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Story 2017 Seven Flooded States

Page history last edited by Jerome Moisand 3 years, 11 months ago

Seven Flooded States (and more)

 

When

Spring 2017

Where

From MA to MO and back

See also NACA Q2-17

 


Introduction

 

In the past few years, having much more time available for myself, I became quite fond of doing long road/fishing trips across the country. Last year, as recounted in those pages, I traveled from MA to GA and back, and I really wanted to try again some of the areas I fished while doing something new the rest of the time. This year, the plan was to go from MA to MO (Boston to Saint Louis) and back, while fishing in PA, WV, KY, TN, MO and IN (then back through KY, WV and PA). As it turned out, I also fished in OH and MD, and even a couple of hours in IL. A full month of fishing (and a good deal of driving, plus some sightseeing), leaving on April 20th and coming back on May 25th.

 

When recounting such big trip, it is tempting to focus on successes while not saying much about the inevitable struggles, and make readers jealous of your big catches! I’ll admit that I got a few nice ones and am going to brag a bit, but the general approach of this article is to put in perspective those successes while also being straight about various challenges and misfortunes, and the fact that it isn’t quite easy to make such adventure work. Two types of ‘misfortunes’ will be pervasive in this story: ‘flooded rivers’ and ‘the missing grass carp’. The pictures below will give readers an idea about the flooded rivers and the giant flood walls I encountered.

 



  

Pennsylvania Part 1

 

Last year, I really struggled with the Susquehanna River. I found a great spot the last day I was there (a big bend of the river with a giant eddy) and I swore to myself to come back to try again. After a good deal of driving on my day of departure, I parked my car, very eager to go throw a bucket of maize in there and catch a bunch of fish the day after. Er, wait a minute, it didn’t look as I remembered, most of the shore was underwater as the river was quite flooded. It was still fishable though, so I went through my plan. Results of the following day: three catfish, and no sign of carp whatsoever. I tried a couple of more areas I had scouted last year, but it was either very muddy or the water was moving too fast, and I blanked again the next day. I tweaked a bit my plans for the following day, drove southwest along the river, trying to find a suitable tributary, painfully identified two nice spots and royally blanked again. Not a good start for the trip. More about PA later!

 


 

West Virginia

 

I spent half a day visiting the town of Hershey (PA) and the related chocolate factory, this was quite fun, then drove to West Virginia. I wanted to explore a mountain lake I heard of last year, possibly hosting big fish. Access turned out to be rather limited besides a busy marina and local maps were incomplete if not flawed. I found a decommissioned boat ramp, where an old dude swore that he hooked a 60lb carp many years ago (ahem)... The day after, I fished another area of the same lake with Rob (Possum) and Doug (Dunkel), two local CAG members. Weather was miserable and we blanked. I did notice a few encouraging jumps though. The following day, we fished two other venues, the first one full of small hungry carp (so I didn’t blank!) and the second one (a reservoir) only delivered a nice 20lber for Doug. Rather meager results, but I told myself that I would work harder on those big fish venues on my way back. This was the main goal of those few days, explore and make a plan.

 




Let’s fast forward near the end of my trip. I had replenished my buckets of maize by cooking a bunch of it in KY. The WV plan was to spend two days at the reservoir and three days at the lake, while throwing a full bucket of bait in the water every night. The reservoir worked nicely the first day (seven fish up to 26lb) while the second day proved on and off (a 30 pounder to begin with, nothing for looong hours, then a 25lb fully scaled at the end of the day). I saw and heard some really big jumps though, this reservoir clearly has a lot of potential.

 



 

Onto the larger lake. Darn, lots of catfish anglers when I arrived at dusk and the water level was much lower, displaying this interesting feature of WV lakes, the ‘attractor trees’ (some local DNR biologist decided that dead Christmas trees should be thrown in the water and create habitat for various fish – the guy never considered snags, quite obviously). I found a nice pier, chummed a good deal and came back the day after. This was a Saturday, the weather was very nice and I painfully discovered that this lake is used for various recreational purposes, most very noisy and disturbing for both fish (saw a few jumps early in the day, then no more) and carp anglers. I spent long hours of misery in the heat, hoping that things would get better near dusk. The disturbance did eventually subside, but carp didn’t come back. I decided to stick to the plan, prebaited again and came back VERY early the next day. The morning turned out much more quiet (something to be said for church on Sunday morning!), but no bite. I wrapped up... and rolled my eyes at an annoying fish jumping over my bait right when I was done, hmpf.

