Good People - Good Water - Good Fish
Twice a year, my dogs, wife, and I head to Marco Island, Florida, for sunshine, exercise, and happiness. It is also an opportunity to knockout trout states for the Quest. This year I was focusing on Mississippi, where I visited the one location that stocks trout once in 2022. However, I only fished for 15 minutes because I didn't know if the DNR had stocked trout that year. Big mistake as they did! In 2023 for this road trip, they did not pace rainbow trout in Lake Lamar Bruce for the first time in years; ugh! So, plan B had to be created.
Louisiana is the only state somewhat on the way to Florida left on the Quest, but it is about 13 hours from Chicago. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries have a program called 'Get Out & Fish!' where they stock rainbow trout in about 17 ponds around Louisiana.
The program includes a fishing competition and fishing education activities. Through these events, the department hopes to provide the skills necessary to make even new anglers feel prepared to return to the site and fish at any time on their own. It also provides a family-oriented fishing opportunity that gets youth and their families outside to spend the day together. I'm impressed with this program.
My target was Elmore D. Mayfield Park and Grambling City Park in Ruston, LA. I received advice from the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries that Mayfield had deeper holes as the weather was getting warmer; unfortunately, warm water is unsuitable for trout. The stocking was back at the beginning of January, but the DNR confirmed that trout still should be in the lake. Thunderstorms and tornadoes keep me from reaching my campsite at Lincoln Parish Park, so I stop by my mother in Little Rock, Arkansas, for Chinese food, good conversation, and a comfortable bed. It would be a short three-hour drive the following day.
I left Arkansas at 6:00 am in the rain with fading thunderstorms to the west. The forecast for Ruston, Louisiana, was clearing 67 degrees with a mix of clouds and sun. After picking up a latte at Mill Town Coffee Co. in Sheridan, Arkansas, I arrived in downtown Ruston. Ruston is a small town with old vintage brick buildings, a movie theatre, and a McDonald's at the end of the boulevard.
I drove just five minutes from downtown to Mayfield Park and circled the Cul-de-Sac, where the small lake wraps the road. I walked to the lake while the wind blew about 20 miles an hour. Primary due to the storms, the water was muddy blue. The lake was large enough that I had no idea where to start, but I saw a car at the far end parked by the water. So I left the main entrance area and drove around, bypassing a 'Road Closed' sign to find the small dirt road leading to the water's edge where a bait-cast fisherman just threw a flopping fish onto the grass. I nicely yelled, "Hey, is it a catfish or a trout?" Mario, 6'2, wearing a satin durag, replied, "It is a trout!". Wow, what luck! Seeing a trout caught this late in the season and a spot I knew very little about was encouraging.
I told Mario about the Quest, and he was very supportive about where I could fish by him. He told me stories about the sizeable golden trout, also called Palomino Trout, that a guy caught last week. He was fishing with corn kernels, so I sized up my strategy. I would start with a dry dropper outfit, Yellow Stimulator, and a Blue Copper John. If that failed, Orange Headed Wooly Bugger streamer followed up by an Orange Salmon Egg.
I fished down the lake to one end using the dry dropper with no hits but saws a few swirls in the water, leading me to assume they were trout feeding. After 45 minutes of nothing, my mind went in and out of confidence. Mario left with his black pickup truck, so I traded my 5wt for my 6wt fly rod with the streamer on and fished his spot. It only took two casts for a fish hit my lure solidly, "No way!" could this be a trout? Learning from my Kansas trip mishap, I set the hook correctly by pulling straight on the line, not lifting the rod tip. As it came closer, I could tell it was a large rainbow. FISH ON! I knew better not to use my net but pop it on the grass, which I did from the muddy blue water. Good thing the wooly bugger was out of the specked fish's mouth, leaving the water. It was a beautiful Louisiana Trout!
I headed to my Lincoln Parish Park campsite, voted 2022 Louisiana campground of the year, for a trout lunch and a half bottle of Chardonnay before heading out to pick up my wife in Atlanta, Georgia, eight hours away.