Monday, July 25, 2016

fishing for quantity part two...

It promised to be a warm one. Likely the hottest day of the year, so far. I’d been thinking about that little lake I was on two days ago and thinking I should give it another go. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with catching some fish before breakfast, right? I never get tired of explosive strikes and the tug and bend of the rod. The canoe was still on the truck rack and all I had to do was put on the coffee and take the dogs out for a little romp before heading over to the lake.

I had pretty much the same outfit as the other day, except this time I would bring the old bamboo rod I had and give it a try. It was over 25 years ago when a friend of mine found the old cane rod in the garage of a property he'd purchased. It was in pretty rough shape but he thought I might like it so he gave it to me. It’s a nine foot, three piece rod and had two tips. One of the tips was split and shattered but the rest of the rod was OK. The finish was about gone and what guides were left were mostly rust. The ferrules were corroded but solid as was the down-lock reel seat. I could find no name on it, but I knew the right rod could be worth some real dough. I also knew there were plenty of old mass produced bamboo rods that had little value and I figured this was one of them. There are folks who know and fish bamboo like it was a religious experience. I won’t argue that as I’ve felt some deep, call them religious, feelings myself while fishing. The rod didn’t have much to do with it, though. Fly rods are pricey, and cane rods can be crazy expensive. I don’t know if I could ever appreciate bamboo as some describe it. My fly fishing is fulfilling with the rods I have. Heck, I love it.

For an indoor project one winter I refinished the old rod. I went to the library and checked out Garrison’s rod building book. I mail ordered new guides and built a rod tying rack. I stripped the rod clean, tied new guides, wrapped thread over the ferrules, and varnished the rod in an elaborate PVC dip tank I build. For the dipping I used an electric motor from an old rotisserie grill as a winch and a sort of block and tackle rig that slowed the process down. After filling the tank with Pratt & Lambert varnish, the same stuff Garrison used, I lowered a rod section into the finish and let the motor draw it out slowly, something like 4 inches per minute. The result was a flawless varnish job. When all was said and done the rod looked pretty good, but I never fished it. That was in 1989. It's been standing alongside the other rods for all these years. Now I figured if it was ever going to catch a fish, the little bass lake would be a good bet.

I’m not a purist but there are some traditions I like and believe are worth holding on to. Not all pertain to angling, but I reckoned the old wooden rod should be fished with deer hair. I’d found an old reel with some old unmarked line that if I remember is a 6 wt. Possibly 7, or maybe one of those combo 6/7 lines. I’ve had it so long I don’t remember when I got it, but I had to snip off about a foot of cracked line to get to something I could attach a leader to. The old rod is pretty heavy and sort of whippy and I wasn’t taking any bets on how long I’d cast with it before switching to my graphite.

This time I brought an anchor so I could stay in relatively one spot and sort of fan cast a section before moving on. I was pretty eager and could feel it in my stomach when I pulled in to the landing. These hot, still mornings seem just what bass like. 

The lake was as flat as glass and I hurried with the canoe to escape the morning mosquitoes. I started settling down, relaxing, as I paddled across. I was again alone on the lake and that in itself made it worth it. When I closed in on the south shore I lowered the anchor and clamped the rope off to the gunnel with a spring-loaded woodworkers clamp. I wouldn’t need much to hold the canoe, but the slightest breeze can push it too close, or too far in the time it takes to make a cast.

I was anxious about how the rod would perform, and expected it to have a slow action but was surprised at how easily I played the line out and with two false casts laid the fly about two feet from the bank right over a submerged log. There I watched it. What triggers a fish to attack a funny looking lure sitting motionless I’ll never know. Perhaps the hackle feather tail pulsates a bit, along with the marabou behind the collar. Is another fish taking a look causing a competitive response? Whatever it is, the splashing strike is startling and the pull on the bent rod is delightful.

That’s the kind of water this is. A first cast fish is no surprise and seeing the light bellied green-backed bass dart back and forth shaking their heads and jumping clear of the water is nothing but pure fun. I cast the old rod for just over an hour, and did well with it. It has a slow, soft action but could toss a wind catching deerhair fly a surprising distance, even with my questionable ability. By then I’d caught and released at least a dozen small bass and lost almost that many. That was enough. I could have went around the lake over and over and there’s no telling how many fish I might have caught. Maybe enough to grow tired of it. I remembered the coffee in my truck would still be hot and there’d be breakfast at home so I paddled in, eager for next time.



fishin' for quantity...

