Sunday, March 20, 2016

"We prefer to make our own..."

This post was inspired by the legendary Joe Humphreys.

Joe Humphreys, circa 1988 

One of the first of many fly fishing educational materials I have acquired in my life was a video called "Fly Fishing Success: Dry Fly Strategy with Joe Humphreys" presented by Rod & Reel Magazine. I still have this video... and it may be one of the only reasons I still hang on to a functional VCR.

The video quality is still surprisingly good.

I bought the video from a very unexpected place- a local Memphis discount drug and grocery store (no longer in existence) called Ike's. If memory serves me correctly, I found the VHS tape in a bargain bin of what appeared to be secondhand rental videos... no longer fit to earn their keep on the rental racks... the year was 1994. The video has a copyright date of 1988, so by '94 it was already dated material, and as we all know the heyday of VHS was already drawing to a close by that time. My world was pretty small in 1994. I was a 16 year old kid without a car, no fly fishing friends or mentors, and very little knowledge of the world that was out there waiting to be explored with a fly rod. The fact that I found this video on a random trip to the neighborhood store with my mom is something of a miracle, but it definitely influenced my development as a fly fisher.

Joe's video opened my eyes to a world that I barely knew existed. I learned so much from that video, but readily admit that I forget so many of the invaluable tips and techniques that Joe shares. I would be a much better fly fisher if I remembered to do everything Joe taught me. There are a number of things that really stuck with me... like letting the trout see the fly first and not your leader, by positioning your cast and subsequent drift in such a way that the leader doesn't drift over the trout first. I recalled what Joe said and used this technique to my advantage at least a couple of times when Bill and I went fishing recently on the Sipsey. I also remember the emphasis that Joe put on leader construction... saying several times in the video, "if my leader is built correctly" then he might be successful.

Joe Humphreys learned his basic formula for dry fly leader construction from his late mentor George Harvey- the "Dean of American Fly Fishing." For a little insight into George Harvey's devotion to formulating the perfect leader, read the article "George Harvey: New Leader Formula" from Fly Fisherman magazine... an article published in 2000 when Harvey was nearly 89 years old! Despite other recent scandals and controversies, Penn State University has been very fortunate to have had these two fly fishing legends be a part of their history. Truthfully, Joe Humphreys might not have been the Joe Humphreys we know today without George Harvey, and Penn State might not have had any sort of fly fishing legacy at all. I just know the random and infrequently offered fly fishing class (that I never got an opportunity to take) at my university wasn't taught by such renowned faculty.

So, in regards to leaders in the video, there is an entire segment devoted to leader construction, and according to Joe and his viewpoint on commercially available tapered leaders, "we prefer to make our own... to get the job done." (I really like the use of the first person plural "we"... I see what you did there, Joe... making me feel lazy and inadequate by using one of those newfangled extruded tapered leaders... damn he's good.)

Joe obviously takes his leader construction very seriously and speaks in a very serious tone about preparation during the leader segment...
"When you're out on the stream, you must be prepared." 
"The moral of the story... if you're not prepared, it can be a disaster."
Joe obviously takes preparation very seriously too, and I'm trying to follow his example as I prepare for our big Florida spring break bass trip. One of the things I decided to do this year to better prepare was to have more heavy duty bass leaders ready to go for the trip. Sure we'll be using some of the now standard 9' 3X tapered leaders in our efforts to catch small river-dwelling Suwannee Bass (Micropterus notius), but for our lake fishing for big Largemouths... "we prefer to make our own."

Or at least that's what I'm going to try to do.

I've already made a prototype, and I've realized that my knot tying needs a little work... joining 40 and 50 lb test with a blood knot ain't the smoothest operation... and I admittedly haven't tied much line of that diameter.  I'm using rather inexpensive line for the butt sections- 40 and 50 lb test Tournament Choice Pro Cat Hi-Visibility Green monofilament. The mid section is slightly better quality- 30 lb Berkley Trilene Big Game. The next to last section is 20 lb P-Line Floroclear, and the tippet is 14 lb SpiderWire Ultracast. We'll be fishing in and around lily pads so the 14 lb "tippet" may or may not be needed. I've heard a lot of people say "just use a 6' piece of 20 lb test for a bass leader," and I have tried this method. In my opinion... it sucks. Using that method, there is no butt section or hinge to help turn over big flies. Now if all you plan to do is heave a heavy Clouser Minnow (which is essentially a weighted jig) out there... then I'm sure that'll work just fine. But I'm fishing "dry flies" for bass. Not dry flies in the traditional sense, but large size 4 and up surface bugs- BoogleBug poppers, Stealth Bombers, etc. As silly as it may sound to some, I like to focus on as delicate a presentation as possible with these mega dry flies. Regardless of whether it's a trout or a bonefish or a bass, the softer the presentation the less likely you are to spook fish.

