The last six months have been a little hectic. I got the bright idea at age 34 (with a wife and baby) to quit my job and go back to school. After writing my book it changed my whole outlook on conservation and endemic populations of fish and decided if I really cared I would take my own advice and do something about it. Luckily my wife was on board and it has been a good move, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. It’s been a while since I finished graduate school around eight years ago, so getting back into the swing of tests, classes, etc. have been fun, but challenging.
I have been anxiously awaiting spring so that I could go after my favorite fish. The redeye bass is one of many endemic black bass species. Most people think that there are only smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and spotted bass. There are actually around 19 recognized or proposed black bass species. Advances in genetics have been the main catalyst in this explosion of species descriptions, and I suppose I am contributing to that in some ways. Redeye bass alone have been split into around seven different species, and my main project will revolve around learning more about them.
Once the water warmed up a little, it was time to begin fishing, I mean sampling. Sampling is done via hook and line for the first part of my overall project, and although fun, it has its own challenges. My first stop was back in March, when the waters were just starting to wake up. This trip was just a quickie on a lunch break to scratch the itch.
About a month later I moved on to one of my favorite small streams with high hopes. Although the fishing can be extremely technical, the beauty of the water is usually worth the price of admission.
Hard to believe that this is bass water, it resembles a trout stream more than anything else and appears to be transplanted from a high mountain anywhere other than Alabama. However, one quick drift across its surface with a popper and you’ll quickly realize there are no finicky trout here. It’s full of the pretty boy of the bass world, the redeye bass.
The stream was full of mountain laurel beginning to bloom.
I fished on, plucking a few more of these native fish from the waters where they’ve lived for quite some time.
About a week later, now into late-April, I went to a new creek to explore. It has been on my list to try for a while, but lack of access has kept it behind more obvious choices. I decided that it was time to try it, and upon arriving, I learned why it would be so difficult. Access is indeed pretty sketchy to get to these waters. There is a creek somewhere down there…
It took a while, and a lot of wrong ways before I was able to finally make it down above a very large waterfall.
Once seeing the pool as the base of the falls, I knew I had to get down there to fish it. This turned out to be one of the most difficult climbs of my life and was hoping if I was able to get down, I would be able to get back up. I eventually made my way down and fished it with a large wooly bugger. Nothing. The pool was so deep that I thought I needed to get down to the fish. I didn’t see any cruising the shallows, but to change it up I tied on the ‘ol faithful Boogle Bug popper in yellow. On the first cast I see a wake speed over to the popper and the water just explodes! Fishing a 2wt this fish felt massive and I knew immediately it was a nice fish. After a few runs, jumps, and several gasps of despair, I brought it to hand.
This fish was absolutely gorgeous. Hues of blue were all over the head, neck, and side. The tips of its fins glowing with brick red. A picture-perfect specimen of a Coosa Bass. A redeye bass this size caught from below a beautiful waterfall with mountain laurel blooming all around is about as good as this kind of combat fishing gets. I may never top that fish and this experience again, so I sat on a big bedrock boulder and just soak in the surroundings. I don’t sit too long, because there is plenty more water to explore.
The mountain laurel this time of year provides the perfect frame for what is some of the most wild and scenic areas of Alabama.
There were plenty more hungry redeye bass with most averaging 8-9 inches, but every one of them are wild and colorful.
A day later I was back on some familiar water, continuing my sampling. This water was a tad higher than I prefer, which made conditions less than ideal, but I was able to at least squeak out one fish. Most times I don’t have long on the streams because of the time I spend driving and hiking to the spots. Dad duties make being home every night important, so the days are shorter than they need to be. That’s a sacrifice worth making though.
Like most places where these fish live, just being out there amongst the wild and untamed landscapes makes it all worthwhile.
A couple of days later it was on to catch a different species of redeye bass. This species is probably one of the rarest of all the redeye bass species, primarily due to the limited number of streams it can live in within this drainage. There are a handful of really good streams, and this one might be the best. This day reminded me that it is definitely the best.
Most fish were bigger than normal, and since redeye bass max out around 12” or less, and most fish rarely reach 10”, these fish were solid specimens.
Same species, but a lot smaller water.
These streams transport you somewhere else. Somewhere that is free of worry about that test, or that deadline, or that fussy toddler. They allow you to get centered and recalibrate to be the best version of you for all the other stuff. Maybe that’s why I enjoy it so much, because it’s a need to more than it is a want to.
I hope you enjoyed tagging along. I’ll be out there again real soon.