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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Monday Movie: Redfish Lagniappe

A few months ago, Captain Greg Dini of Flywater Expeditions in New Orleans was living the dream.

That, of course, was before the epic fail of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010.

Followed up by a lackluster response from the Obama administration, the result has been the worst environmental disaster in American history.

Right in the backyard of what has become the holy grail of big bull redfishing on the fly.

The on-the-water office that Dini calls home.

You can’t blame Capt. Dini for relocating to a place where the Cafe Du Monde’s legendary chicory-laced coffee and powdered beignets help jumpstart each day.

A place where the crawfish etouffee beckons each evening at Bon Ton Cafe.

A place where nighttime jazz, blues, or Creole music can help soothe the troubled soul.

A place that has displayed the resiliency to climb out of the deadly horrors of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to become the reigning 2010 pigskin champs of the civilized world.

Louisiana – its people, its culture, its food, its music, its plethora of natural resources, and most especially its amazing redfish – is a place to celebrate and cherish.

And these days, Louisiana is a place to weep for.

So after you watch today’s “Monday Movie” – a tremendous video piece produced by SaltyShores.com  – pause for a moment.

To reflect on what is.

To reflect on what has been.

And to reflect on – and to say a prayer for – what will be in the days to come for Capt. Dini and all of his Louisiana mates.

 May their tomorrows be brighter than their today is.

And may their fly reel drags sing again soon with the sweet music of Creole redfish heading for the deep ocean blue. 

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San Juan Magic: Tiny Flies, Big Trout

Driving east from Aztec, New Mexico along Hwy. 173, the desert wilderness seems to be virtually devoid of life.

Any life.

As the sun bakes the parched earth below, the liquefied colors of the rainbow trout would seem to be in a world far, far away. 

When you fly fish New Mexico's San Juan River, bring a big net.

And yet the twisting two-lane road suddenly winds across a bridge in the shadow of Abe’s Motel and Fly Shop below Navajo Dam and there it is.

The cold, rushing bluish-green waters known to fly fishermen across the world over as the San Juan River.

To be truthful, legendary trout waters sometimes fail to live up their advanced billing.

But my venture to this desert trout stream a few years ago to fish with guide Matt Pyle found everything I had ever heard about this desert dream stream to be true.

And then some.

“If it was in my backyard and no one else could fish it, yeah, it would be the perfect trout stream,” Pyle laughed of his beloved San Juan.

Pyle hasn’t always been able to say that.

It was after doing some guiding while working for the National Wildlife Federation that he discovered the San Juan River the first time.

And after catching an eight-pound trout on his second journey to the tailwater fishery, the rest, as they say, is history.

What intrigued the high school science teacher, guide and commercial fly tyer the most – Pyle tied as many as 2,000 dozen flies in a recent year that he calls “wimpy” – were the huge rainbow trout the San Juan supported and the tiny flies they gulped down.

“It is a very unique fishery,” Pyle said. “You’ll see the fish rising and it will look like they’re not eating anything – you’ll look a little closer and you’ll see a little black dot.”

“Fish are keying in on a little black speck. It’s hard to believe they’ll expend the energy to chase something so tiny, but they do. The good thing is that they have to eat a lot of them.”

On my journey, once I adjusted to the art of fishing tiny midges and dry flies, the San Juan more than lived up to its advance billing.

In fact, by the time my fishing partner, Doug Rodgers of Whitesboro, Texas, and I had stumbled back to our hotel room, we had managed to land nearly 30 spunky fish between the two of us. 

The magic of New Mexico's San Juan River is tiny flies, huge trout, and big smiles.

Weary yes, but still managing to wear the silly grins on our face that fly anglers have after a superb day on the water.

Even so, a superb day can still be a challenging day, especially given the micro-nature of the flies fished and the faint strikes of these desert fish.

“Bites are sometimes extremely subtle,” Pyle agreed. “You have to be able to recognize the strike. Any subtle hesitation, flicker, or pause on the strike indicator, and you’ve got to be ready to set the hook.”

What equipment should an angler use to set the hook? Dennis Harrison of Abe’s Fly Shop and Motel provides the answer with more than two decades of experience to back it up.

