Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wild Trout

Chris (his blog here) beat me to the blogging punch and posted some info on our recent trip to the Ozarks for some wild rainbows. The question came up during the trip, "When does something become native" while we wondered how native these wild trout had become; we concluded little except that life in a stream seems to generationally run on a spectrum consisting of Stocker-Wild-Native categories. Regardless of exactly where on that spectrum we were entering, we were definitely throwing flies at the farthest-right point yet.

We set up camp on Sunday night, having left earlier than our days-off began and arriving late that night. As usual, the dark made navigation on basically unmarked roads in no-signal territory interesting. We found it despite the area's best efforts to hide the campground. Per tradition and universally understood rules, immediately after setting up house we checked the water. Seeing this-and-that and being close to water again made us both ready for morning light which would bring a better view and, hopefully, wild trout.

We quickly identified a small #24 Mayfly hatch and I switched to a matching pattern; a few casts later I was in shock that I was actually connected to a non-stocker trout. The joy of the moment surged through me, and barely being able to concentrate and contain myself I stripped in this modest rainbow. This was one of two highlights of the trip for me; I stood in awe of this little fish who had come to make Missouri his home.

In my excitement, trying to snap another photo, I dropped at least 50% of my camera in the water. It turns out that it was not an operationally crucial 50%, but definitely an imaging 50%. The next few photos I snapped were eerily foggy. There was a chilly fog on the water, but not as much as it looks like. The air temp was in the low 50s when we got on the water and in the upper 50s nine hours later when we got off it.

The small Mayfly hatch came and went throughout the day, but definitely peaked around 11am. Multiple large clouds worked their way downstream over our heads. Barely visible in this snap is one of those clouds; it looks like dust or snow, but it is tens of thousands of #24 'flies. Surprisingly, the fish were not highly selective on dries and seemed to take anything light-colored regardless of size. I was happy to tie on larger flies and had great fun watching trout hammer my #16 Humpy.

We moved downstream for a full 8 hours, even wading through a section that stretched our wading abilities and mettle. I was sure I was going to get my leg chomped by something or get a foot stuck and go for a bath--Chris did draw some blood on a boulder--but we successfully passed via a hell-walk on land and death-wade in water. I said to Chris several times that this had better become worth that travail, and was getting seriously discouraged that it was not.

As we rounded a bend, we were met with a glorious riffle and an equally gorgeous run above it. After missing a few fish in the riffle, I worked upstream and found a small slot beside the bank. A mid-length cast and a short drift ended with a small splash, and my fly was instantly traveling in a faster than-current manner. And much faster. The fish gave a quick and cumbersome leap to show its head and size, and then took off downstream like Rocketman. I had about 20' of line stripped out for the cast and drift, and that was quickly pulled from the water and through my fingers as the fish put himself on the reel. A shout for Chris got him wading toward me from the riffle where I later learned he caught nearly 40 trout.

He arrived on scene to see the back and forth battle between my Konic's drag and this wild rainbow. A handful of runs and a few long standoffs downstream (he was a smart guy--never having once swam upstream, only down) passed and we were both ready to bring the fight to an end. He gracefully let me bring him to hand, raise him for release and photo, and be rod-measured. What a fat 'bow!

I gave him some spa time, and while I still think he was being a little over-dramatic, took off strongly after a few minutes rest, cradled in my hand all the while. I've now had two of these moments of reviving a large trout after a real battle; it has proven both times to be an experience of indescribable happiness, satisfaction, and even romance of nature. The world is blinked away in an instant when a big fish is hooked, seems to irrevocably vanish during the fight, yet somehow returns in a new, refreshed, and rewritten way during release.

All the fish I caught were not big; I enjoyed the vibrant beauty of countless 5-7" fish that I have yet to have really show up on a camera well. Outside of the moment, everything is faded off-stream that was once brilliant when there.