 

I drove to the old boat ramp, hoping for churchgoers to still be busy. It looked different with the lower water level, but definitely fishable. I saw a couple of fish jump at range while I was setting up, so I cast out there, and… it worked! It worked great, actually, as the second fish I landed was a magnificent common, at 29-12 pounds. Whoah, that really made my day. I had quite a few challenges with snags though. You can guess, I heavily prebaited the following evening and was back in the morning for one more day. Well, this proved frustrating. Snags were really everywhere. I got 8 runs. I lost six rigs and landed two decent but not special fish. Still, I was definitely onto something with this lake. I will be back at some point!

 



 

Ohio

 

My next stop was the Ohio River, in Huntington at the border of Kentucky and Ohio. I drove towards the big river and hit a wall. Literally. I mean, a BIG wall. I drove around and finally figured out that the always amazing US Army Corps of Engineers built miles and miles of thick flood walls to protect the local town against the varying moods of the river. Some of those walls had beautiful mural paintings (on the town side!) and I enjoyed walking along such great historical representations displaying life along the river. See the big catfish?

 





 

Finding where to fish was another story though. The river was high, but the banks remained steep and access scarce. I finally located a boat ramp with a small park along a tributary. I chatted for a while with a couple who were fishing there, and discovered that I was actually in Ohio (I had crossed the river). I wet a line for an hour, then chummed with my usual bucket of maize before leaving. I came back the day after and had a blast. I caught an army of smallmouth buffalos and multiple healthy carp, including a couple of upper teens, this was fun. The day after, I drove a bit further (in KY), found a bigger tributary where I could see the big barges maneuver (those captains are impressively skilled!), didn’t make it work, found another tributary on the OH side and caught a nice 15 pounder right away. I finally came back to the boat ramp and had good fun again, entertaining a group of kids with an upper teen.

 



 

Any misfortune in Ohio, then? Well, I quickly befriended Cara, the lady angler I met the first day, who seemed a little frail. She told me about her life and let’s just say that nice and generous people can sometimes get an awfully hard time in life.  Misfortune isn’t quite the right word here and Cara’s story broke my heart a little bit. She made me promise to send pictures of my adventures on Facebook as I was traveling further. I dutifully did and will continue to do so. More generally, this area of KY and WV is really struggling with poverty, hard drugs are ravaging the local towns and it was a bit distressing to see such environment. Only blood suckers make money around here, I suspect.

 




Tennessee

 

I spent a night in Cave City (KY) and visited a couple of caverns. I was quite impressed by the second one, with an underground river flowing deep underground. Some aptly named cavefish live in there, I didn’t see one, but my guide spotted a white spider with long antennas, this was quite fascinating. Mid-day, I drove towards this gem of a lake, the stunningly beautiful Dale Hollow and made it to a marina. I waited a little bit, then saw a cool houseboat coming my way with some giant waiving at me from the boat. Bigbird (Mike) himself! I never met him before and yeah, he’s an impressive fellow and I had to cheat a bit to get a picture of us both on the same level!

 

The captain was my old buddy Gilbert Huxley, who organizes houseboat fishing trips on Dale Hollow islands. I was NOT going to miss that, and had lined up a few carp anglers (Jim, Tim and Bob) from GA earlier this year to share the adventure with a few other fellows. Gilbert expertly navigated to the island and I got a warm welcome from everybody. Unfortunately, we left Bigbird at the marina, the poor guy couldn’t stay due to some health issue.

 



  

The fishing space was actually rather tight for such a large crew, but they were kind enough to give me the best swim, from the back of the boat, 10 feet from my bed bunk! I proceeded to prebait at range climbing on a flimsy table. And… I didn’t get much sleep that night, getting runs every hour or so. Overall, it was slow during the day (except for the BIG one, a 35lber Terry caught mid-afternoon) and more active at night. Since I was the only one fishing at night, I did quite well, with two 30+ and a good number of 20s, while the other folks struggled (they did much better before I arrived, hm). I stayed there 3 days and 4 nights and had a blast, an excellent time with great people in a beautiful setting.

