The 17-Year Locust / Dock Light Stripers / Driftboat Muskie / Pointing Dogs
THE FLY FISHING AUTHORITY
Chasin’ TEETH Saskatchewan
~Idaho’s Walleye Invasion ~The Gila Fires
3/6/19 11:26 AM
LIKE NO OTHER
PROUDLY MADE IN MONTROSE, COLORADO ROSSREELS.COM
249095-A1-3.indd 1 AMAMG_190500_0C2-007.indd 2
18/03/19 11:01 3/18/19 4:24 AM PM
MAY/JUNE 2019 • VOLUME 42 / ISSUE 3
38 SASKATCHEWAN You can still catch untouched northerns, and possibly an elusive 50-incher, in the Canadian wilds. —Rasmus Ovesen
46 CASTING FOR SAPIDISSIMA Eating my way through the Delaware shad run. —Stephen Sautner
52 DRIFT TIME Launching a drift boat with Wisco muskies on the mind. —Dave Karczynski
58 NIGHT STRIPES Hitting dock lights at night is sometimes an otherworldly experience. —Zach Matthews
64 ON BLUEGILLS A five-acre backyard and the art of patience. —Reid Bryant
66 SUNFISH & STRAWBERRY WINE A lake to oneself. A jug of Boone’s Farm. And 40 slabs in the cooler. —Jerry Hamza
COVER: Northern pike “skull art” by Golden, British Columbia–based artist Nick Laferriere. nicklaferriere.com
3/4/19 8:50 AM
MAY/JUNE 2019 • VOLUME 42 / ISSUE 3
4 SIGNATURE 6 OUT THERE
Rügen Island pike. Pineview Reservoir muskies. Beaver Island “beauties.”
Capturing natural light in sculpture. —Chris Santella
15 FISH DOG
Jack, on point in Key West. —Jerry Gibbs
Fires torched New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, but its trout remain. —Nick Roberts
18 GUIDE FLIES
A fish freak’s “big three” warmwater patterns. —Scott Sanchez
Rachel Finn’s unique take on life, art, and fish. —Tom Keer
Fish Print Shop memorializes your catch, in full scale. —Ryan Sparks
24 GUIDE SPEAK
When fishing with kids, don’t make it your day.—Nick DelVecchio
Smith + Howler shades; Costa’s shades from recycled nets; Danner and Patagonia’s “lifetime” boots; Traeger’s mega-BBQ —the editors
Hitting the hatch . . . for smallmouths. —Dave Hughes
Bucket biologists may be a scourge, but the walleye fishing is pretty good at Canyon Ferry and Lake Pend Oreille. —Ted Williams
56 PERSONAL HISTORY
Fishing near a tornado brings an angler’s first muskie to hand. —Krissie Mason
Waiting 17 years for a hatch may seem crazy, unless locusts and carp are parts of the equation. —Jim Mize BARRY & CATHY BECK
3/12/19 9:30 AM
136679-XX-24.indd 1 AMAMG_190500_0C2-007.indd 3
9/12/18 3/14/19 12:18:16 3:07 AM PM
SIGNATURE by Greg Thomas
LIKE CANADIAN WOMEN FOR many reasons, one being that some of them can perform a convincing moose call. Immature bull. Mature bull. Even the hot and heavy waning cow call, which is often performed by pinching the nose and creating a sound that bulls find irresistible—these Canadian gals can make them all. And they’re not afraid to demonstrate. Once, at a Canadian media conference, a friend bellowed out a cow call from behind a pillar in the lobby of the San Francisco Fairmont hotel, and from above, somewhere on the second floor I heard a loud, guttural “ugg, ugg” bull call. I looked up, like most people in the lobby, and saw a female acquaintance, who hails from Northern Manitoba’s moose country, hanging over the rail with a big, proud smile on her face. This moose-calling scenario serves my social failings very well. If I can’t muster something interesting to say, I just make a request—hey, let’s hear your moose call. I did just that on a trip to Northwestern Ontario a few years ago, when out of the blue, two lodge gals invited a friend and me to the recreation cabin to shoot pool and tip back the “shotski.” That one of them had just returned from Cuba, with Cohibas in hand, was a bonus. At the time I was on a mission to catch a large walleye on a fly, along with smallmouth bass and northern pike. We found the bass, scads of them, and we landed a few pike, but the weather was much colder than expected—windy, too—and the walleye were tougher than we thought they might be. We trolled in an area called the Narrows, and we stayed out half the night—several times— trying for the “late bite,” all to no avail. Late in the trip, on a lake we’d hiked into, my friend hooked a beast and fought it while I readied a net for the “picture fish.” But just when we thought we might see the giant, the fly pulled free and we both fell to the bottom of the boat, single expletives voicing our disgust. At the end of the trip we’d tallied only two walleye, neither longer than 18 inches, and I had to quickly revise my storyline. When I started fly fishing, I couldn’t see past the next trout or salmon, and had no interest in chasing “warmwater” species, such as those Ontario walleye and bass. I’d seen “the movie” and lived in the Pacific Northwest, and I’d landed kings and 4 I AMERICAN ANGLER
AMAMG_190500_sig masthead.indd 4
steelhead, so heading to a swampy inland lake to catch fish that rarely jump didn’t appeal. However, that changed a bit when I dated a woman from Texas who had an in at Fayette Lake. We flew from Seattle to Austin and ended up catching a half dozen largemouths per day. If those bass could be so much fun, I wondered, what would a 50inch northern pike be like? To find out, I flew to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, and then another two hours on a floatplane, and spent six days in the middle of nowhere trying to find a fish matching that description. I didn’t get a 50-incher, but a friend and I caught, perhaps, 150 pike that week, taking them subsurface on all sorts of streamer flies, and dozens more up top on poppers. In that tannin water, strikes were unpredictable and shocking. These days, I won’t pass up shots at bass and pike, and even carp, when they arrive. I still want to get into a wad of big walleye on the fly and am looking for some intel to do just that. If I am guessing correctly, I fished too deep in Ontario, with a uniform full-sink line, and can picture my fly scraping along the mud instead of riding just a few inches above bottom, where the walleye would have been. Where were the specialized booby tips and flies when I needed them? I rarely fish the same place twice, but I might revisit that Ontario outpost. Babe Winkelman fishes there, so you know the walleye are abundant and big. And I still have a goal to catch a 10-pound-plus walleye on a fly. But there’s still something sour about the whole deal—on that initial visit, I’d arrived early in the season, just after the lodge opened and before they’d set up the hot tub. I can forgive the place for maybe overstating my chances to take a trophy walleye on a fly, but I doubt I’ll ever forget about that broke-down tub. When I look at the lodge’s website today, there’s an image of a guy and a blond gal in that hot tub, one of his arms wrapped around her shoulders, the other grasping a fresh cocktail. All I can think is this: That should have been me on the deck, in the hot tub, with the blonde, drinking a dark and stormy while she directed moose calls away from the lodge and into the crisp, Canadian night air.