At the end of the second day--the last day--we were satiated. We had fished the majority of the good sections of the stream and seen more than our active imaginations prepared us for pre-trip. We were exhausted from being surrounded by the scenery that, at its core, held truly wild trout. I think I can speak for both of us in saying that it felt as if by fishing and catching in that stream, we had enjoyed an honor, being ourselves a rare presence on water that is both wild and admirably refined at once. As tolerated intruders we tried to take it all in, but so much is unavoidably left behind, and found again only when our line falls back to the water.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Religious Views

I'll post more extensively, honestly and (hopefully) insightfully later, but when asked by Facebook concerning my "Religious Views," without thinking or any other hestitation, I entered: "Fly Fishing."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back into Cold Water

Sunday had me off work and on the road. Ronnie (his blog here) and I headed out early, leaving STL at 4am. Anxious to get there, I didn't exactly obey all posted speed limits, and the places where it wasn't posted I just made up my own. We were nervous about the rain having screwed up the water to some degree; it poured and stormed the night before and was still raining when we left. A handful of miles down the road revealed that we would almost certainly be fishing rain-less, and later found out that it had barely rained where we were headed.

Montauk is a drive for us, at least on the way back. Somehow when headed there it always feels about an hour away, even though its actually more than twice that, but leaving feels more like five. We made good time on the "Rollercoaster Road" that marks the last stretch and pulled in early. Way early. We usually give ourselves 30 minutes to rig up and get our spot before the buzzer sounds; this day we had more like an hour--start time changed to 7:30 Sept 1st.

While we waited very impatiently, talking and making plans for future trips trying to distract ourselves from the wait, we couldn't help but look intently around. We each sighted fish immediately, but the real game was studying them and having a particular 'bow selected to work once that damn buzzer did sound. The minutes ticked by with watch-checks every 30 seconds or so to confirm that time really had slowed down. We knew our fish--had a good idea of each's personality, habits, behavior and feeding lanes. The only thing we didn't do while waiting was name these fish. When the buzzer sounded (40 seconds late, by the way), we loosed our flies from our fingertips, cast and immediately began watching the drift that we had pictured and planned for the past half hour. Before the buzzer stopped sounding, we were both almost about to release our first fish of the day. Oh yes, this would be a very good day.

I don't want to paint the picture that I am a superstar trout fisherman who has any clue what he's doing; I really don't. I'm a warm-water transplant everytime I go trout fishing, and a lot of what I do out there is just imagining these trout are just oddly shaped BG, asking myself, "What would a Bluegill do [i.e. WWBD]?" Even in my novice, greenhorn status I started getting bored with the action in the park. Ronnie did too. The fish are very uniform in size, fairly predictable, too damn numerous, and too well accompanied by other fish hunters. In a simultaneous glance, quick nod, and immediate stowing of gear, we were off. We headed to the Catch and Release area for some bigger, tougher fish. We found 'em. Well, Ronnie found the bigger fish; I found the tougher fish.

Ronnie hooked up with one of the bigger trout that haunt that spot and I got called over in an excited voice for a photo. I ran over ready to assist and capture the moment. It was fun to watch him slide the fish onto the reel and fight him off that, plus this fish put up a spectacular fight with a lot of cycles in and back out.

He landed the 18" bow, lost his hopper in the onshore battle that ensued, and released it back.

He landed the bow relatively quickly; he's a good conservationist and knowing this was a C&R area wanted to make sure the trout would easily recover. So the onshore action was as lively as the water-fight; amazing how powerfully these fish can "wriggle." As he slipped back into the water, he immediately and confidently swam off--always a good sight. You don't have to be a good conservationist to at least gain some respect for the fish during the fight to land him, but it doesn't hurt anyone when you already are.

I landed a few there, none very large and all hard earned. I fished another small section and unhooked some number of trout that seemed to be addicted to small C-backs and Bob's Flys; what a hoot! I nearly landed a real hog, but net-less had him break off my 6x when I dipped my hand down to him.

