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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Monday Movie: El Dorado!

Happy Memorial Day!

And a very humble and solemn “Thank You” to the U.S. servicemen and women who have died so that you and I might live free.

To do things like travel to South America to chase golden dorado on the fly.

In that spirit, this week’s video offering is filmed by one of the world’s greatest fly fishing videographers, Todd Moen, as one of the world’s greatest fly fishing photogs, Brian O’Keefe, tries to land a devil of a fish.

A golden treasure that is perhaps the ultimate freshwater game fish in all of the world.

As you will see, in this CatchMagazine.net clip, it’s game on and it’s big fish on.

No, actually, it’s more like HUGE fish on!

Who wins this man angler versus wild fish battle royale?

See for yourself in this week’s edition of the “Monday Movie.”

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Better Fly Fishing: Looking for Life

A key building block in becoming a successful fly angler is learning to become a more observant angler when on the water.

From largemouth bass to trout to tarpon, just about any species of fish in North America can be had on the fly.

But the more observant an angler is before entering the aquatic world of the fish that he or she seeks, the better the chances become that one will actually be caught. 

He's a better fisherman than you will ever be. Why? Because a blue heron is always observing his environment to find that next meal. (USFWS photo)

I’ve learned to be more observant thanks to a number of top guides I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with down through the years.

One is San Juan River fly fishing guru Matt Pyles.

As much as he loves to fish the famed New Mexico trout stream, he’ll never make a mad dash into the water once his fly rod is assembled.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is just rushing right into the water, making all kinds of noise,” Pyles told me.

“They’re not sneaking up on fish. Everybody wants to jump right in and start kicking up rocks.

“That kind of alerts the fish that people are there.”

And when the fish know that an angler is there, forget having a good chance of hooking said fish.

How can you learn to be more observant?

First, a good way to learn is to hire a guide who can teach you what to look for in terms of the fish species that you are pursuing.

Ditto for tagging along with a veteran fly fisher who can show you the ropes.

Second, make a commitment to slow down your angling activities, immersing yourself in the fluid world that you are entering.

My guide pal Steve Hollensed calls it “looking for life” as he eases his boat into a spot that might hold Lake Texoma striped bass, Lake Murray smallmouths, or Lake Ray Roberts largemouths.

In essence, Hollensed isn’t looking for “dead water,” or H2O that has not even a single ripple going on.

Instead, he’s looking for “nervous water” where bait-fish are stirring under the surface…since a predatory game fish might be causing the stirring.

He also looks for birds working the airways over a piece of water or birds that are lurking on a nearby perch keenly observing what is going on.

Since birds – sea gulls, pelicans, egrets, herons, loons, etc. – are looking for the same bait-fish meals that game fish are, their presence is often a tip-off about the presence of fish.

Another type of bird, the lowly coot, can give a tip-off of another kind on largemouth bass rich water like Lake Fork.

That’s because coots are often found hanging around grass beds.

In Texas, grass means hydrilla. And hydrilla means bass habitat.

Find a patch of hydrilla in the late spring or in the summer months and odds are a good bass is lurking in its shadowy cover looking to ambush its next lunch.

A final thing to be aware of when fly fishing is the wind.

And I don’t mean simply from the standpoint of it affecting your casts.

Wind, as bothersome as it can be for a fly angler, is actually a good thing, at least on the warmwater lakes that I frequent.

That’s because wind stirs the food chain from top to bottom.

Miniscule phytoplankton are blown around by even a breeze, dictating where the threadfin shad and minnows will be.

And a moderate wind will blow around the bait-fish themselves, something that will cause the predatory game-fish to carefully position themselves into advantageous spots to take full advantage of the protein rich conveyor belt coming their way.

A case in point is my home water, Lake Texoma, where late spring brings plenty of wind.

Find a major lake point that is exposed to that May wind and you may have a striped bass frenzy occurring in water that is hip deep or less.

That’s because in May, the threadfin shad spawn is underway, keeping vast hordes of shad tight to the shallows.

Where the adults and fry are often blown about by the wind.

Striped bass know this and often position themselves along windy points where the buffet takes place.

