Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Lunchtime Surprise

Yesterday, while on my lunch break, I watched a really nice smallmouth bass track my fly from the moment I stripped past a large rock.  That fish was tracking my fly as it fell, getting closer, then as they went out of sight...nothing.  A couple of light strips, nothing.  The fish was gone and I was heartbroken.  I'm positive it would have been my best smallie of the year and a certain 18+ inches long, minimum.  Today I decided to return.  I hoped that the incoming weather would have the fish in a cooperative mood.  Instead of the craw, I tied on the trusty Murdich Jig Minnow I have had tremendous success with this year in my best color, white/smelt blue.  In the same location as the encounter with the big bronzeback, I feel a "tick" and set the hook.  I had something big, but knew it was not fighting like a smallie.  My 3wt was begging for mercy.

The guessing game didn't last long, as the fish came to the surface.  It was my biggest ever spotted gar.  I have caught gar on the fly in the past using rope flies and was honestly never impressed with their spunk or fight.  This fish changed that perception.  I was the recipient of several line stripping runs and was starting to wonder how I would actually be able to land and control this beast.

Finally, after several failed attempts, I got the fish into a shallow spot where I could get my hands on it.  Obtaining decent photos of a fish this long, by myself, was quite the chore.  I did the best I could do.  This fish had really cool spotting on its tail, flashing a little beauty for what most consider to be a trash fish.

No smallies came to hand in the brief outing, but the big gar made it a memorable time on the water.  As Forrest Gump famously said about life, this river is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get.  As a few parting shots, this fish tagged me on the left arm and right hand, drawing a small amount of blood on both. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tennessee Weekend

About three weeks ago, I got a phone call I had been waiting to receive for almost a year.  It was my fishing buddy saying they were headed to TN in a few weeks if I was able to get away.  I cashed in every honey-do favor I had saved up for a few weeks and started prepping flies.  I was especially excited to fish the sluice on the South Holston River.  Typically, the TVA runs either no water or a lot of water during periods of generation.  No water means lower and slower flows easy to wade fish, but the generation times are a no-go for wading where we fish.  The water is just too high and too swift for it to be safe.  During periods they call sluicing, they only run a small amount of water.  This results in a little less water clarity, plus a little faster pace of flow which should make the fishing a little easier.  The time came Saturday morning, 3:00AM sharp, and I was up and getting the Jeep ready to roll.  I was on the road by 3:30AM to meet my buddy, who would drive the rest of the way.  After stopping at the South Holston Fly Shop to pick up a few things and share some lies, we dropped our non-fishing gear at our home for the weekend.

We changed and headed for the Watauga River, eager to get on the water and on some fish.  Due to the Watauga's generation schedule, we would have a window to wade and fish until about 1:30-2:00PM.  The fishing was OK, not poor and not excellent.  Other fishermen had already hit the section we were fishing a few times that morning and maybe that had something to do with it.  We still managed to pick up some fish, though.  All of mine fell to a tandem nymph rig, with most taking a size 14 Iced Hare's Ear in "pheasant tail."

We got off the water as the flow was picking up and the water rising.  We were all a little hungry, so we headed into town and stopped at our favorite local eatery, Jiggy Rays.  Awesome pizza, great brews, and a great atmosphere.  

Refueled and recharged, we headed for the South Holston.  There were some fish rising to hatching sulfur mayflies, but not in crazy numbers.  After many refusals on dry fly sulfur imitations, I added a dropper of a sulfur Mil Spec (see www.flyfishfood.com for the technique, it's easy and effective) soft hackle.  That was all that was needed for steady action.  I caught plenty of trout on the dropper soft hackle while dead drifting it, and also when I tied on only the soft hackle and let it swing down stream.  The other effective option was a tiny bugger stripped across stream or swung downstream.  Both flies kept my 5wt bent all afternoon and into the evening.

Once darkness set, we returned to the camp and stayed up way too late considering the time we all got up that morning.  The campfire was burning, the drinks were flowing, and the conversation kept us entertained until the wee hours of the morning.  The following morning, we returned to the South Holston and picked right back up where we left off the previous evening.

I finally got a bit bored with all of the smaller rainbows and decided to chuck a bigger meal looking for a bigger bite.  I switched from a tiny size 10 bugger to a cone and deer hair head in a size 1, a substantially bigger meal.  Within a few casts, I felt a solid thud and thought "Here's the big bite!" But it was yet another smaller rainbow with a large appetite.  I managed to pick up a couple of more smaller fish on the bog streamer, with the big bite never materializing.

After a few hours and needing a slight rest, I returned to the river bank.  Off came the pack, down went the fly rod, and out came a bottle of Johnson City's finest herbal soda: Dr. Enuf.  I'm a sucker for anything cherry flavored, and this stuff is GREAT!

