Category Archives: Fishing

….and Novacane Runs Through it.

Dental surgery – it needs a silver lining.

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I go to a dentist about 2 hours from my house. He’s based in the town I grew up in, and where my parents live. He’s very good, and I like him, which is why I drive the two hours. Naturally,  I scheduled the appointment in such a way that I could fish the Brandywine while I was in town.

After an hour of fly shop chatter over at Marblehead, I waded into the cool river. I’d planned on wet wading in shorts, but the guys at the shop had told me it was running cool this year. Too cold after a couple of hours wet wading. Thankfully I’d prepared, and so the waders tucked into the back of my truck tightened against my legs as the water got deeper. The entire right side of my head was numb. I’d had an absurd adventure trying to eat a sandwich with the novacane still working it’s magic, and now I was standing in a river realizing how much I relied on my mouth for tying knots in small tippet. There I am, gumming away at the line with no feelings in my lips or tongue to indicate where to bite.

Only my third trip to the river, I’d yet to catch what anglers come here for – smallmouth. I’d caught a ton of panfish here, including one beautiful, vivid rock bass – caught them on streamers, but mostly on poppers – fishing the surface of the river, casting against the bank and letting the bug ride the rip or bounce off the tree branches, or stripping it back while bluegills and redears slapped and swiped at it.

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It was Wednesday, and I had the river to myself. When you round the bend south of the parking lot, you are standing in a canyon of old trees. There are a pile of boulders in the center of the river – this is where I caught the rock bass. Nothing in view is man made. You could be in Colorado, or Wyoming. But you’re 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington, where this very river will run besides a park, and in the shadow of buildings, bridges and old factories before meeting the Christina, and out to Delaware Bay, where I fish the flats.

Today, the Bluegill provided endless fun, and a little smallmouth ended the drought. Just a tiny fish, but I put the slider in the right place – just before that branch on the falling tree – just where it would ride the current around the obstruction. That would be a good place for a fish, I’d thought. And it turned out it was. I caught a few smallies in this spot, and a ton of brightly colored, hard fighting little gills. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t feel his face.

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Filed under Bluegill, Brandywine, Bug, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Poppers, Smallmouth Bass

South Florida Dispatch

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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.

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Filed under Fishing, Florida, Places, Red Fish, Snook, Tarpon

Proceed.

(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.

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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…..

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Filed under Fishing, Florida, Places, Saltwater, Seasons, Spring

The Slump.

slump  (slmp)

intr.v. slumped, slump·ing, slumps

1. To fall or sink heavily; collapse: She slumped, exhausted, onto the sofa.
2. To decline suddenly; fall off: Business slumped after the holidays.
b. To perform poorly or inadequately: The team has been slumping for a month.

3. An extended period of poor performance, especially in a sport or competitive activity

I’ve heard it said that the first thing one must do to confront a problem, is to admit that one exists. Well, I can confirm that one exists. By my watch, today is the 21st day of the new year, and I’ve yet to catch a single fish. I’m mortified to have told you that, but for one to move forward, one must come clean. So I’m told.None of my shame is to be associated with a lack of effort. In the new year, I’ve fished farm ponds for bass, spillways for crappie, lakes for pike, beach fronts and inlets for stripers, and creeks for trout. I’ve come up empty every time, and I’m getting tired of it. Certainly decreased catches are expected as winter sets in, and fish become more lethargic and I spend less time outdoors. Fishing has always slowed for me at this point on the calendar, but it’s never thrown the brakes on quite like this. The other day, I went to a reliable pan fish pond with a reliable set of flies, just to get a bend in the rod and break the slump. Needless to say, the slump is still alive.

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.

 

“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hitting”. – Yogi Berra
Quite, Yogi. Quite.
Yogi was full of these kind of one liners. Little nuggets of nonsensical wisdom that didn’t always make sense but always made everyone laugh. But here, he has a point. I may not have made contact in the last twenty days, but I haven’t stopped going to the water. Maybe an attitude adjustment is in order – I’m not in a slump, I’m just not catching fish.
“To cure a batting slump, I took my bat to bed with me. I wanted to know my bat a little better.”Richie Ashburn

When the late Richie Ashburn is quoted, I pay attention. When you are a dedicated Philadelphia Phillies fan, as I am, Ashburn holds a special place in the baseball corner of your heart, even though I could never have seen him play. Ashburn was the center fielder of the 1950’s Phillies known as the Whiz Kids, had a lifetime batting average over .300, and was the man who gunned down the Dodger’s Cal Abrams with a rocket toss to home plate, preserving the tie game and setting the stage for Dick Sisler’s pennant winning moon shot.
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.
“We are in such a slump that even the ones that aren’t drinkin’ aren’t hittin’.” – Casey Stengel

Ahh, Stengel. Not a favorite of mine for his time between the lines, but more so for his quick wit and charisma. This is, after all, the man who once claimed to having been fired for turning 70 years old, and remarked that he would “never make that mistake again.”
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.
“If I’m in a slump, I ask myself for advice.” – Ichiro Suzuki

…..What?

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” – Hank Aaron

Well, Hammerin’ Hank knows adversity beyond, you know, “wah, I can’t catch a fish”. And in the end, all you can do is keep swinging. Keep showing up, keep casting, keep fishing. Simple as that.
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…..

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Filed under Baseball, Fishing, Nonsense

FLA.*

Florida Flats

Florida Flats

(* – 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.

Tampa Bay on the Fly

Tampa Bay on the Fly

Locals tying flies

Locals tying flies

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,

The point at Fort Desoto.

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.Camera 360 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 Camera 360someone 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 Camera 360keep 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…..

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Filed under Fishing, Fishy Water, Florida, Fly Shop, Grouper, Porgy

A Small Pond.