My arsenal of country fried leader making supplies.

I'm sure my idea of "dry fly" leader construction would make some of the purists, and maybe even Joe Humphreys, cringe just a little... but I'm okay with that. I live in bass country, and I won't apologize for being a bass fly rodder.

If any of you have ever constructed your own leaders, please comment below. Whether you have advice or criticism or whatever, I'm ready to hear it. Also, if you're a fan of Joe Humphreys, you should probably know about this:

Please support Live The Stream if you can. I know I'm looking forward to the finished film.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Rules are rules: potential world record bass denied

I haven't posted anything in a really long time here... but the great thing about a blog like this is everything is pretty much the same as when I left it. Hopefully I'll be making more frequent contributions here, and hopefully some of my followers are still out there.

Most of the content I have shared on my blog is entirely original. In order for me to share somebody else's video, it has to be pretty special. I felt like this video qualifies. It's currently trending on YouTube. I saw it last week when it was only a couple of days old. Now it has been seen by more than 125,000 viewers.

If you like seeing big bass, then this should be enough to make you drool. Take a few minutes to enjoy seeing a truly special fish.

The video brings up a couple of really interesting points.
  1. If you want to catch a world record fish and submit it to IGFA, you better follow the rules. In this case weighing the fish in a boat on the water (and not on dry land) cost the angler a world record.
  2. The fish in question is not a Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus). The fish is an Alabama Bass (M. henshalli)- formerly Alabama Spotted Bass (M. p. henshalli). For details on current taxonomy see the following paper: "The Alabama Bass, Micropterus henshalli (Teleostei: Centrarchidae), from the Mobile River basin."
I seriously doubt you will see point #2 discussed anywhere else, but it's of great interest to me as a biologist and an Alabama fisherman. The "Spotted Bass" swimming in most of the state's waters, except the Tennessee River drainages, aren't just any old Spotted Bass anymore. They were long considered to be a unique subspecies of Spotted Bass, but as is often the story with the classification and taxonomy of living organisms, things have changed. In this case, the Alabama variety of Spotted Bass has been elevated to full species status.

So... you may be wondering how I know (or at least why I believe) the fish in the video is an Alabama Bass.

Well... it is pretty well known that the reservoirs of California that are well known for their "Spotted Bass" fishing were originally stocked with fish from Alabama. As a matter of fact, if you do a little research, you will find out that the first "Spotted Bass" stocked in California's Perris Lake originated from Lewis Smith Lake- "Fishing Through Life" Bill's home water. I should also add that the two species of bass just don't even really look alike... but that's just my opinion. Anyone who has caught true Northern Spotted Bass should be able to see that the giant from California just doesn't look like the fish they've caught. The differences which actually distinguish the two species are obviously a bit more technical than just general appearances... but to me it's obvious.

I seriously doubt anything will change with IGFA anytime soon, but based on the current state of taxonomy, there should now be two separate world records for Northern Spotted Bass (M. punctulatus) and Alabama Bass (M. henshalli). Considering that the current world record for "Spotted Bass" is from a California reservoir it is highly likely to actually be an Alabama Bass. Who knows what the largest true Northern Spotted that was ever caught might have been? It's essentially a record that has been lost... one that for now doesn't even exist. I don't expect the fishing community at large or the IGFA to immediately pick up on new taxonomy when it is first introduced, but to me it makes fishing just a bit more interesting. One of my favorite things about fishing is catching as many different species as possible. Adding another unique species to the lifelist of species I've caught is good stuff.

If you have any questions or want to debate taxonomy or whatever, please leave a comment below. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my readers.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A long time coming

It's been almost a year.

A lot has happened since my last blog post...

some of it good, some not so good...

but fishing remains a constant in our lives.

