Monday, April 28, 2014

Easter Bass and Bluegill

It's been a busy week, so it's taken me a while to get around to posting this.

As I type this, Kelly and I are watching the local news weather coverage. Tonight is a tornado night in "Dixie Alley." We've already seen a tornado reported from Jasper, Alabama where our friend Bill lives. I hope we all survive this night unscathed.

My thoughts are with Bill as I post photos of fish caught from his home water on Smith Lake. I hope you are okay, my friend.

We went kayak fishing on Smith Lake last weekend- Easter Sunday.

I had a difficult day... lots of tangles and challenges to deal with. The icing on the cake being when my 9' 7 wt G. Loomis GL3 fly rod with L.L. Bean Orion reel fell out of my kayak... and as it was disappearing into the depths of Alabama's deepest and clearest lake... I did what any reasonable fly fisher who can swim would do. I frantically jumped out of my little boat and went in after it. I was able to get it... so no loss... except for my dryness... I was wet for the rest of the afternoon.

Shortly after I took my swim, Kelly caught what may be the biggest Bluegill she has ever landed.

Smith Lake Bluegill, almost 9"

If Kelly's hand doesn't make it look big... here it is on her kayak paddle.

Big "Bull" Bluegill- easily big enough to make Bill's cut

Then she caught a 20" Alabama Bass.

The girl wins again

Kelly also caught this interesting little Bluegill that obviously had a close call with something dangerous... maybe an Osprey talon.

I only managed a few small bass- 2 on the baitcaster with Rapala X-Rap Shad and 1 on the fly rod. None were really photo worthy. As final insult to injury, I missed what may have been a very nice fish thanks to a very untimely decision to sit my rod down in favor of my paddle... all to make some minor and unnecessary adjustment to my kayak's position. The fish, which I estimated to be in the 5 lb size class, inhaled my fly and spit it before I could pick the rod back up and set the hook. Damn it.

I may have been outfished by a girl again, but at least I can say I tied the flies responsible for her success.

Blue Stealth Bomber, size 4 (See top Bluegill photo above too.)

You gotta claim your victories wherever you find them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Redeyez N the Hood

Gratuitious Redeye photo inserted here for the thumbnail in blogroll previews

There's a small creek that flows out of the state park where I work and through the suburban area where we now live. A short section of it flows along the edge of our neighborhood subdivision, although our house isn't really that close to it... which is probably a really good thing... given what occurred earlier this week.

Approximately six inches of rain fell overnight from late Sunday through early Monday morning. That's a lot of rain in short order... which inevitably means flash flooding.

We are very fortunate that our house wasn't flooded, because there were several homes in our neighborhood (close to the creek) that were.

Here are a few pictures of the raging creek...

The "creek" at the spillway from the state park lake- typically a trickle

The "creek" flooding a parking lot just below the state park

The view from the bridge that leads into our neighborhood

The flooded neighborhood park; the creek is normally within that line of riparian trees

Anybody want to swim in the neighborhood pool? Wait... where is it?

The was the first Redeye Bass that Kelly caught from our new neighborhood creek in late February...

and this was the second...

Closeup of that stunning red eye above

If you know anything about Redeyes, you know that this is actually a "big" one... especially from such a small (under normal circumstances) creek. The Alabama state (and presumably World) record is just a little over 3 lbs.

I really hope the recent flood didn't wash away any of the Redeyes in the 'hood. They're not a species that is particularly fond of siltation and/or dirty water... so I'm also hopeful that we won't have any more unusually heavy rainfall in the coming days.

I'm sure the Redeyes are still there... they're tough little fish after all, but this wasn't good for the habitat or the fish.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fly fishing brotherhood

I learned about Braden Smith thanks to a post by Morgan Kupfer of the Tight Lined Tales of a Fly Fisherman blog.

Morgan posted a little over two weeks ago about a fellow fly fisherman in need.

I decided to do what I could to help a member of the brotherhood... even though I didn't know him, and he didn't know me.