Tucked away amongst the trees of a state managed wildlife preserve, and just a quick back-road ride from my home, there is a pond that everybody ignores. It’s not for lack of traffic – the walkers, runners, hunters and transitioning boaters pass me by every time I’m there. Many ask about the fishing. I’m honest, and tell them I catch bluegills here. They sigh with disappointment or nod knowingly, and carry on. In the year or so that I’ve been frequenting this pond, I’ve yet to share the bank with another angler.

The disappointment of the curious passer-by may lie in an unfulfilled promise, or an idea of good intention that simply didn’t take. Nearby, a yellowed and weathered piece of paper stapled to a sign board speaks of the attempts of the state to stock largemouth bass and catfish here. There is a diagram indicating how makeshift underwater structure was created to keep the bass happy, and that these would be marked with a float to both avoid snags and to point out exactly where the fish probably are. Either way, I’ve fished this water high and low and never so much as sniffed a largemouth. Perhaps the idea of marking the spot where a fish should be wasn’t the best of strategies. Perhaps the water and the bass never could quite get along. None the less, in an area with a significant population of bass anglers, they don’t come here anymore.

Quietly, and without notice, things are changing at the pond. I still come here to throw a sneaky pete from a 5 weight in search of bluegill – sunset being the consistent time to take them on top water flies – and the fish deliver. But over the course of the past year I’ve noticed them getting bigger. Certainly not those dinner plates you catch down south – though I wish they were – the pond is producing some of the larger panfish I catch in the area. They put a deep bend in a light rod and can take runs reminiscent of their largemouth cousins, and they strike a popper with determination. I’d stopped hunting for bass in this pond. It was now a place to sneak away to for an hour – a convenient puddle in which to catch a few fish before dinner – but still a valued fishery for it’s stack of tough, and growing gills. But then something happened just a night ago, fishing at sunset. What felt like the  familiar snap of bluegill on a hastily returned popper turned out to be a juvenile bass. I photographed him for proof and quickly let him go, grinning at the prospect of having found a living, breathing bass where it was believed there to be none. I cast again, and caught a second bass, very similar in size to the first. I considered the possibility that the state had once again stocked the water, and made a mental note to find out. Then, I considered the more intriguing possibility – that these bass were not the product of delivery, but perhaps the spawn of a native. Had we all been fooled?

I think I’ll keep this under my hat for a while.

 

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Bug, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Poppers

On the Brandywine.

I’d planned to creep into the Brandywine River a week earlier, but rain had seen to that. A storm moved across the state from the south-west, plodding it’s way out to sea and leaving behind buckets of rain. It would be a near two hour drive north an an overnight with my parents who live nearby, the river would be high and cloudy, and I wanted better conditions. A week would do it, and by the following Tuesday I was winding through the  back roads of Chadd’s Ford on my way to  rendezvous with Terry at A Marblehead FlyFisher, the best place to pick up word from the river, and to my knowledge, the only surviving fly shop in the state of Delaware. Terry had just returned from a trip up north to cast at False Albacore. He had fished for three days, casting a two-handed rod and hooking up with several Albies on just one baitfish imitation which he now kept in a Ziploc bag to show curious customers, it’s hook shank bent and dressing crumpled and abused – a spent fly.

After a round of fishing talk and an examination of his terminally damaged waders, Terry was digging through shelves of flies and pointing out what had been working on the Smallmouth Bass I had come to chase. From streamers to poppers, the only common theme was rubber legs. Anything with rubber legs. I loaded up on crayfish imitations, poppers with enough rubber legs to strangle themselves, bait fish imitations, and woolly buggers with……rubber legs. Armed with tips, directions, information and ammunition, I thanked Terry and promised to send saltwater reports from down south, and set out for river.


After parking in the wooded lot and throwing on my waders and sling pack, I picked up the trail Terry suggested I follow to a good drop-in point on the steep banks of a low running Brandywine. I found the narrow confluence I was looking for and stepped down onto the rocky creek bed. Only a few feet in, the river reached in to the alcove and I waded in ankle deep water as juvenile panfish scattered in every direction in the gin clear water. Targeting smallmouth, I started on the surface. A blue heron was at rest on the far bank, and, taking him as a good omen – not to mention an indication of fish – I cast a sneaky pete popper onto the faster moving water along the bank – a process I was to repeat in several pools and runs along the banks for the next 30 minutes without so much as an indication of feeding bass.

I waded downstream and, looking ahead, noticed an area of light ripples on the otherwise glassy river surface. The glare prevented me from identifying what structure lay ahead – it turned out to be several large boulders – but casting the popper just before the ripples and letting it drift over the turbulence prompted a soft, slurping take.  The rod bent and I thought I’d hooked into a smallmouth. Yet to catch one on the fly, and having never tried, I was anxious to hook up early, but as the fish came to hand I could see I hadn’t hit my target. None the less, I had a Rock Bass on the line. I’d also somehow managed to avoid catching one of those before, too.

I walked a good length of the river that afternoon – casting to downed trees, rock piles and rips, and still haven’t managed to check the smallmouth bass off of my list. I know they are there. I usually walk away from such an event with some inclination, or excuse, if you like, about why I didn’t catch what I was fishing for. Usually there is a condition to consider, a case of inappropriate equipment, an unavoidable obstacle. On this day, I was out of ideas. It is my inclination to blame user error, or just one of those days, but in hindsight I can’t think of anything I’d have done differently. I cast floaters, slider, poppers, streamers and bugs. I fished deep and high, fast and slow. I exhausted my options, and eventually, my time on the river.  I burned the remaining light of day casting poppers to a stack of bluegills I’d found while probing for bass earlier in the afternoon. I caught plenty of fish, but the smallmouth remains unchecked. A matter of time.

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Panfish, Poppers, Woolly Bugger