FARM 13 / STICK MARSH FISHING REPORT
FOR THE MONTH OF AUGUST 2001
August 31, 2001
Sunny Wells and I ventured out recently, with a MAJOR storm cranking up on the south end of the farm. So, we stayed close to the ramp. A few fish here and there on swimming worm and crank plugs. Sunny discovered a lot of shellcrackers were holed up along the grass of the exit canal. Probably, because the water was flowing a bit through it. So, ultralights and jigs made for a fun time. Storm finally dissipated at dark, so we did not manage to get out on the main water.
Did have a couple of thrills while waiting for the storm to make up his mind. Tangled with a 'Stick Marsh Musky' for about 5 minutes on a crank plug. For a short period, Sunny and I thought we had 'the Man'.
Then, about 2-3 minutes later, the 'Musky's' Mamma (see photo) showed up and bit on my stuff again. (That dang swimming worm will catch anything; but, I am not sure who caught whom.) The critter was 60+ inches long and I expect the state record for its type. After it finally got worn down, Sunny grabbed it long enough to get a good picture. But, when it wanted out of the boat, there was no holding it. It is an awesome picture for a light tackle catch. The 'Musky' is the one in the picture WITHOUT a hat!
For the past few weeks, we have been doing exceptionally well on deep crank plugs. Of course, these can only be used in very selective areas of the mostly-shallow Stick Marsh impoundment. If you know the place even a little bit, you can probably figure where those places are. Moving water has made this pattern work and the fish are concentrating. The better lure has been the big 3 inch Fat Free Shad, which runs 12-14 feet (that's the real running depth, not the advertised one).
The current keeps the bottom clean of muck and most grass, so the lure is able to churn the hard bottom. Big bass simply cannot stand a lure banging on the bottom at a fast speed. That applies in all waters, not just the Marsh. Hot weather is feeding time and a deep plug digging the bottom is a top choice.
The road is probably 50/50, at best. Just rough enough to make you stay at the 30 MPH speed limit. Still no dust, which is a plus for the road treatment work done. But, it appears that treatment was probably never intended to surface the road. It still tears up. They did grade it earlier in the week, probably Tuesday, I would guess. But it was just a very light top cut and did not eliminate the rough spots. So, watch for bad spots, particularly in the last section before the parking area. Water is 6-10 inches over normal pool. SE gate is open and running medium speed, I would guess. I say this because of the current in the exit canal and the fact that the diesel pump at the east-middle farm gate was not running. That means the big gate had to be open some.
I am going to make a recommendation, which may sound a bit odd. If you plan to come fish the Stick Marsh this year, you need to consider that it is probably going to be crowded like no other time in previous years. So, you just might want to consider going elsewhere, if it is not too big a deal one way or the other for you. With the road improved, every canoe, Jon boat, pontoon boat, etc., is going to be in there. If it will float, someone is going to launch it and go fish. The parking space will play out long before the impoundment does, in terms of actually being crowded. I have seen boats congregate in a given area, such as the SW corner of the Farm. But, even at peak usage, it has never been what I would call crowded. The only time 'crowding' occurs is when the rude jocks all try to get in one another's boats at the SE gate. There is one other crowd issue and that will be the big canal that divides the Marsh side from the Farm side. It may have up to 50-boat drift fishing in it for crappie and bluegills, as well as a few catfishers. It will be slow going through there. But, if you know where to run and the water stays up, you can run across the Stick Marsh side to the west end of the canal (and, IF the present heavy grass thins some).
Lake Okeechobee and lake Kissimmee offer great fishing, with Kissimmee coming into a boom period as a result of a drawdown a few years back. I suspect that is where I am going to concentrate, as the hassle of the Marsh is just getting to be not worth the effort.
Crappie and bluegill fishing gets right during the same winter and spring months when all the northern anglers like to come down to escape the cold. I would do that, too. So, you just need to take into account the peak periods when all the perch-jerking activities will be in swing.
- Crappie - late Oct through early April, with the peak being mid-Feb through mid-March.
- Bluegills/shellcrackers - available most anytime is great numbers, with an average weight of 1 pound; peak period is late march through mid-June.
August 22, 2001
Sunny Wells and I decided to try and dodge storms and hairlip a fish or two on Wednesday.