John Lunn A S S O C I AT E
(706) 823-3739 • firstname.lastname@example.org EDITOR
Greg Thomas ART
Wayne Knight D I G I TA L
Seth Fields ADVERTISING PRODUCTION C O O R D I N AT O R
Nina Eastman ADVERTISING
Sr. Account Manager Linda W. Wood (717) 329-1128 • email@example.com Crowley Media (216) 378-9811 • firstname.lastname@example.org Cherek Group (307) 635-8899 • email@example.com Buchmayr & Associates (978) 462-6335 • firstname.lastname@example.org Stone Wallace Communications (512) 799-1045 • email@example.com CONTRIBUTING
Zach Matthews, Dave Hughes, Henry Cowen, Philip Monahan, Chris Santella, Scott Sanchez, Will Ryan CIRCULATION
ProCirc: 3191 Coral Way, Suite 510, Miami, FL Kolin Rankin, Consumer Marketing Director, ProCirc Mike Bernardin, Circulation Coordinator, ProCirc Retailers: To carry American Angler, call (646) 307-7765. Subscription Inquiries: (Orders, address changes, problems)
firstname.lastname@example.org www.americanangler.com Back Issues:
A publication of MCC Magazines, LLC, a division of Morris Communications Company, LLC 735 Broad St., Augusta, GA 30901
Donna Kessler Patty Tiberg DIRECTOR OF CIRCULATION Scott Ferguson DIRECTOR OF MANUFACTURING Donald Horton DIRECTOR OF PUBLISHING SERVICES Karen Fralick PRESIDENT
Morris Communications Company, LLC CHAIRMAN
William S. Morris III William S. Morris IV
PRESIDENT & CEO
AMERICAN ANGLER® (ISSN 1055-6737) (USPS 451-070) is published bimonthly by MCC Magazines, LLC, 735 Broad St., Augusta, GA 30901. Editorial offices: 643 Broad St., Augusta, GA 30901. For subscription inquiries, call 1‑800-877-5305. American Angler,® American Angler & Fly Tyer,® Fly Tyer,® and Saltwater Fly Fishing® are registered marks of MCC Magazines, LLC. Warmwater Fly Fishing for Bass & Other Species™ is a trademark of MCC Magazines, LLC. Subscription rates are $21.95 for one year, $41.90 for two years. Canada and Mexico add $20.00 per year (U.S. Funds only). Outside North America add $40.00 per year (U.S. Funds only). Periodicals postage paid at Augusta, GA 30901, and at additional mailing offices. ©2019 MCC Magazines, LLC All rights reserved. Volume 42, Issue 3. PRINTED IN THE USA
POSTMASTER send address changes to AMERICAN ANGLER P.O. Box 433237, Palm Coast, FL 32143-9616
3/12/19 3:22 PM
photo by Nick Shirghio
Made for the sun and those who ďŹ sh.
Designed to go the distance.
7 Mile button-down in pompano plaid and skipjack plaid
136511-XX-69.indd 1 AMAMG_190500_0C2-007.indd 5
The 7 Mile Button-Down Shirt is made of a blended synthetic fabric and designed with hidden back ventilation for optimal airflow. Inspired by the 7 Mile Bridge in the Keys, which covers the longest span of any other in the Keys, this extremely lightweight shirt is all performance and stands strong in all conditions. If you're looking for a shirt that can go the distance look no further.
