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Story 2016 Going South

Page history last edited by Jerome Moisand 2 years, 6 months ago

Going South

 

When

Spring 2016

Where

From MA to GA and back

See also Online NACA Q2-16

 


Introduction

 

Last fall, I improvised a road trip from Boston to Illinois (for the CCC), and back through Canada. This turned out to be very successful, with the remarkable achievement of catching fish in 4 states in a row, in 4 days, driving and exploring included. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, check! Quite the discovery story, and my first big road trip ever! As I was on my way back through Ontario and Quebec, I kept thinking that I really enjoyed doing this, but this was terribly rushed, so why not do another road & fishing trip like that while spending 2 or 3 days per location. And the plan of going South hatched.

 

My anchor point was to go spend some time in Georgia with our CAG Champions of the Queen 2015, namely Horace LaFavor and Max. And stop once or twice in every state in-between. Meaning Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, back to Pennsylvania, and then home. It turned out that I also spent a few hours fishing in Maryland. This kept me busy from April 18th to May 18th, driving almost exactly 4,000 miles, and logging quite a few fishing hours. Here are some highlights of my trip.

 

Southern (CAG) hospitality

 

I deliberately chose to mix up some time all by myself (discovery-like, staying under the radar) and spending the rest of the time with local CAG members. Unsurprisingly, when I reached out, said CAG members went absolutely out of their way to host me with full-blown Southern hospitality. Tom Brooks gave me full access to his brother’s comfy house in NC, Horace LaFavor hosted me in his delightful new home in GA, and Rob Schoborg hosted me in his spacious home in TN. I slept in huge beds, I was fed and invited to restaurants, they shared their personal life, introduced me to their families, carved out lots of time to help me discover their best fishing spots, I received various gifts, etc. Tom, Horace, Rob, if you read those words, thank you so much, I am very grateful for what you’ve done.

 

A few more words about Horace. He now lives in a beautiful house, which is great in itself, but also comes with the mother of all decks. There is a mechanized system to raise and lower a canoe (the famous Carp Shark!), there is a roof over the deck (very useful, as it poured rain while we fished a couple of hours in the evening of my arrival), there are all sorts of amenities too numerous to describe, and then there is the CHUM PIPE! Here is a video that Horace recorded about this creative set-up.

 


 

We had a great time fishing this deck, and the day after, I was very honored to have the opportunity to fish the world-famous Wallace dam, where things started slow, and finished very hectic for both of us, it was hard to leave! Yes, Horace, you are worthy…

 

 

This is the aspect of CAG that is the most magical to me, you can go anywhere in North America, you will almost always find somebody eager to share, eager to fish with you, eager to help you make the best out of your time. While I am at it, let me also acknowledge John Torchick (aka cannonball, TN), Rob Straight (aka Possum, WV), Tim Gill and Jim Hatter (GA) and Evan Cartabiano (SC), who either fished with me or helped me in one shape or form. Plus numerous local folks I met on the bank.

 

The rest of the time, I almost exclusively relied on Airbnb to find a room, an apartment or even a full home. This is usually much better than the typical motel room, significantly cheaper, you often meet nice and intriguing people, you can wash your laundry if needs be as well as quickly cook some maize to replenish your buckets and be able to chum generously. One of my hosts was kind enough to write a check to the local police department (yeah, I got caught in a speed trap, and I didn’t have a checkbook with me!) while I repaid her in cash. Another was a ‘save the Earth’ kind of person, a very generous young lady who went out of her way to help save orangutans in Borneo, and she swapped e-mails with me while she was traveling in Costa-Rica! Etc.