We left the C&R area altogether after two very non-conservationist males (they were grown, but hardly "men") showed up and began to be human weeds. One set up directly behind me and made it difficult for me to cast and dangerous for him to stand. I didn't move and didn't catch him; a testament to my strengthening casting skills I suppose...and my stubbornness. The boy over by Ronnie was a little more offensive: he hooked into a nice rainbow and proceeded to rail it in and intentionally drop it from chest-height onto the concrete access walk. He just dropped it! On purpose! Another quick glance and nod between Ronnie and me and we were off again.

We moved to two access points outside the park that we know have Browns, fewer but bigger bows, and far far far fewer people. More our style.

We split up as soon as we hit the water; Ronnie stayed upstream to work a beloved pool and I ventured down. As I walked out of sight I soon became all by myself on the river. I reached a great looking pool bordered by a riffle, and since we were after Browns, I stopped for some casts. I looked at the water, hoping to at least see some signs of life, a rise or shadow maybe, and saw a flash of some real color. It was the largest bow I had seen at this access, and may stay that way for a while. I was intimidated by it, even if only by the brightness of its color. The overwhelming desire to hookup with this fish set me up for massive disappointment, I knew, and I had just lost my last EH Caddis that, until I lost it a few casts earlier, had been terrorizing the far bank. I inspected my little #18 Humpy, willing it to be Caddis-like and prepared myself for the disappointment as I stretched out a cast. The drift brought the little Humpy just on the far side of the bow and I saw him rise, turn, and sip it off the film. You're kidding!

I was happy to be on 5x, but I still went to the reel after two screaming runs stopped my heart. The fight lasted somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, plenty of time to lose that fish. Weighing the exhaustion level of the fish in the balance of landability and health, I brought it in for a try (remember, I'm net-less today). Nope, not even close to ready.

He tore off again, this time dangerously into the fastest part of the current. As I worked him out back into calmer stream, he eyed a nice downed limb. Sure enough, he fired down the current, looped back under the tree and paused long enough for me to wheel around and begin dealing with the problem. We were both upstream of the limb, but the line took a terrifying track downstream to it, under it and back to the fish. I momentarily tried to pull the fish back downstream and under the limb, but didn't want the strain on the already-tired tippet that would have created. After a second or two of stalemate, I decided I had to act and moved down to the limb, loosened my drag and threaded my whole rod under the limb and back up out of the water. I was losing to this fish, but had at least I was back on level ground in the fight.

I tried again to hand-land him, and this time was successful. I looked hopefully upstream for a sight of Ronnie to return the photo-favor, but I was alone. Totally alone. It hit me then that this entire episode that had completely defined and filled my life for the past 10 minutes had been completely contained to one small area of the stream and just two characters--the fish...and me. I struggled to cradle the fish and snap a few photos and rushed to get him back into coldwater for some reviving spa time.

A minute or two in the calm flow was enough, and this trout that had been the only life I knew for a bit was ready to swim off. I gently lowered my hand from underneath him and he took position just beside me to finish his rest.

I stood there and admired the view for another few minutes, and then we both left. I went back upstream in search of Ronnie...and we were off again to the next access point (which will probably end up as Part 2 to this post).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Little Bit Here, Little Bit There

I am still struggling horribly to get out fishing. I am still on this house-fixing kick, and I am trying to make the most of it while I have the wherewithal and motivation (it'll re-depart eventually). My Finesse 3wt did arrive back from Texas a few days ago, and I had to (had to!) go test it out to make sure it was ok. It was, of course.

I had a few nights back at my buddy's lake-pond. There are five large (at least one very large) grass carp that live in there, and they are unwanted guests. Chris and I have been assigned the task of cutting the population down to 1-2. It's hard work, but someone has to do it! This past week, I drove out a few evenings to chum an area with corn and tomatoes, planning to fish it Thursday night.