I reached out to Braden in an e-mail... and the only thing I could think to put in the subject line that made any sense was "Fly fishing brotherhood."

One of things on Braden's list of items lost was a 9' 7 wt rod. I told him that he must be a kindred spirit if he fishes a 7 wt... which has become a less and less popular rod and line weight in recent years. It's still my favorite rod weight for most of my bass fishing... but Braden primarily targets a different species with his 7 wt... a fish not found in the southeast.

In addition to a few basic fly tying materials, I sent Braden a 9' 7 wt rod that we had retired from regular use. It was the rod that Kelly used the most before I got her one she could call her very own. In our house this rod was affectionately known as the "Thunderstick." It had no catchy model name... just some letters and numbers that were a mouthful... not simple or cool like GL3. It was an IM6 graphite rod (with decent quality hardware) branded for and sold by Sportsman's Warehouse. I think it may have been made by Cortland, but can't be sure of that, and don't remember how I came to that conclusion.

The rod was in good fishable condition, but had lots of wear and tear. It had caught many fish on waters around the southeast before it made its way to Braden in western New York. This rod has history.

I had two minor requests of Braden if he was to accept this rod...
  1. Carry on the "Thunderstick" name.
  2. Send me some pictures of the Thunderstick back in action.
He is a man of his word.

The Thunderstick catches chrome.


Fish on, brother.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The best of both worlds

On Friday, Kelly and I drove north for some kayak fishing on our favorite creek that flows into Pickwick Lake. It would have been nice to stay closer to home, but in order to escape the rain and thunderstorms in our neck of the woods, the drive was necessary. We felt like the 30% chance of isolated t-storms farther north was better than the 80% chance locally... and it turned out to be a pretty good gamble.

Not only did we use the kayaks, but we both took a fly rod as well as a rod for conventional lures... the best of both worlds. We had success with both methods, but no lunkers were landed on this outing... although we saw some true river beasts. The kayak lets you get really close before fish get spooked, and in such a clear creek, you get to see some pretty impressive fish... even if you don't have the good fortune to catch them. I saw a Largemouth that was easily five pounds while Kelly claims to have seen a bass that would have been seven or eight or more... and I tend to believe her. She said the only larger bass that she has ever seen in person were in the display tanks at Bass Pro Shops. I also saw some sizable Longnose Gar that were staging to spawn... two big females in the neighborhood of 5 feet long with several smaller 3 to 4 foot males hanging around them.

I tried in vain to tempt a bass to bite on the surface, but only drew interest from tiny Bluegill that couldn't take my size 4 Stealth Bomber. Kelly fished a smaller popper and managed to take the first fish of our year on the surface... you guessed it... a Bluegill.

I managed to catch another species of Lepomis that we don't encounter too often... mostly because we don't bait fish with worms around here. I landed this 6" Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus), or "Shellcracker" as we call them in the South, on the Rapala X-Rap.

Nobody told this shellcracker he's supposed to eat snails.

The other noteworthy event from this trip was that Kelly landed the first Smallmouth of the year- caught on a Rapala Husky Jerk.

14 inches of bronze for 2014!

Things are definitely starting to heat up. We'll be wading and fly fishing with poppers (and Stealth Bombers) in a matter of just a few weeks now... and after the winter we've had, I can hardly wait.

Kelly reminded me that I was actually the one who caught the first surface fly fish of the year... which was a small Bluegill (obviously not very memorable), and that she also caught an 11" bass on the surface. My memory is failing me... or I just selectively remember the really good stuff. I guess I need to consult with her to get the story straight before I click "publish" from now on.

Monday, March 24, 2014

First bass of 2014 on the fly!

It's seems like it came much later than last year, but looking back at the first bass on the fly for 2013... we actually beat it by one week and one day. Winter has really dragged out this year, and it looks like we have at least a few more days of cold weather ahead.