How do they know this?

Because whether they know it or not, they are being observant.

Now if only the angler that pursues these Texoma linesiders – namely me – would do likewise.

 

Monday Movie: Alpine Bass

It’s Monday…again.

Rise and shine, right? Yeah right. Personally, I’d rather be out fly fishing somewhere.

Since I can’t (and I’m guessing since you’re reading this you can’t be out there either) how about a new feature for these monotonous Monday’s?

Monday at the Movies, Fly Fishing 365 style.

First up, fly fishing photog Brian O’Keefe and his topwater duels with some high country largemouth bass who just can’t resist a Rainy’s Rattlin’ Frog.

Enjoy!

 

Russell Graves: Goodbye Bois D’Arc Creek

While visiting the TexasKayakFisherman.com Web site the other day, someone mentioned an article that recently appeared in the February 2010 edition of the Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, a story entitled “Bois d’Arc Goodbye.”

Written and photographed by Russell Graves, one of the nation’s premiere wildlife and hunting/fishing photographers, the mention stirred my memory.

And a piece of my soul. 

As an important bottomland hardwood drainage in North Texas is being swallowed up by a development demanded reservoir, Russell Graves chronicles what is being lost. TPWD / Earl Nottingham photo.

Why? Because Bois d’Arc Creek, a wet and muddy North Texas bottomland treasure, is being swallowed up by a soon-to-be constructed reservoir.

A reservoir being impounded thanks to the explosion of nearby Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex development and its insatiable need for water supply.

For those who don’t know, Bois d’Arc Creek is one of the major drainages of central Fannin County in North Texas (the small city of Bonham is the county seat).

On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be much more than a typical tree-lined waterway.

And to be honest, when the topic of this blog is considered, it doesn’t appear to be much of a fly fishing venue thanks in part to the difficulty of casting a line in its tangled environs and the fact that only a smattering of native fish species call it home.

But a deeper look at Bois d’Arc Creek’s green and brown tinted waters reveals a more compelling picture.

It is classic river bottomland habitat and has been home to much of the county’s deer population (which is limited compared to other counties in Texas).

In many years, it has flooded seasonally in the spring and fall months, leaving behind significant amounts of moist soil vegetation and shallow invertebrate filled waters thanks to the standing sheets of H2O gathering in the bottomland woods and crop fields.

When those plants, seeds, waste grains, and protein rich bugs have combined with the countless numbers of acorns that fall from a variety of oak trees in the Bois D’Arc bottoms, the region has served as a duck Mecca, attract thousands of wintering waterfowl to the muddy smorgasbord.

Living only a half-hour from the region, some of the most memorable waterfowl hunts I’ve ever been on have occurred in the vicinity of Bois d’Arc Creek. Insane hunting for mallards, green-winged teal, wood ducks, and even the occasional pintail have filled the pages of my cerebral waterfowl journal.

Several of the banded ducks I’ve taken down through the years were taken near the Bois d’Arc waterway. And I once saw 10,000 plus mallards feeding in a flooded field lying not too far from the creek during Fannin County’s peanut farming hey-day.

Who needed Stuttgart when the Bois d’Arc bottoms beckoned?

In more recent times, as Texas’ wild pig population has burgeoned, an increasing number of feral oinkers have grown to inhabit the region, as have restocked Eastern wild turkeys.

Not to mention land already teeming with uncountable numbers of scolding fox and gray squirrels, native and migrant birds, and all sorts of furry critters who call this patch of wet woods their home.

Critters who will have to soon find a new home.

Listen to the words of Russell in his TP&W story as he tells of what is being lost.

And what has already been lost:

“Depending on which account is accurate, somewhere between 62 percent and 90 percent of the old-growth hardwood bottomlands in Northeast and East Texas are gone. A 50-year lake-building frenzy has helped precipitate the demise of the bottomlands, and, ultimately, 16,000 acres of the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek bottomland will soon be gone as well.”

Russell, who along with his brother William, or Bubba as most of us know him, is a very good friend of mine.

