Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fun with Foam

I've been slowly working on filling some boxes to get ready for warmwater action on the surface. I've come up with some super simple crickets, spiders, and jumbo hoppers. All they are is a cheap American-made hook (didn't know it was possible to say "cheap" and "American-made" together), craft foam, tying thread, and some silicone legs. I purchased all of my foam at Michael's craft store. The silicone I used came from the spinnerbait skirt section, not the fly tying section, at Bass Pro.

A full box makes me happy... even if it is simple.

The crickets and spiders are simply made from some 6 mm black craft foam. I probably should have added a little yellow indicator to them, but I'm sure we'll survive without that added luxury. The hoppers are slightly more complex with three layers of 2 mm craft foam glued together. The hardest part is cutting a body shape. I kept that pretty simple too. The spiders are slightly rounded on the ends, but that's it. The crickets and hoppers are rectangular with a slight angle cut under the rear of the abdomen.

super simple, silicone and foam

In my experience with foam hopper patterns I've purchased, the hook often gets loose very quickly so I coat the initial thread wrap with super glue just before I attach the foam body. I also coat the underside of the finished fly liberally with clear Sally Hansen "Hard as Nails." I coat the full thread wrap including the whip finish at the head (as you can see in the cricket at left)... these flies should be very durable.

I guess the triple-decker hopper looks a bit like a poor man's vegetarian "Club Sandwich." If you want to learn how to tie a proper "Club Sandwich" hopper check out The Hopper Juan blog. Juan Ramirez makes a tasty looking "Club Sandwich."

Mine is definitely not as pretty (or complicated), but I've found some of the similar (professionally tied) foam hoppers I've purchased to be a bit on the stiff side when it comes to producing fish-catching action. They may be great on the drift for big fall Brown Trout, but working them in flat water for bass has been very unproductive for me in the past. I've always found poppers with free swimming silicone legs to be much more productive... thus the simplicity of the legs I've adopted. The foam "Bream Spider" is a classic, but I honestly haven't ever seen such a simplistic hopper pattern out there... probably because no one except me would be willing to show off such simplicity. I like simple flies that catch fish. These are still in the experimental phase, and I'll definitely be giving a report soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Adventure Wagon, "salamandering," and other maiden voyage stuff

Saturday, 19 February 2011, was a big day. Kelly and I went to trade in her worn out old Chevy Malibu for a 2011 Subaru Outback... unfortunately, not an even trade. After spending a couple hours at the dealership negotiating the final deal, we (really Kelly) had our (really her) new car.

It was actually a big three day weekend. First, we got the car Saturday. Then we headed off to Birmingham, Alabama in the new adventure wagon on Sunday morning. Our reason for traveling to Birmingham was Kelly's interview with a professor for graduate school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on Monday. Along the way we stopped at a very interesting natural landmark in Alabama. Interesting in part because it is not a public (state or national) park. It is privately owned and very quaint.

If they say it's the longest, I guess it must be.

Kelly striking a pose... sort of.

The Alabama Natural Bridge... admission $2.50.

The Natural Bridge park is also home to another geological attraction... or oddity?

The Indian Face... do you see it?

While we were at the Natural Bridge site we also did a little salamander searching. We found a few Spotted Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus conanti), and a bonus Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris), but they weren't what I was hoping to find.

Two amphibians under one rock... score!

I admittedly didn't see the frog sitting there motionless until after I had snapped about three photos of the salamander... that camouflage actually works.

We arrived in Birmingham around 1 PM and drove around the UAB campus. We decided it was time for lunch, so I introduced Kelly to a local eatery popular with UAB students. My friend Don (Birmingham native and UAB alumnus) took me to The Purple Onion for the first time over 10 years ago. It's still good.

The new Outback takes a break at The Purple Onion.