A great time was had by all on the short trip.  Being in the area of eastern TN for a meager two days is simply not enough to take it all in.  The time flew by quickly and before we knew it, it was time to start the journey home.  Although no large trout were caught, the numbers caught by our group was pretty staggering.  It was the "easiest" the South Holston had ever fished for us.  Until next time, gorgeous.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Respect The Zap-Zap

July 23, 2011.  A lesson was learned that day in the mountains of West Virginia that I will never forget.  On my way through the state, close to my destination, the local weather on the radio reported a 20% chance of an isolated thunderstorm.  With bluebird skies, I wasn't all that worried.  I went on about my planned trip, and was catching quite a few trout in small streams.

Not far from where that stream photo was taken, the skies quickly turned dark.  Very dark.  Thunder rumbled and began to get much closer.  Although I was only about half a mile from the car, I chose to fish on.  Then all hell broke loose.  The rains came, and came down hard.  Thunder was so loud it was deafening.  I could catch the glimpse of a flash and almost instantaneously heard a clap of thunder.  I took "shelter" under a rock overhang (in timber rattler country), then came the moment I'll never forget.  The instant before I saw the flash and my ears were rung by the clap, I heard a distinct buzz noise.  I have no idea exactly where the bolt hit, but I knew it was close.  Very close.  Way too close.  I decided right then that I was getting back to my car, and I hoofed it out as fast as I could.  Shaken up, I rode out the remainder of the storm in my car.  Just as quickly as it hit, it was over and gone.  I learned a healthy respect for lightning that day.

Flash forward to this past Saturday.  I had planned to paddle board for carp again with all other options flooded and muddy.  The weather report said strong storms were possible by 11AM, but I figured I would be done by then, anyway.  It was an interesting start to the morning, picking up a solid channel cat as a surprise by-catch.

I had been on the water about an hour when I started hearing rumbles in the distance.  Quickly I could see a storm moving in, but it was barely 8:30AM.  As it got closer, I decided the best bet was to head for shore.  I remembered that day in WV.  About the time I was dragging the board to my car, the skies opened up and I was getting drenched.  I got loaded up as fast as possible, then checked the radar from the dry comfort of my Jeep.

As I sat there, drying off with a towel, lightning was crashing down hard close by.  Rain was pouring.  The wind was howling.  I was very glad to be in the safety of my car instead of the exposed lake flat where I had been fishing.  I'll fish through rain, and do it often.  After all, the fish aren't afraid to get wet.  But I do not ever mess with the zap-zap.  Not after that close call in the mountains.  Lesson learned, I drove home through the monsoon to dry off and tie a few flies. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Paddle Board Carp: Plan B

During the hot summer months, if I could be anywhere in the area fishing, it would be a small stream fly fishing for either smallmouth or spotted bass.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not been allowing that to happen.  Typically July and August are very hot and dry months in SE Ohio, but we have been hit with lots of heavy rain in the past 10 days or so.  As a result, the local flows I would usually be hitting are all muddy and blown out.

Plan B is shallow water carp from the paddle board.  The two local lakes I fish most for them both handle rain pretty well, and I knew there should be fish there to target.  I arrived at the lake to find what looked like perfect conditions.  

There was just one small problem...some fish were spawning.  I've honestly never seen carp spawning this late in the summer.  I got on the water and focused on ignoring the spawners and trying to locate some feeding fish, which proved difficult.  I was paddling along a weed edge and spotted a fish feeding close by, quickly got a fly in front of it and was hooked up.  It happened extremely fast.  In short order, I had a solid fish in the net and a surprisingly good start to the morning.

The next two hours were very uneventful.  It was looking like finding another feeding fish was going to be next to impossible, especially as the wind kicked up slightly.  When there is even a slight chop on the water, these fish get incredibly difficult to spot.  I spooked several fish that I simply couldn't see.  This fish I actually bumped with the paddle board, resulting in this.

Frustrated by the wind and spawning activity, I had paddled near the take out point when it was like the wind was just turned off.  Completely off.  The water returned to a calm, slick surface, and I spotted a set of heavy bubbles not far away.  That is the tell-tale sign of an actively feeding fish.  I paddled into position and spotted the carp slowly moving from it's mud cloud.  I put the fly in it path, let it drop, and a split second after the fly hit bottom my indicator ticked.  Game on.

I knew when I got the fish close that this was the biggest fish I had hooked this year.  The fight was typical for a big carp: no big runs.  The big ones seem to "bulldog" more on the bottom, refusing to come up but not stripping a lot of line.  On the second attempt, I got the fish in the net and got into shallow enough water to hop off the board.