It was just warm enough on Saturday that Kelly and I decided to go wade our local urban creek. We chose a spot on the stream that I have affectionately called "Dowisetrepla." If you're a fan of HIMYM, you know what I'm talking about already. For the rest of you... you'll just have to click the link. Let's just say we take showers when we're finished wading in this particular spot... better safe than sorry.

So here it is... in all 10 inches of its glory...

The fish was caught on a black bead head woolly bugger (I believe a size 8) using my vintage Browning Boron fly rod. I plan to do a post at some point in the near future on my Browning fly rods... so if you like those sort of posts, stay tuned. I also tried a small Stealth Bomber in vain... apparently no one was brave enough to break the surface to eat yet.

Kelly opted for the ultralight and the 4" Powerbait worm, which turned out to be a pretty good decision. She caught several more (and larger) than I did as is expected.

I knowingly handicapped myself in hopes of being the one to land that first bass of the year on the fly (while quietly reassuring Kelly of her ultralight choice and suggesting that my use of the fly rod was futile).

Last year she got it, but not this go around.

I win.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lure review: Rapala X-Rap and X-Rap Shad

Still waiting for ideal conditions to break out the fly rods and poppers for bass, we once again resorted to the dark side last weekend and fished conventional lures. We had a pretty good day on Saturday, fishing from the kayaks in a feeder creek of Pickwick Lake in northwest Alabama. We didn't catch any big ones, but Kelly caught 13 bass and I caught 9... outfished by a girl as usual.

One of my goals for the day was to test out some new (to me) lures made by Rapala. I admit not noticing when these lures were first released because I pay more attention to fly fishing than this sort of stuff. I only recently discovered the X-Rap by accident because I was looking for Rapala Husky Jerk lures in a retail outlet... and there the X-Rap was. It has been called the "perfect lure" by some fisherman. From what I can tell the X-Rap hit the market about a year and half ago... so I apologize for my belated review, but here we go anyway. (Post publishing UPDATE: According to a friend who worked at Bass Pro, this lure was introduced in late 2005... so this review is really, really belated. Oh well.)

Accodring to the Rapala website, the X-Rap has all of the following features...

  • Slashbait® Action
  • Suspending on Pause
  • Textured Translucent Body
  • Internal Holographic Foil
  • 3D Holographic Eyes
  • Internal Long-Cast System (XR04 excluded)
  • Stainless Steel Through Wire Construction
  • VMC® Black Nickel Hooks
  • 3D Holographic Eye
  • Flash Feather Teaser Tail
  • Hand-Tuned & Tank-Tested

I believe the lure lives up to all of those descriptors... except for the first and possibly most important of them all... the registered trademark "Slashbait® Action."

According to the website, "the angler defines the cadence for maximum effectiveness." So, maybe I just wasn't doing it right. I tried several different retrieval techniques, but for me it just din't move so magically in the water. Don't get me wrong, I liked the action that I did see, which was reminiscent of the greatest Rapala lure of all time (in my humble opinion)- the Husky Jerk ("Tennessee Shad" color pattern to be specific). I have declared my affection for the Husky Jerk previously on this blog, and from what I can tell Rapala may be phasing this lure out. They're becoming increasingly hard to find in retail outlets. They're also holding their value on Ebay... I know I've been looking, and they're worth their weight in gold if you ask me.

The X-Rap seems to be the logical successor to the Husky Jerk based on circumstantial evidence... similar body shape, action, and suspending qualities as well as being on the first page of lures on the Rapala website while the HJ has been pushed down to page 6, the next to last page. I should also mention that the X-Rap has a higher pricetag than the HJ ever did... and we're not just talking about inflation here. Aside from the overall more modern realistic look of the X-Rap, I find this to be one of the most notable differences.

The X-Rap works!

I also tried out the X-Rap Shad (a new and improved version of the ol' Shad Rap), which has a different profile but mostly similar features to the X-Rap, although they don't claim it to have the same "Slashbait® Action"... instead it is called "Xtreme Attitude Action"... which I find to be quite silly. This crankbait has no more extreme attitude than any other similar crankbait I have ever fished. Don't get me wrong, I like it a lot... I just don't think the silly description of its action is necessary. It does have good action and swims very well... no need for overstating what it does.