Get yours @ 12WT.com
3/18/19 3/18/19 11:02 6:23 PM AM
OUT THERE Location: Rügen Island, Northern Germany Target: Northern pike Note: Rügen Island offers some of the most interesting pike fishing on the planet. Here, anglers actually fish pike in the Baltic Sea, which offers a low salinity level that allows these “freshwater” fish to survive. Actually, these pike thrive on a diet of bream and roach, some growing to the magic 50-inch mark and beyond. But Rügen is best known for a quality average size and numbers of fish. The best fishing takes place from September through December, which can be a brutal time to be on the water, with fog and rain often a daily occurrence. Anglers who can take the beating wade shallow flats for as long as they can before the cold drives them off the water. Specs Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R Lens: Canon EF 16–35 mm f/2.8L Film speed: ISO 100 Shutter speed: 1/200 sec. Aperture: f/7.1 Photographer: Matt Harris, mattharrisflyfishing.com
6 I AMERICAN ANGLER
AMAMG_190500_out there.indd 6
3/12/19 9:29 AM
AMAMG_190500_out there.indd 7
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 7
3/1/19 11:45 AM
OUT THERE Location: Pineview Reservoir, Utah Target: Tiger muskie Note: While cruising for bruisers, Ogden resident Casey Birkholz spotted this 40-plus-inch fish on its way to deeper water. Already drifting from left to right, he waited until the fish got a bit deeper before launching a cast. Three doublehauls and six jerky strips later, the beast turned on the fly, gave it a sniff, then disappeared. Luckily, a morning of calm conditions might offer a dozen or more shots before the fish escape the summer sun and head for deeper water. With so many opportunities in Utah (Cottonwood, Johnson’s Valley, Newton and Pineview Reservoirs), Idaho, Colorado, Washington, and even Montana, western anglers know that a trip to “Wiscon-sota” isn’t necessary to get their warmwater toothy-critter fix. Specs Camera: GoPro HERO4 Black Film speed: ISO 100 Shutter speed: 1/170 sec. Aperture: f/2.8 Photographer: Douglas Barnes, nowpicturethis.com
8 I AMERICAN ANGLER
AMAMG_190500_out there.indd 8
3/1/19 11:45 AM
AMAMG_190500_out there.indd 9
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 9
3/1/19 11:45 AM
OUT THERE Location: Lake Michigan’s Beaver Island Target: Common carp Note: Only a mother could love these faces. But if you’re an angler and don’t limit yourself to the sexiest species, carp may take on a different appearance—if you fish them often enough, that mug becomes, well, kind of beautiful. If you’ve never fished carp at Beaver Island, Michigan, you should—this tiny island in the middle of Lake Michigan offers a little Midwest charm mixed with New England coast vibe. And it offers doubles on 20-pound carp. In fact, from late May through August, you might get 20 or more shots on shallowwater carp in a day. Anglers can wade the shallows or use a boat to move quickly between productive areas. Specs Camera: Nikon D3S Film speed: ISO 400 Shutter speed: 1/200 sec. Apprture: f/6.3 Photographer: Tim Romano, @timromanophoto
10 I AMERICAN ANGLER
AMAMG_190500_out there.indd 10
3/1/19 11:45 AM
AMAMG_190500_out there.indd 11
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 11
3/1/19 11:45 AM
READING LIGHT Roger Fowler’s custom sculptures try to capture a fish’s unique light.
NATURAL LIGHT—AND BY EXTENsion, its relationship to color—has long fascinated artists. It was the light of Provence, after all, that brought Van Gogh to Pays d’Arles in 1888. Other painters followed. For Roger Fowler, it was the light from within that drew his attention— more specifically the light that seems to emanate from trout. A desire to capture that light inspired his first sculpture. “Twenty-five years ago, I was working at a job that required lots of travel,” Fowler said. “Our daughter was starting kindergarten, and I wanted to find a way to spend more time close to home. When I was traveling for work, I’d stop into art galleries. Trout were a great interest of mine. I grew up in Texas, but spent summer vacations on the Taylor
12 I AMERICAN ANGLER
River in Colorado, fly fishing with my dad and my brother. The galleries didn’t have many trout sculptures. And those that they had were not any I’d want to own. Every sculpture had an opaque patina that didn’t reflect light. It was the same patina you’d see on mammals. I wanted to see if I could find a way to make trout look more realistic. “I had no artistic training whatsoever,” Fowler said. “I didn’t know about the things you weren’t supposed to do. But it was pretty easy to carve the shape of a trout. And I began experimenting with different finishes to get that reflection I was imagining. After a year, I had a sculpture of a rainbow trout about eight inches long. To me, it looked real. I took
3/4/19 10:04 AM
Fowler’s stainless steel sculptures are owned by an impressive list of people, including Tom Brokaw, Dick Cheney, and George H. W. Bush.
it to a gallery in Albuquerque, where we lived at the time, and they sold it. I made more pieces, and they sold those, too.” For the next few years, Fowler worked on his sculptures while his wife, Cathy, worked outside the home to make ends meet. Once Roger started selling enough sculptures, they made a clean break, moving from Albuquerque to Oklahoma. He and Cathy have worked together in their studio ever since. “Cathy assists me, in addition to doing her own writing and artwork, helping create our wax molds and handling the books,” Fowler said. “She handles a lot of the details that enable me to work on the finishing.”
Handling the details is an aspect of the Fowlers’ work that they take great pride in. Where many sculptors make the initial model of a work and then outsource the remaining steps that lead to a finished sculpture to a foundry (fashioning a mold of the model, making waxes, chasing them, pouring the metal, adding color, welding the sculpture together), the Fowlers are engaged with almost every step of the process. “I work from photos as source material, often ones I’ve taken of fish I’ve caught and released,” he said. “All of our work is produced in our studio, other than pouring the hot metal.” To date, the Fowlers’ sculptures have ranged from 8 inches (a desktop rainbow trout that starts at $975) to 84 inches (a sailfish, which costs a bit more). There are many sizes and species in between. “When I began working on bonefish, I was still using bronze,” Fowler said. “But
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 13
3/4/19 10:04 AM
HEADWATERS I couldn’t make it work. That was when I started working with stainless steel.” To date, the Fowlers have produced permit, tarpon, bonefish, Atlantic salmon, redfish, speckled trout, snook, bass, and false albacore sculptures, along with rainbow trout, brown trout, and steelhead. Roger Fowler no longer works through galleries; in fact, every new work starts as a customer request. “We don’t accept any deposits, and we won’t ship a sculpture until a customer has given us their approval,” Fowler explained. “I like to think that this makes it easy for people to order. In twenty-five years, I’ve only had three sculptures come back. And I’ve never had anyone take advantage of our business model. Most of our customers are fly anglers, and they are an honorable group of people.” Most years, the Fowlers complete 40 sculptures. Though they may do limited editions of 10 from
