Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bass with fly rod drawing

Fish art piece #2 has been posted at The Naturalist's Art.

I figure some of you bass fly rodders might like it.

Here's my original photograph that it's based on...

Go check it out and tell me what you think.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

12 inch Golden Redhorse, 11 inches of snow, 10 Great Blue Herons, 9 foot six weight, 8 Northern Harriers, 7 Rainbow Trout, 6 pound tippet, 5 stockers eaten, 4 other folks, 3 foot Carp, 2 Bald Eagles, and an icy US Highway 63

For our third consecutive year, Kelly and I went fishing at the Spring River in Arkansas on Christmas day.

It was quite a day... as you can probably tell from the title of this post. Here's the breakdown...

On the way to the river from Memphis, we saw an impressive display of North American raptors that included: approximately 20 Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), 8 Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus)- including the first gray male we've ever seen, 2 Red-Shouldered Hawks (B. lineatus), 2 Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and a whole bunch of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) that we didn't really bother counting.

Once we were waist deep in the river, we saw at least 10 Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias)- at one point, eight of them flying low over the riparian treetops together as a group. We also saw an American Mink (Neovison vison) enjoying some Christmas day fishing on the Spring River- an animal which normally stays out of sight when the river is crawling with fisherman and recreational paddlers during summer. The mink was a good indicator that there weren't many people around.

We fished with our now traditional Christmas Crawdads again, but they weren't terribly productive. I caught the first trout on one which I believe was the only fish of the day interested in eating Christmas decorations tied onto a hook. The second fish brought to hand was a 12 inch Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum), a species which likes to make an appearance on Christmas day. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for landing it on a crawdad fly this year. It was apparently dying, and I simply scooped it up with the net to see what it was.

Not a happy Christmas for this guy

None of the 7 Rainbow Trout we caught were really that impressive, despite the fact that this would normally be the time of year to catch a big fish. The "big" fish of the day...

My lucky Christmas fishing hat, not so lucky this year

We ended up keeping 5 stockers and brought them home to share a Christmas dinner with our friend Don. He was kind enough to let us stay at his house while we visited the "Big M" for the holidays. Our fresh trout dinner wasn't fancy, but it was the least we could do to show our thanks.

Baked in aluminum foil with Cajun seasoning and butter.

Since the trout fishing wasn't really that exciting (and the Spring River always offers up some variety), Kelly decided to go after a 3 foot Carp (Cyprinus carpio) about midway through our day. Actually... it was an accident, but she did hook up with the big fish briefly. From my vantage point on the other side of the river, she put up a valiant effort with her 9 foot six weight doubled over as the monster minnow dove into the deep. It lasted about fifteen seconds before her 6 pound tippet snapped.

The excitement of our day didn't end when we got out of the water. We drove back to Memphis through the beginnings of a rare blizzard for the Natural State- a couple of Arkansas locales got over 11 inches of snow. The snow and sleet were only beginning to really come down as we drove between Mammoth Spring and Jonesboro, but as we made our way further south the situation became less and less severe. It was just a little bit precarious as the frozen precipitation began to accumulate on the roadway, and the driving conditions on an icy US Highway 63 were made far worse by strong blizzard winds.

It wasn't quite the white Christmas most people hope for, but it was unforgettable nonetheless.

Did I forget to mention that we only saw 4 other folks down by the river? We pretty much had the place to ourselves the whole time we were there.

That's my kind of Christmas.



Friday, December 21, 2012

Fish art for my fly fisher friends

I've posted my first fish piece on my new art blog- The Naturalist's Art.

For followers of The Naturalist's Angle, it should be a pretty familiar image, but hopefully you'll enjoy seeing it in a new light.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In case of Apocalypse...

Santa came early.

Kelly got two custom photo printed canvases from Zazzle. The big one is a picture of us that our friend Elizabeth took at Little River Canyon. It measures 22" x 30".

The smaller one was Santa's creative way of having Kelly's big Alabama Bass from the Cahaba River "mounted." The canvas measures 15" x 20".

It's not quite life size, but the 20" length of the canvas is equal to the actual length of the fish. That way you don't have to stretch your imagination much to figure out exactly how big the fish was. That Santa is a wise old elf.

I got some replacements for my lost "Tennessee Shad" Rapala Husky Jerk lure.

Santa also brought me some supplies to support my recent return to being an artist.

Hopefully, we'll escape the impending Apocalypse so we can actually enjoy our early Christmas gifts.

This isn't the first doomsday we've made it through in recent times, and it likely won't be the last.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Feathered fisherman

I know I said I probably wouldn't announce any more bird art from my new blog here, but since this feathered friend happens to be a fellow fisherman...
I figured some of you might be interested.