 





 

Tim was fishing with me at the back of the boat, and was a little stuck with small-ish fish. As I wandered farther away on the island to chat with another angler (another Tim), I saw Tim #1 playing a big fish. Those Dale Hollow fish are very powerful for sure. The fish was over the net when it did a daring escape and lost the hook in the process… Poor Tim was floored. The word ‘misfortune’ actually came from him, commenting on his tough loss. That’s fishing for you, always a learning opportunity, but that can be harsh.

 

Another unfortunate fellow was John (the CAG newsletter editor) who fished a good-looking cove for the entire time, and for whatever reason, carp never visited it. The last night, I told him to set up close to me at the back of the boat, and promised to drag him out of bed when needs be. Well, neither his alarms nor mine made a peep that night. After breakfast though, he got an unexpected run and… his swivel broke and the fish was gone. AAARG. We had a silver lining though, as I got a last minute run on one of my rods, I unceremoniously pushed John towards it, pestered him with unnecessary advice while he was playing the fish and he did land a nice 20+.

 



 

After the boat trip, I spent three days in Nashville, fishing in the morning, sightseeing in the afternoon/evening.  My plan was to fish Marrowbone Lake, a very scenic managed lake, where really big grassies have been caught. Long story short, my alarms didn’t beep once, not even for a catfish. Sigh. In order to see some fish, I had to resort to visit the local Bass Pro Shops, a giant store near Nashville and the usual neat aquarium displaying various species, and yes, this included a nice carp.  The highlight though was to visit Nashville, enjoying the live music bars (ahem, I did go to the Coyote Ugly, don’t tell my wife!). And even better I booked tickets for the Grand Ole Opry at the last minute, without a clue of who would play and the show included performances from Charles Esten and Brad Paisley, incredible!

 



 

Kentucky

 

My grass carp plan was two-fold, Marrowbone first, then a section of the Ohio River in Paducah where grassies apparently vastly outnumber other species. I drove along the giant Lake Barkley where bow hunters seem to have a blast killing various types of fish and leaving them to rot on the shore (first time I saw a bighead carp - I wish it would be under different circumstances). When I got in town and drove around, I stumbled again on those incredible flood walls and beautiful murals, much more pleasant. I was greeted by Niall (Carp_Addict), a very experienced CAG member who couldn’t really fish with me (this annoying thing called ‘work’), but gave me a local tour and plenty of terrific advice on where I might have a chance. He warned me though that the state of the river (guess what? badly flooded too!) was really not conducive to success. And he was right. I tried really hard for two full days, even venturing in Illinois for a couple of hours (crossing the river), and nothing worked, nothing. This was tough, my two best grass carp plans falling apart. I did enjoy fishing the main river though, kind of a St Lawrence experience with the big boats passing by.

 





I wasn’t exactly happy about blanking for 5 days in a row, with nothing to show in Kentucky. I hadn’t planned yet my return trip besides Indiana and I came up with an idea. Most of the time, I stayed in cheap Airbnb apartments and/or rooms. Well, I splurged a bit, and rented a very intriguing cabin for 2 nights, sitting on a tributary of the Ohio river, not very far from Huntington. The plan was to go to MO and IN, and then return to KY, which I did. No driving around trying to find a fishing spot, just enjoy the cabin and fish the Little Sandy river (which wasn’t so small due to the state of the main river!), and hope that fish were stacked up in this tributary. The cabin itself was truly spectacular and very comfy, and the ‘Dragonfly Adventures’ hosts were very friendly (thank you, Myra and Kelsey!). My plan delivered with flying colors, with an increasing number of cats, buffs and commons as I was piling up more bait. I also did some kayaking to explore the river and this all turned out very relaxing and enjoyable, compared to the stressful failure in Paducah…

 



 
Missouri

 

I always wanted to fish the mighty Mississippi river. This was another key part of my plan. I arrived in Saint-Louis early afternoon, quickly marveled at the Gateway Arch and started to explore. Well, the Mississippi is of course a giant river, but finding shore access is though. Notably where the river is flooded and access roads are blocked all over the place. And when you do succeed to get close to the water, you find ten yards covered in very slippery mud, you completely lose any marker since the river is way over its normal shore and I am not exactly sure how I could land a fish. The Mississippi mud is even a business out there! This situation gave me a lot of grief, I spare you the details. I finally found a very promising spot, two old bridges over a tributary near the historic town of Kimmswick (which is really worth a visit in itself, by the way). I baited and fished it hard, notably after some young guys (ahem, bow hunters) told me that big grassies were roaming around. No luck. One of those guys did shoot and kill a few silvery fish right in front of me, he was quite proud of himself, sigh.

