Listening to Reason…

17 02 2011

Ok, so that’s not exactly what I’m talking about, but I can’t help it. Something in me thinks that’s funny. ( I’ve tried to purge that “something” for 20 years, but no luck.)

When do you “listen to reason?” Do you have that little voice inside your head that tells you to do something, or (more often for me) not to do something? When you’re fishing a dry and something says to you ” you know, a bead head Hare’s Ear would probably do better…” do you change right away? Or do you wait to see if the voice goes away?

If you’re hiking an unfamiliar trail and you come to the not-s0-proverbial “fork in the road” what do you do? ( Don’t say “take it!” ūüôā )

If you’re thinking all week about going to River S, and then on the day before your trip you think, ” I wonder how River B is fishing these days?” – do you change plans and head for River B? Or, do you stick to the original plan and head out for the river you’ve been planning on fishing all week?

Maybe I’m the only one who has these little voices that sometimes try to tell me to change course or change flies? I realize how open I’m leaving myself here. ūüėČ lol But, I’m willing to do that to hear what you guys have to say?

Do you follow your¬†instincts even if it demands that you change course “mid-stream”¬†or stick to the plan? Maybe you have a story where sticking to the plan paid off – or a story where going with your gut proved to be the right decision!?





Remember when…

4 02 2011

No, not the Alan Jackson song, although that’s a good song. Remember when you were new to whatever it was you’re into now? I do. I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into a bait-n-tackle shop in the small college town we lived in ( I was already married) and saw a Cortland 7’6 4 wt. standing in a rack with a bunch of bass rods. It was the only fly rod in the place and it was ( gasp!) $59.00. I’d bought a fly rod a few years before. One of those Kmart types with the rubber winding check that¬†disintegrated¬†after a year in the elements and a “butt end” just in front of that winding check that was as big as a large carrot on the leafy end. It was probably 8 foot something long and as heavy as ten modern-day rods. But this Cortland rod…this little gem, with it’s shiny plastic covering over the light, clean cork…this thing was something else. It was small. Thin, I guess is what I should say. And it was dark charcoal in color, not heavy¬†burgundy¬†like that old Kmart rod. And when I walked up to it and gently lifted it from between the rubber stoppers holding it in place it nearly floated to the ceiling! And the best part – the thing came apart at a joint and had a little case that it fit into just so! I had to have it. I bought it on the spot. No reel. No line. Just that little rod. I walked out of there like I’d won the lottery, the check-out guy shaking his head.

You see, the nearest trout stream was 130 miles from there, and everyone knows you don’t use a rod that small for tossing crickets and a styrofoam¬†cork to bluegills “on the bed.” But it didn’t matter to me. I felt like Luke Skywalker when Obi Wan first handed him that Light-Saber. I was going to catch so many trout on this thing, I thought to myself, that my arms would fall off.

I wish I could tell you that I remember where I aquired a line and reel from, but I can’t. That’s what happens when you hit middle-age I suppose – at least when you were from an age where there were no “blogs” to record your fishing adventures. I didn’t know anyone at the time that wrote down things about their fishing trips. That would be silly. What would you do that for? Nonsense.

Anyhoot, I took that little rod and that reel and line from who-knows-where and I headed to the mountains that summer. I fished a few rivers without much success, and one day read in the Department of Natural Resources rulebook about some “artificial only” streams. I thought ” COOL! A creek where the fish like artifical stuff. ..only.”

I settled on the Coleman River. A little creek that feeds into one of the most popular put-n-take rivers in the state. When I got there though, there wasn’t a Coleman River. There was a Coleman stream. A Coleman branch. A Coleman Creek even…but I could almost hop across this “river.” Ah, but I didn’t care. I had my new rod and a new fly I’d discovered looking through the Cabela’s catalog. I was ready and I was hungry for success.

 

The upper Coleman "River"...when I was younger and didn't know any better...I once stood on that rock and pee'd downstream. Don't ask me why I remember that.