The X-Rap Shad works too!

The best fish of my day was landed on the X-Rap Shad. The color pattern I used was "Olive Green"- the closest I could find to my favorite "Tennessee Shad."

Upside down... the kayak angler's perspective

I would definitely recommend both the X-Rap and the X-Rap Shad to other bass anglers. As with all lures, they may not be the best choices on any given day or in any given situation, but they outfished everything else I tried last weekend (lipless crankbaits, plastic worm, and spinnerbait). The only thing that kept up with them, and actually beat them, was their Husky Jerk cousin that Kelly was fishing.

Sometimes you just can't beat a classic... Rapala, are you listening?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

DIY: A rod rack shelf for the other rods

I'm not as proud of this project as I am of my fly rod tube rack, but it serves a purpose... definitely a bit more function over form. Thanks to a rekindled interest in fishing with lures too heavy to be cast with a fly rod, I decided about six months ago it was time to build some sort of rack to organize the growing number of non-fly rods. Several of these rods are one piece (6' or longer) with no protective case... very different from the rods organized by my fly rod tube rack.

The inspiration for this piece came from two sources- the wire rod rack shelves that are readily available at the big box outdoor outfitters and a wooden shelf I saw at a local thrift shop. This project was my attempt to synthesize those two things.

First, I acquired the nifty piece of wood that made the bases of the rod racks on each side of the shelf. They are cut from a factory milled wooden deck railing. The baluster recesses were just right to receive a fishing rod handle. I went to Home Depot with a vision... not knowing exactly what I would buy... until I found this piece of wood. I instantly knew I had found what I was looking for... the Holy Grail of an uncertain quest.

I went home and almost immediately cut the railing down into two equal pieces- one for each side of the shelf... and then the project sat on a back burner for about four months during the course of moving into our new house. As soon as I got the garage workshop somewhat operational (it's still not quite fully functional), this was one of the first orders of business. It's an important piece of furniture in our obnoxiously fishing themed spare bedroom... critical to organizing the disorganized mess of rods that had been carefully leaned in the corners of the room.

In a quest to acquire the right piece of wood to make the box, I found a unique piece of plywood at Lowe's. It was a  4' x 8' sheet of 5/8" sheathing (low grade plywood- not intended for cabinetry)... supposed to be pine, but a layer of poplar at the mill snuck its way onto this sheet somehow. I don't know exactly how things work in a plywood production facility, but I did work in the lumber department at Home Depot... and I know that this isn't normal. This sheet was special, so I snatched it up. I used it to make the exterior of the shelf, while the interior shelves are made of some plywood leftovers from another project.

The color variation in the poplar gives this piece a lot of character.

The most frustrating part of the project came when I began trying to install the first set of rod retaining hooks I purchased for the project. Much like the wood railing... I thought I had found the perfect piece of hardware for the job, but that turned out to not be the case. I tried to use "safety" cup hooks that have little spring clips that essentially close the hooks. They're readily found in the hardware sections of home centers and even Walmart... but beware! They're made out of some really cheap "pot metal" that breaks easily... as I quickly found out when trying to align the hooks how I wanted them. Turning them just a wee bit past their first point of resistance broke the screws off very easily. I eventually gave up on the safety cup hooks and installed the hooks you see in the photo above. The rods are now just leaned into the hooks... but I would much prefer them to be securely held in place. It's a compromise.

I finished the piece with several coats of clear semi-gloss spar urethane- a very smooth and durable finish. If you're interested in further details or dimensions, please comment below.

Thanks for checking it out.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014 Bassmaster Classic: a report from a bass fly fisher

If you ask me about my favorite fish to pursue with a fly rod, I will invariably answer you with some species of the genus Micropterus- one of the black basses. In the past I would have quickly answered "Smallmouth," but now that I live in Alabama, and I've experienced fly fishing for Alabama Bass and Redeyes, they've achieved similar status in my mind. Wading a creek for river bass is my idea of fly fishing fun... and I'll always enjoy fly fishing for stillwater bass from a kayak or boat.

