Friday, December 31, 2010

Highlights of 2010... some of it just a few hours old

A look back at some of the highlights of 2010, a year in the life of the fly fishing naturalist and his favorite fishing partner.

1. In January, Kelly caught her first trout. See this previous post for the full story.

2. I caught my first Smallmouth of the year at Cypress Creek in northwest Alabama on "Tax Day."

Tax Day Smallmouth Bass

3. In June, Kelly and I made a trip to DeSoto State Park and Little River Canyon National Preserve in Alabama. We caught our first Redeye Bass (Micropterus coosae) and Alabama Spotted Bass (M. henshalli). I wrote an article about this amazing place for Examiner.com that you can read by clicking here. On this trip Kelly earned the title of "Green Queen" ("Queen Cyanellus" if you prefer Latin... I do) by catching so many Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). Green Sunfish are like the cockroaches of the piscine world. They're found in just about every body of water (including polluted urban ditches) in our region of the country... although in some of the more pristine waters (read "too clean") you wouldn't really expect to find them... but somehow Kelly always does. She manages to find some nice ones too. Green Sunfish aren't known for their size... this one (about 7") would be a wall hanger if you were so inclined.

A "trophy" Green Sunfish in the hand of the "Queen"

4. On July 5th, I caught my best Smallmouth of the year at the Spring River in north central Arkansas. Kelly and I caught a bunch of fish on this trip. It was a healthy mix of trout, bass, and sunfish. Kelly even claims that she missed what she thought could have been a Musky! There are some in the Spring River, so I believe her. She did catch a bat on a backcast while we were trying to do a little night fishing. She's talented.

Big Bronze of the year

5. I built my first fly tying bench. See this previous post for more information.

6. In September I won an Emotion Glide Angler Kayak in a Yuengling Beer promotional drawing at a local grocery store. I wrote a review of the boat for Examiner.com that you can read by clicking here.

7. I began writing "The Naturalist's Angle" blog on October 20th.

8. Landed a personal best Channel Catfish on a fly rod in Hickahala Creek in north Mississippi. I have caught bigger Channel Cats by other means, but that was back when I still chunked bait in high school. I didn't even know catching a catfish on a fly was possible back then.

Channel Catfish on the fly

9. In November we got started on the Bassmaster "Bass Slam." Current count: Kelly 1, Jay 0. Read this previous post for the full story.

10. In December, I tied the "Christmas Crawdad" fly and somehow managed to catch my best trout of the year on Christmas Day using a pattern that wasn't really meant to be that serious. Read this previous post for details.

11. I wrapped up a great year on the fly with a New Year's Eve fishing trip with my favorite fishing buddy. It was about 30 degrees warmer than it was last week when we went to the Spring River. Kelly even managed to solidify her crown as "Green Queen" with one last lunker Green Sunfish for 2010.

One last nice Rainbow for 2010

The "Green Queen" strikes again in the last twilight of 2010

I only hope 2011 brings as many good fishing memories as this year has. I have a feeling it will only be better.

Happy New Year and may all of your outdoor pursuits in 2011 be great successes.

    Sunday, December 26, 2010

    The Legend of the "Christmas Crawdad" 2: Return for Revenge

    As most "normal" people spent their Christmas day enjoying the fellowship of family and friends, Kelly and I went fly fishing at the Spring River...

    and I took the "Christmas Crawdad" back for revenge.

    If you've been following this saga, you already know the "Christmas Crawdad" only managed to produce one tiny trout before it was lost to a rather hefty fish due to tippet malfunction (probably more like fisherman malfunction).

    Well, yesterday was a different story. Christmas Day was the right time for the "Christmas Crawdad."

    First, the "Christmas Crawdad" caught a "minnow."

    Largescale Stoneroller (Campostoma oligolepis)

    Then something a bit larger than a "minnow."


    It turned out to be this Rainbow Trout...

    Revenge is sweet.

    The "Christmas Crawdad" gets his revenge.

    Then from the same run where the big Rainbow was lost last time came this fish:

    The "Christmas Crawdad" wins the battle this time.

