Thursday, August 17, 2023

Warm days, cool nights

Yesterday morning I stood out on the deck watching the day begin. Mid-August, 41 degrees, I was barefoot, wearing pajamas under a heavy robe and enjoying breakfast while Gabbi patrolled the perimeter of the yard. A cup of one of those hearty granola cereals drenched in ice-cold milk, and topped with a handful of fresh raspberries, seemed perfect. Strong coffee to follow. By afternoon the temperature would rise to 80 and a strong wind would bring a thunderstorm.

It’s easy to drift into a contemplative mood, sort of melancholy, on a morning like this, waiting for the sun to rise over the treetops. I don’t tend to look back at the past much, certainly not to dwell on it, but sometimes you wonder how life might have been had a different route been taken or another answer been given. Mostly, though, I think about more down-to-earth things: like how musician friends and poets make a living with no other visible means of support. Or how about a couple of those deck boards that soon need replacing. Or why did I miss so many birds at the skeet club last week? You know, stuff like that. 

The fly fishing for smallmouth bass on Vermilion has slowed way down, as it does every summer. They go deep, they fill up on crawfish, they become nocturnal – I don’t know, I’ve never gotten a good handle on it. And the last two river outings have been nothing to brag about, either. Four decent smallmouths on the St. Louis, a half-dozen on an un-named flowage. Most on streamers. 

But Karr Lake, only a few minutes from home, has a healthy and eager population of bluegills along with some decent largemouth bass. All sixty-nine acres of lily pad covered shoreline are just right for a small boat or canoe and I seldom see anyone else there. Except for Pastor Don. The good pastor is a neighbor and enjoys padding his beautiful wood/canvas canoe on the lake early mornings. Probably helps him come up with a meaningful sermon for Sunday service. Whenever he sees me out there, he paddles over for a chat. He’s good company. 

My bluegill poppers are all close to the same. Most of my fly-tying material is mail order, and I received a pack of yellow deer hair I wanted for some bass bugs. But the hair is frustratingly short, too short for the large poppers I wanted to tie, and I nearly tossed it away. Instead, I marked the bag “short" and stuffed it in my materials box. Turns out it works fine for a small bluegill popper. It’s a quick tie: two small clumps of hair spun on the hook, no stacking or packing, and a disk of foam on the face. A quick trim job and it’s done. 

Even when the bite is slow the bluegills are a pretty reliable source of fun, and there’s always the chance for a surprise largemouth. Good fishing! 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

the TUG...

 I was up at 4:30, wanting to get to the lake while it was still early and, supposedly, while the smallmouth bass would be active in the shallows. It’s generally considered early morns and evenings make for the best still-water bass fishing – a belief that holds true for pursuing any wild game. Except, that is, for flowing rivers. Whenever I get with my river running friends, we never seem to get on the river much before 10 a.m. They say the water needs to warm up for the bite to get good, and I don’t doubt it, though I’ve never been on those streams as the sun was breaking.  

This time of year, even at the 4:30 hour the eastern sky is lighting and the birds are singing. Driving past the open hay fields of my neighbors, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should’ve already been on the lake. All I had to do that morning was back my truck up to the boat and hook it up, which was accomplished while the coffee was brewing. I downed an apple and a banana for breakfast on the road, and brought an apple and some cheese and crackers for a snack in the boat. The parking lot at the boat ramp was empty when I came over the hill, and I pushed the boat into the lake before 6 a.m. I was on a mission to try some new bass poppers. 

A few years ago, my friends and I were standing around next to the drift boats discussing the days fishing when a fellow approached to have a look at the boats and announced that he worked for the Montana Fly Company. He gazed over the boats quickly but wanted us to know he was credited with developing the hot nymph at the time. I don’t recall if it was called the pink squirrel or purple haze, but it was popular on the Montana river we were floating and the local fly shops were well stocked with them. I must have bought a few, but I don’t remember them being any better than any of the other flies we were using. 