Go check out my Brown Pelican at The Naturalist's Art.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gear review: Redington Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders (his & hers edition)

It's taken us awhile to get around to it, but we've finally spent enough time in our Redington Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders to write an actual review. It seems that a lot of folks in the fly fishing blogosphere were either given Sonic-Pros for review or bought them and found them worthy of a review or recommendation. You can find a number of reviews for the men's Sonic-Pro Zip Fronts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and I'm sure there are others out there that I've missed. (Please don't take offense if I've left you out, just leave a comment below and I'll gladly include your review in the list.) There are only two other blogger reviews of the women's version that I am aware of- found here and here. To my knowledge, this is the first and only blog review to discuss both "his & hers" together. We try to be original around here. You gotta do something to stand out from the crowd.

Kelly and I don't wear waders as often as your average Rocky Mountain fly fishers. In our part of the world, waders are a necessity for two things: frigid tailwater trout fisheries (see Norfork River in Arkansas) and winter wading. For close to eight months out of the year, we're wet wading. In light of that information, it's probably no surprise that I'm not really a fan of waders at all. Sure, they're a part of the official unofficial uniform of fly fishers around the globe... and you have to a fancy name brand pair to look the part, right?

Honestly, I've never been too concerned about my waders, because I don't spend the majority of my fly fishing time wearing them. Prior to receiving our Sonic-Pros, both Kelly and I have worn White River Fly Shop waders by Bass Pro. For our purposes, these have worked out just fine. In fact, I've had my pair for over five years and they've never sprung a leak. Kelly also has a pair of neoprene waders from Bass Pro for cold weather, because she's a little less cold tolerant than I am. I should also mention that Kelly routinely wears Cabela's Three Forks waders for her field work collecting stream macroinvertebrates. I've also previously owned a pair of L.L. Bean Flyweight waders, but truthfully that was over a decade ago. So, my history with waders is pretty simple. I'm not a huge fan. I'd rather wet wade. I've never owned a pair of Simms waders. I've spent my rather limited fly fishing budget elsewhere.

Redington Sonic-Pros go well with superhero spandex

No mistaking, they're the real deal from Redington

You might be saying to yourself, "this guy isn't qualified to write this review"... and I would say, "hold your horses." I personally believe that I'm all the more qualified because I don't really enjoy my time spent in waders and I don't have any preconceived notions about what makes a quality pair of waders. I won't be comparing the Sonic-Pros to Simms or any other high end competitors. My points of reference are knowingly inferior, and in reality I have no basis to compare direct competition. What I can do is give an honest review of how these waders fit, how they performed, and how comfortable they are in the process.

Good for fishing and playing with snakes

As for fit, Redington has some really specific sizing charts. I know I've never seen any other waders that offer as many size options to give you a near custom fit.

If you can't find your size, you must be pretty special.

I'm not a very big or tall guy so I chose the men's "M Short." My inseam is 30"... right between the "M Short" and "M." It was a tough decision, and I could have easily gone with the standard "M" (to err on the side of caution- a little too long would be OK, right?), but I really wanted to find out how close to a perfect fit these waders could be. It turns out they were pretty darn close to perfect. They may be about a half inch short, but I'd rather have that than too much length in the legs bunching up and annoying me.

With a few less sizing choices for the ladies, Kelly chose the "M." Hers turned out with a pretty nice fit as well. To say Kelly was impressed with the fit would be a bit of an understatement. She was actually quite delighted and exclaimed something that can't be put into print here. They simply fit that much better than any waders she has ever put on. It was easy for me to see from her reaction and from her modeling them for the first time, these waders really were properly designed for women.

So, how did they do in the water?

The obvious first question is "did the zipper leak?"... and the answer is simply "no, it didn't." It actually works. The only water that got in was when I slipped and fell in the river... no waders can save you from that situation. Maybe I need a dry suit?

Did I use the zipper? Yes, it has its obvious benefits when you need to relieve yourself or get to something in your pants pocket... and it just makes putting them on a whole lot easier.

I think my favorite features of the waders, aside from the overall comfort, are the pockets. Although I've never had any other waders with multiple pockets like these, these seem pretty well placed and were just the right size for the small items I put in them- a small fly box, fishing license in a waterproof bag, a couple of tippet spools, and a spare leader. What more do you need, right? The hand warmer pockets are nice too, but I can't say it's been cold enough to really need those around these parts.

Towards the end of our day on the water, Kelly and I took a short hike up a feeder stream to see if we could find any salamanders. We didn't really see much in the form of tailed amphibians, but we did find a cold Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) that emerged from the leaf litter after I stepped along. Our little climb up the waterfalls and rocks to look for critters really showed how comfortable and flexible these waders are. We had to climb over quite a few obstacles, and I didn't feel at all hindered by them. The only thing clunky were my wading boots, and wading boots always seem a bit clunky to me.

Did I mention that these waders were comfortable? Well, they are. At some point, I kinda forgot I was wearing them, and that is exactly the feeling I would look for in a pair of waders. I'm still not a fan of wearing waders in general, but if I must, I want them to be Sonic-Pros.