    Then on a more standard version (rust/olive chenille with brown saddle hackle) of the same pattern of crayfish fly came this rather large "minnow":

    Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)

    Quickly followed by this Rainbow:


    Not to be totally left out of the fun, Kelly caught a few fish too. First, came this Rainbow Trout:

    Kelly all bundled up for Christmas fishing

    Then several more Rainbows throughout the day followed by this fine "minnow":

    Hornyhead Chub (Nocomis biguttatus)

    It was a great day to be on the Spring River. We saw only four other brave souls who ventured out into the cold to catch a Christmas trout. Maybe they were just brave for sneaking away from a family gathering. It wasn't terribly cold, but the temperature hovered around the freezing mark all day... and with the wind it felt much colder. There were a few snow flurries about, but we certainly didn't have a white Christmas.

    Call me a Scrooge, but I would trade a good day of fishing with Kelly for a white Christmas every year.

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    The Legend of the "Christmas Crawdad"

    Well... here I am writing the promised report on the performance of the "Christmas Crawdad." It's hard to know where to start with this adventure, but since most stories are told chronologically I guess I'll start at the beginning.

    Yesterday morning Kelly and I got up and headed off to the Spring River near Mammoth Spring, Arkansas. The two and a half hour car ride there was rather uneventful. We arrived at noon with clear skies, which is not a good time for fishing the ol' Spring River. The fish there seem to avoid the sunlight like cave dwellers. This is probably a result of the abundant cover in the river. The fish have so many places to take cover that they aren't forced to be out in the open like fish elsewhere. The river flows over a limestone bed with all sorts of nooks and crannies. There is also an abundance of vegetation that the trout literally use like blankets. Fishing the Spring River involves a lot of high stick nymphing and fishing deep slots with a heavily weighted set up. A split shot about 6-8" above your fly is pretty much a necessity on the Spring River if you want to consistently catch fish. The shot we use is larger than anything I've ever seen in an assortment of fly weight shot.

    Since we arrived at high noon, it took a little while to hook up with the first fish. I spent a fruitless hour fishing the first "Christmas Crawdad" (green/red with white rubber) before I snagged a rock and lost it in a deep run. The second "Christmas Crawdad" (the gold one) quickly met a similar fate. I was left with only one "Christmas Crawdad" (green/red with red appendages), and I was determined to catch a fish with it before the day was over. I decided to save it for a bit and fish with a more standard material fly of the same design. This one had a rust/olive colored chenille body with an olive hackle and white rubber. On one of my first few casts with this fly, it was inhaled and spit out by what appeared to be a rather large fish in a very shallow run. As I tried to recast and offer it again, I snagged the only nearby overhanging tree on my backcast. The fly was lost, and I decided to go ahead and tie on "Christmas Crawdad" #3 (green/red with red appendages).

    I cast it into the same run again, and actually caught a trout on the "Christmas Crawdad." It wasn't big, but I had fulfilled my silly quest.

    "Christmas Crawdad" success

    The fun with the "Christmas Crawdad" was not over. I knew there was still a bigger fish in that little run so I cast it back in there. On my first cast after catching the tiny trout above, I hooked into a beast. I immediately knew that I had made a mistake by not tying on fresh tippet. I was fishing with 5x (4.75 lb) and the Spring River rocks quickly take their toll on tippet. The big Rainbow (which was the largest trout I have knowingly hooked on a fly) made a few runs in rather shallow water... where I thought for a moment I was winning the battle. Then he began to run toward the deep water in the middle of the river, and I knew the table was about to turn. He managed to wrap my leader under a rock in the process. As soon as I got the line from under the rock he made one last beeline for deeper water and he was gone.... damn it! Kelly and I both got to see the fish while he was in the shallows. It was easily 20" and around 4 lb.

    It wasn't the only large fish of the day that we lost. Kelly later hooked a Rainbow that was around 18" and as it flopped at her feet she was unable to actually land it. I was headed her way with the net, because I knew it was a good fish, but I wasn't there nearly fast enough.