14 I AMERICAN ANGLER
the same casting, Fowler can add nuances— per customer request—to make each piece unique. “After all,” he added, “every fish that swims looks a little different.” Over the years, Fowler’s work has cultivated an esteemed clientele that includes Jack Nicklaus, Tom Brokaw, Dick Cheney, and the recently deceased George H. W. Bush. Though a steady flow of orders often keeps him in his workshop, Fowler certainly makes time to fish. “Thirty minutes from my house there’s some of America’s best winter opportunities for big fish,” he explained. “The outflow from some power plants here draws in big hybrid stripers. I use a two-handed rod and cast overhead with a shooting head and a running line. You’ve got to toss it a hundred feet and get a six-inch baitfish pattern out there fast. People don’t understand how neat these fish are.” In the coming year, Fowler is embarking on a new salmonid project. “I’m starting a limited edition of each of the cutthroat species that are indigenous to the Rockies,” he said, “so people can own a sculpture of the trout they catch close to home. I’m working on a little Rio Grande cutty right now. Trying to get the color right is like trying to paint a sunrise or sunset. I’m having to work really hard.” If their previous efforts are any indication, Roger and Cathy Fowler will get this project right, too. —Chris Santella
3/4/19 10:04 AM
Jack Being Jack
IT WAS AGAINST BETTER JUDGMENT, and I imagined what might happen if we took Jack, even on a lead, where Judy wanted to go—of all places, downtown Key West in the hot afternoon sun. These women. Jack, our French Brittany, is not a townie dog. He’s all business about birds and boats and getting a tongue on a fish, but in social circles he is a notorious ladies’ man. It’s not just that he’s cute; there’s some other aura. Women go all swoony over him. And he eats it up. That’s why I wanted him right where he was, pointing iguanas, batting crabs, and crunching anole lizards behind our rental house. We’d come to the Keys to escape an endless Maine spring, and to hitch some tarpon trips, harvest some snapper, and snorkel off a picnic island where I’d anchor our rental skiff. When doing so, Jack happily swam and snapped at baitfish, keeping cool. But Judy wanted one stroll down Duvall and then a couple backstreets, and dangled payment of my beloved fried hogfish fingers. She broke me, but I was firm: There’d be no sunset carnival stuff at Mallory Square. We’d keep Jack away from Blue Heaven, where chickens scrabble under tables around your feet. If not, Jack would surely add to the on-site rooster cemetery. And, there’d be no lollygagging back of the Southernmost Beach Cafe, watching middle-aged tourists take giggly selfies with the nutcup guy whose dress code consists of a chain mail thong that’d have him escorted away in some places. Oh, and this: I wouldn’t be able to stop in at the Rum Bar,
with its 300-odd flavors. (Audible sigh.) And so we went. We’d just started down Duval Street when I saw the curb-parked SUV plastered with fetching art of a scantily clad lady and signage describing the delights of a strip club. That’s when I nearly tripped over my dog—Jack was locked up. When Jack’s on full point, you can’t move him. He was into it now, not on a stray chicken or some suicidal street cat. He was staring hard right, one foreleg up—just picture the pose from some classic bird hunting painting—and slowly
raising his head. I saw his nose working hard. Judy was trying not to giggle. Up on the porch of an obvious gentlemen’s club, one of the employees—assuredly one of the more attractive—was leaning, rather alluringly, on the railing, taking the air or something. And for the moment it was a perfect tableau, a silent mise-en-scène in the hot sun. Judy whispered in my ear, “Remember that Al Pacino movie?” Oh God, I thought. “Scent of a Woman,” Judy said. She was right. —Jerry Gibbs MAY/JUNE 2019 I 15
3/12/19 9:27 AM
Ashes New Mexico’s Gila trout, after the fires.
THE STORY OF NEW MEXICO’S native Gila trout is one of hard-fought survival. Considering the challenges that species has faced over the last century, it’s truly remarkable that the fish can still be found in its ancestral home, amid the arid mountains of the Gila National Forest. These rare, brilliantly colored relatives of rainbow and cutthroat trout have managed to survive overfishing, habitat loss and degradation, stocking of nonnative trout, and, most recently, fire. In the spring of 2012, the Whitewater Baldy wildfire, New Mexico’s largest on record, burned nearly 300,000 acres of the Gila, eliminating Gila trout from six of the eight streams in the affected area. Flames roared through canyons at up to 60 miles per hour, killing wildlife in their tracks and reducing to ash years’ worth of Gila trout restoration work, including fish barriers and in-stream habitat improvements. A year later, the Silver Fire burned almost 140,000 acres, destroying two more Gila trout populations, dealing another setback to restoration efforts. Countless other Gila trout died in the aftermath of the fires—ash clouded the typically clear mountain streams, and mud and debris carried by rain runoff destroyed fish habitat and decimated aquatic insect life. In total, the fires wiped out 8 of 17 Gila trout populations and nearly 50 miles of vital habitat. “This was a major blow to Gila trout recovery, and the habitat changes in some of these streams were significant,” said biologist Jill Wick, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s Colorado Basin Native Fish Supervisor. But this wasn’t the first time New Mexico’s prized trout had been on the brink. By the late 19th century, habitat degradation, overfishing, and stocking of nonnative trout, which preyed on Gila trout
Gila trout are survivors, having carved out a niche in New Mexico’s arid landscape. When fishing for these trout, don’t expect to catch giants. The scenery and a few 6- to 10-inchers are often the reward for your effort. 16 I AMERICAN ANGLER
3/4/19 10:04 AM
Two additional streams are ‘in progress’— Spruce Creek (3.5 miles) and Whitewater Creek (24.5 miles).” This means excellent fishing awaits anglers in Gila National Forest, especially those willing to lace up their hiking boots and get off the beaten path. There are access points to several productive Gila streams within about an hour’s drive of Silver City, New Mexico, and the historic mining town of Mogollon. Willow Creek flows through the area burned in 2012 and features a campground, horse corral, and a recently completed barrier to keep nonnative fish out
Above: Gila trout rise eagerly to dry flies. Below: Drought and fires are the new way of the West. Fortunately, Gila trout survived New Mexico’s recent wildfires and can still be found in their traditional streams.