While we met professionally years after he grew up in the Dodd City area of Fannin County, fittingly enough, our first encounter occurred on a duck hunt a literal hop, skip, and a jump from Bois d’Arc creek.

 Though he has lived in Childress, Texas for many years now, Russell spent most of his boyhood years in the Fannin County woods, often exploring, hunting, and fishing along the fertile waters of Bois d’Arc Creek. 

As you might expect, the two Graves brothers feel a deep bond with the woods and water that helped raise them into the men that they are today.

Part of that connection, at least in a broader sense, is because this seemingly insignificant patch of wet woods lying within a county of less than 35,000 people has helped to forge the character of an entire region that marks its history deep into the 1800s.

Realizing that more than a muddy creek bottom is being lost, the two Graves brothers recently decided to embark on a series of canoe journeys to remember their past and to record for posterity the spirit of this ghostly creek splitting the rural North Texas county.

In the tradition of John Graves’ epic book “Goodbye to a River,” Russell and Bubba have produced a 2010 version of that timeless tome by way of a 31 minute documentary film called “Goodbye to Bois d’Arc Creek“.

Here’s a glimpse into their journey, again through the pages of Russell’s TP&W magazine story:

Periodically, we pass by a huge bois d’arc tree from which the creek gets its name. The area and its abundant bois d’arc trees were noted by the Red River expedition of 1806. About 30 years later, Anglos settled the area along the creek. Bailey Inglish established a permanent settlement when he built a timber blockade on 1,250 acres along the creek. The original town he platted was known as Bois d’Arc, but in 1844, the town was renamed Bonham in honor of the fallen Alamo hero. Another Alamo hero, Davy Crockett, purportedly considered settling along the creek after the Alamo, as he wrote to his family in Tennessee extolling the richness of the area along “Bodark Bayou.” Legend has it that he even wrote his name on a huge sandstone face that overlooks the creek on its upper end.

On our trips we see white-tailed deer staring at us curiously from the bank as we silently drift past or the occasional beaver chewing on a soft willow. Over the years, we’ve seen animals along the creek’s margins that aren’t even supposed to exist in Fannin County, if you believe most biological texts. I’ve seen badgers and Bubba has seen river otters in the creek on at least three different occasions. After seeing these animals over the years, it makes me wonder what other species live in the wilderness.”

A wilderness that is being lost amidst the whine of chain saws and the lumbering roar of earth moving equipment.

Lost so that far away lawns can be green during the scorching heat of a Texas summer, so that suburban swimming pools can be filled to the brim, and so that expensive petrol eating machines can gleam under the noon day sun.

Perhaps such “progress” is inevitable, maybe even necessary.

But it comes with a price-tag, one steeper than most will ever realize.

To see what that cost entails, check out Russell’s documentary film by visiting his blog on “Goodbye to Bois d’Arc” at:

http://blog.russellgraves.com/2010/05/b … -film.html

Or check out his Web site at:

http://russellgraves.com

And in the process, see if a piece of your soul – the piece that still longs for untouched wild places to exist in an exhaust filled modern world- isn’t stirred a little bit too.

So long Bois d’Arc Creek.

It has surely been nice to know you.

 

Essay: Unbuttoned Blues

To the bass boat jockey gunning a big rooster tail in the boat lane behind me, I probably looked like some kind of nature lover admiring a beautiful sunset on Lake Fork.

I guess it was a beautiful sunset. 

But I hardly noticed. 

The bass might be at the boat, but it's not over yet...

Because I was a big bass fly rodding junky who had just been denied an elusive fix.

The biggest fix of the year, no less.

All thanks to an 8-pound bucketmouth that smashed my popper; leaped from the water like a tarpon; towed my 12-foot kayak around sleigh-ride style; and after more than a minute of intense, timber dodging, see-saw battle, contemptuously slung her head in my direction one final time.

And spit the hook.

Or becoming unbuttoned as anglers are prone to say.

All of which left me motionless in my ‘yak as the sun sank across the East Texas sky.

With a blank expression upon my mug, thinking the thoughts that only those who are suffering from a bad case of fishing’s unbuttoned blues can possibly know.