I’ve succumbed to the temptation of inventing my own flies, too. Mostly bass-bug type flies, but there are a couple trout flies that worked. A favorite dry fly is basically a cheap copy of the Adams. I’d be wrong to claim I invented it, or even developed it – I just tied it with materials I had on hand and added a touch of red to the tail on the advice of an old timer who knows every brook trout stream in the area. That bit of floss probably turns the fly into an attracter rather than a true mayfly imitation and a purist would scoff at it. Then there’s the nymph I tie entirely with the fur and hair of a pine marten I trapped, save for the gold bead and rib. It’s a generic looking thing that catches trout, like every fly does, when it works. 

It’s the bass flies where I’ve done the most damage. In a category where just about anything goes, I’ve put together some flies that were truly mistakes. They failed on the water and looks; I regret that a few others have seem them – I can still hear the laughter. I have a pile of those rejects that I keep only to one day cut apart to save the hooks.  

I love catching bass on top-water offerings and I enjoy tying and using deer-hair poppers and divers. I have some that are years old and still tight and effective while others have faded and loosened from good use. Some folks coat their deer-hair with resins that gives them an almost plastic coating, but that’s not for me. Like everyone, I modify mine with colors, spots, and stripes to suit myself, though I’ve simplified the process – it takes a long enough to build a deer hair popper without all the fancy stuff – but I certainly didn’t invent the popper or Dahlberg Diver. 

I did come up with something that works, however. I was thinking of a topwater fly that would be quick and easy to tie. You know, a “guide fly”. It only consists of a couple of materials, including a single piece of craft foam. Tied in three colors, so far, I’ve been testing them for a few days with good results. The rocky shorelines of the big lake are twenty miles from home and a favorite place of mine. After the early season rush of walleye anglers, it’s surprising how the activity slows down. There are multiple boat access ramps on the lake, and there are always some boats out there, but I fish the bays in solitude. It probably helps that I avoid it on weekends. 

 I started with the yellow and hooked a bass on the third cast. These hard fighting chunky bass actually pull the boat around! They say the tug is the drug, and had I just been fishing I would have stayed with it. But in the interest of Research & Development I switched it up for the green one. That worked, too. And I’m happy to report I caught bass on the white popper, as well. I haven’t introduced them to the world yet, meaning a few of my fishing buddies, but look forward to answering when they ask what fly are you catching all those bass on? 

Five hours of casting, catching, and maneuvering the boat, sometimes in a bothersome wind, seemed like enough. I’d be home for lunch. When I pulled the boat up the ramp there were only two other vehicles in the parking lot. Nice. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Gun Club


It’s a fun club – no competitive league scores, teams, or trophies. We use score sheets mainly to keep track of expenses and we keep those as low as possible. Just enough to keep operating. We have two skeet ranges and one 40-foot tower that’ll test your shooting skills. One of the skeet ranges is usually set up as a “wobble skeet” shoot, and I won’t try to explain the set-up here, but if you’re feeling good about your standard skeet score the wobble course will bring you down a notch or two. I love it, and seldom shoot regular skeet anymore. 


We have somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty paid members, men and women, though seldom see more than half that on any given day, especially during the winter, and we’re always open to the public. As might be expected, just before hunting seasons open, we see some new faces. And we put on a couple of events: a springtime wild game feed and a summer picnic. We host the local high school shooting team, as well. 

Our members are made up of all kinds of folks. Some are serious shooters with dedicated target guns who shoot at clubs around the state and beyond. And some of us are bird hunters with our field guns just trying to keep our shooting eye straight a couple of times a month.  



We gather in the clubhouse, fill the woodstove and coffee pot, and sometimes tell stories more than we shoot -- dogs, ducks, grouse and fishing are favorite subjects. There's usually a crockpot filled with something delicious, and everyone pitches in with the snacks, especially around Christmas. It’s as enjoyable as can be.  



I lay pretty low in the winter, snowshoeing and skiing around home. mostly. But I do look forward to those afternoons at the gun club.