw that stretch of water for the first time.   It was about 0830h when we headed off down river and there was still some light rain when we were getting there, but it had stopped by the time we got to Nectar.   My first glimpse of the bridge area was of the usual trash left about the place and while I was not impressed, I realize (unfortunately) that it’s not just this place, but almost everywhere fishermen congregate.    Why can’t anglers get their act together with regards to litter, empty lure packages, miles of discarded fishing line, etc ?!   I can assure you it’s not just the Locust or just Alabama or the USA that is polluted with this sort of behaviour from fishermen, but unfortunately, it happens all over the place.

When I looked down river, it was a much more appealing sight.   The drizzle had gone, leaving just a hint of late morning mist and this was the sight that I saw and it gladdened my heart –


On the kayak, I usually fish with 2 rods – typically, I would use my Light baitcast outfit plus a L spinning rod.   This combo can take care of most bass fishing we do – the b/caster usually does the close-in, heavy cover work while the spinning gear handles the small spinnerbaits, finesse worms & small crankbaits.   The b/c can also handle the heavier spinnerbaits, crankbaits and even buzzbaits.  Sometimes, I take the L & UL spinning rods if I’m expecting to fish light lures all day and the expected target species is not too big or the cover is not too ugly.   I also sometimes take 3 rods with me, but I almost always regret it.   My sit-in kayak has a rod-holder installed just in front of my cockpit and the rod I’m not using at the time is in it while the rod I’m using at the time is either in my hands or just sticking out in front if I’m paddling to the next spot.   Unlike a canoe or even SOT’s, I don’t have a lot of space to put rods in an easily accessible and tangle-free fashion and I usually wind up with some sort of almighty mess of tangled lures, lines and rods.   On this day on new water, I opted to be sensible and I took the baitcast/L spin combo.

Both reels were loaded with braid (Fireline Fusion) which I’ve learnt to like very much, even on my spinning reels (I don’t use it on my UL though).   The b/c has 14lb Fireline with a 12lb fluorocarbon leader while the spinning reel has 6lb Fireline with an 8lb mono leader.   I started the day with a small/medium spinnerbait on the spin tackle and a texas-rigged lizard on the b/c.   My plan was to fish a bit quicker with the spinnerbait first and locate some fish; and the lizard was going to be used when I wanted to probe some heavier cover.   Sam had a similar plan, but started with a small worm on a Charlie Brewer Slider head.

It was soon apparent that the Locust Fork is a lovely river, full of woody cover and rocks.   The river had the typical pool-riffle-pool beloved of river fishermen.   The river bed looked like it was mainly cut through rocky strata and not very gravelly.   It looked like good smallmouth water, but that niche is taken up by Spotted Bass here.   My limited experience tells me that spots like a bit of current, look pretty and fight a bit harder than their big mouth cousins and I like them a lot.   During our day on the Locust, we found that the fish were mainly located in & around woody cover and especially for the smaller spotted bass, were hanging around the head and tail ends of the pools, usually just before or after a riffle.

It took me a while to get on the scoreboard as it wasn’t very long before Sam had his first fish.   By the first hour, he’d caught at least 3 and I still hadn’t caught anything.   A change was needed !   Off came the spinnerbait and it was replaced with a single hook around #2 size and a Zoom 4” finesse worm, rigged wacky-style.   At that stage, I thought if we were going to be catching small spots off woody cover and the pools were still not very deep, a wacky worm would do the job well.   Rigged weightless, there is enough mass to cast well on spin tackle and it had the advantage of a slow, seductive fall through the water column.   It can be used where there’s a bit of current too.

Sam gets in early – this is a small LMB

Soon after, I was catching fish on the wacky worm and I was to stay with this rig for most of the day.   Before long, I was starting to even up the score with Sam and both of us were pretty relaxed.   My first decent spot was caught in the shallows just before a rock bar & riffle – I’d flicked out the wacky worm about 10ft to the side & observing it in the shallow, clear water when a nice spot of about 1.5lb sauntered up to it, examined it for a second or so then it inhaled it in plain sight only about 6 – 8ft away.   It was a gorgeous fish, the dark marks along the lateral line as expected, but this fish (& others like it) also had brown blotches above the lateral line.

1st decent fish of the day (cotton candy worm)


Check out the colours on it.


About this time, around 2hrs into our day, Sam was satisfied that I was catching fish and decided to go for the “big lure/big fish” strategy and started throwing a large, white spinnerbait around.   He drives a 14ft Ocean Kayak SOT which is a pretty big, heavy, but stable craft and he showed me how the big boys do it by standing to cast the spinnerbait.   I’ve seen pix of the legendary Basserdrew of our sister group SCRF doing this and this time; I got a front-seat view of his prowess.

I don’t do this on mine !

