Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Vacation Part 2....To the Lake We Go

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After getting back from my three day smallie trip I found myself with just enough time to unpack that gear and then round up a whole new set to throw in the back of the truck before heading South again on Wednesday morning. This time I was headed down to Norfork Lake in Arkansas with the wife to spend 4 days just hanging out relaxing and hopefully getting a little scuba diving in as well. We rented a little cabin close by with a full kitchen and a porch with a lakeside view and our intentions were to simply unwind from the day to day rat-race.
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Luckily for us the weather cooperated nicely and we had 4 great days just hanging out at the lake with nothing on the agenda except eating , drinking and just goofing off.
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We found several opportunities to get underwater and dive a few of our favorite sites , for both of us that was really what we had come for.
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The lake visibility was good for this time of year and we had probably 15 feet of visibility above the thermocline which is where we spent most of our time. I often get asked what there is to see in a freshwater lake that's so interesting and I always have a hard time finding a reply that truly does the experience justice. Of course we see lots of fish , on this trip it was mostly smallmouth and largemouth bass along with a plethora of sunfish.
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One one of the dives we also saw two flatheads resting on a rocky ledge and a painted water turtle as big around as a five gallon bucket. We dive underwater bluffs and rock formations with boulders the size of small cars that are teeming with local fish. Many of the lakes we dive also have artificial dive sites like sunken boats and planes but I think I prefer the more natural dives where you can appreciate the underwater topography more. Scuba diving is just one of those experiences you can't do justice to with mere words , I know none of the above sounds all that exciting , you just have to experience it to understand.
Besides the diving, swimming and general laziness sitting lakeside we took several nice hikes through surrounding parks with Joe and I even got to spend a couple of early mornings fishing below the dam while the better half caught up on her sleep.
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Nothing too exciting for me on the fishing front. I caught a break and had two mornings with no generation so I broke out the box of tailwater midges and went to work. The fishing was really good although everything I caught was small stocked rainbows. I didn't mind in the least , it had been awhile since I did any trout fishing and I thoroughly enjoyed standing knee deep in the cold water and catching fish one drift after another.
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Joe enjoyed the mornings fishing trips as well but he decided the temperature of the water was a little too cold for prolonged submersion. He spent most of the time closer to shore watching me until I caught a fish and then he'd head out to see what I had now.
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The four days went by way to fast , like vacations always do , and before we knew it it was time to head back North towards home. On the way back we made a small detour and spent a few hours around Bull Shoals dam to finish off the trip.
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We did a little research on dive spots for our next trip and had lunch at Gaston's Restaurant below the dam right on the White River. While sitting at our windowside table looking out over the river we witnessed a midge hatch that had fish rising for 100 yards down the river in a nice little seam. There were several bait guides on the water and they seemed oblivious to what was going on , even though we didn't see them catch a fish. Needless to say it was more than my willpower could take. After finishing lunch I asked the wife if she minded spending an extra hour or so relaxing in the shade of a big tree while I broke out the rod one last time , being the wonderful person she is I got my wish!
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While I couldn't fish the area we saw the hatch on I knew it didn't matter , we drove up to Bull Shoals State Park and I waded out across from Big Spring with the same midge setup I was using below Norfork. It didn't take long until I was hooking fish on every other cast and smiling from ear to ear...I couldn't have picked a better way to end another summer vacation.
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Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Vacation Part 1....Summertime Smallies

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It's Monday morning , the day after , and physically I'm sitting here at work on my computer but mentally I'm still enjoying the memories from the 10 day vacation that is now officially over. There's nothing quite as annoying as the rude awakening of the alarm clock going off that first morning back to work , I wasn't sure whether I wanted to scream or cry! Oh well , all good things have to come to an end I guess...and I did enjoy a great week spent both fishing and scuba diving here in the Ozarks.