To make this very clear- I am a bass fisherman, even though I may not be "conventional" in my preferred method or choice of tackle. I know a lot about bass fishing, and although I prefer a fly rod, I actually have a lot of experience fishing lures with spinning and baitcasting gear...

but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced on Saturday- the Bassmaster Classic daily "weigh in" at the Birmingham Convention Center Arena.

The fishing took place on Lake Guntersville, but the daily "weigh ins" were staged over an hour away in the sports arena of the big city... because there is no such venue near the lake. A big arena was necessary to accommodate the hordes of fans that came to the weigh ins... literally from around the world. I saw a handful of Japanese fans there to support their professional bass fishing compatriots... clearly not from Alabama.

It was a cultural experience that I will never forget.

As I tried to describe it to my friends on Facebook... "Try to imagine a Nascar rock concert with fish."

I've seen these sort of events on TV before, but I admit that I'm not a follower of professional bass fishing... or any professional fishing tour for that matter. It's too painful to watch others get paid to go fishing for a living... and always think to myself, "I could do that."

"We have a new leader!"

There was also a free fishing expo held in conjunction with the Classic.

Gratuitous metal flake bass boat photo

Kelly and I made it a point to seek out all of the booths for companies with strong ties to fly fishing... but that doesn't mean we found much that was actually fly fishing related.

We only found two actual displays of fly rods- one at the St. Croix display and one by TFO. We appeared to be the only ones who showed any interest in these seemingly out of place sticks.

We also found the Simms display where they were promoting their rain gear and other non-fly fishing, bass-oriented fishing apparel.

Kelly even tried on a ProDry GORE-TEX rain suit and got in the Gore mobile rain room to try it out.

Ready to face the elements

Bring on the wind and rain!

One of the Simms guys was kind enough to give us a couple of camo baseball caps, and I'll be giving one away for anyone who is still reading. In the photo below, I am modeling the cap with my old Simms guide shirt while holding my first bass of the year- caught at Lewis Smith Lake on a spinnerbait on Sunday. Finally.

First bass of 2014... sadly not caught on a fly

If you are interested in a FREE Simms camo cap, be the first to leave a comment below with a correct link to any post where I've previously mentioned Simms gear on this blog. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Signs of Spring

Liquid precipitation.


The return of migrant birds.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) with nestlings

Snakes emerging from their winter hibernacula.

Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus)

The resumption of insect activity.

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera) nymphs

All classic signs of springtime in the South.

And then there's this...

Only the essentials- a fishing license and bait

Found on an Alabama creek bank on a Sunday afternoon in mid February.

A sure sign spring is drawing near.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

L.L. Cool Beans

I'm gonna knock you out 

Mama said knock you out

Wait a second...

where was I going with this?

Oh yeah... L.L. Bean... sorry I got a little sidetracked with my attempt at a catchy title... partly Mike's fault.

Anyway... getting back on track... 

Ever since I've had an interest in fly fishing, I've been obsessed with L.L. Bean.

I remember getting L.L. Bean catalogs in the mail as a youth and drooling over hiking boots, Teva sandals, canoes, backpacks, all sorts of other outdoor gear, and sometimes even clothing. On rare occasions, I was lucky enough that mom would actually break down and buy something for me. The items we were able to afford were usually on sale. I didn't grow up wealthy... and I still shop for bargains out of necessity.

When and where I grew up (1990s Memphis, Tennessee), believe it or not, L.L. Bean was really cool. It was something of a status symbol. Every cool kid at school had a Bean Deluxe backpack with their initials embroidered on it... and who could forget the Bean Anorak of the early '90s? I eventually got a Deluxe backpack, but not until I was almost finished with high school (Class of '96). Unfortunately, I never got a Bean anorak. I imagine if I did, I would still have it. I still have the Baxter State Parka that I got when I was in 9th grade. It still fits (it was too big for me back then), and I still wear it on the coldest days... it's the warmest coat I own.