Of course, being the "outdoorsy" couple we are, we camped at Oak Mountain State Park just outside of the city instead of staying in a hotel. We arrived at Oak Mountain on Sunday afternoon a little after 2 PM and quickly set up our tent so we could begin enjoying our limited time in the outdoors. Actually getting to set up our tent in daylight was a rare treat for us. We've done a lot of late Friday night trips to the river to camp so we could get an early start on Saturday morning fishing.

After we got our campsite set up, we went to look for these...

Salamander of the genus Eurycea, Oak Mountain State Park

Kelly demonstrates careful rock turning technique to find salamanders.

I'll be writing a lot more about salamanders in an upcoming post... so, if you would like to know more, I'll get to it soon enough. At this point I'll just say I needed a few photos to support this forthcoming piece, so we went "salamandering" where I knew I could find the species I was looking for.

The Outback near the salamander stream at Oak Mountain.

So, I know all five of my readers are wondering if we did any fishing on this trip. Well, we did some fishing. Casting practice would be a better description of it. (I like to think I got something positive out of it.) We certainly didn't do much catching.

The deceptively named "Lunker Lake" at Oak Mountain.

While Kelly was at UAB for her meeting, I went off to find a place to fish. I ended up on the upper Cahaba River in the town of Trussville. The river was really too shallow at that point to offer much fishing, but I had fun exploring. I caught one 3" sunfish, but the best thing I captured was probably this photo of the river... which isn't saying much.

After I picked Kelly up, she told me about her interview and I told her about my dismal hour of fishing the upper Cahaba. Since neither of us had much any real fishing success up to that point on our trip, and we don't give up easily, we stopped yet again on the way home at Tannehill Ironworks State Historical Park. Between the two of us, we caught this:

Does one tiny Bluegill equal success?

At least I can say my newly created craft foam cricket works... sort of.

All in all we had a fast-paced, fun-filled weekend. We enjoyed putting over 600 miles on the new Outback. The fishing could have been much, much better. I don't really want to admit just how bad it was, but let's just say we did a lot better "salamandering" than we did fishing. I'd like to think the unseasonably warm weather had the fish "confused," but I honestly can't explain it. I couldn't tell you how many fish we had follow our flies for three feet or more just to turn up their noses at our offerings... and believe me, we offered them plenty of variety to choose from.

If you ever have any doubt that warmwater species (bass and panfish) can be extremely selective, I've got a couple places I'd like to take you fly fishing in Alabama on a warm day in February.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recycling fish

This week's writing prompt from OBN:
What does sustainable fishing mean to you? What fishing practices do you engage in that help fisheries? Any other thoughts you might have on this subject?

I'll do my best to answer all of those questions... in my own special way.

Last year, for the first time, I saw fish cleverly incorporated into a three arrow recycling symbol. I was at the Academy Sports & Outdoors store in Jackson, Mississippi, and I found some Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) T-shirts that had a three fish recycle logo on them. I remember thinking, "what a cool way to tie into the green movement and promote catch and release fishing." I was really impressed that somebody had made that connection... and honestly wished I had thought of it first. Then, more recently, I found GreenFish thanks to The Fiberglass Manifesto blog.

The fishy spin on the recycling symbol does an excellent job of visually summarizing what catch and release anglers put into practice every time they go fishing. I don't know who came up with the fishy recycling symbol idea first, and I guess it doesn't really matter. It's basically just a piscatorial variation of the original recycling symbol designed by Gary Anderson in 1970.

The original recycling symbol by Gary Anderson

An adaptation of the original symbol on a bin in my kitchen

The recycling symbol has of course become universal, but there are a few versions out there regarding the meaning of the three arrows. One popular interpretation is "Collect, Process, Manufacture," although I don't believe Mr. Anderson attributed any particular meaning to the arrows. I think he just intended the symbol to illustrate the idea of continuous industrial processes with no beginning and no end. Even if there isn't a true meaning for each arrow, I like the idea of trying to interpret the symbol. There is certainly more to the story of recycling than just "Collect, Process, Manufacture." You have to get consumers to buy products made from recycled materials. In order to acknowledge that selling the goods is a vital part of the cycle, you could easily say "Manufacture & Merchandise."