“I’d suggest either a nine-foot five weight or six weight rod,” Harrison said. “Our river is fairly large and open and the average size of the fish is anywhere from 16 to 18-inches and many will go in excess of 20-inches.

“There are a few real hogs out here up to 28-inches and you need a rod with a lot of backbone to fight these fish.”

Harrison suggests a nine-foot 5X or 6X leader. Off of that, he’ll usually fish a dropper combination with a 5X tippet section from the leader to the attractor fly, then dropping a 16 to 18-inch section of 6X tippet from the eye of the attractor fly to his dropper fly.

Some say that the San Juan has slipped a bit in recent years due to water flow issues and the ever-present angling crowds.

But if it has, it’s hard to tell by the smiles found on the tailwater’s four and a quarter miles of quality waters bubbling through the desert of northwestern New Mexico.

“Some rivers, you’re lucky if you catch one fish,” Pyle said. “But here, some people come and only want to catch big fish. Others only want to catch them on dry flies. And you can do that here.”

“We’re kind of spoiled here with lots of big fish, lots of small bugs, and lots of light tippets.”

And that’s the magic of the San Juan.

 

Monday Movie: Blue Moon Mice and Monsters

According to legend, it happens in New Zealand about once in a blue moon.

What’s that?

An epic mouse hatch that brings the Kiwi Nation’s biggest and baddest brown trout and rainbow trout out of hiding and eager to take the fluffiest dry flies a man can conjure up at the tying vise.

So on this first official day of what promises to be a sizzling American summer, take a “Monday Movie” journey across the big Left Coast pond.

To a land down under where the water flows gin clear and refreshingly cold.

And where the fly fishing action for giant trout just might take your breath away.

Once in a blue moon, of course.

 

Monday Movie: Hippos, Tigers, and Streamers

What do you get when you combine a fish with the sleek beauty of a striped bass and the ferocious teeth – and attitude – of a large apex predator?

The Zambezi River’s tigerfish, that’s what.

In today’s installment of the “Monday Movie,” Colorado fly fishing guru Trapper Rudd ventures into Africa to sample some of the Dark Continent’s best fly rod action.

Along the way, Rudd and his mates help keep a couple of local lads from becoming crocodile bait.

Or a pair of pinballs for the huge hippos thrashing about.

After playing the Good Samaritan, Rudd and his pals go on to catch plenty of double-digit tigerfish weighing several pounds…oopps, that would be several kilos.

With a cool musical track right out of Africa, sit back and enjoy a great video today from one of the world’s most exotic destinations for the fly rod. 

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2010 in Africa, tigerfish, Trapper Rudd, Zambezi River

 

Biblical Sized Bug Storms

If you are a fly fisher, you’ve probably heard about the blizzard like hatches of Brachycentrus caddis flies every spring on Colorado’s Arkansas River and several other Rocky Mountain trout streams. 

So smothering are the millions of bugs pouring out of the water like smoke that very April, trout fishing hatch regulars wear Buffs, sun glasses, ear plugs, and hats to keep the bugs at bay and from getting into their eyes, ears, noses, and mouths

As suffocating as those epic caddis hatches can be, they may pale in comparison to what happened the other night in La Crosse, Wis. along the placid waters of the upper Mississippi River. 

Call it a mayfly hatch of Biblical proportions, one that would have left even Moses a little bit amazed.

So much so that the mayfly hatch – I’d guess they were the region’s famed Hexagenia mayflies – actually showed up on the local National Weather Service’s Doppler radar.

Again, I might add.

A basic Google search shows that this isn’t the first time such a prolific Hex hatch has befuddled the NWS radar operators.

Here’s what the La Crosse NWS office had to say about this year’s big bug storm:

“A mayfly hatch along the Mississippi River was caught on Doppler radar out of NWS La Crosse on Saturday, May 29, 2010.  The radar view below shows an image at 9:13 p.m. CDT.

The bugs are showing up as bright pink, purple, and white colors along the Mississippi River mainly south of La Crosse, WI.  After the bugs hatch off the water and river areas, they are caught in the south-southeast winds while airborne for about 10-20 minutes.”