 

Best house

 

I fell in love at first sight. With a house. In South Carolina. This was one of my shots in the dark, Lake Murray looked great on the map, a state record (58lb carp) was caught there, I knew big grassies roam around, big flatheads too and even stripers, let’s try. For once, I didn’t go with one of the cheapest Airbnb hosts around, I splurged a bit renting a room with what looked like a stunning view on the lake. I arrived, was greeted by a friendly neighbor (my host was traveling, and lined up a welcoming committee with fishing skills, very thoughtful), we entered the house, very spacious, very nicely decorated, we moved to the kitchen and my jaw fell on the floor. First off, a bottle of wine with crackers and cheese was waiting for me with a gracious word from the host (it helps to be French sometimes!). The kitchen was terrific, but the best part was the view on the lake, a dock extending from the yard in a small cove that screamed “fish, fish, fish”, and the main body of the lake opening on the side. Oh. My. I went down to my room, with direct access to the small yard, with a picnic table ideally placed under the porch for me to make my rigs and method mix, just a few yards from the dock, and saw a sign in French wishing me good luck! So cool!

 

 

I spent two days and a half hunkered down in this wonderful house, I absolutely loved it. Fishing proved a bit challenging, I didn’t succeed to attract common or grass carp (not for lack of trying!), so I settled for catfish (learning to fish with bluegills as bait, thanks to the friendly neighbor, and -gasp- some big hooks paylaking rigs Tom gave me in NC). There was a lighting system in the yard, Christmas-like, this was just paradise, sipping my wine in the evening while waiting for a bite. Oh, and I even cooked maize in the kitchen while watching my rods from the window, unbelievable! I will be back, thank you Mary for being the best host ever, even if you were not there…

 


 

Big fish and amazing scenery

 

I had planned all my stops ahead of time, I needed to be organized with my numerous Airbnb reservations and planned time with local CAG members. While I was on my way though, I read some hints from the Michigan wonder boys about their adventure at Dale Hollow, and figured out that it wouldn’t be such a big detour. So I reshuffled part of my itinerary to carve out two days and a half out there (many thanks to John Torchick and Rob Schoborg whose flexibility enabled the change). I tried to line up Horace, John or Rob to go with me, they couldn’t, but Horace had this brilliant idea of asking his friend Jim Hatter to accompany me. And since I had a full house rented for a low price near the lake, plus Jim had some past experience at Dale Hollow, I was more than happy to share. Jim is a wonderful individual, with quite an amazing life, he’s 70+ and yet very fit and eager to fish long hours, and chat just about anything.

 

I fished half a day with John Torchick, my first stop in TN, catching a few buffalos in the Hiwassee River, and finding a way to mess up my only carp run. Then I drove a few more hours towards Dale Hollow, where I synced up with Jim. The plan was to start by fishing a well-known campground, where a couple of 40s were caught very recently. We chummed heavily the first evening when we arrived, started to fish in the fog early morning, while the scenery slowly unveiled, what an incredibly scenic venue, with the rocks, the woods, the clear water, stunningly beautiful. I quickly got continuous twitches on my rods. I didn’t know what it was, catfish, suckers, whatever, but I kept throwing bait in hope that the commotion would finally attract carp. My strategy worked, and I landed six carp during the day, alternating pristine commons and beautiful mirrors, all sizable fish. And to my complete surprise, I also caught a grass carp, a nice 25lb. I very rarely fish venues with grass carp (I did catch a few small ones at Claytor Lake in VA at the beginning of my trip), and this was actually my new Personal Best, and truly made my day.

 


 

Jim wasn’t so lucky though, and didn’t get a bite all day, that was unfortunate. At the end of a long day of fishing, we were just starting to throw chum in the water when two folks from Indiana showed up, and explained that they reserved the campground, so we should expect to find the swim quite busy the morning after. Ok, fair enough. What to do, then? Luckily, Jim’s social skills proved seminal, he had talked to a local during the day, who gave him directions to a few less-known spots. We quickly drove to the closest one, liked it, we proceeded with heavy prebaiting, and we finally went to bed. The day after, we had quite some trepidations, the spot looked good, but nothing moved for a while, no sign of fish. I suggested to Jim to position one rod close to shore close to an overhanging tree. And we saw a carp jump right there a bit later. I urged Jim to cast a second rod there as well, and he proceeded to catch several fish, including his new Personal Best mirror, at 26-8lb, a splendid fully scaled.

