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Having it Both Ways on Terrapin Creek

     On the Sunday of ARF's River Rendezvous on the Locust Fork, I found myself a bit conflicted. Should I stick around and fish another day and make the long drive home while dog-tired from fishing all day or should I just get the drive over with? I ended up doing both.

    I said my goodbyes to the ARFer's at the Locust Fork and headed east for a couple hours until I found a place on Terrapin Creek suitable for putting my kayak in the water. The plan was to either fish downstream and paddle back up to the car or I would paddle upstream and fish back downstream. Either way would be both easy and difficult. Since Terrapin was so low (roughly 70 cfs and 8.25 feet on the USGS gauge at Ellisville), I knew the upstream paddling would be easy in the deeper sections. I also knew that I'd probably need to hop out and do some kayak dragging in the shallower stretches. So I was left to decide: upstream or downstream? I ended up doing both.

    Upon launching my kayak I was very impressed with the beauty of Terrapin Creek, even during drought conditions. The water was pretty clear, but with a little more color than the Locust Fork. I knew this might make the fish a little less wary than they had been on the Locust Fork the previous day. In the shallow sections, river grasses formed a maze through which to paddle, and the deeper, slower sections had plenty of wood and rock cover to hold fish. The section of Terrapin Creek I fished varied from about 20 feet in width to more than 100 feet and followed a pool-riffle-run pattern with some nice deep bends thrown in for good measure.

    As far as bass fishing goes, Terrapin contains the mid-Alabama trifecta of spotted, largemouth, and redeye bass. There are more spots and redeyes than largemouth, but the largies can get pretty big. I needed to decide whether to throw large baits for largemouths and big spotted bass or small stuff for numbers of redeyes and spots. Once again, I ended up doing both as I rigged up a light spinning outfit for small baits and a baitcaster for larger stuff. On the spinning outfit, I rigged up a 4" watermelon-colored plastic worm Texas-style with a 1/16 ounce bullet weight and I tied a big white spinnerbait on the baitcaster.

    Within minutes, I had taken a couple small spotted bass on the worm and was fighting something much bigger on the spinnerbait. I had caught the smaller fish right where some shoals emptied into larger pools, but I had hooked whatever this was in some woody cover in a slow, deep section. The fish hit the instant my spinnerbait touched the water and she was dragging me toward open water. I figured it had to be a big largemouth, but the longer the fish fought without jumping the more I became convinced the fish was a big spotted bass. As the fish tired and got closer to the boat, I identified it as a spotted bass in the three-pound range. Just when I was about to lip her, she gave one final thrust toward the river bed and my line went limp. I reeled in a piece of wire with two spinner blades. My spinnerbait had broken.

    Now I hate losing fish as much as the next guy, but it's a little easier when you at least get to see the fish. I cannot stand it when I lose a fish that I never get to lay eyes on. Usually I spend the rest of the day just wondering how large the lost fish might have been. At least I got to see this one.

    Unfortunately, the fish didn't seem to like my replacement spinnerbait as much as my dearly departed one. I found myself throwing the small worm more and had a blast catching small, but scrappy spots and redeyes. I happened on a narrow spot in the creek with a huge downed tree in midstream. Wanting to stretch my legs a bit, I decided to park the kayak and work the tree thoroughly from the downstream side by wading. Anticipating a few fish, I snapped a quick picture of the tree. My instincts proved pretty sound as I nabbed five spots off different sections of the tree, all on the worm and took pictures of a few of them.

The scene of the crime (above) and a few of the victims (below)

    Despite catching pretty good numbers, I had yet to catch a really nice fish, so I decided to throw larger baits in an effort to fool a fish with some shoulders. I threw a large worm, a jig-n-craw, and a soft plastic jerkbait with very little success. I hit a wide spot in the river with giant carp and gar swimming everywhere. Just downstream of this area was shoal that ran into a deep pool with a large tree laying in current in the deepest part of the pool. I was about to strike gold again!

    My instincts proved wrong this time. I didn't get a strike, and managed to lose a couple brand new jigs in the tree. That's one of the great and awful things about fishing: just when you think you've got things figured out....You don't. The best-looking area in the creek didn't produce a single strike.

    On my way back upstream, I was looking forward to fishing the tree that had produced those five bass earlier. Unfortunately, three cows were blocking the only passage around the tree and one of those cows had horns. I waited a safe distance downstream, hoping the cows would get their fill of water and move back up to the pasture. I was absentmindedly casting a big soft jerkbait when a redeye not much larger than the bait decided to inhale it. Thinking that this was probably a large fish, I reared back on my rod and the fish hit me right in the numbers. After catching the fish (I mean literally catching the fish) I signaled a touchdown for myself. By this time, the cows had apparently seen enough, and they trudged up to the pasture undoubtedly laughing about the goofy fisherman in the kayak.

Touchdown! This little redeye isn't much bigger than his lunch!

    As I worked upstream, I remembered a conversation a bunch of had around the campfire the previous night. Somebody (Mark, I think) mentioned that the jointed Rapala minnow might be the best lure ever invented. Since the fish weren't really hot on anything other than the little worm, I decided to tie on a Rapala and see what the fish thought about that. My efforts were rewarded with a few more fish, including a nice spot that slammed the lure on top just off some woody cover in a slow section of the creek.

My best fish of the day. This chunky spot hit a jointed Rapala

    With less than an hour of daylight left, I decided to explore a slow, deep section of river upstream from the car. This area was full of downed trees and the water was hardly moving at all. It was kind of like fishing a lake, and I'm not very good at lake fishing. I threw a bunch of big, ugly baits around some really bassy-looking cover but none of the largemouths that I know are in there responded. My guess is that those fish act feed at night the way other lake largemouths tend to do this time of year.

    As I loaded the kayak onto the truck, I marveled at how well the fish cooperated on a stream that is pretty heavily traveled (there's a canoe outfitter- Terrapin Creek Outdoor Center, on the creek). I was also kind of amazed that I saw only two other boats all day and nobody else fishing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

   All told, I caught around 30 or so bass with the largest being a spotted bass taken on the Rapala. I was able to go up and downstream and had success on big and small baits. I also managed to shorten the amount of time I had to DWE (Drive While Exhausted) in half. Sometimes you can have it both ways!


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