I think Kelly would certainly agree, but (as I mentioned before) her honest review wasn't fit to be put into print here. Even a well-fitted pair of women's specific waders can't make her act like a lady.

For more details and product specifications, please check out the Redington website.

*These Redington Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders were provided courtesy of Redington for the purpose of this review. The Naturalist's Angle is in no way affiliated with Redington and this gear review represents an independent unbiased opinion of quality and performance.*

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Naturalist's Art

It seems a bit early for an announcement, but I guess most birth announcements are generated as soon as a baby is born.

In that regard, I'm already a few days late.

I have a new baby... in the form of a sibling blog to The Naturalist's Angle. It is appropriately called "The Naturalist's Art." It is still very much in its infancy. There are only two posts thus far- an introductory post and my first art piece posted. I only hope it grows and thrives... with the proper nourishment I'm sure anything is possible.

For my fly fisher followers, I plan to include some fishing themed artwork sooner or later and when I do I'll announce (and link to it) it here. For now it's birds, and I likely won't be announcing any more of those posts. You'll have to follow "The Naturalist's Art" if you want to keep up with the birds.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Urban ultralight fishing fix

At this busy time of year with its abridged photoperiod, any little opportunity where we can squeeze in some fishing time is precious- no matter what the method. The sun currently sets before I even make it home from work during the week, and I had to go into work this weekend to take care of a few things. It wasn't all day work, and I'm at least grateful for that. We were fortunate to have a couple of hours before sunset each of the last two days, and I guess sometimes that's all you need.

We stopped by our neighborhood creek and played with ultralight spinning gear, because we knew fly gear probably wouldn't be as productive (or easy) at this time of year. We've had some unseasonably warm days, but the nights have still been pretty cool- very little chance of a bass taking a popper on top... and if your'e fishing for bass with a fly rod, is there really any other way?

Don't answer that question.

So, tiny Rapalas, beetle spins, and finesse plastic worms were on the menu.

Let me take a brief moment to mention that Kelly carelessly casted delicately hung one of my precious Rapala Husky Jerk lures (Model HJ06, 1/8 oz., "Tennessee Shad" color) in a tree overhanging the creek. Unfortunately, it was out of reach and could not be retrieved. I guess she was just in a festive mood... decorating trees... 'tis the season. I gave her a pretty hard time about it, and I think I may get a replacement in my stocking this year for Christmas.

Reenactment of actual event

Although I am primarily a fly fisherman these days, I have plenty of experience with fishing conventional hardware too. The "Tennessee Shad" color pattern by Rapala is something that I would recommend to anyone who is pursuing bass with lures in our part of the world. I can't speak for how well it might work on trout or walleye or pike, but bass seem to have a penchant for it. I'll just say it has caught more bass for me, more consistently, over the years than any other hard lure pattern I have ever thrown. This is certainly not scientific, and it may just be a result of me choosing that lure more often than others, but when you find something that seems to work when everything else seems useless... you stick with it... and recommend it to others. I should also mention that I'm not partial to it just because of its name and the fact that I happen to be a native Tennessean... that is just coincidence.

The "Tennessee Shad" color pattern is not available in all styles of Rapala lures, and from my experience it can be hard to find in stores. (It seems I'm not be the only one who has discovered its magic.) If you get a chance to add one to our tackle box, do it. Give it a try. Thank me later.

Okay, enough blathering about lures. The fishing yesterday was a bit tougher than Saturday, and I caught the only bass of the day. We purposely rested the pool we fished on Saturday, because the bass were pretty concentrated in there and the stream is very small. As tempting as it may have been, we respected our resource and tried some different areas... which turned out to be pretty unproductive.

Saturday was a different story. We didn't have instant success though. We worked our way slowly upstream fishing all of the plunge pools as we usually do, and in the last area left to fish with only thirty minutes of daylight left, we found the bass. Kelly caught quite a few. I honestly didn't count. I just know she caught more than I did as usual. I only managed to land two fish (one was a chunky Green Sunfish) before it was all done, but I lost three decent bass due to fisherman error- poor hooksets to be specific. I would like to blame the equipment, but ultimately it's my fault. I will say that fishing a finesse worm on an ultralight Eagle Claw Featherlight rod is an art, and if you expect to actually catch a fish you really gotta go after it when you set the hook- no finesse involved.

Kelly's Shakespeare Ugly Stik Ladyfish with pink trim has a bit more backbone, which I like to believe helped her land her first fish, an Alabama Bass, on the worm.

The big fish of the day, a Largemouth Bass, caught on the small Rapala Husky Jerk "Tennessee Shad" color, just before said lure was used to decorate a riparian tree.

Good looking fish, nice sunset backdrop, and an even better looking angler.

