Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Unaccomplished Angler" retires, but will he "pull a Favre"?

Kirk Werner (not to be confused with the similar sounding Kurt Warner), the author of the fly fishing blog "The Unaccomplished Angler", has supposedly gone into retirement.

Is it some sort of publicity stunt?

Will he return from retirement just before the (fishing) season starts?

Does he think that just because his name sounds so similar to an NFL quarterback that he needs to pull a Brett Favre on us?

To be perfectly honest, I hope he does pull a Favre. Not only does he write an excellent blog about his "un-accomplishments" as a fly fisher, he has authored and illustrated several fly fishing themed children's books featuring a character he created, Olive the Little Woolly Bugger. His books have received excellent feedback and reviews. I haven't read them personally (thanks in part to the fact that I don't have any kids), but if their quality is anything like his blog then I'm sure they are excellent. I can say that the character artwork is exceptional from what is shown on the website.

In a series of five posts on the Olive the Woolly Bugger blog, Kirk details his attempts to contact Oprah Winfrey regarding his Olive the Woolly Bugger books. He really wants to have his books included on Oprah's Kids' Reading List, but what author wouldn't want Oprah's blessing? He even made an xtranormal video using animated characters to portray the hypothetical scenario of how it would play out if he ran into Oprah while out fishing and had the chance to tell her about his books.

I think there is a strong possibility that Kirk is somewhere lurking around Chi-town trying to get a copy of Olive the Woolly Bugger in Oprah's hands. Some might call it stalking, but that's what any good fly fisher (even an unaccomplished one) does, right? The fly fisher stalks the fish and makes the perfect cast at just the right moment. It's a fly fisher's way... it's not creepy or anything like that. Maybe Kirk is just taking a hiatus to make that perfect cast for Olive... if he is, I wish him well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The fly fishing paint chip connection

This post may seem a little odd, but I imagine some of my fellow outdoor enthusiasts trapped in urban environs can probably identify.

I have recently taken more notice of ordinary everyday things that "speak" to me in subtle ways that make me want to be out fly fishing. Some of the more recent things that made me pause to ponder fly fishing were in a selection of paint chips at the Home Depot. I was selecting paint colors from the Freshaire Choice paint display... and some of the color names just "spoke" to me...

Rushing Stream, Winding River, Healing Waters, Naturalist Gray

The last one in the bunch isn't directly connected to fly fishing per se, but I'm sure you can see why it caught my eye. Paint chips aren't the only things out there that daily remind me of the fact that I don't live in a rustic cabin perched on the bank of a perfect fishing stream... street names, clothing brand names, the salmon in the grocery store fresh seafood case (maybe that one isn't so subtle), and even the occasional Kia Rio (very subtle, requiring Spanish translation) all make me yearn for the stream.

Just wondering if anyone else out there is plagued by the same sort of affliction.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Attack of the Giant Woolly Buggers!

Crawling horror...
rising from the depths of hell...
to kill and conquer!

One of my most successful flies for bass has been a big twist on the ol' Woolly Bugger... actually not much different than the original... just a bit bigger. Both the hook and the chenille I use are larger than any I've seen used in other Woolly Buggers. The largest Bugger you are likely to find in a fly shop is usually a size 6... maybe a size 4. You just don't see them any bigger. You also can't buy the chenille I use in a fly shop, and unfortunately it may not be easy to find anymore. My neighborhood Michael's craft store no longer has any in stock. It was made by Lion Brand (a popular knitting and crochet yarn manufacturer), and from what I have learned from their website they have discontinued making chenille. The actual product was called Lion Suede chenille. I've got several hundred yards on hand so I should be okay for a while.

I've tied Giant Woolly Buggers in two basic color variations: rust and olive. The rust color was actually called "spice" by Lion Brand... not surprisingly the olive color was called "olive." I have found the rust color to be very useful in the Spring River (AR) where the trout and bass feed heavily on crayfish. The olive with black hackle and black marabou is true to the original Woolly Bugger pattern developed by Russel Blessing in 1967. Mr. Blessing originally tied his Woolly Buggers to imitate hellgrammites in order to catch Smallmouth Bass, but the pattern has grown far beyond its original intentions. I like to think that, by using the original color scheme to catch Smallies, I'm taking the Woolly Bugger back to its roots... although my approach might be slightly larger than the one Mr. Blessing originally took.