    I did manage to "catch" one very large fish just as the sun was setting and it was starting to get dark. I saw a large dorsal fin break the surface of the water in a very shallow run... I cast upstream and just to the left of it and foul hooked this thing...

    I'm not sure what to think

    It was a ghostly image of what was probably at one time a beautiful fish. I'm not sure exactly how to describe its condition. It may have been a bit sickly, and the look on my face in the photo might be explained by the fish being a little slimier than normal. I'm trying to smile but I'm a little concerned about the thing I'm holding. It may have had some sort of fungus growing on it. It put up very little fight for a fish of this size, but he was holding in the current when I hooked him, and swam away under his own power when he was released.

    He was nothing to compare with the fish I lost.

    It was quite an interesting day. We saw a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fly over. I caught a Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus), also known as a "Shellcracker" in the south, which is not really a fish to expect in a trout stream... it's more of a farm pond fish. It's the second one I've caught in the Spring River in pretty much the same spot both times. The fish diversity is why Kelly and I love the Spring so much... that and the dependable (9 million gallons of 58 degree spring fed water an hour) stream flows.

    The drive home was equally interesting. We had to drive through the fresh scene of a car collision with a horse (dead horse on one side of the road and the wrecked car and human victims awaiting ambulance on the other).  Then we saw one of the most beatiful moonrises either of us has ever witnessed. We topped it all off with a good dinner at Chili's in Jonesboro (with no bar?... dry county I guess) on our way back to Memphis. I have leftovers to eat by the way, and it is lunch time.

    While I'm eating, I'll be thinking about that monster Rainbow swimming around with my "Christmas Crawdad" in his mouth. It will haunt me until I get back out there... I think Kelly and I will probably be fishing on Christmas day. We don't have much else to do.

    To everyone in the outdoor blogosphere, Merry Christmas!

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Christmas fly tying fun

    I've been doing a little fly tying tonight in preparation for a little trout fishing tomorrow. I will be presenting the rainbows and browns a few festive offerings just to see what happens. I know I'm certainly not the first person out there to attempt a little fly tying with Christmas decorating materials, but I thought I would share one of my Christmas creations. I am calling it the "Christmas Crawdad."

    Santa approved fly pattern: the "Christmas Crawdad"

    The pattern is really more of a shrimp pattern than a true crayfish imitation, but I don't suspect the trout will care too much. The trout of the Spring River (where Kelly and I will be tomorrow) aren't too picky as long as it looks like a crayfish. The fish there feed heavily on crayfish and any fly that resembles one (such as a large woolly bugger in reddish brown) will typically be productive. Our experience with woolly buggers has also shown that white rubber legs really help get their attention, so I have added some white trailing appendages to this pattern. The water of the Spring River tends to be on the cloudy side so the white rubber probably helps the fish see the fly.

    The "Christmas Crawdad" size 6

    I tied the "Christmas Crawdad" on a size 6 Daiichi #1750 streamer hook. I used bead chain eyes for a little weight and tied them on to make the hook ride in the up position. The "tail" portion of the fly is fox squirrel, midge flash, and two rubber strands. The body is made out of a holiday decorating "ribbon" from the craft store... which is really a lot like an estaz chenille with a mylar tinsel woven into a string core. The ribbon as I purchased it from the craft store was actually two strands (one gold and one green/red) woven together around a wire core... great for decorating... not so great for fly tying straight off the spool. I was delighted with the results of unwrapping it. I tied a couple in green and red and one in gold.

    There are all sorts of goodies that could be useful for fly tying among the Christmas decorations. Most of the useful items I have found would probably be incorporated into some sort of streamer pattern. I don't expect to find anything that would do much good in tying small dries, but you never know. Be creative and tie something festive for Christmas. I'd love to see some of your holiday patterns. If you decide to tie one, please leave a comment below with a link to a blog post or photos.

    I'll report back on the success... or failure... of the "Christmas Crawdad." I have high hopes... but rather low expectations.

    I can't wait to see if the trout are in the holiday spirit.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    What's on your feet?

