Mudfish Mayhem In The Okefenokee Swamp
The hotter the better when it comes to catching the all-powerful bowfin.
“I got one!”
Oh yeah, my favorite words to hear on the water. I wheeled around to see George’s rod bent over double. Seconds later, a dark fish rocketed out the water and did a 5-foot tailwalk across the top of the black glass.
I was hollering, “Reel, reel, reel! Keep him tight!” I coached loudly as I knew it was a bowfin (mudfish), and that toothy mouth can sling a set of treble hooks back to you. Moments later, George Gillette, of St. Mary’s, proudly held up his first Okefenokee bowfin and his first-ever Dura-Spin lure catch.
Over the years, I’ve communicated with biologist and writer Bert Deener on his Okee fishing trips. It’s very exhilarating to find someone who loves the Swamp as much as I, and we regularly share adventures. Bert created the Dura-Spin a few years ago and has since been slaying a lot of bowfin, jackfish and at times, large warmouth. Two summers ago, I started flinging Dura-Spins with good success, mainly at midday after a morning of fishing for what I consider the more delicious species.
I always wondered how many mudfish could be caught in a day when they were biting good, which ultimately led to the idea of a friendly competition.
Back in August 2017, a friend and I wore out the bowfin at midday after a morning of warmouth and catfishing. Nearly every cast for two hours we were getting hit!
Bert usually fishes the east side of the Swamp near Folkston at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, and my haunt has always been on the west side near Fargo at Stephen Foster State Park.
So… I challenged Bert to a ‘Dura-Spin Duel.’
Remind you, he created the Dura-Spin.
Dummy me! My partner and I got spanked.
Our format for the day was to fish from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. We’d be fishing to see who caught the most and who caught the single largest bowfin.
George and I scraped up 15 bowfin, and Bert with Matt had 67. So, glad he took it easy on us. He routinely catches 100 bowfin in a four-hour period.
The timeline and results are below.
Bowfin EAST vs. Bowfin WEST
Bert Deener and Matt Rouse
8-9 a.m. Two bowfin. First bowfin was caught at 8:54 a.m.
9-10 a.m. 11 bowfin.
10-11 a.m. 18 bowfin. Bert caught their two largest bowfin at 8.28 and 5.07 pounds.
11 a.m. – 12 p.m. 22 bowfin.
12 to 1 p.m: 14 bowfin.
Total: 67 bowfin.
Additional species: One jackfish, six warmouth and two Florida gar.
Bert reports, “Firetiger-chartreuse blade was the best color, jackfish-gold blade second, then at midday the jackfish-silver blade, and then there was a half-hour period that the crawfish-gold blade was awesome and caught 10 to one. Then that color shut down, and the first two were best again. We had just a couple fish on a black-chartreuse blade.
“Bowfin bite best as the sun gets up high, and at the point where you become uncomfortable with the heat, it really turns on. It will be an even stronger bite in August during the dog days of summer when practically nothing else bites. I can usually catch 100 fish in four hours. During a good bite, it takes longer to get the fish off than to get another bite. For bowfin, we just cast down the middle of the canal and keep it spinning just above the muck near the bottom.
“My usual way to take them off is to get hold of them with a lip-gripper, like a Boga-Grip, and then use a hook remover, the kind you squeeze and the metal insert squeezes back into the tube and grabs hold of the treble hook firmly. When it goes right, you don’t have to touch the fish, just use the tools to keep your hands from their teeth.’’
Glen Solomon and George Gillette
8-9 a.m.: Two bowfin.
9-10 a.m.: Two bowfin.
10-11 a.m.: Four bowfin.
11 a.m. – 12 p.m.: Three bowfin.
12-1 p.m.: Four bowfin. George caught our largest, a split-tail 6.6-pounder.
Total: 15 bowfin.
Additional species caught: one jackfish, two redfin pickerel, one flier, five yellow bullhead cats and 14 warmouth.
I caught the first couple of fish on a crawfish-gold blade. I picked up two more on a firetiger-gold blade, and that ended my bite as far as bowfin. George caught the remaining 11 bowfin on a lime-green firetiger-gold blade on a rod that I had set up for him. That was the only color scheme the bowfin would hit after the sun got up good, and the only one I had, too. On other colors, we had dozens of boils and swirls at them, but they wouldn’t commit. Constantly all morning, mudfish would come partially out of the water, gulping air, feeding and teasing us. Too, the whole food chain seemed to be on fire with panfish flittering everywhere. George and I even caught three yellow bullheads and a flier trolling a Dura-Spin at 6 mph. Go figure.
The bowfin must have been keyed onto something very small. We tried 16 different colors and varying retrieves to no effect. Only the one lime-green version was effective.
Bert and Matt in the East win by a laaaandslide! Congrats guys! Until next year…
Then my Okee vacation continued.
After kicking off my annual Okefenokee trip with East vs. West, George and his wife Delia spent the remaining days with me in this regional paradise. Here we go:
June 18 p.m.: George, Delia and I had a relaxing evening fish fry, enjoying the tasty incidental catches of the morning’s mudfish tournament. They said they were some of the most delicious fish they have ever eaten, even further amazed by the jackfish. I showed George how to prepare them by gashing, resulting in some big chunks of white flaky meat.