I stood upstream from a deep pool. I noticed that my head was almost touching some rhododendron limbs that sagged down toward the boulder where I’d gotten into position for a first cast into the pool. I flicked the new fly I’d “discovered” – a Royal Wulff into the current just short of the whitewater part…and I stripped out line. I knew how to cast, but I’d read somewhere that you could fish a fly this way in difficult current and catch fish. It was all difficult to me back then.

The fly floated downstream. A dark shape rose up in the water. A small rocket surged upward from underneath and there was a rather large spurt of water that shot up a foot into the air. The fly was gone – and I’d seen the thief that took it! I set the hook! The boulder was wet! My foothold failed! As I slipped, my new Cortland rod met it’s doom. My precious Light-Saber-Trout-Slayer-of-a-rod lodged itself between two rhodo limbs from two¬†separate¬†trees. I heard the THUWMP of my rear end hitting the rock hard;¬†simultaneously¬†I heard the “…crr-rr-rr-aa-cc-kkkkk!” of the Cortland as it splintered into several pieces just above the joint. I hand-lined the little 12 inch rainbow in, admired him and let him go. I almost got angry because of the broken rod….until I noticed the fly and it reminded me that I’d done what I set out to do. I was no longer the neophyte that hadn’t caught a trout on a fly. I was a fly fisher on his way to catching his share of trout over the years, who’d already broken the first of several dozen rods while doing so. I’ll take the trade-off now, just as I did back then.

This post happened because I was reading my friend Tippin’Taco’s blog about his new waders. ‘Taco has the “fever” and he has as bad a case as I’ve ever seen in a grown man. Reading his post led me to a post on ¬†Intro to the Outdoors and both those guys reminded me of this story and that we’re all “noobs” at some point along the way. And you know, the thing is – it’s not something to stress out about. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the right gear or don’t make all the right casts. These guys know it’s all about the experience and that’s how it should be. Those first difficult and sometimes frustrating steps are something to enjoy while you’re new to the thing – whatever it is – and their something to remember when you’re older and maybe a bit wiser and their aren’t as many mysteries to solve.

Both of those blogs offer a fresh look into the minds of some new fly fishers and I think both are going to be very interesting rides. ūüôā





The Creek that Shall Not be Named…

25 01 2011

…is named Noontootla. It’s Cherokee for…well, who knows? But I do know this…it will flat out kick you in the teeth if you’re not on your toes. I just read a post on NGTO about two fellows that decided to go up to the area where the ‘Toot is located and fish. The second guy says something like “ wish I hadn’t broken my rod, but things happen for a reason.” Yeah, and that happened because you were stomping around up there around Noontootla in the middle of winter, when every wild trout with half a brain is hunkered down and almost comatose. Go back in April, when at least you risk catching something while putting life and limb in danger. Geesh.

Noontootla is the state’s only wild trout stream with a length limit on it. ¬†16 inches or less, and it has to go back. Now, before you all pile in your cars and grab your maps, I’ll tell you the dirty little secret that the fishing regulations don’t spell out for you….just because there is a 16 inch size limit on the creek, that doesn’t mean the creek is full of 16 inch fish. Or 14 inch fish for that matter. Oh sure, they’re in there. Last spring…or was it the year before…anyway, I was up on the ‘Toot with Coelacanth, from BRTB and we were having a pretty nice morning. Weather wise, at least. I think we’d caught one or two each. Well, we came to a nice deep pool and Coel motioned for me to take a turn. I cast a little caddis up into the run and plop! A nice little 4 inch rainbow took it and began to flop around on the surface. Suddenly, he dove deep and hard toward the bottom, then shot back up toward the sky – clearing the water at first, then hitting back down and slicing off again all willy-nilly across the surface. You see, that little guy was about to be lunch for a monster of a rainbow that was using the bottom of that pool as his lunch counter. The trout was easily 15 inches on a conservative estimate and Coel and I both stood there and laughed, gasped for air, and laughed some more. Of course, we then eased back away from the pool and threw all manner of streamers into it without even the slightest threat of an attack from Jaws. So we moved upstream and kept fishing. I think we both felt very fortunate to have even seen the big fish and had I not hooked an easy meal for him, we probably would have missed him altogether.