Wednesday night, though, gave me enough time for 8 casts with the fixed TFO. I landed this one little bass and left. I left because it was getting too dark to see and too windy to hear or cast. The dark was getting so dark it starting creeping me out enough to cause me to give several quick, nervous glances over my shoulder at the woods which back up to the water. This place is in the middle of nowhere, so the dark is a real dark. No light pollution! After the bass, the wind really picked up a lot, a lot of weird noises started, and I just got plain scared. I packed up, gathered enough courage to take the time to take down my rod and reel, and piled into my car. Preparing to turn on my headlights, I was sure an Eastern Missouri Zombie or the like was about to be lit up staring right at me, but I was alone. I still locked my doors and didn't bother looking back as I reversed out of my little parking spot (I figured if there were something behind my car, it'd be in my best interest to kill or injure it since it probably had ill intentions for me). Short night, quick departure, fun time back on the TFO.

Thursday brought Carp Day. With corn flies, red globugs (for tomatoes) and 1x tippet on a 7wt and glass 8wt, Chris and I headed into the fray with polarized glasses and high spirits. We soon spotted a finner just off the dock, and I stalked up into casting position...threw my line and fell just short. "Good, didn't spook him; he's still there" I thought. I recast and had it set perfectly, I knew, for dropping the corn-bug rig just in front of him without going over and as I brought the rod forward in the cast anticipating the line unrolling in front of me, I felt a hard TUG behind me. Cedar tree. A damn healthy cedar that should have been a Christmas tree long ago held my dropper rig like it was saving the carp's life! I ended up breaking my whole rig off in the tree and immediately called Chris over to take the spot. He's significantly smarter than I am, so he didn't take the same spot, but a little closer and more open. It worked.

He saw the carp still out there and dropped a red globug close enough for a notice and later described the hit as a hard "UHHNGG!" Chris had a carp on, and he was ready for a fight.

Less than 2 seconds later, the carp was gone. The globug too. Even a section of the 1x tippet left. The carp ended up breaking it off at the start of a hard run and never looked back. Chris did, however, hook into another big fish that seemed to be carpish, looked carpish in the murky water, and fought carpish. It ended up being a channel cat, but it was probably the most exciting, torturing few minutes of the night.

LESSONS LEARNED: 1x tippet is not enough; glass 8wts really are tiring; globugs work for everything, everywhere; "dipping your fly in corn" is not a known euphemism but probably should be; carp are damn hard to catch.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Life Recent

In a dramatic shift from weeks and months past, I have barely fished in the past two weeks. That has been partly due to two broken 3wts and partly due to an unexpected resurgence of a will to work on my house again. So, instead of a Sage in my hands, I've wielded a Wagner paint sprayer. Instead of cutting tippets, I've sliced miles of masking tape. The work goes on...but so does fishing.

I was able to get back out to my friends lake-pond for some Sunday-afternoon water time. Not having my 3wts still, I brought the "boomer" 'glass 8wt out hoping to justify it with some big bass or perhaps even the-fish-which-I-dare-not-name.

I didn't quite justify the 8wt, but had a lot of fun. I even got my buddy to fish the fly rod some, and before it wore his arm out, he managed a few 'gills. I don't think I quite convinced him, but had I had something other than the broomstick, I'm sure he'd be buying into it right now.

I am continuing to read, learn, think and dream about rod building. I have my blank selected and am now in the process of researching and selecting the other components (I'm a hideous perfectionist). While I do that, I've started building a stand for threading guides and whatnot. I got the idea/design from the building book I'm reading, but being the fella that I am, I couldn't leave his design well enough alone.

It'll be made of a nice curly piece of Red Oak and instead of being screwed together, I opted for a stopped dovetail. The hold-down banding pins will be through-dowels with multiple placements to adjust tension. I'll use a traditional green felt in place of the more techy polypro or teflon. Fun, small project that is coming right along and keeping me in the fishing-game without actually having to fish.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Massive Popper

One day prior to today...I cant quite remember which, but it was recent--Chris and I struck out into some high-winds fishing. He was using a TXL 4wt and I had my new-to-me ZXL 3wt.

For the fall I've made it my goal to hunt bass. Not having the right flies, I picked up a huge 1/0 frog popper at Feather Craft the other day. What better time to throw that chicken than on the windiest day of the year?