If you don't know what a hellgrammite is, perhaps you should check out the results of a Google image search. Even stranger than this aquatic larva is the adult of the same insect known as a Dobsonfly (Corydalus cornutus). The males have very exaggerated mandibles which are a sexually selected trait much like a bull Elk's antlers. They look very initimidating, but the adult males are actually quite harmless... although they've probably scared a few people into hurting themselves while trying to get away from such alien creatures. The adult males' mandibles are so exaggerated in size that they are useless for biting in defense. On the other hand, the hellgrammite larvae with much shorter (and far more functional) mandibles can inflict a painful bite. The adult female keeps the same short and powerful mandibles throughout her life cycle so she is always dangerous... you know you always have to be careful around the ladies. Their bite is not venomous, but they can do enough mechanical tissue damage to draw blood. (Remember, we're talking about Dobsonflies.)

Enough about insects... back to the flies... of the hand tied variety.

The Dobsonfly is a big insect, and the hellgrammite is an equally big larva. Mature hellgrammites can reach 9 cm in length (that's 3.5 inches). Based on the discrepancy between hellgrammite size and the average size 10 Woolly Bugger, I thought maybe a bigger bugger would be better. (Try saying that quickly ten times.) My Giant Woolly Buggers average about 3 inches... some a little less... some a little more... depending on how crazy I get with the marabou.

I tie these on size 1 Mustad 3262 hooks. If you look up the hook you will find that it is a light wire Aberdeen style hook- not typically used for fly tying. I like this hook for several reasons. First, it's lightweight. I have no trouble casting the finished fly with a 5 wt. Second, it's strong for an Aberdeen hook. I've gotten these flies hung on all sorts of structure and have never bent one open trying to jerk it free. Last, but not least, it's blued steel; I like the way it looks. I think it suits the original Woolly Bugger color scheme better than a bronze hook. I use UNI "Big Fly" thread in olive. I wrap a relatively short length of .025 lead free wire in the middle of the hook to add a small amount of weight and a little bulk. Without the wire weight the fluffy chenille tends to float the fly. The rest of the procedure is pretty standard bugger construction, but I do leave room for a big "buggy" head. I finish the head with a nice thick coat of Sally Hansen's "Hard as Nails" which I find to be better for big flies than traditional head cement. If you've never tried it, it's good stuff... and you can buy it at Walgreen's or Rite Aid. Here are sequential photos that I took of a Giant Woolly Bugger under contruction:

I coat the initial thread wrap with super glue for durability.

Be sure to choose a saddle hackle long enough for a big fly.

Lay the chenille down the hook shank to add bulk.

I often fish the Giant Woolly Bugger with a small split shot about 6 to 8 inches ahead of the fly. I prefer this method over heavily weighting the fly with wire wrap or a bead head. I think it leaves the fly with more freedom to produce that magical fish catching action.

The Woolly Bugger is an exceptional all around fly pattern in whatever size you choose to tie it. It can be used to approximate all sorts of prey items... maybe even a leech.... in giant form...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Siberian Husky Clouser Minnow

Last night, as I was tying up another "Marabou Clouser Minnow", I realized I had plenty of hair for tying Clouser Minnows laying on the floor at my feet. It was quite an epiphany.

Meet Montana, our suddenly more useful Siberian Husky

Kelly and I have discussed the possibilities of tying flies using hair from this silly beast before, but I've never actually tried it... until now...

The Siberian Husky Clouser Minnow

I tied the Husky Clouser using the same hook, thread, eyes, and polyester metallic floss as in the Marabou Clouser. The metallic floss body is pretty well hidden, but I'm hopeful it will create a little flash when it's in action. I may have gotten a little carried away and used a bit too much hair. This stuff is very dense, and I had to pick the undercoat away from the longer hairs in order to make it a little more workable.

I harvested Montana's hair from two separate patches of color. The first clump I took was as close as I could find to pure white. (The dog could be cleaner, but he hasn't had a bath since it got really cold... drying a wet husky is no fun... especially when it's cold.) The second clump I cut from an area of gray with black tips. Once again, I tried to create a little countershading by using the gray on top.