One of those thoughts is a surprising realization.

The thought that despite a cluttered study full of fishing photos capturing my most treasured angling moments, the thoughts of the ones that got away may in fact be the fish that grip me the most.

Like the mega-bass that attacked my DD-22 fly (loose translation: this occurred back in my pre-fly fishing days) on a sultry late summer morning at Lake Fork.

With the battle nearly won, the massive largemouth was laying on her side at the edge of the boat with only the act of being scooped up into the net remaining.

That’s when the old gal decided to give one final head thrash.

Resulting in my line and the enormous fish suddenly – and noisily – parting ways.

As the largemouth disappeared into the depths with my Tennessee Shad hued bait, I slumped into the chair.

And asked guide Randy Oldfield a question I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to.

“How big?” I queried.

“You don’t want to know,” he replied.

“Yes, I do.”

“Easy 11-pounds, maybe 12-pounds. And it’s summertime…think what she would have weighed in the spring.”

I was thinking what she would have weighed right then as I hoisted her up for a quick grin-and-grip photo before slipping her back into the water to fight another day.

Unfortunately, that picture only exists in my mind.

Or in my angling nightmares.

Ditto for the massive wild trout named Harold.

Harold, you see, was a behemoth rainbow that occupied a difficult to approach lair at the head of a natural stream in British Columbia.

A trout of legendary proportions that many had already tried to hook that summer.

Emphasis on the word “tried.”

On a crystal clear July day, a float plane ride into a stunningly beautiful landscape put me into the batter’s box with an opportunity to catch this big rainbow of 24 inches or more.

Problem was, the only way to get at Harold was to scramble across a rock face with nary enough room for a mountain goat to perch.

All the while standing above a deep pool of aquarium clear water emptying into a B.C. stream that carried a full set of Ph.D currents that were exceedingly difficult to gain a drag free drift upon.

After a half-hour of playing cat-and-mouse with Harold, the stars finally aligned and I somehow executed “the cast.”

Which resulted in the perfect soft plunk of my tiny nymph rig onto the water. Followed by a perfect drift into the big ‘bow’s wheelhouse. Resulting in the perfect opening of his white mouth to take the fly. All capped by a perfect hook set.

Fish on.

For all of 15 seconds.

Then there was the pair of Alaskan cohos that gave me the dodge.

One was a giant 15-pound silver salmon fresh from the sea, somehow visible as he finned back and forth in the heavy current of the rain swollen Tsiu River.

My gaudy fly – I think guide Chris De Los Santos had dubbed the haphazard tie the “Cheap Hooker” – was tossed into the flow, drifted right to the big hook jawed male, and was struck with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, as the giant silver reacted angrily to the sting of steel and burst from the water, I stepped on my line.

With a loud pop the leader and the great fish parted ways.

A day later it was virtually the same song and dance routine.

Except this time, the 15-pound class salmon wanted to run rather than pile up frequent flier miles, bringing the music of a singing fly reel to my ears.

Mere inches before the fish was on the reel, however, a loose loop grabbed the spinning  fly reel handle.

Snap!

I’m becoming all too familiar with that sound.

Finally, there was a fish that my buddy Rob Woodruff has cheerfully dubbed “Orca.”

A moniker that has allowed him to unmercifully torment me with the memory of a yet another big fish escaped.

Fishing a small East Texas lake, the two of us were slinging poppers and enjoying an early summer day of good bass action on the fly rod.

Until the O-Man came calling.

As my frog-hued popper touched the surface of the H2O, what looked like a scene from an antique Heddon Lures advertising sign materialized in front of me.

That’s because a beast of a bass weighing five pounds or more leapt into the water, arched above the barely wet popper, and pile drove it underneath the leading edge of the liquid blue.

Startled, I managed a rather poor hook set.

Made evident 20 or so seconds later when the fish leapt Shamu like from the water and flung the popper in my direction.

Take that!” he seemed to spat.

Unbuttoned.

From a big fish yet again with a fly rod in my quivering hand.