As noted, the giant Hex hatches arent’ that unusual in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region in recent years.

Which fly fishers are well aware of.

Check out this post on TroutNut.com:

This Midwestern legend plays out every year on calm, dark, humid nights in early July. Anglers who only fly fish once a year drive hundreds of miles to play their part in the drama, while the mayflies themselves make the television news by showing up on doppler radar or calling snowplows out of dormancy to remove layers of Hexagenia duns from the bridges. In the cold trout rivers of Wisconsin and Michigan, huge nocturnal brown trout whose usual menu consists of smaller browns become, for a week or so, prime dry fly quarry.”

Which leaves me with this thought: if you’re a trout angler – or perhaps even a smallmouth bass angler – in the upper Midwest, good luck trying to match this summer’s giant mayfly hatches.

But if you do, you’ll have some of the most memorable angling on the fly that North America can offer each year.

Just ask the National Weather Service.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

“Everything’s Big Here!”

Everything’s big here!”

In Louisiana, that’s true.

In the Sportsman’s Paradise, everything from LSU Tiger and New Orleans Saints football to the vast saltwater marshes to the hard-fighting game fish to the state’s legendary Cajun cuisine and sizzling hot sauces runs a bit on the larger side of life.

Heck, even the state’s infamous hurricanes are big.

Unfortunately, so too is the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill, an ecological disaster threatening to ruin the state’s beaches, its fisheries, and its Gulf Coast lifestyle for generations to come.

And that’s no Presidential sound bite either.

It’s reality as a toxic stew of orange and brown goo destroys livelihoods and tourism, spills onto sandy beaches, clogs up coastal waterways, coats fragile vegetation, and indiscriminately kills wildlife and fish.

If you want to get a first hand glimpse of what is at risk of being lost – at least from a saltwater fly fishing enthusiast’s point of view – then spend a few moments watching this superb video clip of brothers Travis and Bryan Holeman and their pals landing some epic redfish on the fly.

And when you’re done, say a prayer for the Gulf Coast residents and those who are working hard to keep the BP oil spill at bay.

At bay so that the sights and sounds of anglers high-fiving each other after a big bull redfish is caught, photographed, and released doesn’t become anything more than a memory.

A painful memory of what once was.

 

Texas Kayak Craze: Blame it on Bill!

On the surface, the likable Dr. Bill Harvey would seem to be anything but a revolutionary.

And yet, thanks to an unanticipated night out on the saltwater flats near Aransas Pass, in some ways, Harvey has been just that: a revolutionary force in the sea kayak craze that has swept – or is that swamped? – most of Texas in the past decade.

Norm "Parrothead" Bekoff is a card carrying member of the Texas kayak fishing craze. Here he plies the waters of Lake Texoma looking for striped bass.

Harvey, a retired biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department turned marine agent for the Texas Cooperative Extension Service, played an unexpected role in this plastic water-craft revolution back in July of 1999.

That’s when the biologist and passionate fly fisherman actually got lost one evening while paddling in the Lighthouse Lakes region between Aransas Pass and Port Aransas.

What started out that evening as a simple quest for redfish and a few good photographs from his Nikon camera turned into something far more valuable for literally thousands of paddle pushers across the Lone Star State’s Gulf coast.

A series of TPWD paddle trails, something you can ostensibly blame on Bill.

“There is the very expansive black mangrove estuary down there,” Harvey said of the Aransas Pass area. “I paddled in one night to get some good sunset photographs. But when I started trying to get out, and the sun got down, I couldn’t find my way out.”

“I hate to admit it, but I was just lost. It took me about four hours of random paddling, but I finally found my way out. I could zero in on the Aransas Pass water tower so I eventually found my way out.”

A few days later, after flying over the region that he had gotten turned around in, Harvey visited with workers in TPWD’s Geographical Information Systems department in Austin.

That’s when the light bulb came on, so to speak.

“Our GIS guys pulled up some aerial photographs and looking at them, you could see how they’re all intertwined,” Harvey said.

