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Shoaliepalooza 2009 Recap

     Due to the wet weather we've endured this spring, Shoaliepalooza 2009 was hastily postponed to mid-May. Pulling into the campground at the Flint River Outdoor Center, the dire weather forecast seemed to be playing out, as we were immediately greeted by a heavy downpour, which had everyone huddled under Mike's (Dances with Spiders) tent and turned much of the camping area into a sloppy mess. The Flint, already showing a good stain, was sure to look like chocolate milk the next day, when the bulk of our dozen or so anglers planned on hitting the water hard. To put a further damper on our prospects, the few GRFers who had arrived early reported that the fishing this day had been extremely slow (though Nielson did catch a 20-inch shoal bass!).

Uggh. Luckily my camera is waterproof.

     Yet once the grills were fired up, steaks thawed, and fried chicken doled out, it was Shoaliepalooza again! Timbo reported he had just become a grandfather, a celebratory bottle was passed around, and pretty soon we settled into some great campfire talk, albeit without the campfire. This is my favorite part of Shoaliepalooza. Everyone is looking at the contents of everyone else's tackle boxes, stories are told and retold, and plans are made for the next day. It was universally agreed that our new camping spot opposite the store was far superior to the old one. If the new construction on the bridge allows it, we'll do it there every year.

Dances with Spiders displays a few of his camping and fishing necessities

     Saturday morning dawned surprisingly clear, and our hopes were lifted when we looked at the river and saw that it had actually cleared up a good bit from the day before. Obviously, it didn't rain very hard upstream the night before. My fishing partner for the weekend was pumped. "Daddy, did you bring any candy?" Mitchell is my youngest son (just turned 5), and this was going to be his first river float as a fisherman. About 9 AM, Mitchell hopped into the front of my kayak, and off we went.

Who's got two fingers and is ready to go? This guy!!

Mitchell got pretty good at reeling in and releasing these guys

     It was pretty obvious from the beginning that today was going to be a good day. Most of the shoal bass were small, but they were biting topwater plugs very willingly. Mitchell got to reel in (and release) his first shoal bass before we joined John (SumterShoalieFan) on a rock. John hooked up with the best fish of the day pretty soon on a big chugger bait, and the next couple hours brought about a good number of bites. With John hooking most of the fish, Mitchell got pretty adept at reeling in "river bass", as he and Nielson call them. As with every river float, there were a few notable occurrences. First, John and Mitchell caught a turtle, which Mitchell thought was the coolest thing ever. A little while later, I heard a loud "thud" and turned to see John flat on his back. The fall was so bad, that I didn't even laugh at my buddy's stumble, which is normally my first reaction. Luckily, John was OK, but if he takes the same fall twenty years from now, it'll be Broken Hip City.

SumterShoalieFan does battle with the day's best fish...

...and ignores Mitchell's warning about that slippery rock over there.

John helps Mitchell reel one in

Daddy and Mitchell teamed up on this nice shoalie

     After a quick shore lunch, the fish turned off for a couple hours. John got the only bite and missed a big fish that didn't get ahold of his dead-drifted Super Fluke quite well enough. Casting from a mid-river rock, Mitchell finally broke our drought when a nice little shoalie decided it was hungry for a little Beetlespin. Mitchell fought the fish like a pro and pretty soon was holding his first-ever self-cast, self-hooked, self-landed river bass. I've already replaced the picture of Mitchell's first steps with the one below. My wife doesn't realize why this one's more significant, but if you are reading this, I'll bet you do.

Mitchell's first "all-by-himself" river bass. That's "Mr. John" in the background catching NOTHING!!

Daddy and Mitchell team up on another nice shoal bass

And the release!

     The fish continued to hit at an acceptable rate for the rest of the day, and I was itching to get off the water before Mitchell had a chance to get tired and grumpy. My fears were misguided, as all he wanted to do was cast (and swim a little, and maybe throw a few rocks). My older kids enjoy fishing, but Mitchell might be the only one blessed (or cursed, my wife says) with the gene that keeps some of us casting all day long. Back at the campsite, Mitchell's persistence paid off when another river bass (a small spotted bass) ate his Beetlespin.

Aaron, Mitchell, John, and Matt take a break from fishing...

...Well, some of us take a break.

Mitchell's second river bass

     Hanging out at the campsite before dinner at the catfish place, we noticed a solitary angler wading the shoals below the campsite. Turns out that it was none other than Mark (Shoalwalker), and we had a great time watching Mark work the shoals with his Zara Spook, taking a few nice bass in the process. Dinner at the Riverbend was great (as usual), and back at camp, we were finally able to enjoy a proper campfire and more great fellowship. Next year somebody needs to bring some chicken livers so we can catch some catfish under the stars.

Mitchell finally gives out, about three bites into dinner

    We had a smaller group floating the river on Sunday, and if you missed it you didn't miss a whole lot. Despite no rain in our area, the river was higher and and very stained. I took a nice two-pounder early on a Rapala Skitterwalk, but the fishing was rather slow overall. Trusting Mitchell's casting ability a little more (or rather, his ability not to hook me!), I allowed him to cast from the boat, and cast fruitlessly all day long. We were accompanied on the float by Mark (Shoalwalker), Matt (Shoalietracker), and Aaron. Though the fishing never really got hot, all the grownups had caught six or seven by day's end, including a small shoalie that had been tagged as part of the shoal bass study conducted by Seminole Steve and Shoalietracker. It was pretty cool to be able to hand the tag to the guy who probably tagged it!

    All told, it was a great weekend, and the weather turned out a lot better than the forecast. The only casualty of the weekend was the General's canoe, which nailed something in the river and sprung a good-sized leak. Luckily Shoalieman had some duct tape so The General was able to make it down to his truck! Duct tape: never leave home without it. On the drive home, Mitchell made the weekend a total success when he asked me when we could go fishing again!



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