To fellow flyfishers in Southeast Louisiana, our loved ones are wondering: Where have you been? Their concern is that, with most of the coast closed to fishing, and the rivers high the last couple of months, we shouldn’t be disappearing on weekends.
Well, now it’s time to come clean. We’ve been seeing someone else — other than speckled trout or redfish. We’ve been seeing Rio Grande perch. And lots of them.
Go to New Orleans CIty Park any Saturday or Sunday. You’ll spot several flycasters working the numerous bayous, ponds and lagoons in an effort to catch America’s only native cichlid.
Two years ago, I chronicled the story of the Rios in our state. Originally limited to their home waters in South Texas and Mexico, they began appearing in 1996 in canals in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, and even in Lake Pontchartrain.
It’s believed that tropical fish were routinely dumped into these canals by pet-store owners. Some died off quickly, others from the cold of winter. But many of the Rios, able to withstand water temperatures as low as 50 degrees, survived.
Rios can thrive in conditions that our native sunfishes find marginal at best. When Katrina flooded Orleans and Jefferson parishes, many bass and bream were killed. But the Rios prospered, and took advantage of high water to expand their territory.
How prolific did they become? The New Orleans City Park Rodeo has a Rio Division, where teams of anglers compete for most fish brought in. At the 2008 event, all of the teams registered in several hundred fish, with “Team Camo” taking first place with 961 Rios.
By last year, the water quality in most of the urban waterways had improved substantially. In turn, equilibrium has set in. Anglers are now catching more sunfish out of Bayou St. John than Rios.
Some anglers also believe that their numbers have been reduced due to the stocking of Florida largemouth bass. Bass love Rios. If you hook a small Rio, don’t be surprised if a bucketmouth comes along and swallows it whole.
This past winter was one of the coldest on record. Many thought the Rios had been wiped out, especially since none were caught during the NOCP Rodeo in March.
Weeks later, they reappeared. Fewer in numbers, but larger in size.
Most outdoor writers are puzzled as to why flyrodders are fascinated with Rios. The Louisiana Outdoors Writers Association doesn’t even allow entries for their state records. Catch a large gafftop catfish, which is a sucker for dead shrimp, and you’re in the records. But land a beautiful electric-blue Rio Grande perch with a handmade fly, and you’re out of luck.
The arguments against are 1) it’s an invasive species and 2) these fish don’t fight like bluegill do.
First off, if we don’t want non-Louisiana fish in our waters, stop stocking Florida bass. Second, Rios may not fight as hard as bream, but then what does?
Anyone who has ever raised Rios in their aquarium will tell you two things. First, they get very big, very fast. Second, when removing a large Rio from the aquarium, you’d better have a net. These chunky fish are almost impossible to hold — they’re pure muscle!
For some strange reason, their fight doesn’t match their awesome strength. But there are times when it does. Normally, flycasters use light tackle — 1-weight through 4-weight rods — to fish this species. But if you hook a 12-inch Rio and it’s in a bad mood — trust me, nothing less than a 6-weight rod can land such a fish!
In September 2009, the New Orleans Fly Fishers held the first-ever Rio Grande Fly Fishing Rodeo. Members of flyrod clubs across the state were invited to participate. Folks from Shreveport, Natchitoches, Monroe and elsewhere flocked to pursue the biggest Rio on fly. And to enjoy po-boys, beignets and other local treats.
One conclusion these anglers came to — Rios love beadhead flies. Among their favorites are Hare’s Ears, Prince Nymphs and Jitterbees — mostly in dark colors. One fly has worked best of all. It’s tied with a split rubber tail like the jitterbee, but with a body of black chenille, or better yet, peacock herl.
Since Rios have a formidable set of teeth, and peacock herl tends to break easily, I recommend tying the peacock using a dubbing loop. When you twist the herls (use two or three) inside a thread, it strongly reinforces the body.
Another tip learned from the tournament: Keep a low profile. For whatever reason, most of the bigger fish like to come right up against a bank and feed. If you cast out far, you’re likely to catch smaller rios or mostly bream. Limit your casts to within 15 feet.
Rios are not going to replace reds, specks, bass and bluegill as the state’s top flyrod species. But they do offer a unique fishery that is giving urban flyrodders in the Big Easy a chance to grow their skills, while proudly claiming to have landed one of the most exotic sportfish in North America.
This is the time when the major rivers in our state — the Mississippi, Atchafalaya, Red, Ouachita, Pearl — typically reach their lowest levels of the year.
Watch the river stages. When the opportunity arises, things will happen quickly. The first couple of weeks is when white bass go on a rampage. Weighted baitfish patterns, especially Clousers, can make for some epic trips.
Bayou D’Arbonne just north of Monroe, above its confluence with the Ouachita River, is an excellent spot for bream and crappie this month. Fluff butts and crappie candies will catch both.
Toledo Bend or Caney Lake hold big numbers of big redears in late summer. You can catch them in 4 to 8 feet of water using a heavily weighted nymph. Use a long leader to help get the fly down.
We’re into the peak season of the saltwater pelagics. Jack crevalle will soon invade Lake Pontchartrain. Stock up on big EP Fiber flies. Not only because jacks love ‘em, but once they eat one, that fly is history!
The marshes around Calcasieu and Sabine continue to produce lots of reds, as do the marshes at Delacroix, Dularge and Myrtle Grove. Flyrodders have done well this summer using spoonflies, charlies, bitters, Borski crabs and Stu Apte tarpon flies.
The Camp Fly Fishing School will offer its annual “Advanced Instructors Prep Workshop” on Sept. 11 at The Camp facility in Breaux Bridge. It is one of the few workshops in the country designed to help students prepare for the Federation of Fly Fishers Casting Instructor Certification, and is also recommended for those looking to improve their casting mechanics. Cost is $135, and includes a full day of instruction, lunch, refreshments and handouts. For details, go to www.thecampflyfishingschool.com.
Louisiana’s National Hunting and Fishing Day will be celebrated Sept. 25 at four venues across the state. The largest — at Waddill Outdoors Education Center in Baton Rouge — will feature beginner fly tying and fly casting lessons offered by the Red Stick Fly Fishers club. For more details, go to www.wlf.state.la.us.
The Federation of Fly Fishers Southern Council will hold the South’s largest fly fishing expo in Mountain Home, Ark., Oct. 1-2, with some workshops on Sept. 31. In addition to hands-on workshops, there are numerous programs, fly-tying demonstrations, dozens of exhibitors and even special programs for youth. Online pre-registration for Southern Conclave is open until Sept. 15. For complete details, or to register, go to www.southerncouncilfff.org.
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