 


 

Mid-afternoon, the shade was disappearing fast, fish weren’t biting any more, so we decided to  drive around, following the other tips from the local guy. We even crossed the border to Kentucky, explored various possibilities, saw quite some scenery of this wonderful lake. We came back to chat with the Indiana guys, who didn’t do too good overnight (they did much better the second night), so we elected to keep fishing the same spot. I chummed it with maize and pellets, then we celebrated Jim’s new PB at a local barbecue place, and finally got some sleep. Not much, as we were both wide awake at 6am, two quasi-teenagers (ahem!) very eager to fish.

 

Of course, Jim insisted that I fished the overhanging tree and I confess that I didn’t say no… I got a run relatively quickly, it felt heavy but I lost the fish in a snag, aarg. Second take, same thing, seemed big, but the line got stuck. This time, I waded in the water, took my time, and succeeded to get it out, and this was the biggest fish of my entire trip, a magnificent 34lb fully-scaled (probably my biggest fully-scaled ever). I got another fish, and that was it, we both had to leave this incredibly beautiful venue early afternoon.

 


 

Frustations

 

I had big hopes for the Susquehanna river. Common carp, grass carp, flatheads, buffalos, any of those are present and sizable in this really big river which provides half of the water going in the Chesapeake Bay. I spent 3 days near Scranton, and 3 days in Harrisburg on my way down South. I spent a lot of time exploring, and this proved unexpectedly difficult. In Scranton, to deal with the frequent river floods, giant levees were erected all over the place, hiding the river from the road. Plus the water was flowing fast in a fairly shallow environment. I succeeded to catch a small carp in a tributary, but this wasn’t satisfying. I finally resorted to use Google Earth to find other spots using satellite images. I found a great swim, a big point of rock creating a large eddy and finally some depth. I could only fish it for a few hours, to no success, but I saw a couple of fish jump and befriended a local guy who swore that big carp were around, so I decided to try again on my way back.

 


 

Then I drove to Harrisburg, and the river is mighty wide out there. The local “camel’s backs” bridges are quite amazing, it is easier to find access, but… similar issue, shallow water fast-flowing everywhere. After two more days of frustration, I was starting to run out of options, and to seriously hate this river. I looked at the map, located a small lake, and grudgingly went there to try to catch something, anything. Huh? They call this a lake? It was much more of a marsh, in truth. Less than a foot of water, very muddy, reeds everywhere. I was shaking my head in despair when I saw a shadow in the water near the inflow. I looked closer, and hey, I could see one, two, a dozen carp close to shore. This changed my mood quite fast. I quickly set up a rod to freeline two kernels of sweet corn, threw some freebies and proceeded to catch five of them in a couple of hours, making a big mess of mud every time I hooked one. Totally unexpected and actually quite fun.

 

Another amusing story about Harrisburg, the only decent spot I found around the day before was a park in the middle of two boat ramps, and I fished there for a while. I was puzzled by the giant chimneys on an island in front of me, two of them active, two of them inactive. It took me a while to realize that I was fishing right in front of the Three Miles Island nuclear plant, where they had a tiny bit of a leak in the late 70s and a partial meltdown, story I vividly remember from my youth. This was six months before Chernobyl, and both accidents combined led to a straight stop to nuclear expansion plans worldwide. I started to picture myself catching a very dark radioactive catfish like this crazy Jeremy Wade dude did in a famous episode of River Monsters while fishing right by Chernobyl, but I’m no Jeremy Wade, and I blanked.

 


 

On my way back from GA and TN, I spent two days fishing a big fish venue in West Virginia with Rob Straight (aka Possum). Rob was fuming when I arrived around noon, as some local biologist decided to cut trees, dropping them in every swim, supposedly to help crappie and bass anglers. Well, this didn’t help carp anglers, to say the least. A single run occurred that afternoon, fishing close to the boat ramp, and this was my first carp from West Virginia, an immaculate 22 pounder. The splashes we could see and hear from far apart were incredible, obviously 20s and 30s happily jumping around, very impressive. We chummed a good deal, and I was back there in the morning. Two rods set up in a classic way didn’t move for a while, so I decided to try to make the best out of lemons, threw some freebies close to a fall tree, tightened my drag and fished a couple of feet from the tree, risky business. It worked though, and I was on my 3rd fish when Rob arrived early afternoon, with an average size over 20 pounds.

