I was hoping to report the days fishing in this space, as it happened. A foolish idea in hindsight. When I have the time and space and the comfort of home, I look forward to recounting the last few days. The fishing has been, by all accounts, very slow. That, and a day full of less then optimal weather conditions did not, however, dampen the spirits of my fellow anglers and their respective guides. Tarpon have been sighted, dramatically so, but not caught. Red fish and snook have not been so lucky, but have been returned safely to the warm Florida waters. We are having a damn good time.
(It’s been quiet around here. This blog tends to roll with the seasons, and looking at the slow rain outside, I realize we’ve only just emerged from a long, cold winter. When the ponds and creeks were frozen over, and the saltwater catch slowed to nothing, I took time to do many things other than fishing, including starting a business and working on some other projects. Now, despite the weather, spring is here and the fishing is good, and only looks to get better. Thanks for sticking around – Neil)
I decided this year to spare you the “Spring has Sprung” post. Although a staple of fishing blogs, being the seminal season for anglers, even I was tired of the concept. Yes, the Osprey’s arrived, the Henbit bloomed and the horseshoe crabs have appeared. It’s all quite wonderful, but time isn’t in abundance as it once was. So down to business, it is…..
Striped bass, bluefish and flounder are all being caught in keeper sizes and numbers along the beaches here in southern DE. The reports from the trout waters up north have all been positive, although the shad have not yet shown in big numbers. I’ve been capitalizing on all the above, but it’s the warm, clear waters of Florida that are calling me now.
I’m 24 hours from boarding a plane bound for the gulf coast, and Boca Grande. I am participating in a catch & release tournament – a charitable benefit in pursuit of redfish, trout, snook, and tarpon. Gear is being prepped as best as can be by an angler stepping into somewhat unfamiliar waters.
The particular brand of jitters I’m experiencing is a combination of several undeniable truths:
Travel – I like traveling, do it as often as I can, enjoy flying (for the most part), and am not the kind to bitch about a 3 hour hop to sunshine and blue water. That said, any time I travel, the 48 hours before departure are always a quiet meditation – running checklists of gear, clothing, identification, flight numbers and departure times.
Fishing with a guide – I’ve never done it. Although I’m expecting to be assigned a helpful, professional guide who understands I’m in town for charity and fun, you never know. I also have no idea if this guide will think I cast like a slob and should probably never be allowed near a fly rod. I think this comes from having never had a formal lesson in fly casting. As a self taught angler, I’m always self conscious that what I’m doing looks like hell to a trained professional. I also don’t want to sink a 1/0 hook into his boat. Or him, for that matter.
Tarpon – Redfish and snook excite the hell out of me. To be truthful, those two species are the ones that I’m most anxious to chase, but let’s face it. I’m the minority. Most of these guys want to hook into a 150lb tarpon. Don’t get me wrong – so do I. But I fear I’m improperly armed. I’m heading down with an 8wt and a 6wt. A 150lb fish sounds like 10wt game to me. Also, it’s tarpon. A legendary, revered target of fly anglers. If I do get a shot at one, I really don’t want to screw it up.
Despite by grumblings, I remain optimistic and excited. Not long now, it;s good fishing, cool drinks and pleasant accommodations. Did I mention I was invited, and therefore expenses are covered? That helps, too.
I’ll be reporting back on these pages every evening. My posts may be short until I can return home and soak in the experience to the degree required to get a decent account on paper.
Good to see you again. Let’s go fishing…..
3. An extended period of poor performance, especially in a sport or competitive activity
I went looking for advice in the only place I knew I could get some: Not from Lefty Kreh or Tom Rosenbaur, but from the only people that seem to understand the seemingly unshakeable slump, who feel it’s icy grip, and who know how to turn things around – Baseball, and it’s players.
Quite, Yogi. Quite.
While all of this is true, I’m not sure I’m going to bring my rod to bed. Sure, getting to know the my rods better is always a good idea, but I think I can do a better job of accomplishing this along a stretch of water.
