Monday, July 25, 2016

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.

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