My most challenging fishing

People might ask, “Why would anyone want to climb Mount Everest? Why would anyone want to white-water raft a class 10 rapid? Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”  Most of these questions could be answered, “Because it’s not an easy thing to do.” So why would I drive five hours to Arkansas to sight-fish for a fish that’s arguably much more intelligent than bass or redfish? Because it’s not an easy thing to do. I would learn that lesson though, the hard way when I joined a fellow kayak fisherman and friend, Drew Ross, near his home waters in Arkansas this past Tuesday. Drew is fortunate enough to live near water that holds a “target-rich” environment of very large grass carp and acres and acres of shallow flats in which to sight fish for them with dry flies! 65967758_2537927943092798_7904278775846666240_o.jpg

So here are some of the reasons why I am so intrigued by these fish.

  • They are big. Some of these bruisers can sometimes weigh between 15 – 20 pounds and will straighten or break hooks and tippet at the snap of a finger.
  • They are smart. Smarter than bass or redfish.
  • They aren’t aggressive eaters and will not track down prey or flies. While they must eat to grow to the enormous sizes you see, they do not readily attack flies and lures like most other gamefish.
  • They are easily spooked, which means in order to be a successful fisherman, one must be very stealthy.
  • They aren’t considered to be good table fare, which means very few fishermen target them.
  • They will eat a dry fly
  • They will eat a dry fly
  • Oh, did I mention, they will eat a dry fly? 🙂

So, spoiler alert..you aren’t going to see any photos of me holding a massive carp in this blog post. I can tell you I never worked so hard to get “skunked” in my life but I had a blast and I look forward to getting a chance to go again.

First of all, Drew is a super nice guy and was probably more disappointed than me that I didn’t land a carp. Because we were going to be sight-fishing, we had to first pick a day that was forecast to be mostly sunny, with very little wind. The good news was, I didn’t have to leave my house at 2 in the morning to get out there at the crack of dawn. I left at 6 AM and made it to his house a little before 11. The bad news was, it was going to be very hot! No problem there, because my mom didn’t raise a wimp!

For the first hour or so, Drew pointed out fish to me. I quickly began spotting fish on my own and was tossing a small dry fly to cruising fish. I soon learned the importance of being very accurate with my casts. That’s when you realize just how intelligent this fish is. As a fly fisherman who frequently sight-fishes redfish in shallow water, I thought I would be able to cast a foot or two in front of a fish and “intercept” it. I would make a “perfect” cast and watch the fish swim right under the fly without even budging. Sometimes they would swim around it like they wanted to avoid it all together. When I practice my casting, I try to land my fly in a 14 inch circle (actually and old drum head from school). It became apparent to me that I was going to have to present my fly to a moving fish, with a slight breeze to contend with, in a circle about the size of a pancake. What a humbling experience!! I struggled! All this time, Drew had not even made a cast. I told him, one of us had catch a fish so I eventually talked him into casting to a few fish for himself. I just wanted to see if it could be done.

Well after about 15 minutes, I heard a loud commotion and saw that Drew was indeed hooked up. It, however, only lasted a couple seconds because the fish straightened his hook out. Meanwhile, my presentations were getting better but twice I missed opportunities because an aggressive bream ate my fly just when I thought I was getting a carp to rise.

Drew and I kept push-poling our way through the flats and I probably cast to over 50 carp in about 5 hours before I got my first fish to eat. I saw a loner heading toward me very slowly and I put a legitimate “perfect” cast out about 6 inches in front of its nose. I watched it rise and its “kissers” opened up and sucked my fly in. I set the hook and….I missed!!! (Insert explicative of your choice here). I was distraught, but I was encouraged that I got and eat. Then I watched Drew get another eat (another straightened hook) and another… this time landing the pretty fish:GOPR0197.jpeg

We were running out of time when I got my second eat. I let the fish actually take the fly down before I set the hook and again, I came up empty. I actually got a third fish to eat my fly and this time I actually felt some weight when I set the hook. Drew heard the commotion and thought I had actually hooked one, but I missed again. Oh well, these are times when I just have to chalk things up to Cormier’s Rule #1 of Fly Fishing: Fish make the rules; not the fisherman.

So, as I sit here waiting out this tropical storm, I am tying a few dry flies of my own to target these beautiful fish the next chance I get and although it was a very humbling experience, I know I learned a lot and will use what I’ve learned to be better prepared the next time I give it a shot.

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The Purists are going to Hate Me!

I’ve learned that fly fishermen are a different breed. We look at nature from a different perspective. We typically are more aware of conservation. We constantly think about tight loops, back casts, etc. and we look at all materials, both natural and synthetic from a different perspective too. So, over the Christmas holiday, I saw what appeared to be a large earthworm on the floor in my living room. Now, with a two-year-old granddaughter, nothing surprises me anymore. However, upon closer examination, I saw that it was a broken ponytail rubber band that had belonged to my daughter (the two-year-old’s mother). I just knew I had to put that thing on a hook and give it a shot one day.