All of this, of course, is a way of saying I would, but the bed is not mine alone, and the lady who shares it with me will not share it much longer, should she find herself snuggling up to a 5wt.
Stengel’s theory here suggests that the drinkers on the squad a re the first to fall victim to the slump. I don’t know about that, but I do know of a friend, five years sober, who showed me a picture of a monstrous bass he caught last week. Something to think about? Nah. I refuse to believe there is any correlation between tee totaling and catching fish. 90% of the fisherman I know manage to obliterate that theory on a regular basis.
I’m tempted to tell you of how former Cubby Mark Grace suggests one break his slump. I’ll let you decide if you want to explore that little crude, yet hilarious manner of “slump-busting” on your own. Needless to say, I prefer to keep toiling in fish-less-ness until the slump is well and truly busted. This too, shall pass…..
(* – written upon returning from Florida in late November, 2012.)
The wish was that, upon returning from my trip to Florida, I’d be posting a glorious photograph in this space of myself, hoisting a silver and gold red fish with a fly rod in my teeth. The clear Florida waters would be glistening behind me, lapping against a white sand shore line of mangroves and palm trees. Not to be, it seems.
My time fishing was limited, but I expected as much, and that was fine. Fishing wasn’t the priority on this short vacation to Treasure Island, just south of Tampa Bay, FL. I was there to spend time with my brother, catch a show, and escape the creeping cold of my home waters, just for a moment. With those objectives accomplished, I was able to sneak away for a while with my fly rod. With so much water around me, the question was….where?
Internet research will take you so far. You can get the general idea of what to fish for, flies to use, leader lengths and the like. Specific information on where to fish is different. The internet hasn’t changed this aspect of the game – the local knowledge is still the best. Knowing this, I looked up local fly shops, and found Tampa Bay on the Fly, and pointed the rental car in it’s general direction.
Once the woman who lives in my phone guided me safely to the shop, I walked in to find owner Enver Hysni and a friend sitting at the fly tying table.
Tying is encouraged at Enver’s store, as was demonstrated by the heaps of hackle, marabou and hooks scattered all over the large table in the center of the shop. The guys greeted me warmly, asked me if I wanted a drink, and then asked just who the hell I was and what the hell was I doing there?
I explained that I had a fly rod and no idea what the hell to do with it, and where I was staying. Without a word, Enver grabbed a map and a pen, and a local fishing guidelines book, laid it all out on a glass display counter, and began marking it up with a pen. It turns out a stretch of park land, just 20 minutes south of my hotel, could be a good place to find cruising reds. I loaded up on local flies, some odds and ends I can’t get near my home, and a few leaders, lead eyes and a selection of other random flies I could put to use. When you encounter such friendly people who take the time to load you up on so much local knowledge, you find a way to pay them back as best you can. You buy stuff. It’s just good etiquette.
Fort Desoto Park lies at the south end of a slither of land that stretches through Mullet Key Bayou. Despite being home to a civil war era fort and beautiful mangrove lined lagoons, I was here to fish the grass beds of the south east beaches. After stringing up a rod and pulling on my waders, I crested the small rise that blocks the ocean view from the parking lot, and was immediately greeted with the acrobatics of Mullet Key’s namesake. Breaching and leaping mullet fish of significant size were jumping out of the water in all directions. Knowing these were not the best species to try to catch on the fly, I tied on one of Enver’s Redfish Wasp flies and waded in,
shuffling my feet for rays, as instructed.