The hair I used came from Montana's shoulder area where his coat is about 3" thick. Some of the hair on his tail is over 6" long...

I think I see some really big Husky streamers catching some big bass in the not so distant future.

This could get fun.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Marabou Clouser Minnow

I've begun tying a few flies in preparation for spring bass fishing... nothing too fancy, mostly classic patterns like Woolly Buggers (and variations thereof)... and I'll probably tie some Marabou Muddlers too. I admit I'm not very good at spinning deer hair (Kelly is actually much better at than I am), but I'll force myself to do it in order to make one of my favorite flies. By the way, the Marabou Muddler is probably my favorite fly pattern. I could dedicate an entire blog post to how awesome that pattern is... I think I'll actually do that sometime, but not today.

Since I apparently like the action of marabou so much, I decided to do a bit of experimentation with a classic pattern. I thought, "since I don't have any good hair for tying Clouser Minnows at the moment, I'll tie one with some marabou and see how it turns out."

Marabou Clouser Minnow

I think it turned out pretty well, and I imagine it might catch a fish or two. After I finished tying my little variation of the Clouser, I decided to "google" it to see what others out there have tied up. There are indeed a few out there, and you can even buy a "Clouser Marabou Minnow" from Big Y Fly Company. I think mine might be a bit better, but I might be just a bit biased.

I tied the body on mine with some polyester metallic floss from the craft store which I think helps give the fly a little more bulk than a traditional Clouser. I also used a size 6 long shank streamer hook to give it a bigger body. My thinking: bass like big meals. I tied the fly with UTC "blue dun" thread. I used Spirit River 5/32 nickel "Real Eyes" and pearl midge flash for the belly (or under wing).  I used white marabou for the tail. Since Clousers ride with the hook in the up position, I used darker gray marabou for the top wing (actually on the underside of the hook) to make the minnow countershaded just like you would find in nature. I'll probably tie some with a black wing too. I really like how well the marabou hides the hook... I promise there's one in there... just as long as the fish can find it, I'm okay with it being invisible.

I really like how the fly turned out, so I'll probably get back to the bench tonight and crank out a few more. I'm very much looking forward to catching some spring bass, and putting this new pattern (for me) to the test.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Favorite Outdoor Places (fishin' holes)... how do I pick just one?

This post was prompted by the Outdoor Blogger Network. Gotta give credit to the brilliant minds at OBN.

I have a few favorite natural places.

On the top of my list would be the Spring River in Arkansas near the towns of Mammoth Spring and Hardy. This photo shows one of the river wide limestone shelf waterfalls that typify the Spring River. There are so many species of fish in the Spring. It really is a fisherman's paradise. Unfortunately, it's also a recreational paddling paradise so it gets a bit too crazy on weekends during the summer.

Kelly with a nice Shadow Bass (Ambloplites ariommus)

Running a close second would be Cypress Creek in northwest Alabama in the town of Florence. This creek flows into Pickwick Lake, one of several impoundments of the Tennessee River that is known for producing trophy Smallmouth Bass. There's always a good fish hanging near this rock bluff in the picture, so Kelly and I usually fight to fish this piece of water. This was Kelly's first ever trip to Cypress Creek so I decided to be nice and gave her the first shot at it.

Kelly wades into position,  June 2009

My first trip to Cypress Creek, June 2007

Last, but certainly not least, would be DeSoto State Park and the Little River Canyon National Preserve in Alabama. I've only fished at DSP and LRCNP once, but I can't wait to get back. I wrote an article on the area for that you can read by clicking here. The place doesn't look like your average bass creek. It looks a lot more like a typical large trout stream in southern Appalachia. There are some really nice big rocks... I like big rocks and bass. It's a nice combination.

My first Largemouth Bass at LRCNP.

Sorry, I couldn't pick just one favorite place. I hope that's alright.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gear review: Magnum Workhorse 8.0 WP CT boots

Well, I guess it's about time to let everybody out there know how good Magnum boots are.