My best (and only bass) of the day, also landed using the same size and style of Rapala... the only one now left in my tackle box.

When you know the fly rod is not the weapon of choice, sometimes you just have to settle for what works.

I'd have to say I'm pretty glad we chose the ultralights this weekend... even if I'm still a little sore about losing one of my favorite lures.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Reunion, Reviews, and Rarities

Last Sunday, I got the chance for a little reunion with an old friend from Knoxville. It's almost hard to believe how long it had been since we hung out the last time, and we didn't even go fishing or looking for reptiles- two of our favorite pastimes. We ate at the Country Table Restaurant in Knoxville. It was a classy joint as you can tell from the photograph of that day over seven years ago. It appears the restaurant has closed down and is now for sale.

Stephen Jones is a really good guy, and, as it turns out, he's become one heck of a fly fisherman in those seven years since I had last seen him. I'm proud to say that Stephen gives me at least a little bit of credit for sparking his interest in fly fishing. Apparently there's another guy that shares the credit as well. I've never met him, but he must be a pretty good fellow too.

Stephen below the bridge at the Apalachia Powerhouse- look closely

We spent our reunion day on the Hiwassee River in east Tennessee. It's a place I had fished only a few times before, and I will admit... it still has my number. For whatever reason, I just haven't had much luck there. Stephen had no trouble though. He put on a clinic for high stick nymphing and probably landed thirty fish or more throughout the day. He caught more than a dozen before Kelly and I even made it to the river. His drive was just a bit shorter than ours, and we got distracted by some birds flying overhead on the way there.

Kelly caught more fish than I did as usual (I think the count was like 10 – 2), and she finally caught another Brown Trout that was at least slightly bigger than her first. Despite our best efforts, none of us caught anything spectacular, but of course that's not always the point.

Kelly's new personal best Brown Trout ;)

Besides catching a few fish, part of our goal for the day was to field test a couple of new items from SmithFly and finish testing out our Redington Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders. We were pretty successful on all fronts, and the reviews will be soon forthcoming. Stay tuned for those.

The birds that were flying overhead were cranes- mostly Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis). We've seen Sandhills before. We even saw a nesting pair when we visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Whooping Cranes (G. americana) on the other hand, were something new and exciting. We were pleasantly surprised to spot a pair flying in formation with the Sandhills.

Unfortunately, we don't have any concrete photographic evidence to support our claim, but we did get a few pics of the cranes in flight. In the second photo, the sixth and eighth birds from the left look like they could be Whoopers, but I won't claim that they are. I'll let you examine and decide for yourselves. The two possible Whoopers in the pic are not the pair we saw. We weren't able to get a pic of that group before they disappeared behind the treeline.

I'm satisfied knowing that Kelly and I got the chance to see a true rarity, living free in the wild- proof that endangered species can be saved. Today there are only about 600 Whooping Cranes in the wild. In the 1940s the population dwindled down to just 21 birds. The recovery of the Whooping Crane is a true conservation success story.

Photo courtesy of the International Crane Foundation

The Whooping Cranes that now migrate through east Tennessee are graduates of a program that uses aircraft-led migration to lead young birds from summer breeding habitat in Wisconsin to an overwintering site in Florida. The program continues to reintroduce more captive bred birds each year to supplement the wild population. Whooping Cranes are still listed as "endangered," but they're on a steady road to full recovery.

It now appears that the older Whoopers are migrating naturally along with their Sandhill congeners...

and it's a beautiful sight to see.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's in her DNA

Kelly and I made an unplanned visit to her grandparent's house on Monday evening. To make a long story short, we stopped by to check on them because Kelly's mother (who doesn't live in the area) was having a difficult time locating her father. It turns out he was just fine. He just wasn't answering his cell phone. I don't really blame him.

I can honestly say we don't visit Kelly's grandparents as often as we probably should, even though we live in the same metropolitan area. I know it will sound like an excuse, but by the time we get home from work and school the old folks are already preparing for bed. Our weekends are often so busy that we don't have a lot of free time there either, and what little we do is often spent fishing. We are planning to go and do the annual fall gutter clean out very soon (to ensure Kelly's grandfather doesn't try to get on the roof and do it by himself). It seems like we might also be installing more guttering while we're there, so next year's gutter cleaning will be that much more fun.

As visits with our senior family members often go, we ended up sitting around the kitchen table and listening to Kelly's grandparents tell us what they've been up to lately as well as recount stories from their youth and the second World War. Having lost the last of my grandparents in 2007, it's one of those things that I miss... but never knew that I would. I'm glad that I can now enjoy Kelly sharing her grandparents with me.

Among the many stories we heard about gardening and days gone by was an unexpected fishing tale. This was a surprise because Kelly's maternal grandfather isn't really an outdoorsman. The story went something like this...