I caught two fish that day. One was a small lady fish, the second a contender for the worlds smallest tarpon. I didn’t even photograph them, thinking bigger, more impressive fish would eventually materialize. Conditions were less than optimal. I was on a falling tide, and the water was churned up and cloudy. Sight fishing wasn’t an option unless I found tailing fish, but the only tails in the air I found belonged to the abundant mullet. I cast along grass beds, shorelines and sand bars, walked the beach, tried different flies, and came up empty for the rest of the day. It would be a lie to suggest that I didn’t mind my lack of good fishing, but there were several positives to all this. For one, this area is stunningly beautiful. The weather was warm and sunny and the white sand beaches were blinding against the backdrop of blue sky and mangroves and thick palms. I had a mile or so of isolated beach to myself, and I marveled at the sheer volume of birds, fish, lizards and other critters that roam the park grounds. In between futile casts, I took a lot of pictures, took in the landscape, and bathed in warm sun.
The following day, myself, my brother and a few friends woke up with the sun to take a charter boat out of John’s Pass. Today, we would catch many fish. In fact, we would simply loot the ocean without much effort.
After pounding out for over and hour in 4 to 6 foot seas, getting soaked in the early morning chill, our captain handed us those stubby little boat rods and baited them for us. All we had to do was flick a switch and watch the bait tumble down into over 65 feet of water. Then wait. If one of the five in my party did not hook a fish within five minutes, we would move – maybe as short a distance as 100 yards, and drop the lines again. When we encountered a school of red grouper or porgy, we would haul them in by the dozen.
Thank goodness I was on this boat with family, good people, and a nice guy for a Captain, or this would have been miserable. Being amongst friends was fun, and it was interesting to see some fish I’d never seen before, but this trip only confirmed my long-held suspicions about deep sea fishing; that all this bouncing around in a boat for several long hours of dipping a line in and reeling it up again just isn’t my cup of tea. To me, it feels like clubbing seals. It’s too easy, requires no effort unless your the captain, and provides me little -to-no satisfaction. And, as someone that doesn’t mind someone keeping an abundant fish to eat, but releases almost every fish I catch, I found the expediency of it all somewhat off-putting. Fish an inch or so too short to keep were tossed overboard like a Frisbee; pink, swollen swim bladders protruding from their mouths from being yanked from the depths too quickly. Thankfully, fish fit to keep were put to good use, as two of my friends on board were professional chefs employed to cook for a hundred or so people, all of whom will enjoy some variation of grouper for a month.
Ultimately, I’ve chalked the fishing end this trip down south up as a scouting expedition. I like the small town feel of Treasure Island, I know where to go to find fish next time. I know where to get a kayak, and a damn good Cuban sandwich and a beer when the sun sets. I know a good fly shop, and the guy who owns it, and with the exceptionally cheap bars, restaurants, air fare and hotels, I know I’ll be back – next time, only to fish. I’ll get that red fish photo yet…..
Analysis tells me that one of most popular posts to appear on this blog was my review of my Orvis sling pack. It originally appeared a year ago, and since then, it is viewed every day by people who Google the sling pack and seek reviews. As such, I thought it might be helpful to write a follow up.
Since that initial post, I’ve taken that pack on almost every fishing excursion I’ve been on, whether it was ten minutes from home, or several hundred miles away by airline. The Safe Passage has spent countless hours on my back while I waded saltwater flats, cast to the breakers on beaches, crept around trout streams, hunted snook in the mangroves of Florida, and all manners of fishing in between.
So, how is it holding up?
To look at the bag, you wouldn’t know the miles I’ve put on it. Despite it’s exposure to a saltwater environment and being dragged through bushes and trees on the way to rivers and streams, all the exterior components remain intact. No snags, rips, or tears. No discoloration from all the sun, and everything attached externally, including forceps and nippers and D-rings remain as solid and functional as the day I started using them. The nippers are not as razor sharp as they once were, but they’ve chewed a lot of leader.
As time has passed I’ve developed preferences on where things are kept and what to attach to the bag when wading for long periods. I can comfortably carry a water bottle and my landing net on the outside of the bag, and keep the interior free for fly boxes, tippet and other necessities. The locations of the D-rings were clearly well thought out when they developed this bag, as nothing ever gets in the way. I’ve worn it over just a T-shirt, and on top of a heavy layers of coats, sweatshirts and thermals, and with a little adjusting of the strap, you can easily make it comfortable regardless of your clothing.