of the prime Gila trout habitat. A short 2- or 3-weight rod and a bushy dry fly are the ideal setup for fishing the creek’s pocket water. The scars from the fires will remain for years to come, but thanks to the hard work of the Gila Trout Recovery Team, the fish, whose colors are said to resemble a New Mexico sunset, have made another comeback in their home waters. —Nick Roberts NICK ROBERTS
and occasionally interbred with them, was causing lasting damage. Conservation work began in the 1920s; New Mexico Game and Fish established a hatchery and created a policy that forbade the stocking of nonnative trout into Gila waters. But in the 1950s, despite these early conservation efforts, Gila trout remained in only five streams. During this time, the first Gila trout streams were closed to fishing and they were officially listed as endangered. In the decades that followed, Gila trout were reintroduced to a number of streams after nonnative trout were eradicated. The restoration efforts, now guided by the Gila Trout Recovery Plan (2003), resulted in the down-listing of Gila trout from endangered to threatened in 2006. A year later, select Gila trout streams were opened to anglers for the first time in 50 years. In the wake of 2012’s catastrophic Whitewater Baldy fire, members of the Gila Trout Recovery Team, consisting of professionals from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, sprang to action, evacuating Gila trout from four streams by mule, truck, and helicopter. The team has since restored four of those eight Gila trout populations lost to the fires. “We also gained two new populations where nonnative trout were removed by the post-fire ash flows and we were able to put Gila trout back into those streams,” Wick said. The Gila Trout Recovery Team continues its restoration efforts by removing nonnative species, constructing additional fish barriers, and reintroducing more Gila trout from the Mora National Fish Hatchery. The ultimate goal is to restore Gila trout to the point where populations can sustain themselves without repeated human intervention. “Prior to the Whitewater Baldy Fire there were seventeen Gila trout populations in eighty-six miles of stream,” said Wick. “Currently there are thirteen populations in seventy-six miles of stream.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 17
3/12/19 9:26 AM
When the going gets warm, these flies get hot. WARMWATER FISH IS AN AMBIGUOUS TERM FOR NON-TROUT FRESHWATER SPECIES. THESE fishes’ feeding habits and habitat range widely, making it a challenge for a small group of flies to cover all the potential situations you might encounter when pursuing warmwater species. My core flies to match warmwater species are Conehead the Barbarian, the Sluggo, and the Swamp Monster. I’ve used this set of flies to fool warmwater species in Montana, Idaho, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, California, Hawaii, and Brazil. And the species I’ve fooled with these flies include bass (smallmouth, largemouth, Guadalupe, spotted, white), skipjack, channel cat, freshwater drum, carp, gar, bowfin, pike, pickerel, walleye, perch, sunfish, sucker, striper, and exotics—such as peacock bass, jacunda, trahira, and oscar. These flies also take their share of saltwater fish. So, if I were to whittle down a box of flies for such a variety of species, these are the ones I’d certainly carry . . . and I’d feel as if I had a pretty good chance of hooking fish, no matter where I fished or what I fished for.
his fly was also created during my years in Texas. Damselflies are common warmwater fare, and marabou patterns work for simulating motion. However, they get torn up quickly, and flies tied with the hook point down hang up in vegetation. I traded out marabou for rabbit fur and rubber and flipped the fly over. Thus, the Swamp Monster was born. The tail, body, head, and wing are all made with the same rabbit fur cut off a hide. It can be tied unweighted with plastic eyes, neutral with foam eyes, or weighted with dumbbell eyes or beads of various weights. I match the hook to fish size. It isn’t an exact imitation but close enough, and it is also in the size range of a dragonfly nymph, which is another staple food source for warmwater fish. Olive, brown, rust, and tan are good colors. This is a good choice for non-minnow-eating species. This is my best carp fly. It proved itself at last year’s Johnny Boyd Memorial Carp Classic, in Idaho The fishing was horrible—high water, no wind, and carp looking for love. Not even the Fish Whisperer, Jeff Currier, was hooking fish. With an hour to go, I started seeing fish that weren’t just swimming for exercise. I had some shots but no eaters. Finally, I saw a fish with real estate between its eyes swimming toward me. I was caught in the open, pretending to be a tree. When that big 18 I AMERICAN ANGLER
carp finally angled away, I flipped a Swamp Monster sideways and ahead of it. Did it eat? I wondered. I lifted up and it had. It peeled 100 yards off my 7-weight reel in a few seconds. After a bit, I had the head of the fly line in the guides, but the 2X fluoro broke. Probably would have won the tournament. Bummer I lost it, but not a bummer that I had it on, and hooking that fish in tough conditions only added to the Swamp Monster’s reputation.
Hook: 2X- to 3X-long natural-bend hook, sizes 12 to 6. For carp, use a heavy-wire standard-shank hook. Thread: Chartreuse 140 denier. Tail: Olive rabbit fur. Body: Olive rabbit fur dubbing. Rib: Chartreuse 140 denier. Wing / wing case: Tuft of olive rabbit fur. Legs: Chartreuse rubber. Eyes: Dumbbells of your choice. Head: Olive rabbit fur dubbing.
3/4/19 10:05 AM
Conehead the Barbarian
I Conehead the Barbarian
Hook: Standard-shank saltwater, size 6 to 6/0. Thread: Red Flat Waxed Nylon. Weight: Cone head. Wing: Bucktail, Slinky Fibre, or saddle hackle. Head: Mylar lure tape. Eyes: Stick-on Mylar eyes. Finish: Clear thick UV resin.
came up with Conehead the Barbarian when fishing for stripers and white bass around Austin, Texas. Dumbbell-eyed patterns were effective, but the eyes easily wedged in the hungry cracks of limestone and the riprap found on tailwater streams. To combat this flaw, I opted for a conehead weight and a bendback hook. The next improvement was wrapping the cone with lure tape to form a minnow head and overcoating with epoxy. This gave it a more fishlike profile, and it also made it swim more realistically. Iâ€™ve tied this fly as small as size 6 and as big as 6/0, depending on the size of the quarry. It is a fly that is best thrown onto the bank and then slipped into the water. Bucktail is my first choice on smaller patterns; synthetics, like Slinky Fibre, are good on larger flies; hackle works on all sizes and offers the most action. You can use brass or tungsten cones of various sizes to change head size and weight.