A few quick photos, hook removal, some reviving in shallow water, and this piggie was ready to go back on her way.  This fish had one serious paddle.

I'm hopeful that this rainy spell is past and we'll have some more typical dry summer weather now.  I'd like to think that a week of dryness might have the flows fishable, but given their condition, even that might not be enough.  Until they clean up, carp will be on the menu!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tying Tutorial: A Better Beetle

For reasons I can't explain, I didn't fish beetle patterns much until the last few years.  During the summer on small streams, trout really seem to respond well to a juicy little beetle drifted over them.  The original deer hair beetle is a good fly, but I couldn't resist changing a couple of minor aspects of it to attempt to improve its buoyancy and visibility.  Here's a SBS on how I am tying this pattern, which again produced really well on my latest summer trip to the WV mountains.

Hook - standard dry fly hook, size 16
Thread - 6/0 black
Shellback - black deer body hair
Underbody - black 3mm foam strip
Belly - peacock herl
Legs - Senyo's Shaggy Dub, black
Indicator - orange 3mm foam chunk

Start the thread onto the hook and advance it about 2 hook eyes behind the eye.

Clean a small clump of deer body hair, trim the tips off, and tie them in snugly by the tips working back to the hook bend.

Starting in front of the deer hair tie in point, tie in a small strip of black 3mm foam and advance the thread back to the bend.

Tie in two peacock herls and wrap them forward to the start of the foam to form the belly of the fly.

Fold the foam over the herl, tie it down, and trim the excess off as close as possible.

Pull the deer hair butts over the foam and tightly tie them down.  I like to advance the thread to right behind the hook eye and throw in a half hitch to be sure nothing moves.

Next I add the Shaggy Dub legs.  Take three strands of the material, fold them over the thread, and tie them in to the side of the bug.  Repeat this process on each side.  They'll be long and wild looking, but we will trim those soon.

Cut a small chunk of 3mm orange foam to form the indicator.  I make this a little larger than intended so it's easier to tie in, then I trim it smaller after the fact.  Trim the legs to the desired length, whip finish, and trim the indicator foam smaller (if desired). 

I think what makes this so effective on trout is the profile they see from below.  The foam underbody adds extra floatation and also helps produce the bulbous, wide body profile the fish see from below.  The Shaggy Dub legs also add a cool touch of realism and they subtly move very well in the water.

This is a pretty fast tie, so it won't take much time to crank out several of these.  It floats pretty well, has a great profile, and that little chunk of orange foam makes it much easier to spot on the water.  Don't underestimate the power of the beetle!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Little Victories: WV Trout

This past Saturday, I made my first trip in well over a year to the mountains of West Virginia to pursue small stream trout.  The trip, as a whole, was highly successful.  I caught brook and rainbow trout in the small water, bringing lots of fish to hand.  The fish in these waters are typically not very selective, and a good cast and presentation will typically get you bent.  I approached a juicy looking run where I have caught nice fish in the past expecting to pull a solid fish from this stretch again.  "Nice fish" is relative to where you're fishing.  In small water like this, anything over 10" I consider to be pretty decent.  I had a fly pattern tied on that had produced well throughout the day, a dark gray CDC mayfly in a size 14.

On the first drift, a solid rainbow rose quickly, inspected the fly from an inch away (if not closer), refused to take and dropped back down.  I was surprised to get the refusal and immediately put another cast in the same spot.  Nothing.  Knowing the fish was obviously looking up, I tied on a different fly.  This time, a Klinkhamer style dry/emerger with a gray biot body.  Another fly that had produced a lot of fish on the day.

First cast with this fly, the fish rose, again inspected, again refused.  Not only are refusals not that common in water like this, but I just had this fish do it twice on good presentations with flies that brought fish to the net all day!  I switched gears and went terrestrial, tying on a tiny size 16 deer hair beetle.

On the first cast with the beetle, without hesitation, the fish rose again and crushed the fly.  I made a good set and brought the fish to hand.  It was one of the better fish I had caught on the day, and it strangely felt good to outwit a critter with a brain the size of a pea, if not smaller.

I barely moved a few feet upstream on the same run and made a longer cast towards the head of the run with the same beetle.  A larger rainbow than the one I had just released rose hard and crushed the little beetle.  This fish was the best wild trout I brought to hand on the day, and I can probably thank the first rainbow for prompting me to switch flies leading to this fish.

Not long after this happened, I caught two fish substantially larger on streamer patterns in the bigger water downstream from this little tributary.  However, as fun as it was catching the bigger fish, these two little rainbows were the most memorable fish from the day.  They made me work for them, and were sweet victories for the trip.