We concluded the evening with a scenic drive down the Sill and the Park Road, viewing the scenery and wildlife and videoing a lot of deer, turkey and gators. There is a certain aura down here. C’mon on down, and let it permeate your soul, does mine.
June 19 a.m.: George and I launched below the Sill into the Suwannee River. We fished for an hour and caught 26 warmouth, nothing big, just good eating size. Most were caught with the Magic Warmouth Worm, a 4-inch green-pumpkin plastic worm that I’ll show you if you go over to www.gon.com/fishing/suwannee-river-warmouth. Just scroll down to the bottom of that page, and I’ll tell you what kind of worm it is and where you can buy it.
George threw a curly tail Beetle Spin. The river was very low and a little aggravating to get around, so I suggested we run back to camp and pick up Dee and fish the upper Sill before it got too hot. There, the water still flows out of the Narrows, which comes out of Billy’s Lake that lies within the main Okefenokee Swamp.
Good choice. Dee had a great time catching several yellow bullhead catfish and warmouth. George and I chose to fling Dura-Spins to see if the mudfish bite was better here. The lower Sill is always great, but by early summer, it gets too low and muddy. Here at the upper portion above the flood gates, the pure black water of the swamp is still trickling out to the river.
In the hour we were there, we caught 17 bowfin and a couple dozen or so warmouth. Surprisingly, the Dura-Spin caught two more catfish. Usually those are caught with bait or shrimp on the bottom, as Dee was using. I also caught three more redfin pike. I have never caught any of these here.
June 19 p.m.: Late afternoon we had another tasty fish fry under the shady live oaks. George and I went down the lane from Griffis Fish Camp to the landing on the Suwannee River, which is a few miles down from the Sill. It’s a little deeper water here, once you get across a couple shallow areas. Dura-Spins kept us busy for a couple hours, racking up 11 jackfish with many more missing or slinging the hook. Those acrobatic little devils! Also, we caught 12 mudfish, and we lost count of the warmouth.
June 20 a.m.: George, Dee and I returned to Billy’s Lake in the interior of the Okefenokee. George and Dee caught a couple dozen of the butter cats with small pieces of shrimp, while I toyed with the flier on a bream buster. I use a little fly called a Yellow Sally and a teeny balsa cork designed by Bert’s Jigs and Things.
It’s very fun and primarily for flier, but warmouth love ’em, too, which I caught several that morning.
About 10 a.m., we moved to a little honey hole spot along a strip of cypresses. I pulled out the Magic Warmouth Worm, and within 30 minutes, I caught 23 warmouth with the last five in the bag. Dee was still tossing bits of shrimp and caught nine more warmouth and six catfish. George picked up seven more warmouth with a Beetle Spin.
June 20 p.m.: George and I stopped by the Upper Sill for a few minutes while out doing another nature drive. George caught more than a dozen mudfish and four jackfish on the Dura-Spin. It was non-stop on the flier bream with the Yellow Sally fly. Nothing big but a lot of fun.
June 21: I’m no idiot, so guess where I went on the last day before returning home? Only a few minutes swing out of the way, Suwannee Canal Recreation Area on the east side. I can’t let Bert have all the fun! The west side will be on fire later for a trip in August, but for now, here I come Folkston! Sadly, George had to head home.
Awesome day! A 100-fish day!
Then my third-ever trip with bowfin as the target species. Back in July 2017, I found a spot that was an hour troll (no outboard) from the ramp. It was my first time with the Dura-Spin. I caught 60 fish in four hours, topped off by a 6-pounder. Now I was eager to see if it was still an ideal spot.
Honey hole! It was barbaric. They were hammering the Dura-Spins on every color I had as long as it had gold blades. I started off with crawfish, but once the two I had got tore up (mainly by pliers after the fish were swallowing ’em), I used various others with the bite never slowing down. Top weights were an 8-pounder, four over 7 pounds, several 4 to 6 pounds and the majority 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds.
Once I reached the 50 mark for bowfin at the honey-hole, I began the troll back. Hmmm… as I head back, I may as well toss some more. Some stretches I just coasted along, enjoying the enchanting magnetism of the Okefenokee. My, my what a feeling.
As numbers increased on the journey back, I saw the 100-count attainable (with incidental species). My ending tally by 2 p.m. in a little more than six hours of actual fishing was 82 bowfin, 14 warmouth, three jackfish and one Florida gar. Wow, what a great way to finish four days in the Okefenokee Swamp.
Well, not quite done. George ordered him some Dura-Spins, and he was ready to go back again. I wanted some videos, so we planned a daycation on Monday, July 1. I didn’t think it could get better but, we had a 200-fish day! We didn’t get the larger ones (5 pounds plus) like the Friday before, but they still bit any color scheme with gold blades.
At daylight, we did the hour troll to the hole and began Dura-Spinning. We fished five hours specifically for mudfish, tallying up a total of 78. Two hours into the game and around the 50 mark, we ran out of gold-bladed versions, their preference of the day. The jackfish color with silver blades rounded up the rest.
On the troll back, George wanted some more warmouth, since he already ate the fish from before. I picked up the Lew’s reel with the Magic Warmouth Worm, and George rigged up with live worms. The last three hours of the trip with the sun directly overhead, we caught 118 warmouth, three jackfish and one Florida gar to make the 200 mark. George kept 50 of the nicer ones.
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