ill Jones needed a fly to compete with his conventional tackle buddies and their large plastic worms and Sluggos. I decided to build that fly. I started with a rabbit fur bendback with the hook impaled through the hide, plastic style. The design was good, but the rabbit strip needed a little more body to keep the hook in place while casting, since hides stretch when they get wet. I put a little clear silicone caulk on the belly of the rabbit hide. This addition helped prevent the hide from stretching, and the rubber texture also helped prevent the hook from slipping out. The coated rabbit looked good, and the soft feel convinced bass to hold on to the fly a little longer. This is a fly that looks like food and fishes cover. Its sink rate can be controlled by using different size beads and cone heads, or by leaving it unweighted. Black, purple, red, and chartreuse are my favorite colors. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
To tie this fly, you will need to prep a rabbit hide. Tack it down on a box or a piece of wood, fur side down. Lightly apply silicone caulk in a zigzag pattern. Spread the silicone out with a plastic spatula or a piece of cardboard. Cut into 3 /8-inch strips. â€”Scott Sanchez
Hook: Up-eye salmon hook, sizes 6 to 2/0. Thread: Red Flat Waxed Nylon. Weight: Cone head. Wing/body: Rabbit hide coated with silicone caulk and then cut into 3/8-inchstrips. Legs (optional): Rubber or silicone. Collar (optional): Mylar chenille.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 19
3/4/19 10:05 AM
Profile PHOTOGRAPHY BY SEAN PLATT
Rachel Finn A guide who does art.
20 I AMERICAN ANGLER
3/4/19 10:05 AM
SOMETIME IN OCTOBER, THE UPSTATE New York winds shift to northwest by north. A thermometer’s mercury won’t climb high for several months, and the accompanying snow and humidity chill everyone to the bone. If you’re looking for fly fishing artist and guide Rachel Finn, you’ll have to visit areas graced by a recent rain. She’ll be the one standing waist-deep in a cold, dark, and gray river, swinging flies for steelhead, landlocked salmon, and big trout. If the streams are frozen, however, she won’t be there. She’ll probably be standing in skinny water on a Belizean flat, sight-fishing for bones, tarpon, and permit instead of swinging for steel. Her life path reminds me of the 1966 movie Endless Summer. But instead of pursuing the perfect set, she focuses on her art and fishing. She’s the head guide at the Hungry Trout in Wilmington, New York, where she’s guided for decades. She’s a staple at consumer and trade shows, and is an ambassador for Patagonia and the American Museum of Fly Fishing. She’s also a pro staffer for Scott fly rods, Nautilus reels, Costa del Mar sunglasses and Airflo lines. Finn recently won the American Museum of Fly Fishing’s prestigious Izaak Walton Award, given to “the most complete angler.” Finn is a gifted athlete, and has applied her physicality to everything she’s done. She was 10 when her family moved from the United States to Florence, Italy. Since there were no girls’ soccer teams, she played on a boys’ team and was named captain. When she returned to the United States, Finn continued playing high school soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. At Skidmore College, she dropped hoops for ice hockey and lettered in three sports.
After sports, she had a 10-year stint guiding weeklong, overnight rafting and fishing trips in Alaska. She chose that remote land for the ultimate challenge, be it grizzlies, a pack of timber wolves, or violently changing weather. That toughness transfers to her off-the-water life, too—she’s worked through two total knee replacements and survived a bout with cancer. Her true passion is art, and that interest started early—she drew inspi-
ration from Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman and Spy vs. Spy. Those drawings gave way to an interest in formal techniques. Skidmore College’s respected art curriculum was strong enough to qualify her for graduate studies at the prestigious Yale School of Art. She worked under her mentor, Jake Berthot—she stretched his canvases, washed his brushes, and learned the underpinnings of how a master creates. Finn immersed herself in abstract expressionism and modernism, art forms
known for their common themes of challenging tradition through experimentation. She studied Philip Guston, Mark Tobey, Brice Marden, and Albert Pinkham Ryder as well as Cézanne, Titian, and Matisse. Their exploration of form, color, and light in the natural world appealed to her; but what really captivated Finn was how the interaction of light created shadow. At one point, Finn planned on becoming a theatrical artist. That discipline allowed for the combination of her two loves—art and theater. New York City was a short ride from New Haven, and after graduating from college she moved to Brooklyn. Finn gathered some of her friends and fellow artists, and they converted a loft into an artist colony. She painted in oil and watercolor, creating process-oriented abstraction. Rather than working as a waitress or something equally traditional, she paid the rent by rigging and selling tackle at Phil Koenig’s Manhattan Custom Tackle. That shop sold all gear, ranging from fly rods to meat sticks. She spent summers with her husband of 40 years, Jeff, at Lake Placid, and it was there that she learned to fly fish. Her first rod was a Leonard bamboo, and she was smitten. It wasn’t long after that Finn followed her heart— she headed north and never looked back. When I spoke with her recently, I asked her if she considered herself a “broad” which is a pre–World War II term that defines independent and assertive women who have competed and thrived in a male-dominated world. She answered, “Absolutely. I’m the Elaine Stritch of fly fishing, right down to my love of the cabaret and theater.” —Tom Keer
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 21
3/12/19 9:26 AM
FISH PRINT SHOP
Emerson’s detailed fish prints are a economical way for anglers to memorialize a prize catch, whether it’s an six-inch brookie or a six-foot long mako.