With all of that being said, I'd like to offer up my own "Top Ten" list (in no particular order) of interpretations of meaning for a three fish recycling symbol. I'll maintain the same "C_, P_, M_" theme just to keep it interesting.
  1. "Catch, Proper release, Move on"- as basic as it gets when practicing catch and release. What most of us do when a fish isn't picture worthy.
  2. "Catch, Proper release, Mentor"- teach the next generation about the benefits of catch and release.
  3. "Catch, Photograph, Make a quick release"- what we try to do when we catch a picture worthy fish.
  4. "Catch, Photograph, Measure & Mount a replica"- the catch and release alternative to traditional skin mount taxidermy.
  5. "Catch, Photograph, Magazine"- this would only apply to those fisherman (mostly industry professionals) lucky enough to have their catch published in print for the rest of us to drool over.
  6. "Catch, Put in livewell, Make Money"- the variation for professional tournament bass fisherman. As NASCAR good ol' boy as tournament bass fishing sometimes seems, it has been a huge force in promoting catch and release practices among recreational anglers. Fly fisherman (FFF members) introduced Ray Scott (founder of BASS) to catch and release and his Bassmaster tournaments introduced it to the world.
  7. "Catch, Photograph, Make Memories"- the no frills alternative for those of us who don't get paid to fish, but wish we did.
  8. "Catch, Photograph and release, Make it known"- this could involve writing a blog post with photos or even just sharing a photo with a friend and explaining why you practice catch and release.
  9. "Conserve, Protect, Mandate"- the necessary evil of water use, pollution, and fisheries related legislation that protects our fishing resources.
  10. "Collection, Piscatorial Propagation, Monitoring & Management"- this defines the fisheries biologists that work to maintain and improve fisheries through scientific means.
Sustainable fishing means all of those things in the list and more to me. It means that the next generation won't just read about the glory of fisheries past, but rather read about wise management decisions that conserved the fisheries resources they will be enjoying in future days. Sustainable fishing means getting away from the past ideals of "Catch, Plunder, More than can be eaten"... and in some places even abandoning "Catch, Pan, Meal" if a particular fishery can't sustain such practices. I don't have any personal issue with taking home the occasional fish for the frying pan, but the fact is we just can't all do it all of the time... and certain fisheries just can't handle it at all.

Aside from actually practicing catch and release, I think the most important action I take that supports sustainable fisheries is explaining to others why I do it. A little bit of the environmental educator in me comes out when I take the time to explain it. I find it very rewarding to teach others about how natural resources conservation works and the benefits of informed conservation practices.

Hopefully the long-term benefits of a world of anglers practicing and promoting catch and release will prove to be more rewarding than any of us could ever imagine.

This blog entry is my submission for the GreenFish and Outdoor Blogger Network Writing Prompt Giveaway.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fly fishers' Valentine's gift exchange

To Jay from Kelly:

To Kelly from Jay:

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone in the outdoor blogosphere!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Family heirloom repurposed

Last week my mother bequeathed a fine family heirloom to me. Well, maybe it's heirloom status is debatable, and it doesn't have much monetary value... but it has special meaning to me. It was always an item of interest when I was a young child, and it's one of those odd things that reminds me of the simpler times of childhood.

My mother is a pretty crafty lady. She primarily crochets afghans and scarves these days, but she is quite a seamstress. She went through a phase about ten years ago when she made pillows like crazy. I have a few fishing themed pillows and a matching quilt as products of that phase. Back when I was in high school, she made a couple dozen pairs of custom boxer shorts for me- mostly wildlife prints. I still have one pair... with African Elephants on them. They don't fit like they used to... actually they hardly fit at all. I've kept them for sentimentality. I really don't know how they survived- most of the others I wore until they practically fell apart. Some of mom's handiwork... sorry, I'm not modeling...