As I had already cast a spinnerbait for about an hour, I decided not to follow suit and persisted with the wacky worm.   I was also occasionally chunking the lizard into heavier cover and I managed one fish (a largemouth I think) on the b/c.   At one stage, I lost 4 worms in 4 casts, mainly from the voracious baby spots hanging around the faster & shallower flows.   I had only packed about 10 finesse worms and they were in 2 colours – my favourite “motor oil” and a slightly pink one with flecks which ZOOM calls “cotton candy”.   I only had a few motor oil ones and the rest were in the cotton candy colour.   I was actually getting nervous that I was going to run out of them very soon.   Somehow, at the end of the day, I still had one 4” finesse worm left on my line.

Meanwhile, Sam was mainly throwing his large spinnerbait and also tried a white fluke and larger worms.   Mainly because I was fishing a bit slower than Sam, I spent most of the day trailing behind him.   We were using different lures and the river is wide enough for both of us and probably one or two more on the day.


Sam got this pretty spot on a spinnerbait


The scenery was still looking good. . .


Right about midday, we’d got to the junction where the Blackburn Fork meets the Locust.   Sam was well up this tributary when I got to the junction.   The left corner of the junction looked deep and I was working my way around the corner, casting my worm close to the bank and twitching it, then letting it sink again.   This is how I work a wacky worm in deeper water, with little current.   The takes usually come when the worm is slowly descending and seeing your line is very important as many takes are on loose line and you’ll see the line move before you feel the fish (having Hi-Vis yellow Fireline helps).   I didn’t get any hits as I was moving around the corner, but when I was just inside the tributary, I noticed a very long bass swimming about in the open.   I flicked the worm towards it, but it was ignored and the fish must have seen me as it moved slowly towards the bank until I lost sight of it.   I put the worm back out, this time a blind cast close to cover and I was half expecting not to see that particular fish again.   In about 3 seconds, I saw the line move sideways & I knew that a fish had it.   I reeled down until I felt weight and I set the hook when all hell broke loose !

It was the big fish I’d seen earlier and I was hooked up big time !   It pulled, it jumped, it pulled some more and then decided to head back towards cover.   There are large trees on this corner which provided shade over much of this deep water, but it was also a convenient place for some “fisherman” to tie a set line (I forgot what they’re called here) some time ago.   The set line had gathered its own tangle of flotsam and looked like a floating mess of branches and assorted sticks & stuff, about 3ft in diameter.   The fish ran straight into it and for the first time since the hook-up, I got nervous that I’d lose it among the tangled mess.   Meantime, I was trying to back-paddle with an elbow to put me in a better position with regards to the floating snag station and to move myself further out towards the middle of the junction.   Somehow, the fish changed direction and raced out from the flotsam back out into deep water.   I knew I had it then as long as the hook held, but it wasn’t finished yet.   More pulling and one more jump later I had it beside the yak.   A quick thumb grip and I had secured my PB spotted bass !   During this fight, I was whooping & yelling and Sam knew that I had a good fish, but he was at least 2 or 300 yds up the trib.   Pity – I would’ve loved a pic of me holding the fish.   On my el cheapo small spring scales it was around 3lb which surprised me as I thought it would’ve gone at least 3.5 - 4lb in good condition.   It was probably a female fish and it hadn’t recovered from the spawn yet – it was skinny & beat-up and its tail was half worn away.   It still gave me the best fight from an American bass so far, easily putting up a better fight than my PB largemouth which was over twice the weight of this spot.


Gotcha !   Wooooo hoooo !!


Most probably attracted by my shouts, a little dog appeared from the property on the other corner.   I couldn’t see the house, but it must not be far as there were steps cut into the ground, leading down to the water.   It was a friendly little “bitzer” (a bit of this, a bit of that) which looked like it had a fair bit of Jack Russell in it.   I had to leave my Jack Russell behind when we came to the US and I still miss her as she was my fishing buddy & personal trainer (soccer & walking) which of course explains my big gut & abysmal level of aerobic fitness.   That’s my story & I’m sticking to it !   ‘Scuse me while I light up a smoke. . .

It came to the water and was obviously trying to play and before I knew it, it was swimming towards me on my yak and tried climbing aboard.   That was never going to happen unless I grabbed its collar and pulled her on board and I wasn’t going to do that.   I kept paddling up the Blackburn Fork towards Sam, who had got to the first rock bar and had got out and was casting in the next pool.   I got out too, accompanied by the dog that was friendly and just wanted someone to play and do things with.   I had a few casts and Sam ate some lunch and we headed back downstream towards the Locust.   That dang dog was to accompany us...

Yup – it’s a Spot ! (Tongue patch)


for 2 or 3 miles, trotting along the riverbank or just swimming along with us.   It tried to climb onto Sam’s boat too and for the next 2hrs, it kept coming along.   We were getting more & more concerned for the little mutt as we were getting further & further away from its home.   It was also annoying – trying to climb on our yaks, swimming around where we wanted to fish; it just wouldn’t go back.   Finally, I had to be nasty to it to make it turn back – I kept paddling at it when it was trapped against a steep bank on one side & the water on the other, shouting at it, splashing water at it from my paddle.   It gave up and I saw it head back home.   I hope it got home OK.