    I've been thinking (daydreaming) a lot about winter trout fishing. As some of you have probably gathered, I would rather fish for Smallmouth Bass than any other fish that swims, but when the Smallies aren't biting I turn to other species that are willing. Although I do fish for trout year round, winter fishing means trout fishing to me. Kelly and I are planning to do some trout fishing sometime around Christmas, but haven't worked out the details yet.

    While daydreaming about how much fun we will have freezing our rears off in a river, I reminded myself that I recently got a new pair of wading boots. I have only worn them once so far. After another trip or two I'll probably write a review. They are White River Fly Shop ECO-CLEAR wading boots from Bass Pro Shops. As the "ECO-CLEAR" name vaguely implies, they are designed to limit the unwanted transport of invasive species from one body of water to another. These boots, and others like them without felt soles, are soon to be essential equipment for fly fishers in many areas. I have read online about felt sole bans in Alaska and Vermont, and know several other states (MD, MO, and OR) have bans in the works.

    Much of the reactions I have seen in online forums have been very negative regarding this new conservation oriented legislation. What is extremely ironical to me is that these efforts to ban felt are supported, even commended, by Trout Unlimited. TU is a group of mostly fly fishers... probably some of the same ones who are spreading a lot of the negativity about felt sole bans all over the internet.

    I'm also a bit surprised that it's being treated like it's a hot new topic among the fly fishing community when it's not really new at all. I wrote a report and made a presentation on whirling disease for my college Ecology class in 1998... over 12 years ago. One of the major take home messages of what was then current knowledge was that felt soled wading boots worn by fisherman were largely responsible for the spread of whirling disease. Even knowing I was the only fly fisher in the class, my presentation provided information on how to prevent the spread of the disease including instructions for cleaning felt soled wading boots. I also suggested wearing rubber sole wading boots instead of felt, but that was not my original idea. I got it straight from one of the sources I used for my report. I also remember L.L. Bean introducing their Aqua Stealth soles over ten years ago as an alternative to felt... to prevent the spread of whirling disease. I really wanted a pair of Aqua Stealth boots back then, but I was a fly fisher on a budget in college.

    Pretty much every major name in the business offers alternatives to felt soles these days, and Simms has even enacted their own ban by no longer offering felt as an option. My new boots are just one of the many options out there, and I have found them to be perfectly functional. The reviews online are horrible, but you can't expect rubber sole boots (without metal studs) to grip as well as felt on slippery rocks. Maybe some of these folks who wrote negative reviews should get wading staffs... or boats.

    Most of the time I am wearing something other than traditional wading boots altogether, so it's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. For me, my wading boots are a winter/coldwater necessity and that's about it. There are a couple of Arkansas tailwaters (Norfork and White Rivers) where I almost always wear waders year round, but everywhere else (when the weather is favorable) I am wet wading. I wet wade as long as I can stand it. I even wrote an article for Examiner.com back in July on what I consider to be the best options for wet wading footwear. I know there are even felt soled wading sandals out there, but you won't catch me wearing them. I really don't want to contribute to an ecological nightmare, and I'm proud to say the Snowbee boots Kelly and I wear aren't likely to transport any didymo.

    Snowbee flats boots modeled by yours truly

    I guess I'm most fascinated by the fact that there is still so much controversy surrounding this issue. Has the fly fishing community not learned anything in the last 15 years or so from whirling disease that might help us control more recent invaders like didymo? I know that felt soles may not be the only source of our problems with aquatic invasives, but they certainly aren't helping either. Anybody that looks at a felt sole knows that it isn't the kind of surface that can be cleaned on a microscopic level, and thoroughly drying your boots can take a long time... often times much longer than we stay out of the water between fishing trips. I've read lots of commentary from people saying that the laces, seams, cracks, and crevices of our boots will still carry hitchhikers so they shouldn't have to give up their precious felt... and this may be true. I'm just satisfied knowing that I'm doing my little part by not wearing felt. After all, if you're not part of the solution you may just be part of the problem.

    Ultimately, I think felt soles are on the way out. Simms is just ahead of the pack on this forefront. Knowing what I have known for the last decade, I'm surprised they haven't been banned already in more places.