The tag reads "Made with love by Mom"

In the early '70s, before I was born, my mom did a lot more sewing. She hand made most of the clothes my older sisters wore. Of course, that was back before you could buy cheaply made imported clothes from places like Old Navy... and outfit yourself for an entire season for under $50. It's crazy that you can actually buy clothes cheaper than you can make your own today. Nobody sews clothes out of necessity or as an economical choice anymore. Sewing has pretty much become a novelty type of hobby.

My mother still has a nice sewing machine and sews occasionally, but she's definitely doing a lot less than she once did. She mostly hems pants and does other alterations for family members who ask nicely.

The recent decline in sewing activity led her to the decision that she no longer needed her wooden sewing organizer. This is something my mother has had for over forty years... longer than I've been alive. She asked if I'd like to have it. I think she knew I could repurpose it for fly tying materials, and I gladly took her up on her offer.

I thought the fold out trays were just the coolest thing ever when I was a kid, and I guess in a way I still do. The carpentry is actually really nice for a mass produced type of item. They don't make 'em like they used to. As a matter of fact, if "they" were to make one today... it would be made of plastic... in China.

The organizer has the following identifying label on it:

Read "Not Made in China"

After I brought it home, I searched for more information online and looked to see if anyone was selling one like it on Ebay. Indeed, there are a few out there, and they're pretty reasonably priced. They seemed to be prized among sewing hobbyists, but I suspect there aren't too many that have been filled with feathers, fur, and hooks. Maybe other fly tyers will take notice of how useful they might be for organizing all (or at least some) of their fly tying junk materials.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kelly's first Brown: a memorable moment with a tiny trout

On 29 January 2011, Kelly finally (after a whole year of successful fly fishing for trout) reached another fly fishing milestone. She caught her first Brown Trout (Salmo trutta).

Brown Trout... seriously. Spring River, AR, 29 January 2011

If the fish had been any bigger, I imagine it wouldn't have been nearly as memorable... maybe if it was a real lunker, but a 12" fish would not have elicited such comments as "I think it's a Brown Trout" followed quickly by "it's definitely a Brown Trout" and "I think they let this one out of the hatchery too early."

At first she thought it was a small chub, Stoneroller, or some other "minnow" species as it lightly tugged on the line. When brought to hand, the little guy was so tiny that it was hard to see his distinctive red spots. She caught it in a shallow riffle where there is usually a fish or two, albeit a larger one, but most of those will be Rainbows. The Spring River doesn't have very many Browns in it (limited stocking and no natural reproduction), and it's funny that it turned out to be the river where Kelly caught her first.

The other Arkansas trout rivers where we fish are known for their naturally-reproducing Brown Trout populations. These are the Little Red, Norfork, and White Rivers. The White and Little Red have both been home to the World Record Brown Trout. The Little Red recently lost the title to the Manistee River in Michigan.

Kelly "decided" to catch her first Brown where she had her first close encounter almost a year ago... at least I assume that's how she planned it. On 17 March 2010, Kelly missed what she thought "certain was a good Brown Trout" at the Spring River according to our fishing journal. I've told her it's much easier to catch a Brown on those other rivers, but I guess she wanted her revenge at the original scene of the crime.

I'd say she got her revenge... in not so grand, but highly memorable fashion.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fly fishing educational tools... or toys?

Does anybody else out there have one of these nifty little things?

"Wulff Fly-O"

Joan and Lee Wulff developed these as teaching tools for use in their fly casting school. They are still available from The Wulff School, although I actually got mine from an online auction.

To quote the Wulff website:
"The Fly-O is a 3' rod with 15 feet of bulky fluorescent yarn for casting practice. Requiring the same timing and nearly the same strength to push the yarn through the casting motions, it simulates fly tackle perfectly. For off-season or brush-ups. New instruction booklet by Joan Wulff included. Replacement yarn available."

