Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bunny Butt's little sister

Recently, Mike over at Troutrageous! posted about how much fun it is getting surprises in the mail. He wrote:
"There's something about getting mail in the mailbox everyday (bills aside) which is really exciting to me.  It's kind of like being a kid again on a birthday or Christmas.  You know you're getting something, but you don't know what it's going to be.  What's better than a daily surprise?  Yeah, I'm stupid like that."
Well, I for one don't think it's stupid... I totally understand. I think my addiction to Ebay has a lot to do with that Christmas-like feeling.

A few days ago, I got a surprise in the mail... and it didn't cost me a thing. Steven Milburn, the fly tyer who created the Bunny Butt Slider, sent me a new fly to test. The Bunny Butt Slider just happens to be my favorite fly for catching bass on the surface, and this new smaller version should be really nice for Spotteds, Smallies, and Redeyes. It measures just a little over 2.5".

Standard Bunny Butt Slider below for size reference

I think the standard Bunny Butt Slider (4" to 4.5") can be a little much for some of the smaller-mouthed species of Micropterus, but the "Ermine Weasel Butt Slider" should be just about perfect. It should be a great choice for Rock Bass and other larger-mouthed panfish as well. Steven experimented with a few different materials before settling on the ermine weasel tail for the smaller version.

I can't wait to do some experimenting myself.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"D.I.Y." Fly Rod Rack

I finally got tired of the disorganized mess of rod tubes leaning in the corner.

D.I.Y. fly rod rack

I built this rack using very basic lumber... mostly scraps of stuff I had laying around actually. The tops of each level are 2 x 6s, the sides are 2 x 4s, the trim at the bottom is scrap pine I found in a neighbor's trash, and the bottom is made out of two pieces of plywood. The most difficult part was deciding on the heights for each of the three levels. They ended up being 19", 25", and 31" respectively. It also took a little planning and figuring to get everything laid out so it would all come together very nicely. Those are my little secrets I guess, but you can probably see what I'm talking about from the photos.

Drilling all of the holes using a 3" hole saw and a drill press was the most time consuming part of the project next to finishing. I finished the rack in four steps. After light sanding (not too much- this thing was intended to be a bit rustic), I sealed the wood with pre-stain wood conditioner (very important when staining pine and other soft woods). I then used a walnut stain which didn't make me very happy... so I resorted to using a product I don't really care for in order to get the color just right- PolyShades (stain and polyurethane in one). I'm not a fan of PolyShades, but I guess it turned out pretty decent. The whole piece was finally finished with a coat of satin polyurethane.

The artist in me couldn't help but add a decorative touch...

Smallmouth Bass on the right side

Generic Salmonid on the left

I used a scroll saw to cut the fish out of a 1/2" thick piece of maple that ended up being the only thing I had to go out and buy specifically for this project.  Aside from the maple I used here, everything else would pretty much be considered junk lumber.

Based on the popularity of my last D.I.Y. post (it just happens to be my most viewed blog post), I imagine this one will be pretty popular too. Kelly really likes it- she says it's her favorite carpentry piece that I've ever created (probably because she like things to be very neat and orderly).

If Kelly likes it, I guess that's all that matters... but I hope y'all like it too!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Smallest snakes

Just thought I would share something I found in my backyard today.

Rough Earth Snake (Virginia striatula)

Same snake as above with a quarter for size reference.

Finding this little guy reminded me of two previous encounters this year with miniscule snakes.

In May when we visited Little River Canyon National Preserve, I found this one on the trail as we hiked our way out of the canyon from an afternoon of fishing.

Eastern Worm Snake (Carphophis amoenus)

Back in April, Kelly found this one under the bark of a rotting log at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park.

Mississippi Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus stictogenys)

When Kelly found the Ringneck, I remember saying "I think that's the smallest snake I've ever seen." Little did I know I would soon find two more that would challenge it for the title. This is apparently my year to find tiny snakes.

Although the snakes we found were actually juveniles, these three species are all diminutive as adults. The Ringneck is the giant of the group with the potential to reach a whopping 14". The Earth Snake and the Worm Snake will be adult size at around 7" and may grow to 11".

Just in case you're wondering what such a tiny snake might eat- all three species eat earthworms. The Ringnecks are also known to enjoy a salamander meal occasionally, but most salamanders would be too large for them to eat. There are plenty of salamanders out there that would readily make a meal of the little guy in the photo above.

Sometimes the wonders of nature don't have to be big to be awe inspiring. When I pause to think about the tiny heart, lung (that's right, singular- they only have one fully developed and functional lung), and other organs that are carrying out the same physiological processes in those miniature serpents that are going on in my own body...

I am truly amazed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Outfished by a girl as usual

It's becoming quite a regular theme around here...

Smallmouth Bass, Bluewater Creek, Alabama

Kelly and I discovered a new creek in north Alabama, and briefly fished there Sunday morning on our purposely indirect route from Memphis to Birmingham. Saturday night we camped at Joe Wheeler State Park which looked like it would be a really great place to access Wheeler Lake by kayak. It was our first time there, but I'm quite sure it won't be our last. We got up just a bit before sunrise on Sunday and drove from the park to the creek. I'll just say the creek is near the park, but I won't tell you where to access it. Finding access is part of the fun.