    Please weigh in and tell me what you wear, what are the ecological issues that concern you as fly fishers, and whether or not felt sole bans will matter to you. I can't wait to hear your comments.

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Gift ideas for fly flingers

    Just thought I would share my "Holiday gift ideas for fly fishers" article I wrote for Examiner.com. Just click on the title to check it out.

    For fly fishers reading this, maybe you'll find something you didn't already know about. Also, if you have any suggestions for things that deserve a place on a fly fisher's wish list, please don't hesitate to let me know something I should include. I can always add more.

    Enjoy!

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Visit an AZA zoo or aquarium during the holidays

    Who hasn't been to a zoo? It's probably safe to assume pretty much everyone out there has been to a zoo or aquarium at some point in their life. Perhaps the last time you visited a zoo was during an elementary school field trip. If you haven't experienceded one in a while you might be surprised at how much they've changed in recent years. I'm not really that old, and in my lifetime I have personally witnessed my hometown zoo undergo revolutionary changes that have put it among the top zoos in the country. I can remember when the big cats lived their entire lives on the concrete floors of their prison cell sized cages, but boy have things changed.

    There are lots of zoos out there, and some of the lesser ones have given zoos on the whole a bum rap. Zoos and aquariums can be controversial, and are often protested by animal rights activist groups. As a former zoo professional, I can say that only rarely are zoos even understood by the greater biological conservation community. Zoos are often unjustly looked down upon by conservation workers in other types of scientific institutions. The "good" zoos and aquariums out there are typically members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and as such they have pretty high standards for accreditation to live up to. In short, it's hard to be a crappy outdated zoo and maintain accreditation by AZA.

    AZA is at the forefront of wildlife conservation around the world. The conservation efforts of member institutions go far beyond the perimeter fences of the zoos or walls of the aquariums. If they are not directly involved by sending their own staff into the field, then they at minimum (according to AZA guidelines) help fund field biologists, nature preserves, and conservation education programs around the globe. My hometown zoo is one of only four zoos in the U.S. to exhibit Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), and they are actively researching the nutritional dynamics of bamboo and how pandas (which are basically carnivores) are able to subsist on a seemingly nutritionally deficient diet. Their work on bamboo goes well beyond the zoo into the Qinling Mountains of China where they are studying bamboo ecology in the field.

    Even still, the biggest contribution of AZA zoos and aquariums is really here at home. There is an AZA institution somewhere near you that helps teach the next generation to care about the natural world that we all enjoy so much. Zoos are places that connect people, especially children, with nature. It may not be quite the same as hiking, hunting, or fishing, but for many children, especially in urban areas, it may be their first close encounter with the wild. AZA institutions are not just about saving animals from extinction through captive breeding programs. Zoos and aquariums could potentially serve as "modern arks" for that purpose, but in general they are more focused on promoting a conservation ethic that includes an understanding that wild habitat is what really needs to be saved. If we save wild habitat, then we in turn save wild animals. That's something any knowledgeable sportsman can understand and get behind.

    So during the holidays, when you've got some time off, consider visiting a zoo or aquarium near you. Aquariums are always in season, but winter can be one of the best times to visit a zoo if you want to avoid crowds. Winter zoo visitors often have the whole place pretty much to themselves. It's also one of the best seasons to see the animals actually doing something. Tons of visitors pack the zoo on a hot summer afternoon only to complain that all of the animals are sleeping. Wouldn't you sleep in the shade on a 95+ degree day? Additionally, many zoos offer holiday programs for the kids and light displays in the evenings at this time of year.

    I'll leave you with a really neat zoo fact and a couple of videos...

    Zoo Fact: The combined annual attendance of all AZA member institutions exceeds that of all four major league professional sports combined. Yes, I said combined. The annual attendance at all MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL games is less than that of AZA zoos and aquariums. Pretty impressive, huh? (Just by the numbers, these places are a pretty big deal in our modern society.)

    The first video is just to give an idea of what AZA zoos and aquariums are all about, and the second one is some of the best AZA commercials of the past year. You may see your hometown zoo or aquarium among them. Enjoy!