“It’s like a big long maze and we got the idea to put some trails in and put in some markers, some GPS coordinates, and produce a few maps.”

Utilizing some coastal management grant money from the General Land Office, Harvey helped to spearhead a TPWD project that saw a sea kayak trail put into place in the Lighthouse Lakes area near Aransas Pass.

The project came complete with actual trail markers and a corresponding waterproof aerial photo map displaying both the actual marker locations and GPS coordinates.

Apparently, plenty of would-be kayak paddlers and anglers liked Harvey’s idea.

In short order, more and more sea kayaks were soon braving the intricate maze of redfish rich saltwater marsh near Port Aransas, a trend that has continued as other paddle trails and maps have been completed up and down the Texas Gulf coast and in a variety of freshwater venues.

“We saw a 10 to 20-percent increase in the number of people using that first area within a year,” Harvey recalled.

Today, the flame of the state’s sea kayak revolution – begun as far back as the 1980s by the likes of Bruce Gillan of CanoeSport in Houston and fanned through the years by others like Harvey,  his former TPWD boss Dr. Larry McKinney, and Capt. Scott Null – continues to roar unabated across Texas.

Entire businesses are related to the sea kayak fishing phenomenon, from dealerships to various guide services like Capt. Dean Thomas’ “Slowride Guide Service and Kayak Rental” in Aransas Pass, Ray Chapa’s “Kayak 4 Redfish Guide Service” in Port Aransas, and Capt. Sally Moffett’s “Rockport Kayak Outfitters.”

 And that’s just on the state’s coastal waters, mind you.

Today, kayaks are sold in the state’s big sporting good stores and at kayak specialty shops all across the Lone Star State and in the neighboring state of Oklahoma.

To see the full measure of the state’s rapidly growing armada of roto-molded plastic ship enthusiasts, one only has to visit the highly popular Texas Kayak Fisherman’s Web site found at www.texaskayakfisherman.com .

Be forewarned, however.

If you choose to visit the TKF site, you might want to grab a cup of coffee or a soft drink. Then you’ll want to get comfortable, sit back, and get ready to peruse literally tens of thousands of posts on all aspects of the state’s hottest aquatic phenomenon.

And don’t think this paddle craft tsunami shows any signs of slowing down anywhere in the near future.

Part of the reason for kayak fishing’s meteoric growth in Texas is due to the craft’s stealth, portability, limited maintenance, and low operating costs.

Because of all of that – and the amazing natural experience of venturing into a fish’s aquatic world – paddlers are now using their crafts to fish waters ranging from the striped bass rich acreage of vast Lake Texoma to tumbling Hill Country streams to timber studded bass lakes in East Texas.

Heck, for that matter, there are now growing numbers of ‘yakkers on plenty of West Texas water bodies surrounded by cactus, tumble weed, and rattlesnakes.

Rob Woodruff, an Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide for bass on Lake Fork in East Texas and for rainbow and brown trout on the Lower Mountain Fork River in southeastern Oklahoma, has seen increasing numbers of kayak anglers on the waters that he guides upon.

While the Quitman-based guide doesn’t fish from a kayak just yet, such a trend makes perfect sense to him on some of the big bass waters that he fishes.

“I think it (the increasing popularity of freshwater kayak-fishing) might be for the fact that (anglers) can cover the water so well,” Woodruff said.

“Such a boat allows them to get back into more densely timbered areas that a traditional bass boat can’t go.”

 “And with the cost of bass boats reaching $30,000 or more, a good kayak these days can be had for $1,000 or less. With those figures, the amount of days spent on the water per actual dollar spent is really good.”

All of that is translating into very good kayak sales figures across the state despite the sluggish economy.

According to one industry estimate several years ago, at least 15,000 kayaks were being sold each year in Texas. And the kayak sales trend continues on the upside these days, not down.

With such things as lighter materials, improved hull designs, the sport’s health benefits, and a collection of trendy colors and graphics playing their own role in fanning the paddle-craft flame, more young paddlers and women are joining the kayak revolution across Texas.

And that’s one revolution that paddlers like Dr. Bill Harvey, likely candidate or not, can take a bow for helping to begin.