So, I tied it on a 2/0 hook, put a small dumbbell eye on it and colored it with a sharpie to make it look like one of those purple plastic worms that I cut my teeth bass fishing with. Last weekend, while I was fishing my favorite bass lake, I found an opportunity to do some “research” with the fly. Now before some of you storm out of here mad as a hatter, know that I do call this a “fly.” Sure it’s made with synthetic materials but if one can catch fish on spoon flies, foam flies, and other streamers made of synthetic brush material, then “Doc’s Ponytail Worm” is a legitimate fly.

So, I told myself I would only fish it for about a half hour and if I didn’t get any bites I would change it out for something else. It took me about 15 minutes before I hooked this beauty. worm fly bass.jpeg

I have since tied up a few on Eagle Claw weedless hooks. Now it’s time to do some more research on them. IMG_3550.jpg
Tequila sunrise, olive green and the Bill Dance Blue. 🙂

Bass Thumb?

Bass Thumb?

The Robert Palmer’s song goes something like this: “Doctor, doctor, give me the news. I’ve got a bad case of …. BASS THUMB!”  Haha. I had a Saturday morning free so I headed to my buddy’s lake for the first time this year to chase some bass on poppers. When I got there, I saw one of my former students, his dad, and some other hunters, who were making a late season rabbit hunt. It was cool to be fishing in a kayak while listening to the dogs work. Every now and then, the silence was shattered by the sounds of shotgun fire, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the peaceful solitude, and the constant blowups on my deer hair poppers.

I probably had my first blowup about five minutes after getting on the water, and as one might expect, I missed it. I thought to myself, “I’ve got to get my bass mojo back.” My next blowup resulting in a large 15-inch bass doing acrobatic maneuvers out of the shallow water. After a substantial fight, I gently lipped it, snapped a picture, and sent it back to the water to continue its annual spawning ritual. GOPR0060.jpeg

After that, I began to catch a lot of 12 and 13-inch bass. I kept hearing gun shots from the rabbit hunters and I thought to myself, I’ve got to keep up with them 🙂

I was up to bass number 7 (all caught on a frog pattern deer hair bug) when I got a HUGE blowup. I didn’t have a chance! Note to self, after catching 7 bass on the same fly, you MUST RETIE!! When I inspected the line, I saw the line had been frayed by the tiny teeth bass have. Those teeth act like sandpaper. When I spend a morning constantly catching and releasing fish, those sandpaper-like teeth will gnarl up my thumbs; thus bass thumb. Well, one can imagine what it does to fly tippet too.

So I retied, this time with a fire-tiger popper and was treated to some more action. GOPR0079.jpeg
Fire-tiger catches big bass.

The top water action slowed down and I tied on a new fly that I tied a while back that I’ve been wanting to try. One day while cleaning my house, I saw one of my daughter’s hair rubber bands laying on the floor that had broken. I tossed it into the garbage and notices that it had an uncanny resemblance to one of the earthworms I see that make it into my pool. I fetched it up out of the garbage and put it on a hook in my vice. I’ve been saving it for a moment like this when I could do “some research.”  I told myself that I would fish it earnestly for about a half hour before changing to something else. 15 minutes later, I hooked into the largest fish of the day. Sorry, I don’t have a picture. I only have video that I’ll have to try to add to this post at a later date. I will also do a step-by-step on the “hair rubber band worm fly.”

I tried fishing the worm fly some more, but I was catching grass and algae (it’s not weedless) and I heard some commotion over by a nearby woodpile. I new I had no chance with the worm fly so I retied my popper.

I think it was my second cast when I connected with another 17-inch fish. GOPR0072.jpeg

Again, a couple quick pictures were taken and the fish was released.

I was getting hungry and so I decided to call it a day. I met up with the hunters at the truck and asked how many rabbits they killed. They kept up with me 🙂  They killed 20 rabbits and I caught 19 bass. I guess they had shotgun shoulder but I wasn’t complaining…I had bass thumb 🙂

One More Trip

I know I’ve already posted my end-of-the-year report, but I couldn’t resist just one more short outing to my neighborhood lake. It began when my brother called me and said he’s trying to get his dog to learn to sit still in his pirogue while he fishes so he wanted to launch in my lake. He met me at my house a little after 3:30 and I hadn’t really planned on fishing with him. The weather has been real cloudy and dreary, plus my daughter, her husband, and my granddaughter have been in town for a New Year’s visit.

I helped my brother unload his pirogue and we walked the block and a half down to where I normally put in. When I got there and saw just how calm and pristine the lake looked, I just couldn’t resist. I hustled back home, put my kayak on wheels, grabbed my fly rod, and joined him on the lake.

It was neat fishing with my brother and we reminisced about old times fishing and hunting together. We were both avid hunters when we were younger but now we both enjoy fishing and the beauty, peace and relaxation that it brings. My brother brought one rod and fished a swim bait for bass. I brought a 5 wt rod with an olive fluff butt. My brother is and artist and has a great eye for things that would make a great painting, so he was snapping pictures most of the time. I, however, proceeded to catch about 8 small bream and two sacalait. We only fished for about an hour but it reminded both of us what really matters…family, friends, and the grace and beauty of God’s wonderful creations. Happy New Year to all those of you who follow this blog. I hope to get on the water more often in 2019. Funny thing is, I just realized I started the year off with a sacalait (crappie) and I ended it with one as well. 🙂

Tight loops and tight lines to you all!

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