I’m not usually too concerned with numbers, and it’s been a long time since I have been. Sometimes this seems like a lonely course, though. I’m kind of careful about asking certain folks how their hunting or fishing outings went. I’m weary of hearing how it sucked because “we didn’t even limit out,” which implies a day on the water or in the woods was a failure for lack of numbers. Of course, those are the same folks who, when they see me, feel it’s important to tell me – without my asking – that they did, indeed, limit out, or maybe take more than the limit, or sneak some slot fish home. I can’t tell if they’re trying to impress me or rub my nose in it. The human condition is something I’ve never well understood.

There was a time, however, when numbers meant more to me. I’ve never, ever, kept track of season totals, but there were the long days of hunting or angling dawn to dark because I hadn’t yet reached the daily number allowed by law. You know, I got the limit but had to work for ‘em. During lean years I worried about the game populations and even wished the game managers would lower the limits. It doesn’t matter if it’s two, four, or six, there’s some satisfaction in bringing home the “limit,” thus eliminating the need to use our own conscious and good sense. I will add I was slightly disappointed, though, when the Feds actually did lower the woodcock limit. I know and agree with the reasons, but my daughter was still home in those days and loved eating bacon-wrapped timber doodle as much as I do. Those three little woodcock breasts, after a couple of minutes on the grill, disappeared faster than an M&M at a weightwatchers meeting!

There’s a little lake minutes from here that I fly fish now and then. I call it a lake because the map says it’s one, but it’s less than 20 acres in size and I almost think of it as a pond. But there’s a DNR boat ramp on it and a deep spot in the middle that reaches 30 feet. The shallow shoreline is a mix of weeds, lily pads, mud, bare gravel and submerged trees. It’s clear and cold and a designated trout lake, stocked with rainbows, but I haven’t kept up with the stocking efforts. I’ve taken a couple of small trout on flies during an evening rise, but you can never count on that happening. The popular method is to fish deep with crawlers for a few pan size fish, but it’s no hotspot and after the spring rush you seldom see anyone there. There’s also a good quantity of largemouth bass and that’s what attracts me. The bass are on the small side, but healthy and brave and fun to catch. I have to wonder if there is a hog or two in there but I have never seen one, and I have to believe it would be a perfect place for a beginner fly caster, young or old, because success is almost guaranteed. Almost. After trips that entail a lot more casting than catching, there’s some kind of pleasure in hooking a fish every couple of casts.
It’s not someplace you’d want to wade fish, but I sat in my canoe one evening while a fellow in a belly boat trolled past back and forth kicking backwards and trying to hold a conversation with me. I’ve never taken my boat on the lake, but I’ve seen some surprisingly big craft looking out of place there. I understand, though. If you want to fish the lake, and you have a boat, you use what you have. I prefer my canoe, even though I know my boat with its electric troll motor would be more efficient. Especially in the wind.

I paddled out there a few mornings back expecting some fun action. I took my six weight rod and four or five flies in a plastic sherbet pail that stood open under the seat of my canoe, along with a spare leader, a bottle of floatant and a six-inch forceps. A clipper hung from a lanyard around my neck. I left the bigger tackle at home because I was pretty sure of the size of my quarry. I tied on a small orange blockhead popper I’d made from a K-Mart flip flop. I wanted to test the water, being the first time there this year. There was no one else there, nor did I expect to see anyone else, since it was a fairly early weekday morning. The sky was clear and a slight breeze was stirring. By afternoon it would be in upper eighties and the typical thunderstorms would roll in at dusk.

This is still water fishing unlike the moving rivers I enjoy so much and the tactics are different. I found a spot on the far side that the breeze hadn’t yet reached and laid out a cast to the shaded shoreline and let the popper sit. I mean let it sit. Results don’t always meet anticipation but I could feel something was going to happen. I didn’t move it for a long half minute when a bass hit it ferociously. As ferociously as a 10 inch bass can. After battling as hard as he could, I lifted him from the water and slipped the hook from its lip and lowered him back to the lake. Ten minutes later I’d caught three more and switched to deer hair on a #4 stinger hook, the largest fly I’d brought. When I started wondering if I’d caught 10 or 11, I quit trying to keep count and continued moving around the lake, cursing the breeze that kept me too busy with the paddle instead of the rod, and kept catching fish. Sometimes they’d hit the instant the fly hit the water making me think they must be watching it coming. The wind was picking up and moving the canoe a lot. When I couldn’t let the fly pause on the water I’d just start stripping and that would work, too. Most of the bass were in the 10 – 12 inch range. Nothing bigger, some smaller. Unremarkable by many standards but by my standards a lot of fun and a lot of action.