I was able--to my and Chris' shock--to cast it pretty well and while I didnt get the huge bass attack I hope for, I did get one nice little LM on it. It's definitely time for big flies and big bass...and its only a matter of time before the two meet.

Chris did some serious damage on the 'nator he always dominates with, though. You can read his side of the story on his blog, but the short story is that he caught back-to-back a 15" crappie, a 9" RE and then a smaller RE. Lucky guy!

Labor Day Fishing (Updated)

Happy Labor Day indeed! After finishing with work, my wife and I headed out to our friends property west of STL for some food, friends, beer I had the ZXL with me ready for battle, and after a quick survey of the 4 acre pond-lake I determined there were a lot of catchable fish ready to be assailed.

I quickly started catching small bass and greenies. As I worked around the lake, the bass got bigger and the greenies more voracious. I was getting excited. Working from a tight spot on the bank, casting over to a particularly productive spot, I caught the largest of the bass for the night. It was only 14" or so, but a healthy, fat guy that delighted the owner. I think he was more excited at the sight of real fish--bass fish--in his lake. While holding the young bass for a photo, my line got a little tangled up in some bankside brush.

Waggling the rod to free my leader got me 90% free and one last lift with the rod would do the trick....but the wrong trick. The sound that I thought was the tiny branch snapping was actually the sound of my tip section greensticking and becoming 2 pieces. Once again I was beside the water in amazement. The branch it broke under was 1) dead and 2) smaller than the section that broke. Had to be a fracture, I imagined. So the ZXL is on her way to Bainbridge Island along with the TFO which is headed to Dallas. I'm, once again, rodless. This has got to end.

I quickly returned to the house, grabbed a beer, downed the beer, sent Chris a text about the incident, and then tried my best to be a sociable fun guy. Later, we all went to the lake dock to "feed the fish." I saw dozens of 6-8" bluegills swarming around, with half a dozen or so large Channel cats mixed in. I declared that a fish-fry was in order and borrowed the host's rod (an old Zebco 33 with a locked up drag). I plunked down a globug to mimic the fish food and started catching gill after gill. I realized that larger gills were a little deeper, so I let the bug sink...right into cat territory. I ended up (accidentally) nailing to cats on a globug. Yup, a glowbug.

So in the end, it was a fun fishing day, broken ZXL aside. I'm definitely anxious to get back on the water with my own rods, though. The break cancelled a Montauk trip I had planned for Tuesday. I now see the point of owning more than 2 rods.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First Outing with the ZXL (Updated)

This evening I sneaked away for a bit to try out the new (to me) Sage
ZXL 3wt. Chris had asked some guys what reel they'd recommend and the
first response was a Konic 1.5--the reel I've had and been loving. I
can attest that this reel does indeed balance really well with the
8'6" rod.

I arrived out at lake 10 at BWCA just ahead of a long line of severe
storms complete with awesome displays of lightning and distant booms
that seemed to roll toward me from the west and north. I love fishing
ahead of storms since it really seems to excite both bass and BG. This
was shaping up to a perfect evening to put the Sage through the

I hurriedly installed the leader and tippet on my line and topped it
off with what i affectionately refer to as a "fake Briminator." I
assembled the rod, installed the Konic, and literally ran to my

The long rod casts beautifully: both smooth and crisp loading up in
close but with lots of bone to really reach out. I was instantly in
love and could not wait to get into the 3-4 pound bass that populate
the lake! I had a great feeling.

The first hit came quickly, but a little soft. I reeled in the bass--a
3" dink. Oh least they're definitely hitting! The second
fish came a few minutes later--a 2" dink BG. Oh dear.

The wind direction and speed would have been comforting to a lot of
people. It was strong and out of the SW...which would presumable take
the main cell away from me. In reality the wind was the effect of the
storm acting like a vacuum cleaner all around it. The storm and others
like it were headed right my way. Wanting to take down and store the
Sage properly and have a dry drive home, I bugged out.

Two juvenile fish and one very choice rod. All that with a front row
seat to an amazing light show--it was a good night of fishing!

...I am still anxious to get some hoggers on it though.