 

I proceeded to catch a couple more, totally horsing them to get them out of the tree, and only lost one, surprisingly enough. I was delighted to see Rob getting a couple of runs himself, including the biggest of the day at 24-8lb. If you check the pic below, I was fishing the very end of the fallen tree.

 


 

If you have really sharp eyes, you can see a small opening on the other side. I didn’t want to fish close to the boat ramp the day after, as it was a Saturday, and it might be a circus with the bass boats. So I found access to the small opening, it looked good, and I chummed it. It was close to the spawning area, and we noticed multiple jumps out there. My hopes were high, I had one full day to go, I could already picture myself with a couple of 30s… I arrived early in the morning, set up, hm, funny, very few bass boats around. Around 10am, I figured out why. It started to pour, enough rain to wash away all the sins of bass and carp anglers combined (and Rob told me a few rather sinful stories from the depths of West Virginia, content definitely censored for a family-oriented publication!). I had to give up and drive away to my next stop, frustrated to no end. Overall, I was lucky with the weather, but not that day...

 

Now back to the Susquehanna river. I couldn’t stop thinking about it during my entire trip. The big eddy spot looked so good in my memory, and the local guy I met so eager to show me some other good spots. My expectations were high when I drove back there. I couldn’t reach my local buddy, be it, I went straight to the big eddy spot, and started to fish there early afternoon. It proved quite difficult, as the eddy was really big and really powerful, so although I could easily cast in the still area, I had plenty of troubles with the current grabbing my line in-between the shore and where I was trying to fish. Plus it was freezing, raining at times, and I even got hailed! Around 7pm, I was shaking from cold. I threw a good deal of bait, took a look on the other side (access to a boat ramp while driving over a levee, and I found a nice channel along an island with a pleasant swim to try), then went to sleep in a bit of a dodgy room in town, still quite hopeful.

 


 

In the morning, I threw some bait in the channel, went back to fish the eddy, and still couldn’t reach my buddy (I never succeeded, although I stayed in touch during the rest of my trip, weird). Around noon, I was chatting with another local, when I saw a carp jump, which resonated with a couple of jumps I saw the day before. I repositioned a rod right there, saw my line drift pretty quickly, and thought, screw it, it will stay where it will stay. As luck would have it, I got a run 20 minutes later, and finally landed my first carp from the Susquehanna, 20 pounds even. I was quite relieved. Then I just couldn’t get anything else to bite. I explored a little bit, checked a dirty little pond (no, thank you), and finally found a terrific-looking open bay following a tip from the local guy. Actually, somebody had told me about this spot when I came the first time, but I couldn’t find it then. I came back to fish the channel for a few hours, liked it, but no luck. So I prebaited the heck out of it, and was quite convinced my last day would deliver.

 

I woke up early, went straight to the channel, fish were happily jumping near the island, everything looked beautiful. It didn’t take me long to catch a 20+ plus, then another, and even a 25 pounder. I strongly hesitated, but I really wanted to try the bay, so I moved there early afternoon. I set up in a nice spot, but again, a big eddy was making things difficult. I saw a fish jump, and realized that the end of the eddy was the way to go, plenty of space on the bank, slack water, I even found the head of a big muskie showing sharp teeth as well as the head of a large catfish. And I quickly proceeded to catch fish after fish, didn’t catch a 30, but I got darn close, this was a GLORIOUS finish, I couldn’t wait to write about it. An eagle was circling high in the sky. Then a big beaver passed by, and slapped hard on the water. The muskie head woke up, and started to chase me, while the eagle dove, aiming at a French bald head, my feet were stuck in the sand, what was happening to me?

 


 

This could have been an interesting dream, right? Fact is everything happened exactly as I said. Except for the fish biting, and the muskie and the eagle chasing me. Those two spots looked absolutely great. Multiple locals told me carp were routinely caught here, and big ones. But I fished a total of 12 hours that day, and didn’t get a bite, nothing, nada, rien de rien. Not exactly a glorious finish. I am not discouraged though, I’ll come back and beat this river in submission, I swear.