Kelly's Grandfather, Lucius or "Lutz" as he is called by his family, went fishing once with his father-in-law (Kelly's great grandfather) in south Louisiana. There were apparently some secret ponds that had a bunch of "green trout" (which Kelly and I interpreted to be Largemouth Bass) in them. The two men went fishing on one of the ponds in a skiff, and Kelly's great grandfather handed Lutz a fly rod. He said "I don't know how to use a fly rod," but his father-in-law told him he would figure it out. He began trying to cast as they crossed the pond and approached a stand of lily pads. Kelly's grandfather told us he couldn't have done it again if he tried, but once the boat stopped his first cast landed perfectly among the lily pads.

Instantly a big bass erupted from the water and swallowed the fly. Lutz had no experience setting the hook or playing a fish with a fly rod, but somehow he managed to reel in the fish. He demonstrated for us with his hands the size of the fish which appeared to be about fifteen or sixteen inches. After the fish was landed, Kelly's great grandfather began to turn the skiff around, leaving the lily pads, and headed back for where they put in. A confused Lutz asked what he was doing, and he simply said "you caught my fish, we're going home." Lutz suspected there were more fish lurking under the lily pads, but he wouldn't find out that day. The frustrated father-in-law wasn't going to give his son-in-law any further opportunity to show him up.

Although I can certainly take credit for being the first person to put a fly rod in Kelly's adult hands (her dad let her play with a fly rod as a child), her DNA is no stranger to the long rod. We already knew Kelly's dad had spent a lot of time chasing bass with a fly rod in his younger days, but this is the first either of us had heard of any fly fishers on the maternal side of her family.

Kelly's genes reconnect with a fly rod. 

Somehow, I'm not at all surprised.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Gaudy riot"

The blazing oranges of the maples.

The brilliant golds of the tulip poplars and beeches.

The deep reds of the dogwoods.

They're all gaudy...

especially when juxtaposed among the evergreen pines and cedars...

but it certainly creates a beautiful landscape.

During the past week, Oak Mountain State Park (where I am grateful to be able to go to work every day) has become a palette of autumn splendor. Today's overcast skies and my "point and shoot" don't nearly do it justice, but hopefully you get the idea.

This post title was borrowed from a poetry post entitled "Subtlety" from the blog "Mike's Gone Fishin'... Again" by Mike Sepelak. I highly recommend you read Mike's poem for a more introspective examination of autumn's colors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On my soapbox again... for ATV safety

Hey... I thought this blog was supposed to be about fly fishing and nature. What is this all about?

Well... it's about the fact that I don't want to hear about, witness, or be personally involved in any more gruesome scenes that might as well be from a horror movie.

As I sit here and type this, one day before Halloween and several days before I play biology field technician again, I reflect on a horrifying experience Kelly and I had during our last trip to her field research site. I know I may have mentioned previously that helping her with field work is a bit torturous, but this was something altogether more horrible.

Let me tell you our story.

Most of the visits Kelly and her other field assistants have made to her streams have been during the work week. Her field site is pretty quiet on a weekday, and unless the timber company is actually doing work she typically doesn't see other people. I am usually only able to assist her on the weekends because I work primarily on weekdays. The invertebrates in the streams don't know or care what day of the week it is, but the property is just a bit more active on the weekends.

Kelly's research is being conducted on forestry land owned by one of the nation's largest forestry conglomerates, and (in what appears to be an effort to squeeze every last penny out of the land) they lease parcels to local "hunt clubs." I use the term "hunt club" loosely because I don't want anyone to get the idea that these are any sort of elite membership organizations. From what I have observed, these are rather ragtag groups of good ol' boys with guns and four wheelers. (Based on that description, you may be able to guess where this story is going.) As we drove into the property at midmorning on Saturday, October 6th, we were greeted by a number of "hunt club" members hard at work preparing for the upcoming deer season.

As we drove through their assembly, we simply gave what I would call the "country courtesy wave" and went on about our business. It seems a lot of people have keys to the property gates so they don't ask us questions, and we don't stop to chat.

Our stream sampling was typical procedure and thankfully uneventful. We were nearly finished with our day in the field- four out of five streams had been sampled, only one left to go. The last of Kelly's five streams is in a separate nearby area so you have to drive back out to the main highway and enter through another access gate. As we were making our way out of the property, driving slowly down the gravel forestry road, we rounded a curve and came upon a truly terrifying sight.

Kelly and I shared approximately the same thought when we initially saw the bloody scene before us... "Oh my God, that kid accidentally shot his friend." I was stunned enough by the sight that I didn't say anything at first, while Kelly said simply, "they're hurt."

There were two boys, both about twelve or thirteen years old, both covered in blood. One of them was staggering toward us for help, while the other lay motionless on the ground. I immediately stopped the car and we got out. The boy who was on his feet asked if we could help them and give them a ride out. He said something to the effect that he didn't really know what happened, he had "blacked out," but they had lost control of the four wheeler they were riding. When we first arrived at the scene, I hadn't even noticed the ATV wedged between several young pine trees near the road.