Water level is 12 inches over pool. The 'new' road is very bad (rough, holes) in last portion between parking area and first bridge; drive with care in that section. Remainder of road is acceptable, but not smooth. Resurfacing has eliminated most dust, at present.
The company and process used in the 'improvement' of the road can be seen at www.terrabond.com
The big SE gate was running medium rate. Appeared to be a good number of fish there, but all we caught were exceptionally small (a rarity). Most came on a Carolina Rig, but were so small you hardly knew they were there. There was a LOT of grass on the bottom, as well as floating loose, and that caused a lot of wasted casts.
We moved around some and found very good quality fish (4-6 lbs) in a separate moving water location that ate deep crank plugs well. Then, we worked a prime swimming worm location with no success at all. Obviously holding my mouth wrong, or the fish thought I was Don Willis (?).
The grass is exceptionally thick in most locations. Here are some suggestions that I am sure will work around that.
The north/south canals in the farm side are very open, with grass underwater along the sides where the submerged leaves are. Shallow crank plugs and the swimming worm will get them in those locations. Just hold the boat right in the center of the canal trace and fish forwards and to the sides. This is a pattern that has worked every year when the water gets up.
The west end of the Stick Marsh has some fairly open water, especially in the thick palms. The canal that borders the north side is also open. That canal has a LOT of submerged stumps and brush. It also holds a lot of bass. It will get you out of the grass, too.
August 21, 2001
Spent 3 hours out late yesterday before the storms just got too close. First off, the road is NOT loose tar that will stick to your boat and truck/car. That MAY be the best part. What has been done is smooth the road and apply a black liquid made by an outfit named TerraBond (card says 'unpaved road stabilization and dust control'). What we have right now is a road that is free of dust, but a bit rougher than normal when it was graded. The biggest problem appears to be that it now CANNOT be graded. And, it is already developing holes and broken places. Recommend you not drive too fast on it so the rough places don't surprise you. You can spot them, as they are sandy spots in the middle of the black surface. Also, the new surface may be slick when wet. Haven't got to test that yet.
It's pretty darn hot, even afternoon late. There is slow current moving through the Farm and Marsh and it will probably be nil soon, unless we get some very heavy rains. The water level is about 12 inches over normal at present. The grass is exceptionally heavy, so we need to hope water stays up. Had no problem with the fish during our short outing. When the lure gets in front of them, they take it. We used a white spinnerbait until we got two fish and then changed to topwater. Got no takers on the topwater, so we switched to the floating worm in the holes in the grass. That produced two small fish. We switched to the Swimming Worm (which is like cheating) and got a good number more, with a couple doing 4 pounds.
Take a lot of water, if you go out, and drink it steadily. It can be heat-stroke city out there very easily.
August 17, 2001
Water levels unchanged, but storms kept us off the water. So, I took a good close look at the road upgrade.
I am recommending that we all 'let Mikey try it' before we put our equipment on this road.
It appears to have been resurfaced using a heavy coating of a liquid
petroleum compound that resembles tar. But, the stuff hardens up better than
tar. (In Vietnam, we used something similar to hold sand berms together and
called is Pena prime; spelling is questionable, but pronunciation is there). It looks to me as though we could wind up with this stuff all over our boats and vehicles; at best all over the wheels and undersides. I hope that is not the case, but I would sure drive that north side road until I knew if it was going to be an issue. You ever tried to get tar and the like off a boat after driving a fresh asphalt road?? I am going to see if I can get an outside assessment of the stuff and will post it.
Right now, environmentalists are poised to start a
lawsuit over ground pollution in the parking lot at the C-54 canal ramp area
because of the stuff. The big tanker trucks that serve as the supply point for the oilier vehicles have leaked or dumps a ton of the liquid on the new marl parking lot. Had a photo in the paper and all. I sure hope this doesn't turn into a goat rodeo.
I had contacted the St Johns District about the rock storage
in the overflow parking and asked if they were going to move it before peak
fishing season this fall. Turns out, they used the rock for the road upgrade
shoring work and 75% of it is gone now. So, the lot should be clear.
August 13 and 14, 2001
Water level is 32 inches above normal. Will get to launch in the parking lot before long (sounds like North Point ramp on Buggs Island in the spring, right??). The roadwork appears well behind schedule, so I expect we will have to use the north side road for a while longer. It was graded and is OK, except at the culvert and bridge juts. Also, if you have not driven the north side road before, be aware that there is a speed bump in the floodgate bridge where you cross over into the parking lot at the ramp area. It is sometimes cleverly disguised as a dusty spot in the road.
