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.

Thunder-steel!

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.

*POST PUBLISH CORRECTION*
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.

Monday, March 24, 2014

First bass of 2014 on the fly!

It's seems like it came much later than last year, but looking back at the first bass on the fly for 2013... we actually beat it by one week and one day. Winter has really dragged out this year, and it looks like we have at least a few more days of cold weather ahead.

It was just warm enough on Saturday that Kelly and I decided to go wade our local urban creek. We chose a spot on the stream that I have affectionately called "Dowisetrepla." If you're a fan of HIMYM, you know what I'm talking about already. For the rest of you... you'll just have to click the link. Let's just say we take showers when we're finished wading in this particular spot... better safe than sorry.

So here it is... in all 10 inches of its glory...


The fish was caught on a black bead head woolly bugger (I believe a size 8) using my vintage Browning Boron fly rod. I plan to do a post at some point in the near future on my Browning fly rods... so if you like those sort of posts, stay tuned. I also tried a small Stealth Bomber in vain... apparently no one was brave enough to break the surface to eat yet.


Kelly opted for the ultralight and the 4" Powerbait worm, which turned out to be a pretty good decision. She caught several more (and larger) than I did as is expected.


I knowingly handicapped myself in hopes of being the one to land that first bass of the year on the fly (while quietly reassuring Kelly of her ultralight choice and suggesting that my use of the fly rod was futile).

Last year she got it, but not this go around.

I win.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lure review: Rapala X-Rap and X-Rap Shad

Still waiting for ideal conditions to break out the fly rods and poppers for bass, we once again resorted to the dark side last weekend and fished conventional lures. We had a pretty good day on Saturday, fishing from the kayaks in a feeder creek of Pickwick Lake in northwest Alabama. We didn't catch any big ones, but Kelly caught 13 bass and I caught 9... outfished by a girl as usual.

One of my goals for the day was to test out some new (to me) lures made by Rapala. I admit not noticing when these lures were first released because I pay more attention to fly fishing than this sort of stuff. I only recently discovered the X-Rap by accident because I was looking for Rapala Husky Jerk lures in a retail outlet... and there the X-Rap was. It has been called the "perfect lure" by some fisherman. From what I can tell the X-Rap hit the market about a year and half ago... so I apologize for my belated review, but here we go anyway. (Post publishing UPDATE: According to a friend who worked at Bass Pro, this lure was introduced in late 2005... so this review is really, really belated. Oh well.)

Accodring to the Rapala website, the X-Rap has all of the following features...

  • Slashbait® Action
  • Suspending on Pause
  • Textured Translucent Body
  • Internal Holographic Foil
  • 3D Holographic Eyes
  • Internal Long-Cast System (XR04 excluded)
  • Stainless Steel Through Wire Construction
  • VMC® Black Nickel Hooks
  • 3D Holographic Eye
  • Flash Feather Teaser Tail
  • Hand-Tuned & Tank-Tested

I believe the lure lives up to all of those descriptors... except for the first and possibly most important of them all... the registered trademark "Slashbait® Action."

According to the website, "the angler defines the cadence for maximum effectiveness." So, maybe I just wasn't doing it right. I tried several different retrieval techniques, but for me it just din't move so magically in the water. Don't get me wrong, I liked the action that I did see, which was reminiscent of the greatest Rapala lure of all time (in my humble opinion)- the Husky Jerk ("Tennessee Shad" color pattern to be specific). I have declared my affection for the Husky Jerk previously on this blog, and from what I can tell Rapala may be phasing this lure out. They're becoming increasingly hard to find in retail outlets. They're also holding their value on Ebay... I know I've been looking, and they're worth their weight in gold if you ask me.

The X-Rap seems to be the logical successor to the Husky Jerk based on circumstantial evidence... similar body shape, action, and suspending qualities as well as being on the first page of lures on the Rapala website while the HJ has been pushed down to page 6, the next to last page. I should also mention that the X-Rap has a higher pricetag than the HJ ever did... and we're not just talking about inflation here. Aside from the overall more modern realistic look of the X-Rap, I find this to be one of the most notable differences.

The X-Rap works!

I also tried out the X-Rap Shad (a new and improved version of the ol' Shad Rap), which has a different profile but mostly similar features to the X-Rap, although they don't claim it to have the same "Slashbait® Action"... instead it is called "Xtreme Attitude Action"... which I find to be quite silly. This crankbait has no more extreme attitude than any other similar crankbait I have ever fished. Don't get me wrong, I like it a lot... I just don't think the silly description of its action is necessary. It does have good action and swims very well... no need for overstating what it does.

The X-Rap Shad works too!

The best fish of my day was landed on the X-Rap Shad. The color pattern I used was "Olive Green"- the closest I could find to my favorite "Tennessee Shad."

Upside down... the kayak angler's perspective

I would definitely recommend both the X-Rap and the X-Rap Shad to other bass anglers. As with all lures, they may not be the best choices on any given day or in any given situation, but they outfished everything else I tried last weekend (lipless crankbaits, plastic worm, and spinnerbait). The only thing that kept up with them, and actually beat them, was their Husky Jerk cousin that Kelly was fishing.

Sometimes you just can't beat a classic... Rapala, are you listening?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

DIY: A rod rack shelf for the other rods

I'm not as proud of this project as I am of my fly rod tube rack, but it serves a purpose... definitely a bit more function over form. Thanks to a rekindled interest in fishing with lures too heavy to be cast with a fly rod, I decided about six months ago it was time to build some sort of rack to organize the growing number of non-fly rods. Several of these rods are one piece (6' or longer) with no protective case... very different from the rods organized by my fly rod tube rack.