Over the years I have worn many pairs of boots by a number of the big names in hiking footwear (Columbia, Hi-Tec, Merrell, Timberland, and Vasque), and my experience with these serves as my primary source of comparison for fit, quality, and comfort. I currently own pairs of Hi-Tec Altitude IV WP 200, Vasque Skywalk, and Vasque Sundower boots for hiking. Although I've worn a couple of pairs of uncomfortable bargain priced work boots in the past, I've never owned a name brand pair of work boots. I was excited about the opportunity to test out some quality work boots, and when I found out from OBN that I had been selected to put a pair of boots from Magnum through their paces I was looking forward to the task.

I received my pair of Magnum Workhorse 8.0 WP CT boots on December 16th and was very impressed with them upon initial inspection. My first reaction was that these boots are well made. All of the seams are double stitched, the leather is first rate, and the soles look like they would stand up to years of continued use. I have historically been very hard on boots and have learned from experience how to recognize a good pair of boots before I commit to buying them. The Workhorse boots from Magnum definitely passed my rigorous inspection for quality, and I couldn't find anything about them that didn't meet my approval.

The day the boots arrived from Magnum just happened to be the same day as a University of Memphis Tiger basketball game. I decided this event would be a nice first test of "straight out of the box" comfort. I decided to try out wearing the boots with a mid-weight pair of hiking socks much like I would wear with any of my other boots. I found the fit to be very similar to other boots I currently own, and despite what I read in a review on the Magnum website they seem to be pretty true to size.

After standing on my feet for nearly two hours (cheering for my Tigers in a nail-biter of a game) and walking nearly a mile round trip between the FedEx Forum and the parking garage, the Magnum Workhorse boots passed their first test with flying colors. These were some of the most comfortable boots I have ever worn without the need for a "break in" period. This is probably thanks to the "M-Pact contoured footbed with memory foam."

I don't typically wear boots that are 8" tall, so I wasn't sure how comfortable they would be for just wearing around. I thought they would be a bit stiff, but they are far more comfortable than what I expected. The extra ankle support is actually really nice for spending long periods on your feet... even if it is just enjoying some college hoops.

I have since worn these boots for several days of work around the house, to another Tiger basketball game, and during a trip to the Memphis Zoo. These boots are still just as comfortable as the first time I put them on, and they still look good too. Did I forget to mention that these boots don't look half bad for a work boot? Well, they do look nice, and I will likely wear them anytime I need a pair of brown boots to complete an outfit.

They look good and they're waterproof!

While at the zoo, I decided to test out the waterproofing on the boots in one of the zoo's water features. My feet stayed perfectly dry, but I didn't try to go past the highest point of the gusseted tongue which is around 4.75". These boots are certainly not waterproof past that point, although from the review I read on Magnum's website some people apparently expect that they should be. I have never owned a pair of boots that was waterproof above the gusseted tongue, so I expected no different from these boots. The Magnum Workhorse 8.0 WP CT boots are just as waterproof as any boot I have ever worn.

Overall, the Magnum Workhorse 8.0 WP CT boots are a fine product and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a comfortable, well-made pair of waterproof work boots. I think they are definitely worth the $115 MSRP; and if you decide to buy a pair for doing some hard work while standing on your feet for long periods, you'll be glad you did.

As one last testament to Magnum's obvious commitment to quality, I feel the need to share the letter to "all customers" printed under the lid of the boot box. It impressed me when I read it...

To: All Customers
I would like to personally thank you for buying MAGNUM footwear.

We live in a very competitive world and know you have plenty of choice. By choosing our products you have supported a very enthusiastic, very committed team of Magnum employees who want to make very comfortable, lightweight and durable boots. When you put our boots on your feet, we want you to say: "Wow! These feel good - comfortable, lightweight, strong, non-slip, long lasting, stylish... etc." If you have any comments or questions, just write to me - I would like to hear from you.

Frank van Wezel - Chairman

Wow, any company chairman who is bold enough to print that on the lid of a shoebox must really stand behind their products. That definitely gets a thumbs up from me, and if I ever use Frank's e-mail address it will only be to tell the people at Magnum to "keep up the good work."

*These boots were provided courtesy of Magnum Boots via the Outdoor Blogger Network for the purpose of this review. The Naturalist's Angle is in no way affiliated with Magnum Boots and this gear review represents an independent unbiased opinion of quality and performance.*

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What does "the Naturalist's Angle" really mean?