The first part of my vacation started Friday morning well before the sun thought about making an appearance. I was meeting my buddy Kevin down South on one of our favorite little smallmouth streams to spend three days floating and fishing. I pulled into our campground for the weekend just a little before 7:00 and found Kevin slaving over a campstove whipping us up a couple of breakfast sandwiches.
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Who needs McDonalds with friends like that??
We'd already decided on a float plan for the first morning , a 6 mile float downstream from camp to the next public access. After unloading my boat and gear we made the quick vehicle shuttle and then started making our way downstream in search of Mr Smalljaws.
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This was a new stretch of water for me on a stream that I've floated before a couple of times. We started catching fish almost immediately , little guys who evidently didn't let the hot overhead sun and crystal clear water deter their feeding habits.
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I'm pretty sure I didn't catch anything over about 12 inches on that first float although I saw several larger fish hanging out in the shade and seemingly oblivious to everything I threw at them. While the fish were small in size they made up for it with attitude and it was a fun day of playing around on a beautiful small creek.
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While the lack of large fish may be an end result to fishing a smaller creek during mid-summer it also comes with it's rewards , namely lack of other people. We didn't see another floater on the entire six mile stretch which in my eyes is well worth the trade-off. We took our time and spent most of the day fishing or dragging the boats through to the next good looking stretch of water.
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After getting off the stream late afternoon we headed back to camp so I could get my tent set up and then spent a few hours driving around checking out other accesses and float options for our remaining two days. That night we sat streamside and enjoyed a great meal while watching the super-moon rise above the surrounding hills and listening to the whip-poor-wills sing their nighttime song.
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Saturday we woke early and shuttled vehicles before sunup in hopes of getting on the water early to improve our fishing success. We chose to float a different stream on this day and knew that it would have a few more floaters as well so the early departure was a necessary evil. One thing is for sure , there's no better time to be on the river than sunrise. I'm not even taking into consideration the fishing , just being on the water and watching the sun rise over the surrounding hills is reason enough to set that alarm clock.
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We caught good numbers of fish again but the general size was still lacking.
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Actually , I think I just got spoiled on all of those early Spring trips when the pre-spawn piggies were putting on the feedbag for what was soon to come. I'm not complaining though , when given the choice between work and chasing smallies (of whatever size) I'm inclined to choose the latter.
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We finished up the float just after noon and headed back to camp for some lunch and a break from the heat of the middle of the day. We did a little more scouting that afternoon and then retired back to camp to relax for awhile and wait on the sun to disappear. We had discussed trying a little night fishing on a stretch of water above where we were camped and decided this was the night. After another fine streamside meal we readied our gear and decided on two different stretches of water , Kevin was headed downstream and I was heading up. The moon was so large it brightened up the entire valley , other than tying on a new fly you could have fished without any additional lighting whatsoever. Unfortunately the fish didn't cooperate for me , I missed one blowup that about scared me out of my shorts and caught one little dink whose eyes were bigger than his stomach.
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Even considering my near skunk I still really enjoyed the experience ,the river takes on an entirely new personality at night and it's almost like learning a new piece of water all over again. Needless to say I don't foresee it being my last foray into nighttime smallmouth fishing.
Sunday was the day we had to head home so we chose a little shorter float that was new to both of us to finish off the trip. We were up at the crack of dawn again , a pot of coffee and a couple of granola bars and we were headed out.
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While I thought this stretch was one of the better looking stretches we had floated all weekend , the results were pretty much the same. Even with being on the water early and late we still couldn't convince any of the big boys that I know reside here to come out and play.
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I'm pretty sure that the weather played a big role as well and I think my next trip to fish one of these small streams will be on an overcast rainy day. All in all it was a great way to start off my vacation week and I kind of hated to see it come to an end. There were things to be done though , I had to get home and unpack one truck full of gear and load up an entirely different one for the next leg of my journey. A day and a half to tie up loose ends at home and then I was headed back South to spend some time with the family at one of our favorite lakes. You never know....I might even get a little fishing in as well!
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