Afternoon storms are strong when they appear. Take care. Yesterday, they went inland and missed us.
We started just outside the ramp area, made one cast, and caught a near-giant. There was a lady on the bank at the ramp, so we went back and got her to model the bruiser before we released it. The pretty lady made the fish picture presentable (see photo).
After catching 6-8 more, we took off for the SE gate. Water was running clean and strong at the SE gate. Not as many fish there as one would expect. Don ("The World's Worst Fisherman", as he proclaims) Willis was there with his buddy, Bill Boyd. Don and Bill were having trouble, but two things allowed me to do well. First, they had no deep crank plugs and I was dredging the fish off the bottom with a big Fat Free Shad. If you did not dig bottom, you caught no crank plug fish, for whatever reason. Second was that the worm and grub had to be heavily weighted (I used a short C-rig setup for them), cast out ACROSS current and held on a tight line while the current bounced it along the hard bottom. Pickups were soft. Working with or against the current was a bummer, for some reason.
I also rigged the Swimming Worm on the C-rig and showed Don it works great retrieved in that manner slowly just above the bottom. There are a lot of 2 lb fish using the gate flow, with a few getting 4-7 lbs. I told them the water was running a little back at the ramp area, so Don and Bill went to try their luck.
Later, back at that ramp tree opening, I found Don and Bill were doing pretty good on school fish on crank plugs. But, Bill seemed to be getting all the fish. Whereas they said they were using the same plug, I noted different. Don's was a deeper Bomber Model A and he was running below the school fish, while Bill was right in them at 5 feet down. Of course, while Don was getting a tangle out, his buddy caught a 7.5 so I could take pictures (see photo).
I worked around the area with the Deep FFS and took some 3-4 pound fish. Then, suddenly, I had the giant. Around and around we went, with the fish finally giving in. Expecting a 10-12 pound bass to surface, I was disappointed when it turned out to be a 14 pound channel catfish.
Decided to do an instant replay from Monday's (the 13th) excursion the next day, but with a guest. Told Alton that I was going to check 4-5 locations for fish and that the gates would not be one. On the water, he was so forlorn that I went ahead to the SE gate. No one there but us. I told him that he could catch 10 and then we would go. Took him 11 casts with a big Fat Free Shad. Lots of fish there that time. Though he was going to cry when we left, but such as 'buy gas only' guide trips.
We keyed to moving water in the places we checked and all but one held fish.
Both levee ends at the west end of the big canal between the farm and the Marsh held fish. The drop on the south side, as you turn into the farm, was best. There were some fish on the top of the drop, but a big bunch was holding down the drop at what appeared to be 12-14 feet. Hard to tell exactly, but the C-rig had to come up the slope a bit before we got bit, and the canal is 20-22 feet at that location. On the north side, the fish were in the little ditch that runs along the INSIDE (just into the Marsh) of the levee. The inflow from the Farm gates goes around both these points as it makes its way to the Marsh side and finally the exit gate. A southerly, or SW, wind really makes these places good when there is also inflow from the gate systems.
Next place was the far east end of the big canal. The inside on the 90-degree turn at that location has a small ditch that runs N/S and appears to have been a corner drain of the marsh into the canal. It lies right at the edge of the grass bed that is beside the stand of reeds in the corner. The levee along the canal also drops down about 4-5 feet here and any current coming east in the big canal tends to spill over into the marsh at that point. If you look, you can see that moving water when it is running. The fish gather right inside the corner, in the Marsh, and will work a Rat-L-Trap and C-rig rather well, at times. But, there were none they for us this day.
Next place was the top (east) end of the exit canal, where it splits around the island off to the north side of the parking area. Current flowing to the exit gate has to make a hard turn as it goes from an easterly direction to west. There are a couple of hard bottom locations off the points on the north end of the island that hold fish exceptionally well when a good flow is moving. They were there and went after the deep FFS very well (see photo). BUT, the plug had to be digging the bottom. It may be shells or it may be rock that makes the hard bottom. Doesn't really matter, but the plug needs to find the hard places.