We've been fishing through it all. I wish I had some incredible fish pictures to show off, but we haven't caught any really amazing fish since the last blog post either. That's not to say we haven't caught many fish or any decent fish... just nothing big enough, incredible enough, or legendary enough to motivate me to write about it. Sure enough there have been some good stories, and perhaps we'll revisit some of those memories in some upcoming posts, but for the moment we're looking ahead.

Kelly and I are counting the hours until we pack up and head to Florida to spend a week camping, fishing, and enjoying Mother Nature. We depart Saturday, and the gear is all coming together.

It's been almost four years since we've taken a real vacation with more than a 36 hour window for fishing. The last big trip we took was during the summer of 2011 to the U.P. of Michigan... and the fishing we experienced left a lot to be desired. We will be revisiting some of the same Florida fishing spots we went to in mid March 2011 as well as adding some new adventures to our agenda. Kelly caught her personal best Largemouth on that trip four years ago, and I'm hoping I get another shot at the fish I missed back then. It's had four years to put on some size, so maybe it will break my 9 wt this time around... that would make for a good story.

Since no blog post is really complete without at least one photo... here's a reminder of why we're going back to Florida at this time of year...

Kelly's BIG Florida Largemouth, March 2011

T-minus 37 hours until launch.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Easter Bass and Bluegill

It's been a busy week, so it's taken me a while to get around to posting this.

As I type this, Kelly and I are watching the local news weather coverage. Tonight is a tornado night in "Dixie Alley." We've already seen a tornado reported from Jasper, Alabama where our friend Bill lives. I hope we all survive this night unscathed.

My thoughts are with Bill as I post photos of fish caught from his home water on Smith Lake. I hope you are okay, my friend.

We went kayak fishing on Smith Lake last weekend- Easter Sunday.

I had a difficult day... lots of tangles and challenges to deal with. The icing on the cake being when my 9' 7 wt G. Loomis GL3 fly rod with L.L. Bean Orion reel fell out of my kayak... and as it was disappearing into the depths of Alabama's deepest and clearest lake... I did what any reasonable fly fisher who can swim would do. I frantically jumped out of my little boat and went in after it. I was able to get it... so no loss... except for my dryness... I was wet for the rest of the afternoon.

Shortly after I took my swim, Kelly caught what may be the biggest Bluegill she has ever landed.

Smith Lake Bluegill, almost 9"

If Kelly's hand doesn't make it look big... here it is on her kayak paddle.

Big "Bull" Bluegill- easily big enough to make Bill's cut

Then she caught a 20" Alabama Bass.

The girl wins again

Kelly also caught this interesting little Bluegill that obviously had a close call with something dangerous... maybe an Osprey talon.

I only managed a few small bass- 2 on the baitcaster with Rapala X-Rap Shad and 1 on the fly rod. None were really photo worthy. As final insult to injury, I missed what may have been a very nice fish thanks to a very untimely decision to sit my rod down in favor of my paddle... all to make some minor and unnecessary adjustment to my kayak's position. The fish, which I estimated to be in the 5 lb size class, inhaled my fly and spit it before I could pick the rod back up and set the hook. Damn it.

I may have been outfished by a girl again, but at least I can say I tied the flies responsible for her success.

Blue Stealth Bomber, size 4 (See top Bluegill photo above too.)

You gotta claim your victories wherever you find them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Redeyez N the Hood

Gratuitious Redeye photo inserted here for the thumbnail in blogroll previews

There's a small creek that flows out of the state park where I work and through the suburban area where we now live. A short section of it flows along the edge of our neighborhood subdivision, although our house isn't really that close to it... which is probably a really good thing... given what occurred earlier this week.

Approximately six inches of rain fell overnight from late Sunday through early Monday morning. That's a lot of rain in short order... which inevitably means flash flooding.

We are very fortunate that our house wasn't flooded, because there were several homes in our neighborhood (close to the creek) that were.

Here are a few pictures of the raging creek...

The "creek" at the spillway from the state park lake- typically a trickle

The "creek" flooding a parking lot just below the state park

The view from the bridge that leads into our neighborhood

The flooded neighborhood park; the creek is normally within that line of riparian trees

Anybody want to swim in the neighborhood pool? Wait... where is it?

The was the first Redeye Bass that Kelly caught from our new neighborhood creek in late February...

and this was the second...

Closeup of that stunning red eye above

If you know anything about Redeyes, you know that this is actually a "big" one... especially from such a small (under normal circumstances) creek. The Alabama state (and presumably World) record is just a little over 3 lbs.