 

A lot of runs

 

Overall, I struggled to catch fish. Yes, I caught carp in every town where I stopped (except SC), but not that many of them, far from it. My first stay in West Virginia (in Charleston) started the same way, hours of exploring, I couldn’t find a decent spot, until I finally found a deck near a boat launch and some depth in the Kanawha river. I started to fish there without much hope, but actually landed a carp within 30 minutes. Cool. And after that, I caught one small buffalo after another, a dozen of them during a hot afternoon (plus another carp). Totally unexpected.

 

But one day in Tennessee had no common measure with any other day. I was invited by Rob Schoborg (who wrote great stories for the FFF, and his children won multiple awards) to fish Boone Lake. Rob brought to me to a noisy boat ramp, busy with boats and construction work nearby, I’ll be honest, this didn’t seem very exciting. I soon noticed numerous fish jumping though. We started to fish, 3 rods allowed in TN. Rob got two quick runs, then I landed my first carp from TN. Another run, the line got stuck on a snag with my 3rd rod, I left it there as rod#2 started to scream. To our complete surprise, I landed a 21lb fish, the biggest Rob has seen in this spot, just plain luck. And then runs kept going left and right. The few attempts I made to use two rods at the same time were rewarded by an awkward double run. So I stuck with a single rod 95% of the time, catching one fish after another. I had to get all rods out of the water in order to eat my lunch (I was happy to get a break!). We stopped around 5pm in order to go to a terrific local barbecue place (yum!), I counted my pics afterwards, I had landed 33 carp in some 7 hours of fishing (my 2nd biggest day ever, and this is only because we stopped early). Rob got similar numbers, we lost a few, we probably got 80 runs betweens the two of us. Oh, and I caught a rare mirror too. We shall call this incredible day the “Boonanza”. ;-)

 


 

Multiple anglers were fishing nearby, not catching much, they were haggard watching us, I think a few jaws got dislocated... A young guy came to ask questions, I gave him a run, then explained what I was doing. I saw on Facebook a few days later that he succeeded to do it on his own, which made my day.

 

Paylaking

 

Like many other CAG members, I am a little bit in awe by the bait skills and tournament results of paylakers. I never fished a paylake, and I wanted to give it a try and get a sense about the local culture. Who else to ask than the almighty Tom Brooks? Tom went out of his way to host me and we spent two full days at the famous Midway Lakes, fishing a small paylake the first day and a larger one the second day. The first thing which surprised me was the average size of the fish being landed, around 15 pounds. Tom later explained that the larger venue hosts a couple of 40s! Somehow, I thought it was a bunch of 10 pounders too tired to jump, I was so wrong, those fish were bigger and quite actively rolling and jumping. The second thing that blew my mind was the number of flavors in the shop. Can you imagine an entire wall with hundreds of bottles of concentrate flavor, and each and every of them is different?

 


 

After making a rice pack together (well, Tom doing it, me watching and learning), we drove to the venue, and signed up. The entry fee was quite steep, Tom insisted to pay for me, one of multiple gifts I received from him. We started to fish the first day, and well, not catching much in truth. Early afternoon, Tom had to go run an errand, and as luck would have it, this was the time where I got a screaming take. This fish fought pretty hard, and was a very respectable 21-5lb carp. Now some paylakers win prizes at the end of the day. And guess what? I had the third biggest fish! So I won $114, beginner’s luck (well, and Tom’s bait and rig!).

 


 

 

I paid for breakfast and entry fees the day after (which more or less erased my gains!), and we proceeded to catch exactly nothing, except a couple of tiny catfish for me. The timing was unfortunate, fish were spawning. I played around with rigs and puffs (those things are very buoyant!), and personally, I was enjoying the experience and didn’t care too much. I’m sure this proved quite frustrating for Tom though, I know the feeling, when you have a guest, the pressure is heavy on your shoulders to make things happen. But hey, I won a prize the day before, caught a 20 pounder as my first NC fish, I was already very happy!

