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.