Mike Emerson makes prints, but doesn’t consider himself a printmaker. EMERSON IS THE FOUNDER AND one-man machine behind Fish Print Shop, a small Peoria, Illinois–based printing press specializing in life-size prints of fish. Those wanting to commemorate a “fish of a lifetime” or a special moment can get a print to the exact length of the fish. By doing so, an angler commemorates his or her catch at a fraction of the price taxidermy might cost, and the fish swims free. “I got the idea to make a print to the actual length of the fish because I felt like photos never do the fish justice,” Emerson said. “And even a great photo tends to live on your phone and never gets displayed. I’ve always enjoyed fishing with my three sons, and when they would tell people what they caught they always held their hands up to show how big it was. It made sense.” Emerson started making prints for his friends and family, as gifts. On a whim, he reached out to renowned fish artist Joseph R. Tomelleri and inquired about using his works for prints. Tomelleri, a scientific illustrator specializing in freshwater species, agreed and suggested Emerson contact Florida artist Diane Peebles about her extensive catalog of saltwater species. “When they signed on, I knew we had something because we could provide any species in North America,” Emerson said. “Joe has done everything, including every subspecies of trout. Just to give you an example of how precise his illustrations are, he counts the number of scales on the lateral line to keep his work accurate 22 I AMERICAN ANGLER
down to the scale.” While you might not have heard of Tomelleri or Peebles, you’ve probably seen their work. Both artists work with state agencies and conservation organizations to create fish identification guides, and their illustrations have appeared in thousands of publications. Their artwork combined with Emerson’s printmaking produces a timeless result that captures the grandeur of a fish. “I have a background in biology, and I want the prints to have a biological field guide look to them,” Emerson said. “With Joe and Diane on board, we are doing something refined, but it’s new, and sometimes there is confusion with people thinking we create their exact fish. [Instead] we use a grayscale reproduction of an illustration and print it to size.” Fish Print Shop can depict different morphologies and color phases as well as account for girth. With Tomelleri’s and Peebles’ catalog of work, several versions of every species can be matched. For
those who want their exact fish, Emerson advocates for local artists and has a list of those who do commissioned work. Besides printmaking and highlighting artists’ work, Emerson also finds exposing kids to nature and fishing fulfilling. He does most of his fishing from a canoe for smallmouth and largemouth bass in flooded abandoned strip mines. “In the summer I’m on the water at least once a week,” he said. “I feel a connection with nature while I’m fishing. That connection is hard to find in Central Illinois, and that’s why I like to get new people in the front of the canoe and show them how to fish. An old strip mine might not sound like much, but I’ve got some picturesque spots. My favorite thing is getting kids their first fish. I have a memory of fishing with a friend and his young son. It was quiet, the sun was setting, and he caught his first fish. It was beautiful and I’m proud of moments like that. It’s the reason we have a stamp specifically for someone’s first fish.” WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
3/12/19 9:25 AM
Emerson uses archival-quality paper and ink for his prints and says they last more than a lifetime. Each print is marked with a customizable stamp that typically notes the date of the catch, length of the fish, angler’s name, and location, but it can be personalized in any way. “We’ve found that with our lower cost, people are more likely to commemorate a ten- or twelve-inch fish their kid caught,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a monster to make it worth preserving. Just this morning I did a kid’s first brown trout. It’s really rewarding when you hear back about how much they enjoy it.” While Emerson primarily collaborates with Peebles and Tomelleri, he has a network of artists to draw from when he gets unusual requests, such as a six-foot arapaima or a 17-foot-long black marlin. “Our guiding principles are to promote fisheries conservation by supporting catch-and-release practices and to fairly compensate artists for their work,” he said. “American fish illustration is a niche space. I’m an outsider working with an all-star cast. I see Fish Print Shop as an open platform for fish illustrators. Scientific illustration is sometimes viewed as a means to identify species for various state agencies or academia. I wanted to bring this magnificent artwork to the fishing community and personalize it to an experience.” Emerson prides himself on paying the highest royalties in the business, which allows him to partner with top artists around the world. “I suppose I have such a high regard for artists because there is a frustrated artist inside me,” he said. “I know firsthand how difficult and rare the talent is. When we print a new species, I always get a sense of awe as I look at the details. The grayscale really exaggerates the structure and lines of the illustration. It creates something timeless that you might find in a natural history museum, old aquarium, or biology classroom—places where I’ve found solace when I wasn’t fishing. I guess merging my two passions of art and fishing was just a natural fit for me.” —Ryan Sparks WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
Details of the catch, incluidng size, season, and location, can be added to a print via a customizable stamp.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 23
3/12/19 9:23 AM
Guide Speak NICK DELVECCHIO
Don’t Be the Glutton If you want the kids to come back, don’t make it your day. n
IT TAKES A CERTAIN PATIENCE TO untangle the day’s fourth tippet snarl while the culprit of such a calamity proceeds to say he is bored . . . just before chucking a rock into the stream. To do this with an acceptable demeanor is a challenge to the veteran fly fisher who’s taking a youngster fishing for the first time. Going into the day with a plan alleviates some of the frustration, making fishing with kids less like pulling teeth and more like a worthwhile pursuit. There are a few goals to strive for when exposing adolescents (or younger) to the sport, perhaps none more important than ensuring the day is filled with positive experiences. Fly fishing is fun, and this should be the vibe felt throughout the day. This means changing the measuring stick of what you would gauge as a “successful” trip. A particularly difficult challenge is the literal teaching of the sport. For veteran fly fishers, simple motions, such as casting, double-hauls, hook sets and tying on flies, are second nature. These tasks are foreign to a new fly fisher. If a young person is told she must set the hook downstream, and she continues to set upstream, the instruction must be adjusted. Perhaps that’s as simple as taking five 24 I AMERICAN ANGLER
minutes to sit down on the bank and explain which way the fish are facing, which way the flies are drifting, and which hookset direction would give the best chance to hook a fish. It might take 10 different ways of explaining the same thing before the light turns on. Take the time to do so, and you’ll get results. Demonstrations often help visual learners, but kids like to participate, and performing these simple tasks with your student is very effective. When doing so, you might have the kid hold on to the cork while you perform the correct motion. This also gives the impression that the youngster is actually performing the task, which builds confidence. One of the most challenging aspects of fly fishing, of course, and a significant hurdle to getting anyone interested in fishing, is actually catching fish. Unfortunately, trout can be difficult to catch, noted by thousands of trout-centric guide services spanning the country. While catching a fish might not be a focal point of instruction, at some point catching fish does matter. If possible, it’s best to start anglers on forgiving fish, such as bluegills. Wading around a farm pond, where these fish usually reside, is much tamer than
wading a gushing freestone trout stream, which makes stalking bluegills a bit safer, too. On a good day, a young angler might catch dozens of bluegills, which should stave off boredom. One last-ditch strategy to ensure an enjoyable day on the water is to mix in some non-fishing activities. While fishing is the main course, pull out all the stops if necessary to create a memorable and exciting trip. An example is the ever popular “splash time,” a post-fishing segment when your pupil may sit or wade in the water (while wearing waders) and literally splash their feet. The typical reaction is this: “Wow! I’m not getting wet!” It might not be what seasoned anglers consider to be the highlight of a day, but if the kids are happy, who cares? It’s time well spent. Before heading out on the water with newbies, make sure you adjust your expectations—even if a big hatch is coming off or you spot a pig rising next to the bank; it’s not about how many miles of water you effectively cover, or how many trout make it to the net; you must create an experience that serves the kids and makes budding fly fishers eager for the next adventure. —Nick DelVecchio WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
3/12/19 9:22 AM
CASTING CAROLINAS WAS CREated by a group of women inspired by similar nonprofit organizations’ work for women suffering from cancer. What is unique about CC is that it’s open to women surviving all types of cancer. The nonprofit hosts retreats and events that enhance quality of life through fly fishing. Its FLOW program reminds participants to “Find the breath, Look inside, Open to whatever is observed, and Wonder or consider what action to take.” According to Executive Director Starr Nolan, “Fear of cancer recurrence is the number one issue that women bring to retreats, and FLOW is a skill for working effectively with that fear.”