Needless to say, neither of the boys was wearing a helmet or any other protective gear. The boy who was initially on the ground picked himself up just seconds after our arrival and began walking toward us. He was covered in blood and pieces of his flesh (presumably from his face) were literally stuck to his jeans. I was worried about his apparent amount of blood loss, and Kelly scrambled to find a towel to give him to hold over his still bleeding face. He had several severe lacerations to his face and wasn't really able to speak. We quickly cleared the back seats of the Subaru and they got in. The boy who wasn't as severely injured asked us several times as we drove out "are we gonna be OK?" All I could tell him was that they were both walking, so they didn't appear to be paralyzed, and I calmly reassured them that they would be fine. We tried to keep them both awake, but they both passed out during the very brief ride back out.

As we drove we passed two more boys (again no helmets or protective gear) on another four wheeler and I told them, "your friends are hurt, you need to go back." They just looked at us confused- not understanding what this strange man was trying to tell them. Then we passed an adult male on yet another four wheeler, and I asked him, "Do you know these kids? They're hurt pretty bad." He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. Thinking "I don't have time for this," I proceeded back toward the assembly of trucks and SUVs we had driven through when we began our day.

We quickly got back to that area, and there were two men there working on building a deer blind. I got out and told them we had two boys with us who were hurt. One of the men reacted immediately. It was clear he was the father of one of the young men... apparently the more severely injured of the two. As Kelly and I had remained completely calm in the face of this emergency situation, this man was borderline hysterical. He said several things which aren't worth repeating, but Kelly and I both noted a simple phrase that he repeated quite a few times: "never again."

It's hard to know exactly what he meant by those two words, but we interpreted it to mean that either this was not the first time that something like this (maybe less serious) had happened, and this was the final straw... or perhaps that the kids had convinced him to let them ride the ATV while he had his reservations.

The man quickly pulled the more severely injured boy from our car, and loaded him into his SUV. The other boy got into their vehicle unaided. The man never spoke a word to us... not even a simple "thank you." I understand that he was in a very stressful situation. His child is severely injured and inside his head he's probably freaking out about having to deal with the boy's mother, but a "thank you" would have been nice. He certainly wasn't calm or level-headed under pressure- he didn't even take the towel we had given the boy (assumed to be his son) to stop the bleeding. We can only assume he was headed toward the nearest hospital as he put distance between us as we both drove away in the same direction on the same highway.

As he and his casualties disappeared into the distance, we stopped and sampled our last stream, repeatedly hashing out the surreal nature of the experience we just had. The poor kid is going to live the rest of his life with some serious reminders (at minimum facial scarring) of the day when an adult irresponsibly allowed him to ride the four wheeler without protective gear. All we have to show for the incident is a bloody stain on the back seat of our Subaru Outback and a heightened sense of disapproval for kids riding ATVs.

I must admit I didn't grow up riding ATVs like a lot of kids in the South do (including Kelly), and after seeing that boy's face I'm glad I didn't. My mom was overprotective and would have never consented to me ridin' four wheelers... and I never tried to sneak behind her back to do it. I was also more of an urban kid, and four wheelers weren't an everyday part of life for me. I would've had to accompany a friend "out to the country" to have even had an opportunity. Kelly never got hurt during her youth because she was too scared to go fast on her own. A few experiences riding with her older brother in the driver's seat put the fear in her, and a healthy fear is what most kids probably need when it comes to riding ATVs.

Maybe I'm just an old stick in the mud, but I've heard way too many stories of kids getting hurt in ATV "accidents." To me it's no "accident" when an adult allows an underage kid to ride an ATV on their own... especially without a helmet or other protective gear. The experience has even affected people in my own family... and the fear of an impending lawsuit lingered heavy for quite a while. Thankfully, for my unnamed family member, a lawsuit never occurred.

If you're going to allow kids under the age of sixteen to ride, let them ride youth appropriate ATVs and please make sure they are wearing full protective gear. You can't expect a puny kid under the age of sixteen to have complete control of a four wheeler that is powerful enough to drag a bull Elk out of the wilderness. I would also recommend everyone who rides take an ATV safety course, no matter what your age.

If it was up to me, a kid under the age of sixteen who operates an ATV and is injured in an accident would be accompanied by severe penalties for the "responsible" parent or adult. The fact is that adults have to be the responsible parties and say "NO" when the kids try to pressure them into riding. There is no value in "being cool" in your kid's eyes.

In the end, I didn't even learn either of the two boys' names, but I hope they are both recovered from their injuries and doing well...

and I truly hope to never see a scene like that again.

Photo credit: Matt Lehrer

Hopefully, I'll have some fly fishing related content to post again soon. Kelly and I haven't gotten much fishing in lately, and we've both been pretty busy with real life obligations.

