Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Legend of the "Christmas Crawdad"

Well... here I am writing the promised report on the performance of the "Christmas Crawdad." It's hard to know where to start with this adventure, but since most stories are told chronologically I guess I'll start at the beginning.

Yesterday morning Kelly and I got up and headed off to the Spring River near Mammoth Spring, Arkansas. The two and a half hour car ride there was rather uneventful. We arrived at noon with clear skies, which is not a good time for fishing the ol' Spring River. The fish there seem to avoid the sunlight like cave dwellers. This is probably a result of the abundant cover in the river. The fish have so many places to take cover that they aren't forced to be out in the open like fish elsewhere. The river flows over a limestone bed with all sorts of nooks and crannies. There is also an abundance of vegetation that the trout literally use like blankets. Fishing the Spring River involves a lot of high stick nymphing and fishing deep slots with a heavily weighted set up. A split shot about 6-8" above your fly is pretty much a necessity on the Spring River if you want to consistently catch fish. The shot we use is larger than anything I've ever seen in an assortment of fly weight shot.

Since we arrived at high noon, it took a little while to hook up with the first fish. I spent a fruitless hour fishing the first "Christmas Crawdad" (green/red with white rubber) before I snagged a rock and lost it in a deep run. The second "Christmas Crawdad" (the gold one) quickly met a similar fate. I was left with only one "Christmas Crawdad" (green/red with red appendages), and I was determined to catch a fish with it before the day was over. I decided to save it for a bit and fish with a more standard material fly of the same design. This one had a rust/olive colored chenille body with an olive hackle and white rubber. On one of my first few casts with this fly, it was inhaled and spit out by what appeared to be a rather large fish in a very shallow run. As I tried to recast and offer it again, I snagged the only nearby overhanging tree on my backcast. The fly was lost, and I decided to go ahead and tie on "Christmas Crawdad" #3 (green/red with red appendages).

I cast it into the same run again, and actually caught a trout on the "Christmas Crawdad." It wasn't big, but I had fulfilled my silly quest.

"Christmas Crawdad" success

The fun with the "Christmas Crawdad" was not over. I knew there was still a bigger fish in that little run so I cast it back in there. On my first cast after catching the tiny trout above, I hooked into a beast. I immediately knew that I had made a mistake by not tying on fresh tippet. I was fishing with 5x (4.75 lb) and the Spring River rocks quickly take their toll on tippet. The big Rainbow (which was the largest trout I have knowingly hooked on a fly) made a few runs in rather shallow water... where I thought for a moment I was winning the battle. Then he began to run toward the deep water in the middle of the river, and I knew the table was about to turn. He managed to wrap my leader under a rock in the process. As soon as I got the line from under the rock he made one last beeline for deeper water and he was gone.... damn it! Kelly and I both got to see the fish while he was in the shallows. It was easily 20" and around 4 lb.

It wasn't the only large fish of the day that we lost. Kelly later hooked a Rainbow that was around 18" and as it flopped at her feet she was unable to actually land it. I was headed her way with the net, because I knew it was a good fish, but I wasn't there nearly fast enough.

I did manage to "catch" one very large fish just as the sun was setting and it was starting to get dark. I saw a large dorsal fin break the surface of the water in a very shallow run... I cast upstream and just to the left of it and foul hooked this thing...

I'm not sure what to think

It was a ghostly image of what was probably at one time a beautiful fish. I'm not sure exactly how to describe its condition. It may have been a bit sickly, and the look on my face in the photo might be explained by the fish being a little slimier than normal. I'm trying to smile but I'm a little concerned about the thing I'm holding. It may have had some sort of fungus growing on it. It put up very little fight for a fish of this size, but he was holding in the current when I hooked him, and swam away under his own power when he was released.

He was nothing to compare with the fish I lost.

It was quite an interesting day. We saw a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fly over. I caught a Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus), also known as a "Shellcracker" in the south, which is not really a fish to expect in a trout stream... it's more of a farm pond fish. It's the second one I've caught in the Spring River in pretty much the same spot both times. The fish diversity is why Kelly and I love the Spring so much... that and the dependable (9 million gallons of 58 degree spring fed water an hour) stream flows.

The drive home was equally interesting. We had to drive through the fresh scene of a car collision with a horse (dead horse on one side of the road and the wrecked car and human victims awaiting ambulance on the other).  Then we saw one of the most beatiful moonrises either of us has ever witnessed. We topped it all off with a good dinner at Chili's in Jonesboro (with no bar?... dry county I guess) on our way back to Memphis. I have leftovers to eat by the way, and it is lunch time.

While I'm eating, I'll be thinking about that monster Rainbow swimming around with my "Christmas Crawdad" in his mouth. It will haunt me until I get back out there... I think Kelly and I will probably be fishing on Christmas day. We don't have much else to do.

To everyone in the outdoor blogosphere, Merry Christmas!


  1. The question is, will you take your Christmas Crawdad out again to throw again at the one that got away? -stephanie

  2. Of course I will... I have to tie up some more in the next couple of days. I think I can make time for that.

  3. Fish lost like that are one of the reasons I think us anglers love the challenge of this "sport." Go get that Moby Dick, at least you know what he's hungry for now.

  4. That thing looks like a Christmas tree. Nice report.

    Merry Christmas

    The Average Joe Fisherman

  5. Nice fish Jay even if it's sick. Merry Christmas to you and Kelly.

  6. Jay, (now that I got your name straight)
    That was a great Christmas read, good time of year for that fly, how does it fish, say around 4th of july? what do you call it then?

  7. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your mark. I'm more than happy to follow a fellow basser.

    I know of the booglebugs, they are nice but I've never bought one...I tend to use my homemade poppers instead.

    I'm excited about your fly fishing bass slam quest.

  8. Great post and sounds like it was worth the trip. Amazing what you can tie up and think, no way but then WHAM! Congrats again on a great trip.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Passinthru Outdoors Blog - Sharing the Passion

  9. Thanks Clif and Passinthru for following. Glad to have you here. Hope everyone has a Happy Holiday!