When I got mine it was minus the bulky yarn. I found what I believe to be a suitable replacement at the craft store, but I can't say for sure if it has the exact same casting qualities as what Joan sends out with the Fly-O.

From my experience, it really is an interesting toy to play with. The yarn is light enough so that it forces you to pick up line with a good bit of speed and pretty much the same amount of power you would use to pick up a real fly line off the water. You also have to really push through on the forward cast. It definitely makes you focus on your timing. I've also tried it out with a scrap piece of 6 wt line. That works OK, but to actually use fly line you really need to have the right length of line out to cast it effectively.

There is also a version (I think it's safe to call it a copy) put about by ECHO called the Micro Practice Rod. This one is a 4' two piece while the Fly-O is a 3' one piece. I've seen one of these at a FFF local club meeting once, but I didn't try to cast it. It seemed like pretty much the same thing.

tool or toy?

So am I the only one with a bit of cabin fever playing with an indoor fly fishing toy?... or as the Wulff Fly-O description calls it, doing a little "off-season" brushing up.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'd like to go fishing with...

This post was prompted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

First and foremost, if I had any choice in a fishing partner it would be Kelly... no offense guys... but if she was busy or otherwise unavailable, there are a few of my fellow OBN bloggers whose company I would enjoy on the water.
  1. Howard "Cofisher" of the blog "Wind Knots & Tangled Lines." I credit Howard for inspiring me to join the blogosphere. As I've told him, his blog was the one that made me think "this blogging thing is pretty cool." If we were to go fly fishing together I would have to take my antique Garcia fiberglass rod just so he wouldn't pick on me about my rod being made out of pencil lead. I can say that if we were out on the stream together I could protect him from all of those Colorado Chiropterans... they don't scare me.
  2. Bill of the blog "Fishing Through Life." I enjoy Bill's blog and we live in the same region. I think this one may become a reality pretty soon. I'm looking forward to fishing with Bill on Smith Lake for Spotted Bass.
  3. Clif of the blog "Lunker Hunt." A fellow bass fly rodder with a good sense of humor... 'nuff said.
  4. Pat "Smallie Stalker" of the blog "Warm Water Journal." The dude ties the most amazing deer hair bass bugs. I just hope he would share a few with me if I took him to some of my favorite Smallmouth streams.
  5. Mike of the blog "Troutrageous." A multi-species fly fisher with an interesting sense of humor and one of the most entertaining blogs out there. Who wouldn't want to go fishing with the genius behind "Troutrageous"?
  6. Mark of the blog "Intro to the Outdoors." I really like Mark's honest approach to his blog. He's invited us along on his journey to become a more experienced outdoorsman. I for one think it's our duty to share as much knowledge as we can to help him along on his journey. I would love to take him fishing... he might not learn much, but I would share what I know gladly.
  7. Mike of the blog "Mike's Gone Fishin'... Again." He fishes one of the most amazing looking Largemouth Bass rivers I've ever seen. I would be honored to have him show me around his beautiful little corner of the world.
  8. Ty of the blog "Finewater Fly Fishing." Ty and I have fished some of the same waters... just not together. There's one very special place in Alabama that I think we both hold in very high esteem... I imagine that's probably where we would go.
  9. Last, but certainly not least, Owl Jones of the blog "Fly Fishing the Southern Blue Ridge." Owl and I have had our differences on certain issues, and I'm sure we could have a fun political argument conversation on the way to the ol' fishin' hole... but I really think he would be a fun guy to go fishing with. I imagine all of our differences would go away if we were both fly fishing for giant Brook Char in Labrador.
Well, I think that list is quite enough. I apologize to anyone I left out... although I doubt anyone's feelings will be hurt. I'd go fly fishing with just about anyone... honestly. If any of you are ever in my neck of the woods and want to go fishing, just let me know.