This post was inspired by the "River Damsel" of the "Adventure in Every Riffle" blog and the Outdoor Blogger Network. I have to give credit where credit is due.

My blog title came very naturally for me... get it?

I guess some of this explanation will stem from how I came to call myself a naturalist in the first place. Maybe I should define the word "naturalist" first. I have already expounded on the word "angle" in my very first blog post, so no need to repeat all that.

A naturalist is:
  1. one that advocates or practices naturalism
  2. a student of natural history
  3. a field biologist
The first definition doesn't apply to me so much... and, no, it doesn't have anything to do with walking around "au naturel"... or as we say in the south, "neck-ed." The other two definitions are why I call myself a naturalist.

I've recently taken notice of the many "master naturalist" programs being offered by state natural resources agencies, much like the "master gardener" programs that are so well known. Do I think the "graduates" of these "master naturalist" training programs are really naturalists? Some may be, some probably not. I don't know that you can condense a lifetime of experiences in nature into a 12 step program. I'm glad to see that there are enough people interested in the natural world to justify having such programs. On the other hand, I feel like my "training" as a naturalist has been a lifelong love affair with nature that could never have been taught in a class. For me becoming a naturalist isn't just about memorizing the names of trees or butterflies, it's about the experiences that can only be had in nature. Truthfully, I learned most of what I know from books, but my experiences in nature drove my desire to learn more.

It started when I was a small child and my mother would show me "woolly bear" caterpillars in the flower bed and cicadas hanging on the bark of the oak tree in our back yard. My mother sparked my interest in the natural world very early on, and it has grown steadily to this day. My mother is no biologist nor is she a naturalist herself. She just took me outside and shared the simple wonders of nature with me during my developmental years. She didn't really know all that much, but she offered what she knew and it has made a world of difference for me. This is something way too many children are missing in their lives today. Hence, the vast majority of today's youth suffer from "nature deficit disorder"- a term coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. Interestingly, Mr. Louv also wrote a book entitled Fly-Fishing for Sharks... but I'll save discussion about that for another day.

In elementary school I was the kid who picked up the insect instead of trying to squish it under my shoe. In high school I had friends who called me "nature man." In college I majored in biology, and my career interests have always been related to animals and nature. All my life, I have wanted to turn my passion for nature into a career, and I have had the pleasure of doing that for at least part of my professional life.

During college, I began spending a lot of my time in the natural world at night. I am more comfortable in the dark than most people, and some of my most memorable experiences in nature have taken place in the dark of night. For example, getting to see and photograph things like this:

Yellowbelly Watersnake consuming a Bullfrog


As a result of my love affair with nature at night, I probably know more about flashlights than the average person. (If you ever need any advice about a good flashlight feel free to ask.) In addition to learning a lot about flashlights, I came up with a possible title for my memoir when I write that sometime down the road. I thought I would call it "The Nocturnal Naturalist." I thought that was pretty creative.

It turns out there are already two somewhat obscure books published with this title: The Nocturnal Naturalist by Kelvin Boot (1985) and The Nocturnal Naturalist by Cathy Johnson (1989). I immediately hunted down copies of these books when I learned of them. So Kelvin and Cathy beat me to it... but neither of their books are what mine would be... so I might still use it one day. Cathy didn't seem to mind borrowing the title from Kelvin, why should I? To be completely honest, I was a bit disappointed with both of the books they had labeled with "my" title.

My title... stolen before I even thought of it.

"The Naturalist's Angle" may not be as creative as I thought my future memoir title was, but I think it fits my blog well. In truth my blog title is pretty straight forward, and probably didn't need so much explanation... but maybe you know me a little better now.

My naturalist tendencies are what drew me to fly fishing over fifteen years ago, and fly fishing has become my most regular activity as a naturalist. I imagine my perspective on things as a "fly fishing naturalist" isn't much different from that of most other fly fishers. I think the very nature of fly fishing requires a fly fisher to use the skills of a naturalist. I guess what separates fly fishers from ordinary naturalists is the equipment of fly fishing and the ability to cast a fly line. Perhaps not all "students of natural history" would make good fly fishers, but I firmly believe all good fly fishers are inherently naturalists.