By the time we’d got back to the junction with the Locust, we encountered the first angler since we started 4 or so hours ago.   He was an older gentleman, on a small canoe who fishes the river regularly.   He asked us why we used kayaks when he can have 6 rods which he had arranged neatly in front of him – he had an outfit for everything, from sunfish to bass.   I told him it was a matter of choice and the fact that, for me at least, my kayak only weighs about 40lbs and it’s easy to handle on my own.   He told us an interesting thing – that he caught a walleye at the very same spot I caught my big spot.   I thought he must have been mistaken and maybe it was a sauger, but he insisted that it was not a sauger, but a walleye.   Over the campfire that night, I heard that there are indeed walleye in Alabama.

My PB 3lb Spotted Bass


The older gent at the Blackburn junction, right where I hooked the big spot


As we were leaving the Blackburn junction, I couldn’t resist another cast, towards a mid-stream snag.   Perfect cast of the wacky worm into the heart of the sticks and a take immediately on landing.   It zipped about 4ft to the right and hung me up on a stick.   I recovered my bare hook after unwrapping it from a stick.   Felt like a decent fish.

On the Blackburn looking towards the Locust (& that dog !)


On the Blackburn looking upstream


Sam: “Dang Dawg !”   Tham: “Bloody silly mutt !”   Mutt: “Wanna play?!”




I just wanna hug !


That dog is somewhere !

By about 2pm, we’d got to deeper, larger pools which looked very fishy, but the bite just seemed to die on us.   For the next 3hrs, we hardly got a fish.   For something different, I tied on a ¼ oz chartreuse & white buzzbait to my b/c outfit & started chucking that around anything I considered suitable.   I hadn’t caught a spotted bass on a buzzbait yet, but I wasn’t sure if anything was going to hit the buzzer that day, it was just something different. 

By this stage, I’d stopped counting fish after no. 6 or 7, but I knew that Sam had caught more fish than me, but I had 2 quality fish so far.   This was going to increase to 3.   The “afternoon doldrums” had afflicted the fishing and I was getting hot & starting to feel a bit tired & I was chucking the buzzer every now & then.   I thought that the best chance for a buzzer bite would be to target some shallower structure where the current (what little there was) pushed close to it.  I also thought that I had the best chance if I made the casts ahead of me.   At about 3pm, I’d somehow got ahead of Sam and had 2 banks of virgin water ahead of me.   I cast the buzzbait out past a little shallow point which had a bit of cover on it & emergent grass and was bringing it pass the point a fair way out when I saw bow wave zip out from somewhere and BANG! I was hooked up (Sam saw this & thought that the hook-up was ~10ft out from the point).   A short fight later, I had a nice largemouth of 1.5/2lb which may be the last fish I caught that day.   Sam picked up a couple during the doldrums, but I wasn’t to get another bite that day.   We might have been more successful during this period if we fished the deep pools slower, with jigs or lizards, but as I said, I was getting hot & tired and I was unsure where/when we were getting to the take-out.


Afternoon doldrums – deep pools, no fish



Locust Fork buzzbait LMB



We got to the Hwy 13 bridge around 5/5:30pm.   We were meeting up with other fisherfolk towards this end which may also partly explain our lack of bites when we came through.

I was pretty happy with my day – I probably caught only 10 or 12 fish in total, but the 3 quality fish more than made up for that.   Sam probably got at least 15 – 20 fish.   Hey!   Is it like playing golf with the Big Boss when you fish with Creekstalker ?   I may never get an invite to fish with him again !

The one negative comment I’ll make about the Locust Fork R, at least the stretch we were on, is the number of abandoned set lines about the place.   Literally, there were areas where there was a set line tied to a tree or snag every 20yds !   I also encountered a trot line when my lure tangled with it.   I can’t believe that Alabama condones this practice which is essentially a long-line set in areas totally unsuitable for a long length of wire & multiple hooks.   This practice (I won’t call it ‘fishing’) should be banned.   Period.

That night I cooked dinner for the Hsv crew and made sure that I hit the sack before Brad got going.   Heh Heh !   I slept well !   We left the campsite late morning and drove back via Hwy 67 to Decatur, checking out a stream along the way.   Originally, we were going to hit the grass beds or lily pads off hwy67, near Decatur, but the boys decided that they were going to get home.   I stopped at the Flint Creek Trail boardwalk (near the Wheeler WR offices) and had a few minutes buzzin’ the lily pads when I got the bonus for the w/end – a nice 2.5/3lb LMB on the same buzzbait as was successful at the Locust the day before.   I just managed to lift it straight up on to the boardwalk and after unhooking & releasing it, left to go home a very happy boy.

Aside from the new water, enjoyable fishing and a new PB; it was good to meet some new folk too.   Actually I was slightly in awe of the assembled ‘brains trust’ that were there – the amount of local knowledge and experience was impressive.   I will probably never get as much experience of local river fishing as these guys.   I hope I can get to fish with Sam & others from ARF and see more rivers, streams, creeks & fish.   I’ve never caught a redeye bass yet and there are those big shoal bass and that beautiful creek I drove over on the way to . . .    So many rivers . . .




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