The on-water performance has been impressive – never hindrance, always accessible and easy to manage. You can be waist deep in saltwater on an incoming tide and still comfortably reach all of your necessary gear by just sliding the bag to your front side. In fact, waist deep water is where this bag has a big advantage over waist packs and vests. The pack rides high up on your back, so I’ve waded very deep without fear of it getting soaked. That said, I’ve also stood in hours of rain and had the items inside remain dry.
I keep the fly box I’m currently working out of in the small front pocket, making it easy to look around in, and also because this is where the foam pad resides. I use this pad, as intended, to store flies on after I use them, instead of placing them into a fly box while wet. This is the only part of the bag showing any wear, as the repeated poking with hooks has left a couple of noticeable spots in the foam – but this is to be expected, the foam is replaceable, and frankly, the wear is so minimal I could go for years without the need to replace it.
Currently, my bag holds two pairs of forceps, my trimmers, a leather leader sheath, six pre-packaged leaders, four rolls of various tippet, A pack of sanitary hand wipes, fishing licenses, hook sharpening stone, a flashlight, two large fly boxes and two smaller boxes for small nymphs and streamers, and there is still plenty of useable space. on many trips, I can also fit my rain jacket, my camera gear and a snack.
A year later, I come away only more impressed with this product as I’ve had time to consider what I’ve put it through and where it’s been. I’ve never been a bother to wear, but on a few occasions, I’ve been hassled by not wearing it. The convenience of having your nippers over your shoulder and your forceps on your chest when the need arises can spoil you, and when you find yourself without, you’ll miss it.
When the good people at Trout Unlimited are not playing a significant role in improving the lives of fish and fisherman, they can occasionally be found chatting with members and followers on their Facebook page.
Just before Christmas, the status of that Facebook page asked readers to submit the last fly they used to catch a trout. The question immediately reminded me of something I’d otherwise forgotten – that when I sent my money to TU for my membership this past summer, they had been running a promotion where my membership fee would earn me a collection of TU swag, including stickers, a hat, and a collection of various and popular trout flies. I was on the TU page to join anyway, not necessarily expecting more than a newsletter in return, but was happy to learn I’d receive a bunch of goodies.
Time passed, and the TU package arrived at my house. Everything promised was included, except the flies. A note inside, I recall, said the flies were in a back-ordered status, and would follow shortly. I stuck a sticker on my stripping basket and promptly forgot about the whole deal .
And then, that question was asked on Facebook, and I remembered I’d never received my flies. I made a smart ass comment- completely in jest, mind you – that I certainly hadn’t used a TU fly because I had not received them yet. I even left one of those winky face things that is now the universal symbol for – “Hey. Just kidding”.
Not fifteen minutes went by before I received an email on my Facebook account from a Brennan Sang – a community manager for TU. He was concerned that I hadn’t received flies and wanted to know how he could help. I sheepishly explained that I was just kidding – I was feeling like a whiner – and that I’d forgotten about the flies, but explained what had happened. He said he wanted to look into it – and just a few short days later, a small collection of trout flies arrived in the mail.
In an era of customer service that ranges from passable to dismal across a myriad of industries, the fly fishing world is pretty lucky. Some of the major rod builders have excellent customer service, as anyone with an expensive broken rod will attest. What TU did for me was a small thing, but the attention to detail and the commitment to make things right even after I’d expressed my relaxed attitude about the whole deal, deserves to be commended. They don’t just want to do great work, they want to do it right. We’re lucky to have them.
I was in the city of Baltimore last night – out for a spectacular dinner followed by a NYE bash at the Hyatt Hotel. Good times were had with good friends – or so I hear…..
Shaking off the cobwebs the following morning, we crossed the street to the Baltimore National Aquarium where I was greeted just inside the front doors by a few hundred brook trout.
I took it as an omen.
All the best for your 2013. Let’s go get our new fishing licenses……