Not only was L.L. Bean cool, but the gear they made was good stuff... like the Baxter State Parka that I'm still wearing twenty years later. Way back in the '80s and '90s, most of their products were American made as far as I can remember, and they were built to last. On top of that, L.L. Bean had a very generous return policy, excellent customer service, and they stood behind their products- replacing them if they were defective or otherwise unsatisfactory. It's been so long since I've ordered anything directly from L.L. Bean that I can't currently speak for any of those once commendable attributes. I would like to believe that some things haven't changed.

Baxter State parka and my first piece of Bean fly fishing gear

I still have the first piece of fly fishing gear that I got from L.L. Bean... circa 1995. It was an Angler-1 reel; Bean's entry level model made in the good ol' USA by Martin. My mom let me get it because it was on sale. It was a great reel for a young fly fisher. It was tough as nails, and it's still around today as a testament to its durability. I've replaced a couple of screws over the years that were lost while afield... and at some point the mounting foot started coming loose, and my machinist uncle helped me reattach it- we retapped and put in slightly larger screws. I obviously didn't pay close attention to the condition of my gear when I was younger... thank goodness some of it was well made.

That first reel started my love affair with Bean fly fishing gear. My first fly fishing waders were a pair of Bean's Flyweight... also purchased on sale. Over the years I've acquired several more Bean reels and rods as well as an Emerger wading jacket thanks to Ebay. The collection includes a 9' 7/8 wt bass fly rod that was supposedly owned by Dave Whitlock (I broke the tip back in '07 and have yet to repair it), a 9' 5 wt SPT ("Smooth Power Transfer"- Loomis made), an 8' 6" 5 wt GQS ("Guide Quality Series"- Loomis made) with GQS Disc 4/5 reel (Hardy made), two Guide Series reels- 200 & 300 (J.W. Young made), and a 9' 7 wt Orion rod with matching Orion reel (I believe this to be one of the last Loomis made Bean rods- later Orion rods were "Imported"). I also have 2 more recent Streamlight #3 reels and a spare spool. Here's most of it...

Burled walnut reel seat- they don't make 'em like they used to.

GQS Disc reel (Hardy made)- the wear shows it's a favorite

Guide Series reels (J.W. Young made)

Orion reel- this one has seen a lot of action

Streamlight reels and spare spool

I still look for old Bean fly gear on Ebay, but I feel like something was lost when one of the last great American fly tackle companies moved (most if not all) production to China. Unfortunately for loyal L.L. Bean gear hounds, "imported" doesn't equal a Hardy reel from England anymore... and I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment.

To answer Troutrageous! Mike's recent question regarding "why L.L. Bean gear isn't discussed more in fly fishing circles?", I think the fly fishers of this generation who discuss such things have little recollection of what L.L. Bean fly gear used to be- quality tackle made by top notch manufacturers. Bean is definitely not the leader in the industry that they once were, and I don't believe the "imported" element is gaining them any ground among serious fly fishers... especially those who buy high end gear. I think there may also be a perception among the younger crowd that L.L. Bean is an old company that makes duck boots, and since they don't focus on fly gear like Orvis always has, their fly fishing gear must be garbage.

Such was not always the case...

and I still like to remember when L.L. Bean was synonymous with quality fly fishing equipment.

This post was inspired by Mike's recent post on Troutrageous! I gotta give credit where credit is due. Like Mike, I would still love to get my hands on a Pocket Water outfit and take it for a test drive. I know that rod has gotten good reviews, and I admit being curious about the current quality of Bean fly gear, but I'm not willing to spend the money for what could be a serious disappointment compared to the Bean gear of days gone by.

I have no desire to ruin my high regard for L.L. Bean fly gear...

and I still like to think I'm cool beans with an L.L. rod and reel in hand.