 

The flooded tributary was 8 to 15 feet deep (while there are only a few feet of water in normal times). This was a good opportunity to use the Deeper Pro+ sonar I received right before my trip. I actually played with it in many occasions during the trip, this helped quickly mapping areas I was exploring. This is a pretty neat tool, with a great design, that you can cast pretty far away and see the depth, water temperature and get fish signals on your smartphone. Unfortunately, fish weren't around.

 





 

I also tried to find access to the River Des Peres inside Saint Louis, and… this one wasn’t flooded enough! The very steep banks just weren’t suitable for fishing anywhere I went. I swear, I tried everything for 2 days and a half before running out of options. As a side note, this was right after my 5 days of blanking in TN and KY, so morale was inversely proportional to the water level… I still had hopes to catch a fish in every state I stayed and I was being defeated by the Mississippi at my primary U-turn point. Desperate measures were required, so I went fishing a local pond in a park. Yeah, lame, I know. And I blanked for hours. And I moved to another similar pond I had chummed in the morning. And got a pull. And didn’t get the fish, and thought ‘stupid catfish’. I was swapping messages with a friend I made in Texas at the ATC and… I got a real run. A couple of suspenseful minutes and I landed my first Missouri carp, not big but it made my day for sure. And four more followed. Alessandra, you were my lucky charm! The next morning, I took a bit more time to go check the Gateway Arch and was soon on my way to Indiana.

 

Indiana

 

The original plan was to go to Indianapolis and fish with Rick Slinker. Alas, due to an unfortunate schedule conflict, this didn’t work out. But Rick came up with a brilliant idea and hooked me up with the famous Dot and Richard, both long-time CAG members. I’ve seen pictures of Dot in many occasions and she might very well be the most dedicated female carp angler we have in the US! They readily agreed to take care of me and invited me to stay at Richard’s house.

 

No need to say that the couple of days I spent out there proved very welcoming and ended up with quite a few carp from their favorite local lake. Richard kept acting as a CAG state chair without the title, not only by hosting me but also assisting multiple local anglers in discovering carp fishing. Unfortunately Dot couldn’t fish with us for most of the time (work), but she did come at the end of the second day and immediately proceeded to outfish everybody, number-wise and size-wise. A very relaxing time after the Missouri stressful days, CAG working at its best. Here is a picture of the Famous Dot and the Apprentice.

 



 

Since we fished a lake, the flooding situation didn’t impact us, but while I was driving in Illinois (towards Indiana), I noticed a giant expense of water on both sides of the road. I finally stopped to take pictures, and saw a farm building right in the middle of an ocean of water. Those were flooded fields! The Little Wabash River wasn’t so little, no flood walls in this area, and I was glad that no section of the road ended up under water.

 

Maryland

 

After Indiana, I drove back to KY and WV, we already covered that. I was getting a bit greedy by then and wanted to claim carp caught in 8 states. Doug (Dunkel) had referenced a good spot in Maryland while we were fishing together in West Virginia. I carelessly scheduled half a day of fishing out there, thinking that with Doug prebaiting the area, it would be a breeze to catch a few carp and then move on. I made it out there in the evening, found the spot on the South Potomac river and threw a bucket of chum in there without seeing much of what I was doing.

 

I spent the night at an interesting Airbnb home in Frostburg (near Cumberland), back to my cheap ways. It turned out to be a house full of antiques, tastefully arranged as a lively house from a century ago, very cool. I met Doug on the bank in the morning and we proceeded to fish. Doug caught a sizable catfish right away, which seemed good news, my chum was long gone. We saw a couple of fish jump on the other shore, things seemed promising. After a few hours, I caught exactly nothing and Doug wasn’t doing much better. I finally realized that although the river was fairly wide, I was fishing a very shallow area. After all those flooded rivers, this just didn’t cross my mind! I decided to extend my stay till 5pm, as I noticed a couple of more jumps, and set up my rods in slightly deeper water, two of them at range. While reeling in, I discovered a fall fish on my hook, not what I wanted, but a new species in my book. Doug had to leave early afternoon, I stubbornly kept going, and YES, I got a run later afternoon. URG, this was a freaking catfish, with very dark mustaches. I was NOT happy. And that was it. This is the second time I made a quick stop in Maryland, the second time I did not catch a carp, and the second time I caught such a dark catfish. The Maryland curse. But hey, it wasn’t a flooded state, so in a perverse way, maybe it made sense that I didn’t succeed out there while I did pull it off everywhere else.