I really hope the recent flood didn't wash away any of the Redeyes in the 'hood. They're not a species that is particularly fond of siltation and/or dirty water... so I'm also hopeful that we won't have any more unusually heavy rainfall in the coming days.

I'm sure the Redeyes are still there... they're tough little fish after all, but this wasn't good for the habitat or the fish.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fly fishing brotherhood

I learned about Braden Smith thanks to a post by Morgan Kupfer of the Tight Lined Tales of a Fly Fisherman blog.

Morgan posted a little over two weeks ago about a fellow fly fisherman in need.

I decided to do what I could to help a member of the brotherhood... even though I didn't know him, and he didn't know me.

I reached out to Braden in an e-mail... and the only thing I could think to put in the subject line that made any sense was "Fly fishing brotherhood."

One of things on Braden's list of items lost was a 9' 7 wt rod. I told him that he must be a kindred spirit if he fishes a 7 wt... which has become a less and less popular rod and line weight in recent years. It's still my favorite rod weight for most of my bass fishing... but Braden primarily targets a different species with his 7 wt... a fish not found in the southeast.

In addition to a few basic fly tying materials, I sent Braden a 9' 7 wt rod that we had retired from regular use. It was the rod that Kelly used the most before I got her one she could call her very own. In our house this rod was affectionately known as the "Thunderstick." It had no catchy model name... just some letters and numbers that were a mouthful... not simple or cool like GL3. It was an IM6 graphite rod (with decent quality hardware) branded for and sold by Sportsman's Warehouse. I think it may have been made by Cortland, but can't be sure of that, and don't remember how I came to that conclusion.

The rod was in good fishable condition, but had lots of wear and tear. It had caught many fish on waters around the southeast before it made its way to Braden in western New York. This rod has history.

I had two minor requests of Braden if he was to accept this rod...
  1. Carry on the "Thunderstick" name.
  2. Send me some pictures of the Thunderstick back in action.
He is a man of his word.

The Thunderstick catches chrome.


Fish on, brother.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The best of both worlds

On Friday, Kelly and I drove north for some kayak fishing on our favorite creek that flows into Pickwick Lake. It would have been nice to stay closer to home, but in order to escape the rain and thunderstorms in our neck of the woods, the drive was necessary. We felt like the 30% chance of isolated t-storms farther north was better than the 80% chance locally... and it turned out to be a pretty good gamble.

Not only did we use the kayaks, but we both took a fly rod as well as a rod for conventional lures... the best of both worlds. We had success with both methods, but no lunkers were landed on this outing... although we saw some true river beasts. The kayak lets you get really close before fish get spooked, and in such a clear creek, you get to see some pretty impressive fish... even if you don't have the good fortune to catch them. I saw a Largemouth that was easily five pounds while Kelly claims to have seen a bass that would have been seven or eight or more... and I tend to believe her. She said the only larger bass that she has ever seen in person were in the display tanks at Bass Pro Shops. I also saw some sizable Longnose Gar that were staging to spawn... two big females in the neighborhood of 5 feet long with several smaller 3 to 4 foot males hanging around them.

I tried in vain to tempt a bass to bite on the surface, but only drew interest from tiny Bluegill that couldn't take my size 4 Stealth Bomber. Kelly fished a smaller popper and managed to take the first fish of our year on the surface... you guessed it... a Bluegill.

I managed to catch another species of Lepomis that we don't encounter too often... mostly because we don't bait fish with worms around here. I landed this 6" Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus), or "Shellcracker" as we call them in the South, on the Rapala X-Rap.

Nobody told this shellcracker he's supposed to eat snails.

The other noteworthy event from this trip was that Kelly landed the first Smallmouth of the year- caught on a Rapala Husky Jerk.

14 inches of bronze for 2014!

Things are definitely starting to heat up. We'll be wading and fly fishing with poppers (and Stealth Bombers) in a matter of just a few weeks now... and after the winter we've had, I can hardly wait.

Kelly reminded me that I was actually the one who caught the first surface fly fish of the year... which was a small Bluegill (obviously not very memorable), and that she also caught an 11" bass on the surface. My memory is failing me... or I just selectively remember the really good stuff. I guess I need to consult with her to get the story straight before I click "publish" from now on.