“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness .…”
The opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens aptly describes the contradictions in my fly-fishing adventures.
Just when the action on bream and redfish was getting red hot (the best of times), I injured my elbow and was unable to paddle my kayak for a month (the worst of times).
No problemo! There are many good bank-fishing spots across Louisiana. I just made sure I had at least one rod rigged and ready in my SUV in case an opportunity arose.
A wise decision? Perhaps.
But, as Dickens implies, wisdom is marred by foolishness. In this case, a rod on board but no ice chest or cooler bag.
I was on my way to Lake Charles for a meeting. On the route is Oil and Gas Park in Jennings. Over many years, the 11-acre lake in this park has provided many memorable catches.
What makes this lake so productive? It’s high in water hardness.
Hardness and total alkalinity are measured as parts per million of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Waters with a hardness of 40 ppm or more have the pH buffering capacity to make more nutrients available to the food chain.
The dissolved calcium itself is used by the many insects and crustaceans that fish feed on.
I’ve measured the Jennings Park lake to have hardness in the 80 to 90 ppm range. Similar lakes have carrying capacities of 200 pounds of fish per acre or more.
Another characteristic of this lake that makes it great for fly fishing is water visibility of about 3 feet. As Cormier’s Second Law of Fly Fishing states, “Clear water favors the fly angler.”
On this particular day, it was favoring no one. A couple of other anglers using bait were completely frustrated.
I was using a small popper and getting a few strikes from the gobbules (aka bream) but nothing big.
About an hour into the fishing, I noticed the gobbules were feeding on something along the grass lines. I tied on a slow-sinking spider tied by friend Stephen Robert of Houma.
As soon as the spider began to disappear from sight, the end of my fly line would zip out. I’d raise the rod and the fight was on. Not just gobbules, but hefty ones — the kind that put a U-curve into a 3-weight rod.
When I returned home that evening and told Mrs. Catch that I’d caught about two dozen “wristband” bream, she asked if I’d brought any home. When told they’d all been released, she threatened to feed me Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.
Message received. But soon forgotten.
A couple of weeks later I was headed to a kayak-fishing seminar at the Union Parish Library in Farmerville. I left the house early enough to do a little bank fishing on nearby Lake D’Arbonne.
According to outdoor writer Kinny Haddox, a lake resident who contributes to this magazine and maintains the Lake D’arbonne Life website, the bream were just starting to turn on at the time.
At 15,000 acres in size, D’arbonne is the polar opposite of Jennings Park Pond. But they do have a couple of things in common: high water hardness and, at times, clarity.
While it’s most famous for good numbers of large bass and crappie, there’s an outstanding population of bluegill in the 6- to 8-inch range.
I had two fly rods rigged up for this road trip — one with a size 10 chartreuse/orange popping bug and another with a black/chartreuse fluff butt tied on a 1/100-ounce jighead.
My first stop was Ramp Road, a quarter-mile section of old Highway 33 that has become a fishing peninsula. Folks park on the side of the road and fish off either bank. Rocks, shell and pea gravel reefs attract schools of spawning bluegills.
I tried the popping bug — nothing. I tried the fluff butt — nothing.
I was about to call it an afternoon when it struck me that maybe I needed to apply the same logic as Jennings Park — match the hatch.
With a size 14 beadhead Hare’s Ear tied on a 20-inch section of 4X tippet, I started working a section between two willow trees.
Again, as soon as the fly disappeared from view, the end of the fly line jerked back.
They say that fishing is one jerk waiting for another jerk at the end of the line. Well, this jerk pulled in a whole bunch of chunky bluegill and redear over the next hour.
And then threw each one back.
That did not go well with Mrs. Catch.
On the bright side, Mrs. Paul’s wasn’t so bad after all.