 



 

Back to Pennsylvania

 

After my annoying failure with the Susquehanna, I was wary of trying this river again. About one third of the way on my trip, I read a post by Carpncat (Jim) on the CAG forum, showcasing some amazing fish he caught in a pond with his friend Bob. And I thought that it would be cool to meet those two folks and finish my trip out there. I contacted Jim, he readily agreed and I rented yet another Airbnb room.

 

After Maryland, I drove long hours on the PA turnpike, nearly running out of gas on this very poorly designed highway (those narrow lanes!), full of trucks and endlessly meandering through the woods and hills of PA, not fun. The next morning, Jim picked me up bright and early and we were on our way to a fairly sizable (~130 acres) private pond. We set up and Jim got the first fish, an incredible fantail. I was a little stunned, I never caught a fantail in my life! Then I got a run and landed a very cool mirror, quickly followed by a koi. Now I didn’t catch a koi in the past 10 years, after this record of mine (pure luck!). Where am I? Did I get in an accident on this dreaded highway and moved straight to carp paradise? I quickly decided to extend my stay and fish this pond one more day and I couldn’t care less that the weatherman predicted rain…  We kept going with a lot of catfish and more beautiful mirrors.

 



 

The day after, it was just Jim and me and the weatherman wasn’t joking, we got seriously soaked all morning. Poor Jim was obviously sticking to it because of me and I was feeling bad about it. Plus we weren’t catching very much. He was telling me stories about Alan Kowaleski, one of the most iconic CAG members who helped Jim get started with serious carp fishing and who passed away a few years ago.

 

The rain thankfully stopped before noon, but biting didn’t quite pick up. Then Jim got a run and I saw a big roll 50 yards away. The fish darted towards the shore, I got a solid glimpse of a very thick fish, I opened my mouth to tell Jim to go easy with the drag as the beast turned around with a giant splash and… didn’t have time to say anything, the line pulled and the fish was gone. This was a BIG grass carp, I mean, in the 60 pounds range (the owner of the pond told us earlier that there are a couple like that in there). The missing grass carp syndrome struck again. Jim left a little afterwards while I decided to stay as long as possible.

 

I got a couple of catfish, another nice mirror, then nothing for two hours. I had 90 minutes left before the pond’s closing time. Then I got a slow run and I could feel solid weight at the end of the line, I played it very carefully. It turned out to be the biggest fish of my entire trip, a 34-8lb mirror carp, with a very unique shape (Israeli strain?). I called the pond’s owner (Dick), asking him to come to take pictures and as he was coming towards me with his grandson, I got another run. Which turned out to be an even more unique fish, a magnificent koi, mixing dark purple, orange and white color. Caught less than an hour before my finish line. Absolutely mind-boggling. We took pictures, I released the fish, got another small mirror and finished the day, of course, with a catfish.  Oh, and with a giant smile over my face!

 



 

Last words

 

Let’s be clear, this wasn’t easy, many aspects of my plan fell apart and I went through a good deal of frustration. But at the end, the good memories remain and the more difficult ones fade away, or just become part of what leads to success. This trip wouldn’t have been possible without a bunch of great people, in order of appearance: Rob and Doug (WV); Gilbert, Mike, Jim, Tim & Tim, Bob, Terry, John (TN); Niall (KY); Rick, Dot and Richard (IN); Doug again (MD); and last but not least Jim, Bob and Dick (PA). Also some very nice folks I met while fishing or via Airbnb (Sally, Cara, Myra, Kelsey, Tyler, etc). And ‘lucky charm’ Alessandra. And my wife for being so patient with the crazy carp angler leaving home for more than a month in a row and… already planning to do it again!

 

I just would like to add one final thought for Skammer (James Skamarakus). I contacted him at the end of 2016 while preparing for this trip, I had planned to fish the Susquehanna with him. James unfortunately suddenly passed away before the beginning of my trip. I hope he found a lot of great fishing wherever he is now. And I'll have to crack the Susquehanna by myself, then!

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