 

Lil' Joe, standing in what can only be described as an anomaly on this creek.

On another trip there some years ago, I was carrying a fly rod that my buddy Lil’ Joe made for me shortly after 9-11. The rod was marked “Freedom” and was one of my favorite rods ever, right from the first time I fished it. It had a birdseye maple insert and a matte green blank. It looked alot like a high-dollar St. Croix but with the loving touches of personally wrapped guides. I slipped on a slanted rock as big as a dining room table and fell, and promptly broke the rod in half. Speaking of which, last year I did almost the same thing in the GSMNP and broke “Freedom II.” Sorry Joe. I didn’t have the heart to tell you at the time.

When I was younger, I talked my young bride into going with me to Noontootla one Sunday morning. I got out of the truck, leaving her to the heater and a good book, and immediately stepped over a large log. When my foot hit the sand, it slid no more than five or six inches and put what we call a “crik” in my shoulders and neck that would end up keeping me out of work for two days. Of course I fished all that day, and paid for it dearly on the way home. The pain was almost¬†unbearable and my poor mountain-novice wife had to drive all the way down that long forest service road, and then all the way home in the dead of night because I couldn’t do anything but lay my head against the window and writhe in pain.

A much younger Owl with a brown trout from the Toot.

So, yeah. Noontootla has a length limit and that’s a rare thing in Georgia trout fishing. But it will also kick you in the head and laugh at you when you cry. It’s not a place for fly rods you love, delicate souls, or poseur anglers. It’s the cold, hard reality of Southern Appalachian trout fishing, times ten.

But then….maybe it wouldn’t be so special, even with the chance to catch a true wild trophy trout…if it was easy.





Are you Sabotaging Your Fishing?

22 01 2011

Are you doing things that are keeping you from catching more trout? Have you gotten lazy in your tactics? Slack in your planning? Are there a few simple things you can do to increase your catch rate? Read on to find out…

Yesterday, while editing video I noticed something that I hadn’t put much thought into in the last few years. Stealth. Or rather, a lack of it. As I watched one of my failed attempts at shooting a release scene, something flashed brightly. Too brightly. It was the small, cheap pair of nail clippers that I use. Hanging on the outside of my pack, the sun caught it just right and it looked like a roller-rink strobe. So that caused me to start thinking about how I’ve changed over the years as a fisherman, and it was quite the revelation…

Years ago, at a time in my life when I had a horrible, consuming, unending case of “trout on the brain” I tried to do everything right. I stayed low, wore camo, never waded where I hadn’t fished, and I caught my fair share of trout. Occasionally, my fair share and then some…

Now at 41, I think I’m slipping a bit in my effort to be that stealthy stalker of our finny friend. The flashing clippers were the wake-up call. I gave up those $12 (and matte black) Orvis nippers years ago. I wanted to save some money and the clippers from big-box-central seemed to work just as well. But I didn’t consider the flash from the surface of that bright shiny metal – probably because I’d never seen the actual flash of it. I saved $10, but over the last 8 or 9 years have I missed fish because of my thrifty nature – and if so, how many? I have to tell you that saving $10 isn’t worth years of fruitless casting over already frightened fish. How careless was I to underestimate this small thing that might have contributed to poor “catching” days on the water? After seeing the video, I feel pretty stupid now.