Memphis’ Beale Street should be so blue.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Ode to the White Bass

For whatever reason, be it the dreaded outdoor writer’s curse, the fact that I was holding my lips wrong, or some unusual alignment of the planets, a recent angling trip found me pitching a shutout.

And since I was fishing rather than playing America’s pastime, yours truly wasn’t having much fun.

Until a sudden thump stopped my Clouser Minnow fly dead in its tracks.

White bass don't get the glamorous headlines that other fish species do. But there are few sportier targets that exist for the warmwater fly fisher.

What followed were a few bull dogged head shakes, a steady pull, and a determined fight.

Finally, as the fly rod battle played itself out, the previously unseen fish finally revealed itself in the dingy water.

Mr. White Bass, thanks for the nice pull.

Not to mention relieving the smell of Pepé Le Pew from my end of the boat.

While striped bass, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass seem to grab most of my warmwater fly fishing attention these days, the not as big or glamorous white bass is still worthy of plenty of respect in its own right as a fine American game fish.

Native to rivers that flow to the Mississippi River and widely introduced elsewhere, the white bass – or sand bass as it is also popularly known – will eagerly attack lures and flies and will give a good account of itself at the end of a line.

Not to mention the fact that these tasty critters were practically made for cornmeal and hot peanut oil if you catch my drift.

To be honest, nearly all of my white bass angling has been accidental, catches that were incidental to other angling pursuits.

Take the time when I was targeting largemouth bass in a moderate sized reservoir, only to find myself catching some magnum sized sandies instead.

By day’s end, I hardly minded the change in plan.

Then there was the time I was trying to hook a sizable nighttime striper one winter’s eve with my eight-weight fly rod.

What consumed my shad imitating fly in that chilly Lake Texoma marina basin was a super-sized sand bass in the three-pound range.

After a good fight, I didn’t have the heart to worry about whether or not the sandy might challenge my home water’s 3.41-pound lake record status, so I gingerly slid the fish back into the frigid water and wished it well on its spring spawning run a few weeks later.

On the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, last summer, while fishing with my Orvis fly guide buddies Rob Woodruff and Steve Hollensed, the heat was on.

And the stripers were not.

Finally, the water began to boil.

But what we thought were stripers surfacing on the big lake actually turned out to be a sizable school of white bass.

On an afternoon when not much else was going on at the big lake, the sand bass more than kept us entertained.

Wherever it is that I happen to be fishing where sand bass thrive, I must admit that I’m always glad to discover that it is a white bass pulling at the end of my line.

Why?

Because I like to acknowledge the white bass for what it is: an American original that has survived decades of change and despite not stealing many if any angling headlines, a species that still delights fishermen all across this great land.

And what’s not to like about that?

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Capt. John Kumiski: The Tarpon Poem

Peeking into the “Inbox” today, I see that I have received my regular SpottedTail.com update from Capt. John Kumiski as he reports about all things fly fishing along the Florida Space Coast, specifically the Mosquito Lagoon region. 

While redfish are Capt. John’s saltwater fly rod specialty, he is pretty handy chasing tarpon too.  

Few things in angling compare to the thrill of hooking a tarpon on the fly. (Courtesy Photo / © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

 

And with tarpon on the brain of many Florida anglers these days…not to mention what effect the BP oil disaster might have on the Sunshine State’s king of all saltwater fish…John provided a little something extra this week. 

Fly fishing poetry. 

I kid you not. 

Courtesy of his newsletter comes this poem entitled “The Tarpon Poem,” something I just had to pass along: 

—– 

The Tarpon Poem (Capt. John Kumiski)  

an ideal world
hot sun, blue sky, clear, slick water
sweat
a graphite wand, a wisp of feathers
 

a flash of silver breaks the mirror
then another, and another
feathers land in water
magically, they come to life
 

line tightens
mirror smashed
power
water flies, gills flare, body shakes, shudders
again, and again, and again
 

the beast tires
arms ache
hand grasps jaw
feathers removed
great fish swims free once more
 

tarpon
one of God’s gifts to fly fishers
 

—– 

Amen Capt. John. 

And may that always be so.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2010 in Uncategorized