Finally, we checked the exit canal, itself, about half way down to the outflow gate. The submerged grass line along the north side of the canal is down about 4-5 feet now, so we let the Swimming Worm rig sink a bit longer to get on top of it. We also used a Rebel Wee R, which ran 4-5 feet deep. By holding the rod tip high and slowing the retrieve with the Wee R, we were able to keep it above the grass OK. Trust me when I say the fish are still there. This is the 'sleeper' location right now. Most won't fish it, or do not fish the grass line correctly (usually because they can't see it). We have had some very big bass come from this rather beguine looking canal. That exit canal and the other areas close to the ramp are good places to remember when storms are brewing. I did not see The World's Worst Fisherman this day; he either went early or had honey-do's. Or, he was looking for deep crank plugs!
Actually, Don is a right good fisherman. He just has a limited amount of experience on the Marsh. But, I think that will change very soon!!
August 10, 2001
On the Fishing Reports page of the Bass Fishing Home Page site, we came across an angler who posted his lack of results on the Stick Marsh and claimed to be 'The World's Worst Fisherman'. He described his non-fishing and non-success in great detail, with a sort of 'well, that's just the way it is' attitude. So, we took him out for a couple of hours in the afternoon to see if he was pulling all our collective legs. Here's the story-------------:
Don Willis struggled mightily to retain his title as the 'World's Worst Fisherman'. It was epic battle of Man against Fish, with each side taking advantage of the other as they fought back and forth. But, age and treachery eventually overcame youth and enthusiasm once again.
In attempting to protect his World title, Don slipped up and admitted his REAL problems: little Marsh or bass fishing experience to speak of, and a small boat that just doesn't provide a very good platform for fishing in the Marsh conditions.
As the guide snatched a solid 4 pounder on a C-rig, Don muttered, "What's that?"
"It's a bass", the guide told him.
"No, you ding-butt. I KNOW it's a bass. But, what's that thing you caught him on?"
Yep, that was it. Don wasn't the Worst, but he ran a dang good race in the inexperienced category. So we helped fix that some.
There were four specific lessons he learned: 1) Don learn to tie a C-rig and he caught fish on it; 2) Don found out the Swimming Worm is a pretty awesome lure and he caught fish on it; 3) Don got to see it proven first hand that bass are dumb as rocks; 4) Don got to see first hand why the rule 'Dry Lures Catch Darn Few Fish' is so important.
The first two lessons-learned are self-explanatory. Part of the information learned on the C-rig was leader length, using enough weight to keep the lure in contact with the bottom, and how to tell a live fish from a dead rock. The Swimming Worm pretty well did its own teaching, since all you do it toss is out and reel in back. Before we could go out, we had to wait for a major storm to the south to dissipate. So, we fished around the sump hole edges at the tree opening by the ramp. Bam, bam, bam, bam - the Swimming Worm worked them over.
Later, while we are fishing plastic worms, I got a light strike. Without setting the hook, I proceeded to demonstrate Lesson 3 and just lead the fish around the boat awhile like a dog on a leash. Bass are so dumb, they just hold on even though they can tell the dang lure is tied to something somewhere. After a bit of conversation and laughing over this between Don and I, it became apparent the fish was not going to give up his prize, so I set the hook. Turned out to be the big fish of the day.
Lesson 4 was just a happenstance thing and not really planned, but it proved the point of keeping your lure wet at all times. While getting Don's C-rig tied up, I tossed mine out a few yards and laid the rod down on the deck of the boat. I tied his hook on a leader while Don did the weight, bead and swivel on the main line. Sure enough, just we finished, my rod goes banging along the front deck and almost over the side. Hey, if it's wet, it MAY get bit. If it's dry, you're obviously fishing too shallow. 'Nuff said there.
We had a good old time and I don't think Don can still claim he is the 'Worst'. I saw the scoundrel catch fish (see picture). Don is the one in the middle wearing the hat. The two green things he is holding are training aids.
But, you know what? I had more fun watching Don learn to do this stuff and catch fish than he did. Great stuff and what it is all about!
The main access road to the Marsh is being improved, so you must use the road on the north side of the C-54 canal. It has a few rough spots, with most being on the front section. Other than that, it is fine, but narrow. Slow down and pass carefully when you meet another vehicle. I don't know when the schedule says it will be finished, but I went and looked and they have a long way to go. Right now, the prep work is still going on after a week. It looks as though the road surface will initially be pretty good, if it holds up and is maintained. Probably the important thing to watch is going to be the local 'Joe Highschools' and NASCAR wannabes driving 80 MPH on it. Take care when it is completed. I also tend to think that surface is going to be slick in wet weather. Be sure to check that as you first drive it.