The irresistible "Luscious Lemon" popper

The popper in the photo was sent to me courtesy of Jeff who writes the blog Fly Fishing & Tying Obsessed. Not too long ago he posted a contest to name a few of his popper patterns. The name that I submitted, "Luscious Lemon", was chosen for the yellow popper above. My prize was the popper that I helped name. It took me far too long to put it to use. Since I knew Kelly would do a better job with it than I would... I graciously suggested she use it. It produced the best fish of our morning. Jeff ties some pretty awesome poppers as well as a pattern he calls the "Roadkill Nymph" that I think looks really good.

Once again, all I brought to hand were a couple small Rock Bass and a single Redbreast Sunfish... no Smallies for me. I did hook up briefly with a decent Channel Catfish- probably about three pounds, but it was a pretty small hook (size 10) for that size catfish... and of course the fish quickly rolled the hook out of its mouth.

Just my luck lately.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Our trip to the U.P.- no hero shots for me

It's been a month since we returned from our trip. We've actually taken a couple shorter trips since, which may have helped contribute to my writer's block (or "blogger's block" as my good friend Jenny let me know it is called). Kelly and I have been really busy lately, but I think it's finally time I tell about our great northern adventure.

Our trip to the U.P. didn't produce a single picture of me holding a fish... not one. I caught a couple of Rock Bass in the fittingly named Rock Creek in Kankakee River State Park on our way northward, but nothing worth a photograph. Kelly on the other hand caught a couple Smallies, the best of which I've already shared in my last post.

Aside from just catching a fish, I had two personal goals for the trip:
  1. Catch a native Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis).
  2. Find a Western Fox Snake (Mintonius ramspotti) in the wild.
As I already mentioned, there were no "hero shots" of me holding any fish so I obviously failed on the Brook Trout effort. As for the Fox Snake, the first one we saw looked like this...

Dead on road ("D.O.R.") Fox Snake

Kelly spotted it on the shoulder of I-57 in Illinois as we zoomed up the road at 65 mph (we would never speed) and thought we should at least go back to ID it. In the process of making the big loop using interstate exits to go back, we witnessed a minivan on the opposite side of the interstate flip over at high speed several times. We didn't see the cause of the accident, but it was a very surreal and scary scene... and we were right there as it happened. We slowed down to see if we needed to help anyone get out of the vehicle now resting on its roof, but amazingly a complete family emerged one after another- a mother, a father, and three daughters all walked away from what could have been a tragic accident. I wish I could tell you what type of vehicle it was (because it held up so well after rolling over repeatedly), but I'm not as good at identifying upside down cars as I am at identifying snakes.

Just up the road from where we saw the accident, we pulled over to check out the dead snake. I was excited to see a Fox Snake for the first time, but wish it could have been under better circumstances. Sadly, we saw about a dozen Fox Snakes during the trip and they all looked pretty much like the one above.

We took lots of pictures on our trip, and you know what they say about the value ratio between words and pictures... so I'll try to keep the words to a minimum from this point forward. The pictures mostly speak for themselves. I'll just explain here and there as needed.

On the way, we camped at Kankakee River State Park in Illinois and stopped to visit the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

The Shedd Aquarium on the waterfront of Lake Michigan

On a Wednesday morning at around 10:30 AM, there was quite a long line to get in. I would hate to try and visit on a busy Saturday.

From this point it took us about an hour to get in.

We liked the aquarium, but it really was a bit too crowded to thoroughly enjoy.

One of the first sights we saw in the U.P. was Miner's Falls. I wanted to fish for Brookies in Miner's River below the falls, but Kelly didn't want to hike down there. I guess we'll never know...

Under a log alongside the trail to the falls, I found this little guy...

Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus)

We spotted a pair of nesting Sandhill Cranes in a roadside wetland, and Kelly "communicated" with them so she could get some better photos.

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

On Friday, we went on our kayaking tour of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Our day started out bright and sunny...

But quickly became cloudy and foggy. The weather can change in the blink of an eye on Lake Superior.

Our guide, Mark, did the best he could to take a picture for us through the mist. It's pretty hard to dry off a camera lens when everything is wet.

Kelly got a pretty neat shot of one of the shipwrecks by blindly clicking the camera underwater.

Our guide paddling through the archway at "Lover's Leap."

The next day we headed south and camped at the Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Wisconsin... that's right, the Bong Recreation Area. They have a minor problem with park sign theft for obvious reasons. We fished in one of the park lakes in hopes of hooking up with a decent bass or pike, but I was skunked once again. I missed the strike on my only hit of the morning, while Kelly landed two little ones.

"Bong Bass" a.k.a. Largemouth (Micropterus salmoides)

Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)

Even when the fishing isn't that hot, I still get outfished by a girl.

On our way home we once again stopped in Chicago. This time we had new cargo strapped to the roof.

Our purpose for stopping was to visit our very old friend Sue.

While we were at the Field Museum, Kelly got the chance to fulfill a childhood dream. Ever since she saw the movie The Ghost and the Darkness when she was twelve years old, she wanted to see the "Maneaters of Tsavo" in person.

I think the fulfillment of this dream was a bit anticlimactic... not unlike the fishing we experienced during our trip.

Despite the less than stellar fishing, we had a great time and learned a lot about a unique and beautiful area of our country.

Maybe one day we'll go back... and I'll get another shot at being a hero.