 

I learned a lot about Tom’s life during my stay, and his success as a local business owner, working extremely hard from the early hours of the morning with his entire family, and I was impressed by their achievements. A life of manual work, totally alien to what I’ve experienced, a set of skills so completely remote from mine, they started from nothing, and the results speak by themselves. Overall, listening to various life stories proved to be a much more important and enjoyable part of my trip than I had anticipated.

 

Feeding frenzy

 

I wasn’t quite sure where to stop between West Virginia and my comeback to the Scranton area. I ended up settling for a quick stop near Lake Raystown, just one night. Some of you may remember some insane online video where the water was literally boiling with carp opening big mouths? This was recorded on a dock at this precise lake, and I was eager to see that. After the unfortunate rain break in WV, I was on my way earlier than expected. On an impulse, I stopped a couple of hours in Maryland, fished a canal, and to my surprise caught a very dark catfish (and I was not close to a nuclear plant this time!). Then I proceeded to the PA border, left the highway, followed the signs to Lake Raystown and it took an eternity meandering in a roller coaster of a small road through the hills of PA to get there. By then, I was tired, morale pretty low, I didn’t know exactly where to go (it’s a BIG lake), and had a lot of doubts about what I was doing. I asked for the ‘carp feeding area’, not expecting anybody to understand what I was saying, but got an immediate response and I was close.

 

I parked, walked to the magical dock, and was instantly mesmerized. Hundreds of large carp (upper teens, a bunch of 20s, and some 30s) roaming, regrouping and opening their mouths wide open whenever you just extend your hand over the water, this was a quasi-mystical experience for me. My method mix from the morning, plus some breadcrumbs were put to good use by myself and some kids passing by, and I kept taking picture after picture, recording video after video, even trying to record something under water with my waterproof camera (no good, those fish were too big and too numerous, they even tried to eat my camera!). Just the noise made by those fish when struggling to get a small particle of what I was throwing was incredible. My wife assembled a short video, this should give you a pretty good idea, although you have to see it to truly appreciate how mind-boggling the whole thing is. I didn’t fish there, this was not allowed, and I didn’t feel like it anyway.

 


 

Sightseeing

 

I was away a full month, drove a lot of miles, fished a ton of hours, and when exploring around, I was typically looking for fishing spots. I really didn’t take much time for anything else, in truth. Still, I made two sightseeing stops which proved very entertaining. First stop was on my way to Lake Claytor (VA), I saw signs for the Luray caverns, and I decided that I could take a break after 6 frustrating days in PA and go see some stalactites and stalagmites. This was an hour-long visit, and was extremely impressive. Pictures really do not do justice to those amazing caverns and the intricate sculptures created by rocks and water. The reflective pool is absolutely incredible, just a couple of inches of water making for a fantastic display. A must see if you are around.

 


 

My second sightseeing stop was in NC. When I arrived late afternoon, Tom Brooks showed me around, and I told him that I had stopped by a winery on my way and was disappointed to find it closed. He mentioned another one nearby, I had a couple of hours to kill, I went to see the “Fiddler’s Vineyard”. I met the charming daughter of said fiddler, a very creative individual who plays violin and makes all sorts of strange alcoholic concoctions. Jamie was obviously very impressed to meet a French guy, I did my best to hide the fact that I don’t know that much about wine (shame!), and she babbled for at least an hour while making me taste a lot of their creations. Just the names and colorful labels of the wines were worth the visit. Very different from a classic French vineyard for sure, but I loved the free-wheeling creativity. I was pretty tipsy when I came out of there, and may not driven quite a straight line back to my home...

 


 

Last words

 

It only took a few states for me to decide to do it again next year, maybe with a slightly different trajectory, but also revisiting multiple spots I really want to try again. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience in many respects, the very diverse sceneries, meeting great people and listening to their stories, and of course the fishing. The timing of the spawn probably got a bit in the way of my fishing success (at least that’s my excuse), but I caught fish everywhere I went, and I had a pretty fantastic experience overall. I feel very fortunate to have been able to do something like that. Onto new adventures...

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