The grass is getting rough. Very thick in the center of the Marsh, with a few open areas on the west and east ends. I suspect a small topwater and a floating worm will do OK, with the worm being the better choice, Toss it into the hole and let it drop on a slack line (just like we did when the water was so low and we were fishing the showing brush).
Grass is also taking over the north end of the Farm badly. But, the south end looks pretty good. I will check this out another day, but my 11 years of experience on the place tells me the south end of the farm is going to be awesome as we get on the right lures and areas.
Storms and lightning are still major factor to watch. Also, Don Willis and I spotted lots of 'big brown ones' out there in the grass. Slow down and save a lower unit or transom.
August 6, 2001
Been in NC mountains for 9 days catching and eating fresh (dare I say it?!) rainbow trout. 30 minutes from water to table. Hard to beat. 60-70 degree temps were tough, too.
Went and checked the Farm this afternoon late. Things are changing fast. Water is still 18-20 inches over normal pool and more coming in after 5+ inches of rain day before yesterday. (If a gate is running dirty, forget it and go elsewhere. If it is clean, camp awhile.) Grass is getting completely out of hand in both the Farm and Marsh sides, especially the Farm.
Since all the rainwater means there is no need for the farms to suck water OUT of the Marsh for irrigation, I am going to see if the powers will treat the grass now. Will probably tell me to get lost, but I know their boss pretty good, too. Hee-hee.
As for fishing, it is obvious that 'moving water with obstruction' locations are prime targets. They have been for a month now. Forget the gates and the rude crowds at them and go to the more subtle moving water location. It pays in spades. Key things to look for: any opening; holes in major grass lines; submerged canals ('paths of least resistance' trick in those; water moving across the Farm will tend to be more concentrated in those channels); special tip - intersections, 3-way and well as 4-way.
I tossed three lures in the course of an hour - topwater plug, swimming worm, and the slowing sinking no-weight Zoom worm. Three strikes on the plug, 4 on the swimming worm (all small fish), 2 strikes on the Zoom. Zoom key - hold boat still and place worm in opening in grass beds; let it drop on a totally slack line. ALWAYS use weightless worms in thick grass situations. Most fish came in areas of somewhat dirty water, so clear water is NOT always a requirement.
I do not use an 02-meter, so I cannot address 02 content. BUT, look for fresh algae blooms in the grass beds. Algae EATS 02 and is a sure sign of a less potentially-productive area. More to follow as we get back up to speed.
I spoke with Hugh Crumpler, who indicated the grass was tough, but fishable. Three other email discussions indicated trouble adapting to the grass, but some success with moving water areas. Those of us who live close to the Marsh and fish it a lot have seen various grass condition patterns over the past 11 years. I have seen this major blooming grass pattern three times. The pain is NOT the grass bloom (so long as we don't get a fish kill). The problem is the remedy. The dying grass consumes 02, just the same as a fire or rusting metal does. If you spot brown grass areas, leave them ASAP. You will be wasting time. No 02, no fish. It's that simple.
Had a request to get the GPS coordinates we promised on line. I will move that up on the priority list. BUT, specific locations are really not good strategy, in that the fish are ALWAYS on the move. Coordinates for objects or just for reference points are OK. But, you cannot depend on a school of fish being in a spot day to day. My new Garmin GPS MAP76 has the WAAS capability and gives me 3-foot accuracy. I can see myself walking around in my driveway with it. Awesome stuff from satellites 24,000 miles out. I will give you some dead-on specifics at times, but that will mean little. But, enough location repetitions may provide a pattern.
Hot tip for crappie: toss a jig out and retrieve it right along the line of change in current flow and the eddy area. Crappie are easy to catch right now using this method.
Still a lot of big brown floaters lodged in the grass beds. Run with care!!
NOW AVAILABLE: We just finished the first version of the Farm 13/Stick Marsh section which provides history, current conditions, current fishing reports, special information topics, AND an interactive map. The map, a creation of Bryan Hague of Fishing-Hunting.com, allows you to point to a section of the impoundment and have a pop-up window appear with the information about that section.
Today's Weather for
the Stick Marsh Area
Past Fishing Reports
Farm 13/Stick Marsh Information Guide
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