For my faithful followers, hang in there, we'll get back on track soon!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Best ten minute fishing trip ever

About a week and a half ago, I experienced the misery pleasure of helping Kelly with her field work. To make a long boring scientific explanation as brief as possible, Kelly samples invertebrates in small streams (picture a tiny trickle through a southern pine forest) as part of her graduate research in biology. Kelly's study streams don't offer a whole lot that would interest the average fisherman, but if you're really into aquatic entomology and thorny briars you might enjoy it.

Kelly lured me into assisting her by promising that we could go fishing nearby after we finished with our work. Her field site is about a two hour drive from home, and I knew there wouldn't be much time left for fishing if we tried to fish anywhere else. What neither of us knew at that time was that the river nearest to Kelly's research site is a typical southern lowland river- muddy water... a catfish ditch. Not a place where a fly fisherman would have much fun or success.

So, after seeing the catfish ditch, we decided to head back toward home and familiar, fly fisher friendly, water.

We arrived at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge with approximately ten minutes of daylight left.

At least we had the river to ourselves.

We rigged our rods in record time, put on our wading boots, and we were in the water. The clock was ticking.

We quickly waded to some promising looking water, and I caught one Alabama Spotted Bass (Micropterus henshalli) while sight casting my "Stealth Bomber" to a Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus). The gar showed no serious interest, but I was quite content with my one pound consolation prize.

Kelly caught one fish too.

Fish don't care if you wear your field work/painting tee shirt.

Hers just happened to be about twice the size of mine.

The funniest part of this story is that we have returned to the same section of the Cahaba twice since the "ten minute fishing trip" and neither of those follow-up trips produced anything worth reporting. Three days after the "ten minute trip" we took off work a few hours early and wade fished again for about two hours... Kelly caught one Green Sunfish while I spooked a bunch of carp and missed one small bass. One week after the "ten minute trip" we returned with kayaks and wasted another two hours floating around pestering undersized sunfish with oversized poppers... I think Kelly may have landed one Bluegill.

In ten magical minutes we caught more bass than we did during two trips and four hours worth of fishing from kayaks and wading.

The fishing gods obviously don't bestow their gifts based on effort.

You just need to be in the right place at the right time.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bows & Arrows: a primal passion for primitively propelled projectiles

I think there's a primal connection that many of us feel toward archery... a simple bow and arrow... one of the earliest technological advances that empowered man to take down large prey at a distance. The first potential arrow heads that are known date back to a little over 60,000 years ago. They were found in a cave in South Africa, and either the innovation spread like wildfire or it arose independently in many different areas around the world. It seems bows and arrows are pretty pervasive as early weapons... and a significant part of our collective history as human beings.

Despite many advances in modern weaponry (namely those involving gunpowder), the archer remains a mystical character in our popular culture. It's not hard to find the mystique of the bow and arrow in many recent movies- The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Avengers, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and of course we can't forget Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I think Legolas the Elf might be the most incredible of those films' archers, but they all accomplish feats with a bow and arrow that far exceed the realities of the primitive weapons which they wield.

The reality is that even the most modern of compound bows is still quite primitive when compared to a high-powered semi-automatic rifle. There is no such thing as semi-automatic archery even though Legolas and The Avengers' Hawkeye make it look so easy on the silver screen.

I imagine I'm not the only one who really enjoys the archers of the movies, even though they seem quite ridiculous at times... and I'm probably not alone in sensing the urge to go shoot a bow after watching one of these films... and then I think about shooting a bow and arrow, and I'm transported to a place both primal and juvenile. A place where I am both the great primitive hunter and Robin Hood at the same time.

The reality of me shooting a bow and arrow is that I'm not really that good at it. I've shot both compound bows and long bows, but I've never really spent much time practicing my archery skills. I hope to change that with my recent restoration of an old long bow that I literally found in the trash. It's certainly not much, but I hope to find a connection to bows and arrows again with this little piece of wood.

When I first found the old bow, the three layers of wood at the grip had delaminated and were held together by only a deteriorating old leather wrap. My first order of business was to remove all of that old leather and glue the wood back together. After I finished that, I did a bit of sanding and removed most of the old varnish that was loose and flaking off. I decided to give the dry old wood some new life by refinishing it with Danish oil. I would highly recommend this or a similar penetrating oil finish when working with any sort of potentially brittle antique woods.

One arm of the bow had a minor crack just below the string nock, and I repaired it as any do-it-yourselfer fisherman probably would have. I super-glued it, and then I wrapped it just like I would wrap a guide onto a rod... although I did use heavier thread. I clear coated the thread with Sally Hansen's "Hard as Nails", but I wish I had some "Flex Coat" to use instead.

The little dark line between the wrap and the bowstring is a crack.

I wrapped the opposite end to match, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a little reinforcement.