The inspiration for this piece came from two sources- the wire rod rack shelves that are readily available at the big box outdoor outfitters and a wooden shelf I saw at a local thrift shop. This project was my attempt to synthesize those two things.

First, I acquired the nifty piece of wood that made the bases of the rod racks on each side of the shelf. They are cut from a factory milled wooden deck railing. The baluster recesses were just right to receive a fishing rod handle. I went to Home Depot with a vision... not knowing exactly what I would buy... until I found this piece of wood. I instantly knew I had found what I was looking for... the Holy Grail of an uncertain quest.

I went home and almost immediately cut the railing down into two equal pieces- one for each side of the shelf... and then the project sat on a back burner for about four months during the course of moving into our new house. As soon as I got the garage workshop somewhat operational (it's still not quite fully functional), this was one of the first orders of business. It's an important piece of furniture in our obnoxiously fishing themed spare bedroom... critical to organizing the disorganized mess of rods that had been carefully leaned in the corners of the room.


In a quest to acquire the right piece of wood to make the box, I found a unique piece of plywood at Lowe's. It was a  4' x 8' sheet of 5/8" sheathing (low grade plywood- not intended for cabinetry)... supposed to be pine, but a layer of poplar at the mill snuck its way onto this sheet somehow. I don't know exactly how things work in a plywood production facility, but I did work in the lumber department at Home Depot... and I know that this isn't normal. This sheet was special, so I snatched it up. I used it to make the exterior of the shelf, while the interior shelves are made of some plywood leftovers from another project.

The color variation in the poplar gives this piece a lot of character.

The most frustrating part of the project came when I began trying to install the first set of rod retaining hooks I purchased for the project. Much like the wood railing... I thought I had found the perfect piece of hardware for the job, but that turned out to not be the case. I tried to use "safety" cup hooks that have little spring clips that essentially close the hooks. They're readily found in the hardware sections of home centers and even Walmart... but beware! They're made out of some really cheap "pot metal" that breaks easily... as I quickly found out when trying to align the hooks how I wanted them. Turning them just a wee bit past their first point of resistance broke the screws off very easily. I eventually gave up on the safety cup hooks and installed the hooks you see in the photo above. The rods are now just leaned into the hooks... but I would much prefer them to be securely held in place. It's a compromise.



I finished the piece with several coats of clear semi-gloss spar urethane- a very smooth and durable finish. If you're interested in further details or dimensions, please comment below.

Thanks for checking it out.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014 Bassmaster Classic: a report from a bass fly fisher

If you ask me about my favorite fish to pursue with a fly rod, I will invariably answer you with some species of the genus Micropterus- one of the black basses. In the past I would have quickly answered "Smallmouth," but now that I live in Alabama, and I've experienced fly fishing for Alabama Bass and Redeyes, they've achieved similar status in my mind. Wading a creek for river bass is my idea of fly fishing fun... and I'll always enjoy fly fishing for stillwater bass from a kayak or boat.

To make this very clear- I am a bass fisherman, even though I may not be "conventional" in my preferred method or choice of tackle. I know a lot about bass fishing, and although I prefer a fly rod, I actually have a lot of experience fishing lures with spinning and baitcasting gear...

but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced on Saturday- the Bassmaster Classic daily "weigh in" at the Birmingham Convention Center Arena.


The fishing took place on Lake Guntersville, but the daily "weigh ins" were staged over an hour away in the sports arena of the big city... because there is no such venue near the lake. A big arena was necessary to accommodate the hordes of fans that came to the weigh ins... literally from around the world. I saw a handful of Japanese fans there to support their professional bass fishing compatriots... clearly not from Alabama.


It was a cultural experience that I will never forget.


As I tried to describe it to my friends on Facebook... "Try to imagine a Nascar rock concert with fish."

I've seen these sort of events on TV before, but I admit that I'm not a follower of professional bass fishing... or any professional fishing tour for that matter. It's too painful to watch others get paid to go fishing for a living... and always think to myself, "I could do that."


"We have a new leader!"


There was also a free fishing expo held in conjunction with the Classic.



Gratuitous metal flake bass boat photo

Kelly and I made it a point to seek out all of the booths for companies with strong ties to fly fishing... but that doesn't mean we found much that was actually fly fishing related.



We only found two actual displays of fly rods- one at the St. Croix display and one by TFO. We appeared to be the only ones who showed any interest in these seemingly out of place sticks.





We also found the Simms display where they were promoting their rain gear and other non-fly fishing, bass-oriented fishing apparel.


Kelly even tried on a ProDry GORE-TEX rain suit and got in the Gore mobile rain room to try it out.

Ready to face the elements

Bring on the wind and rain!

One of the Simms guys was kind enough to give us a couple of camo baseball caps, and I'll be giving one away for anyone who is still reading. In the photo below, I am modeling the cap with my old Simms guide shirt while holding my first bass of the year- caught at Lewis Smith Lake on a spinnerbait on Sunday. Finally.

First bass of 2014... sadly not caught on a fly


If you are interested in a FREE Simms camo cap, be the first to leave a comment below with a correct link to any post where I've previously mentioned Simms gear on this blog. Good luck!