I like catching big fish as much as anyone and I know where there are bigger ones but I can’t think of anywhere with faster action. I don't recall ever passing the chance to join my friends on a river float, and given the chance I'd be happy to find myself on a good trout stream, but fishing is fishing and I'm mighty tickled to be catching fish, even small ones rather than sitting around wishing I was. This is nowhere near technical angling. No need for jangling fly vests, zingers, fly boxes, magnifiers, invisible tippets and match the hatch flies. This is as close to bib-overall, straw hat style of fly fishing as you can get. My outfit was in an ice cream pail under the seat, but maybe a mason jar or cigar box would have been more fitting. And I suppose I should have been chewing a stalk of hay.

I switched flies every six fish or so because I like catching fish on the flies I tie. I could say I was testing what works and what doesn’t but I think pretty much anything would work. I finished with a #6 Zoo Cougar I tied for Alaskan rainbows. Doused with floatant it popped on the surface and the bass hit it with gusto. I didn’t land them all; they’d jump and shake and throw the barbless hooks regularly, but I landed more than I could count. After being roughed up by 10 or more bass, my Zoo Cougar had lost much of its deer hair collar, but it will live to fish again. I loaded the canoe and drove home but it was still too early for lunch. I left the canoe on the truck. I’d be back soon.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Dark River

I’ve been seeing so many big fish photos posted on social media that I’m wondering if I’ll become de-sensitized to it all. You know, kind of the same way we ignore road work signs because they are all over the roads. The latest of a very nice smallmouth bass caught by a lady I know makes me think I’m not fishing enough. Now that gal lives a very interesting life, produces excellent programing for a popular PBS television station, is on top of the music scene, an outdoor adventurer, and one of the most pleasant people I’ve met. And I don’t even know her very well.

Anyway, maybe the bass she is holding looks so big because she is so small. At least compared to me, she is. I wonder if my posed fish pictures would look better if I possessed a smaller stature. I’m a pretty big guy and holding a twenty incher in front of myself doesn’t have the same effect as someone smaller posing with the same fish. On the other hand, if the fish I’m holding looks big, it is big.

It rained all night last night and was raining when I woke up this morning. It was a good day to take off from my project of adding yet another roof to my property. I’ve decided I need a better place to store the boat, thus an addition to the garage. When I say “yet another roof,” it’s only because I recently reviewed my property tax description and was somewhat surprised that everything about the place is included. Even the dimensions of my rough old woodshed -- and the broken down little garden shed. I’ve never been home when the tax assessor comes around, but obviously he carries a tape measure and isn’t afraid to wander around. Funny thing is he has the dimensions of my house wrong. Oh, well… what’s a couple of feet in a county this size? So I went fishing.

I hadn’t had my small steam rod out for a long time so today I took it over to the little trout stream not far from here. It’s a posted trout stream, all right, but pretty marginal water, I think, compared to some of the other streams I’ve fished. But it’s close. I usually fish what I call the north route, but today I thought I’d try the south end again, as I haven’t been there in a couple of years. It all depended, of course, on how bad the road was. I pulled on my waders here at home so I wouldn’t have to lean on the truck in the rain and mosquitoes when I got to the river.

The two-track road into the river was in good shape, better than the last time I was there and I surprised a badger when I rounded a curve, which surprised me as I don’t think much about badgers around here. Bears, wolves, fox, deer, marten and fishers, yes. But not badgers. I immediately thought about my companion for the day, an over-weight water spaniel named King who I am watching for a couple of weeks, but the river was nearly a mile away so I didn’t expect to see the badger again. It’s reasonable to think that King, being a water spaniel, would enjoy the chance to get into the woods and hunt a little, but he’s never shown any hunting ability or desire at all. And he doesn’t like water. Go figure. He doesn’t retrieve and won’t even chase a ball, though I felt like I should do something with him and assumed he’d make a good fishing dog so I brought him along. I was right about that. He stayed at my feet as we moved down the river and watched patiently from the bank when I stopped to fish. 

After all the rain we've been getting the river was just about how I thought it would be – high and muddy. Still, I had the day to fish and fishing is good. The shoreline cover was high and thick and the streamside path was little used and hard to make out in places. Pushing through the foliage made me realize that a short and tough rod was perhaps more important for the hiking part than the fishing part. Mountain ash lining the vague path added a festive look. There were trees down everywhere, balsams, spruce and big white pines – across the faint trail and across the river, but here and there I’d make my way to water’s edge and cast a weighted nymph into the murky waters. Short roll casts were the order of the day and all that was necessary. A doe and fawn were spotted and I watched them bound away while King wondered why I paused. Occasionally there was room to unfurl a cast and my little 7 foot, 9 inch rod felt just right.

I never caught a fish. I never moved a fish that I know of. I lost a few flies, broke off on underwater snags and I left the river thinking about a camping trip to some better trout water. I didn’t have to call the dog. He was right there.