In addition to my fisherman inspired repair above, I decided to wrap the grip with some old worn out fly line. I think it turned out pretty well.

I ordered my bowstring from Victorious Archery Company, "sticknstring_73" on eBay. If you need a custom bowstring for a long bow or recurve, I would highly recommend this maker.

Excellent product, good price, quick turnaround and shipping

I can report that the bow, and my little repairs, have held up well to my first attempt to shoot. During that brief little session in the backyard, I also discovered that I really need some practice.

Maybe I'll get out one evening this week and shoot around a bit.

I'll be imagining I'm Robin Hood or Legolas...

until reality sets in... just after I let that first arrow fly.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

You pick my next post

For whatever reason, I've had a bit of "blogger's block" lately.

Maybe it's because Kelly and I went back and fished that sweet looking carp spot we found, but couldn't catch anything more than a few little Bluegills. The water was much higher than when we originally discovered it... the flats were essentially gone... and with all of our recent rain, they've yet to return.

I'm hoping my devoted readers (all seven of you) can help inspire me to write my next post.

I'm giving you the following choices:
  1. The story of my recent restoration of an old wooden long bow I found in the trash. I'm no bowyer nor can I even claim to be a bow hunter, but I have been playing with bows and arrows since I was a kid. This one will be about a whole lot more than just the "how I done it" on the restoration.
  2. A review of our recent fishing adventures, which have been less than stellar. I figured I would at least offer this one for those of you (like me) who can't get enough pictures of 6" Bluegill and 10" bass.
  3. The story of my recent "fishing gear bonanza"... as my friend Don called it. In February, I posted about a box of fly-tying materials that contained an old Pflueger Medalist reel sent to me by a friend of a friend. This one will be about the second installment of Nancy's generosity and a tribute to a fisherman I never met, but a kindred spirit for sure... Nancy's father, Tom Wellborn.
  4. A comparison review of some minimalist footwear that I've recently discovered: New Balance Minimus and Merrell Barefoot.
  5. Yet another review of Redington's Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders for your enjoyment. It seems like all of the really cool fly fisher bloggers got some for review... and somehow so did we. The only difference between our review and theirs: we got the women's version for review too.
I think that's probably enough options for now. Please vote by number in the comments below. I'll take votes until the next post is posted... which should happen this weekend, so try to get your votes in by Saturday morning.

Don't worry if your choice doesn't get picked for my next post. It's coming down the wire soon enough... I promise.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


We haven't gotten a chance to go back and fish it yet, but Kelly and I recently found some carp flats near us. Unfortunately, they appear to be Grass Carp only flats.

Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)

I know this won't make my first serious attempt at catching a carp on the fly any easier. I have questioned a carp master for how he would approach it, and he has offered some sage advice (no fly fishing pun intended... but if you like to think of it that way, that's cool).

Two carp on the flats- one in photo center, one at top partly in shadow

I have high hopes of hooking up with one soon, but I expect my first attempt will merely be a lesson in humility.

The Grass Carp weren't the only things we saw swimming. There were lots of small Largemouths and Bluegill.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

I was also pleasantly surprised to see a single small Alabama "Spotted" Bass.

Alabama Bass (Micropterus henshalli)

We were beginning to lose hope for there being any quality bass in the lake (because it appears to receive a good deal of fishing pressure)... but before we wrapped up our scouting mission, we spotted a school of four bruisers prowling the shoreline. They were a bit difficult to photograph from our vantage point on the trail, but two of the four are visible in the photo below- the two smaller ones were around three pounds and the two larger ones I would estimate to be closer to five.

Largemouth Bass (M. salmoides)

Of course it wouldn't be a complete hike in the woods for us without finding at least one snake.

Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)

As nice as it was hiking around the lake armed with a camera, I'm really looking forward to getting back out there with kayaks and fly rods.

Monday, July 16, 2012

We'll call it a tie


19" Largemouth

I catch a respectable fish again. A Northern Largemouth (Micropterus salmoides salmoides) that qualifies for the Bass Slam too! Maybe I won't be outfished by a girl this time.

The girl won't go down easy though.

A nice 15" Smallie

Oh yeah, taking the lead back.

16" Largemouth

The lead may be in jeopardy...

Good fish on the line.

18" Smallmouth

Okay, okay, we'll call it a tie.

Last, but certainly not least, a rare freshwater shark sighting...

In addition to observing this rare creature and catching our fair share of good fish, we saw a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) cross the creek, a family of three River Otters (Lontra canadensis) spying on us from behind the cypress knees at the water's edge, two more Whitetails browsing on the shrubbery along a rocky shoal, and the usual Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) for good measure.

I'd say one heck of a day on Cypress Creek.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the previous post for some nice photos of one of our favorite outdoor places. I got a little carried away and posted twice tonight, but don't worry... that's not likely to happen again anytime soon.