1. Gear, Gear, Gear
We were in Austin, TX the night before we left trying to minimize as much of the equipment we were taking as possible. It more or less resulted in one 30-50 liter dry bag per person, one cooler per a canoe, and three fishing bags(one per canoe, though they were personal ones.
On top of this we had tents, sleeping bags, pads, and one chair(A huge mistake), and Five 2 gallon Ozarka water jugs. And we had plenty of room for more bags, chairs, and fishing supplies.
We all had pocket knives, Leathermans, and wetfit shoes, and I would advise on a tactical knife for your belt, and a pair of flip flops for the end of the day so your feet don’t stay wet till bedtime. A lot of these “packing difficulties” definitely come from inexperience. Hell, it was the first time any of us had ever been camping for more than a night from the back of a car, and the first time any of us had ever used dry bags, which I am convinced you can’t own enough of.
On that same note of gear, and limiting what we took, we all only took one change of clothes from fear of over loading our bags, but I would definitely recommend a change of clothes for each day. Also, chairs. Being in a canoe for 8 hours a day just to get camp set up and not have a place to sit, even if just for an hour to eat and drink, was a major pain. There is plenty of room in the canoes to slide a chair/hunting stool/or pad into. Do it.
2. Damascus is a speed trap, Clinton is a speed trap, back country roads are not an interstate
A member of our party, to be unnamed, found out the hard way the differences between the interstate and a two lane road going over a hill. That difference would be the amount of state troopers waiting for people to come around the hills. But for anyone thinking of going, it is important to remember that those small communities up in the mountains are waiting for tourists to drive through them a little too fast. At least that’s what the locals told us.
3. Plenty of time and plenty of campsites, enjoy the river, go up and down it, fish where you want
Our first night’s campsite. There are shoals like this everywhere
On our second day on the river we went a total of 18 miles. Now, on a 25 miletrip, 18 miles in one day, and 3 miles on the first, leaves about 4 hours of canoeing on the last day. And on that last day, towards the end of the Buffalo River, due to temperatures, underwater structure, or timeof day, our fishing hit a small stall. And on that second day we passed up plenty of good fishing spots in our attempt at finding a new campsite, paddling for the sake of paddling, or just nor realizing how far we were going. So, enjoy your time on the river, there is plenty of day light to backtrack, stop and swim, wade, snorkel or anything else you want to do.
4. Swimming, snorkeling, and wet wading
When we were finishing our packing on the night before our trip, I made the comment a few times that in my fishing bag was a pair of goggles and a snorkel. And when I said this, I am a jokester so it was a regular response, most of the guys in the room with me all laughed, assuming I was joking. Well, when we made our first stop on the first night one of the guys went swimming, and I pulled out the goggles and snorkels and threw them out to him, and everyone was extremely surprised I actually had them. But, to quote Phil, much of the river was like, “Canoeing over an aquarium.” The water is 6,7, 10 feet deep and you can see straight to the bottom. You can see the fish down on the bottom, try to spear them, kick up some rocks and watch them eat some algae, or just swim around with them. Take some time to enjoy that, it’s not every river that you can do that.
5. How to Fish and what to fish with
For a lot of people, this might be the more important section, but I’m going to try not to elaborate too much because in my experience everyone fishes different, even with the same rigs. I will say this: dark worms, salamanders, Texas Rigs, and Rapala Shad Raps all worked wonders. But all in very different ways.
The plastic rigs really worked well being thrown up into the bank, dragged through some of the growth, sinking into the rocks and popped in and out. The way those small mouths struck those worms felt like you just hooked up with a five or six pounder, not a little twelve or fourteen incher.
Now for the Shad Raps. You damn near can’t do anything wrong with these to be honest, from throwing them into the bank, a deep diver 4-6 feet, and reeling it back, dragging it across the rocks, to throwing it out into the deep holes perpendicular to the flow and reeling it across the river. I found though, in complete honesty what I have found to work best with trout and Rapalas, is the casting downstream and reeling up, or casting upstream and reeling down methods, were the most effective ways to use them. And I’ll get into why I think that in the next section.
I also think that having a weighted plastic rig set up(Texas or Carolina Rig) and dropping it down under some of the larger boulders and rocks at the bottom, is the way to bring out the bigger fish, especially in the afternoon and early evening. Next time I am definitely giving that a try.
6. Bass compared to some trout
Most bass fishing I’ve done in my life has been in lakes, tanks, slow moving streams, and ponds. Never in a quick moving river. And it really changed what I could see of the bass. For the most part they still hung out in shallows in the morning, moved in and around structure, hit on top water in the late evening, but the one thing I noticed different was their strange behavior in the currents. Almost like a trout, I often could see, as explained earlier it was like looking into an aquarium, bass stalled in currents swimming up and down, which is why I believe the Shad Rap strategy of casting up and down the river, opposed to across, was so successful. Just a small observation about the fish that was very different and unexpected for me.
7. The company of the trip is most of the pleasure
And to hit the ol’ cliché on the head, these trips aren’t about the fish or the location, but about the experience. And the experience of being with six other great guys who have been great friends to me over the years, really changed this trip into something special. Sitting around, having a few beers, talking fish and guns and Arrested Development quotes separated this from a generic camping trip and made it into an amazing experience that I can’t wait to have again.
Phil, James, Stephen, Fassett, Fielding, and George