Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Old school" cork poppers

One of the things that really got me going in fly tying was the prospect of making my own cork poppers. Prior to discovering the magic of BoogleBugs about three years ago, I had been sorely disappointed with most of the poppers I had ever purchased and used. The hooks were almost always too small or so poorly placed in the cork body that the functional gap of the hook was diminished. You can still find a lot of these dysfunctional poppers out there. I won't name names, but let's just say they can be found at Bass Pro and Walmart among other retailers.

I began making my own poppers quite a while before I found my first BoogleBug... and then the desire to make my own pretty much faded away. I had finally found a well made, high quality cork popper that I couldn't easily replicate at home. I know my simple cork poppers pale in comparison to a BoogleBug, but they're not nearly as expensive- perhaps their only redeeming quality. By the way, be sure to check out the reports page on the BoogleBug website, you might see a familiar face.

Size 1 with sili-legs for the big bass

A little over six years ago, I bought a series of DVDs on Ebay by a fly fishing guide named Chris Hansen (not to be confused with the Chris Hansen who catches an entirely different kind of predator). He's not a big name in fly fishing (and he may not even be a guide anymore for all I know- his website appears frozen in 2005), but he does a pretty good job of showing you how to catch bass on a fly rod in his videos. I can't say I learned much about fishing techniques from Chris, but I really did enjoy watching his videos. I bought them primarily for entertainment after all. Interestingly, all of these DVDs are labeled "Volume 1"... but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a "Volume 2" for any of them.

Most of my fly tying prior to the purchase of these DVDs was limited to woolly buggers, zebra midges, and other really basic patterns... so I admittedly learned a few things about making cork poppers from watching Hansen's tying video. The poppers he makes in his video (and my version of them) are very simple. I would call them "old school." It's actually been quite a while since I watched the DVD, but I still remember the basics of what I learned.

Size 6 sans sili-legs for the sunfish and smaller bass

I've had these seven smaller corks glued to hooks sitting in a box waiting to be finished for probably five years now. I figured it was about time to finish 'em and put 'em to use. The green ones were painted so long ago, I can't remember what I used to paint them. The blue ones were painted in the past few weeks with two coats of Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear in "Blue Me Away!" color and then finished with a couple more coats of the same brand of "Invisible" clear coat. Even though I bought this nail polish specifically for finishing some poppers, Kelly just couldn't resist.

There a lot of guys out there who make some real popper works of art. Jeff of J & M Flies and the blog "Fly Fishing & Tying Obsessed" comes to mind. These simple old-fashioned cork poppers may not be nearly as pretty as Jeff's, but don't forget that "old school" still catches fish.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Crappie. It's what's for dinner.

When I tell non-fisherpeople about my fishing addiction, I'm often presented with a series of common questions.

Non-fisherperson: "Do you eat the fish you catch?"

Me: "Not very often. I practice catch & release 97% of the time."

Non-fisherperson: "Could you bring me some fish sometime?"

Me: "Like I said, I really don't keep fish very often."

Non-fisherperson: "Do you not like to eat fish?"

Me: "It's not that I don't like to eat fish. It's just that eating the bass from the creeks where I usually fish wouldn't be very sustainable. I'd also prefer to eat fish other than bass... which is what I fish for most of the time."

Non-fisherperson: "Do you ever keep any of the fish you catch?"

Me: "Sometimes I keep a limit of stocked Rainbows, and I'd probably keep some Crappie if I caught them more often."

So here's one for all the non-fisherpeople who ask all the questions...

Cahaba River Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

Kelly's 12 1/4" on left, Jay's 12 3/4" on right

Like I've said before, if I caught more Crappie, I'd probably eat more of my catch. So, yesterday afternoon when Kelly and I got into a few on the Cahaba River with our ultralights (and we didn't have any plans for dinner), we decided Crappie would be on the menu for the evening.

We released the first and smallest one we caught (around 11"), and then kept the two above. We made a few more unproductive casts and then decided this pair would be enough to feed the two of us. We headed home and enjoyed the freshest Crappie meal either of us has ever eaten.

Crappie and other panfish are one of the most sustainable choices for the frying pan (or baked in the oven as the case may be). As much as I support catch & release, I have no problem with anglers who make informed and sustainable choices when deciding whether or not to keep the occasional limit of fish.

Conservation is often defined as "the wise use of resources." Conservation should not be confused with preservation as the two concepts are not entirely interchangeable. They're also not mutually exclusive. There is certainly an element of preservation involved in good conservation and sustainability practices. Informed conservation is about knowing what to use and what to preserve... and sometimes it all boils down to common sense.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Subsurface Bass fly

I know... I know.

Catching bass below the surface isn't nearly as much fun as having one explode on a surface bug.

We've all heard about the small percentage of time that fish actually spend feeding at the surface, but numbers and statistics are so boring. Catching a bass on a popper or Stealth Bomber is so much more fun.

If a bass can be lured to the surface, I'm always going to choose that option.

I often choose to forget that bass can even be caught subsurface, but sometimes you just have to face reality.

In an effort to prepare for those (hopefully) rare times when the bass just don't want to play on top, I've begun tying a new subsurface bass fly. I found the pattern by searching Ebay for "bass fly." The tier and seller of these flies, Jim Green ("texperd" on Ebay), calls them "Bass Crawlers." His versions are probably a little prettier than mine- more color variety and better looking striped bunny strip tails. So far, I've only tied a few in crayfish color schemes (olive/orange/rust)... because that's all I could do with the combination of materials I have on hand. I'd like to tie some in other colors (especially black, white, and chartreuse), but I just don't have the materials at the moment.

Jim's Bass Crawlers are tied on 1/0 size wide gap bass hooks with stiff mono weed guards- which I think would be ideal for stillwater Largemouths around vegetation. I've tied mine on long shank size 4 streamer hooks which I think will work well in the river settings where I plan to fish them for Smallmouths and Alabama Spotted Bass. I also opted to leave off the weed guards to save time... and because they won't be terribly valuable in the bass creeks and rivers where I wade.

I think these flies may be the closest thing I've ever seen to a skirted jig or spinnerbait for a fly fisherman. The only other fly I've seen that comes close would be the "Calcasieu Pig Boat" pattern by the late Tom Nixon. I know our friend Josh, of the blog "Josh's Flies & Adventures," is a big fan of Tom Nixon's flies. I imagine Nixon's Pig Boat pattern may very well have inspired the Bass Crawler. The Bass Crawler is probably a bit easier to tie than the Pig Boat thanks to the cone head, bunny strip tail, and the pearl chenille body.

I've never tried a fly quite like this... so oddly enough, I'm kinda looking forward to that first time of the season when the bass aren't willing to feed on the surface.

This year, I'll be ready for them wherever they want to eat.