I also stopped wearing camo about 5 years ago. Why? Well, to be honest with you I think it was just a matter of my camo shirt wearing out – and I just didnt’ buy another one. I started wearing something drab when I fished and didn’t think twice about it. Camo was probably overkill anyway, right? Or was it? I seem to have caught more fish when I was wearing camo than when I wear drab, but solid colors these days.¬†Camouflage can’t always put you at an advantage, but I don’t think it can ever hurt you, either. There are times when you may need to position yourself to the side of the run, where the trout may see you if the water is smooth, or if they’re feeding high up in the water column. At the very least, I think I’m going to splurge on some trout fishing camo this year and test the theory. You should too, perhaps. It can’t hurt.

Rhododendron Headwear Optional.

 

Another thing that plays into stalking trout is how you go about the stalking itself. When I was younger and much more focused on the “catching” part, I slid behind trees, hid behind rocks, crawled up to a stream in a thicket of dog-hobble to take a peek at the quarry before casting. Now, at 41, I’m more likely to stop for a three second glance at the water as I’m walking up to it. Then, I step up and into the creek, spooking anything that might be within 20 feet and launch a cast upstream into the water ahead of me. In my laziness I just “give up” the water where I enter the stream. But what if there was a 15 inch brown holding in that log across from where I stepped into the creek? What if a nice rainbow was on my side of the creek and slipped downstream as I plodded my way into the water? I’d never know. I’d just miss that¬†opportunity¬†to catch those fish, all because I was too casual about approaching the stream. Are you too casual? Are you focused on the “catching” part of the¬†experience¬†enough? I think as we get older, it’s only natural that we appreciate the fising experience as a whole much more. But for me, a big part of fishing is catching. I don’t mind if I only get a few, but I don’t enjoy going all day without a fish – and maybe my lack of care in approaching the stream – or approaching each pool or run – is causing me to have more of those days when I wear that stinky skunk. I’ve yet to meet an angler who enjoyed wearing the skunk. I’ve met a few that smelled like they knew him very well, though.

And finally, I want to point out a big mistake I see fly fisher’s making – and it’s one I make myself, too. It’s stumbling around a stream like a drunken hippo. When I was young and nimble, my wife said I hopped around the rocks like a mountain goat. I stopped hopping from rock to rock about 8 years ago, when I aimed a left foot at a slender slice of rock in a Smokies stream and missed it by an inch. I tilted to my left, my body parallel to the water and slammed my side into that slanted slice of rock. Fortunately, I didn’t land on my ribs, and the purple, black and yellow bruising only lasted a month.

The right clothing can make a difference.

These days, even without the bravado of hopping from rock to rock when possible, I get in a hurry and find myself stumbling around the stream at least a few times a day. I hadn’t thought about it until yesterday, when I started thinking about those flashing clippers, but what if I’m in such a hurry to move upstream or across stream that my stumbling(coupled with the other things I’ve mentioned) is causing me to unknowingly spook trout before I ever see them? Truth be told, our freestone streams are pretty noisy places. Rocks move, sand shifts, and the trout get a steady chorus of clicks and rasping hisses and hums. But when a fisherman stumbles, it’s got to be a bigger than life sound. And, if you’re in anything but a really bumpy riffle area, there has to be the chance that trout in the area hear that bumbling around…the banging boots and wading staffs and rocks on rocks and….well, you get the idea. I think wading slower and more careful is better for our safety, and maybe better for the “catching” part of our adventure as well. I’m going to try to put that into practice this year, too.

In fact, to some extent I’m going to try to go back to my salad days of trouting with all of this. I’m going to put the nippers inside my pack, get some camo, slow down when wading, and try to think like a predator. And if it doesn’t help my strike-to-catch-ratio, I’ll be surprised.

 

Practicing my stealth moves at camp. Look out Mr. Brown Trout.

Maybe if you’ve found yourself slacking a bit lately, you can try some (or all) of these things too and we can compare notes as the year rolls on. If we’re lucky maybe a return to more focused fishing will help us catch more trout and our buddies will have to think up new excuses for why we outfished ’em!

 








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