AMAMG_190500_headwaters.indd AMAMG_190500_018-027.indd 25 25
Q Why fly fishing? A The mindful activity of casting, waiting, watching the fly and the water with full attention, and then repeating is a calming, practice. Being in or around water exposes anglers to negative ionization, which decreases anxiety and depression. Being in nature and achieving unexpected success are also very beneficial psychologically and physically.
participants. Lodging, healthy food, and fly fishing gear are included. Retreats are staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers who are professional fly fishers and psychosocial and medical professionals, and are entirely free. It’s important to note that women stay connected after our retreats. Social isolation is common and harmful to cancer survivors.
Q What do the retreats entail? A Three-day retreats include groups and activities such as “Finding Your FLOW,” which helps women understand trout stream structure, the life of a trout, and the elements of a healthy stream while they ‘locate’ themselves in the stream. We teach basic fly fishing skills like fly casting and knot tying. On day three, a crew of river guide volunteers arrives to go one-on-one on the water with the
Q How can fly anglers help CC’s mission? A Fly anglers can volunteer for positions on our retreat staff (all female), volunteer as river guides (male and female), compete in our Tie One On for Casting Carolinas Tournament (Cherokee, North Carolina; October 26, 2019). Also, volunteer for committees, make a donation so that we can continue and expand the program. —Joshua Bergan
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 25
3/19/19 3/12/19 10:51 9:22 AM
Gear Smith/Howler Collaboration Where isn’t camo cool these days? You see it everywhere, ranging from shirts to pants to shoes and even sunglasses. Smith got into the act by collaborating with Howler Brothers, the apparel company that is known for long beards and board shorts, and monkey patches pasted to the front of its flat-brimmed hats. Specifically, Smith borrowed Howler’s Tortoise camo pattern to spice up two new sunglass frames, the Barra and the Outback. If you like style, these are your shades, both being great choices on the water and on the street. Each comes with catchy orange temples and a micro-etched howler monkey face on the actual lens (albeit so small you have to search to see it). It doesn’t get in the way of your vision, nor does reflection on the water while wearing these—the ChromaPop polarized brown mirror lenses allow you spot fish in all conditions and provide 100 percent UV protection. They also have a backside antireflective coating and an oil- and waterresistant lens coating that staves off the elements. They are RX compatible and have nose pads for a no-slip fit. smithoptics.com
Danner and Patagonia These boots are built to last a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean they won’t fail. The key info here is that these River Tractor boots are built with stitch-down construction, which means they can be repaired at any point in their existence. That’s because Danner runs a killer repair facility in Portland, Oregon, manned by an army of high-skilled individuals whose lives revolve around keeping your favorite boots in the water and on the trail. You can get these boots in two sole styles, “grippy rubber” and aluminum bar, and the Foot Tractors are made with a military-grade leather that is durable and doesn’t shrink when drying. We wanted to review these boots when we first saw them last summer at the ICAST show in Orlando, Florida, but we refrained and waited until now so we could put them through a thorough summer, fall, and winter beating . . . before penning our opinion of them. Here’s what we learned: These are pretty bomber boots, meaning they are built well and can take a beating in the most challenging elements. We fished these boots on rocky freestones and broad, brooding mainstream steelhead rivers, and they never flinched. They offered excellent support, although those who’ve tweaked their ankles in the glory days might shy away from the soft upper portion of the boot. The sticky rubber, combined with aluminum bars, offered great traction on some of the slickest rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The high-grade leather performed as promised—it didn’t shrink over time, from repeated wetting and drying, which means we can still get our feet in these things without having to soak them in the stream beforehand. Our only complaint was trying to keep the laces secure—after initial lacing, the laces loosened when they got wet. Not the end of the world, of course, just something to know before spending $550 on a pair of these boots (if you select the aluminum bars as part of the sole). Overall, we recommend these boots because they can last a lifetime, with the assistance of Danner’s repair facility. That keeps materials out of a landfill and allows you to be on the water with great traction and boots you can trust. patagonia.com
26 I AMERICAN ANGLER
3/4/19 10:06 AM
Costa Baffin Style isn’t just worn—it can be who you are. And these newish shades from Costa give you the edge on that front. Just by wearing these polarized shades, you can make a statement that you care and that commercial nets ought to be cleaned from our oceans. Discarded or lost nets kill a variety of marine life, including sharks, whales, turtles, and seabirds, among many others. Costa is doing its part to clean up the oceans by fashioning its Untangled collection, including the Baffin frame, from recycled nets. The lenses are polarized glass and RX compatible and are offered in these colors: gray, blue mirror, copper, and green mirror. costadelmar.com
Traeger Winter may be the best time to smoke fish, but spring ain’t bad either; shad are running East and West, lakes are still cold enough to provide quality trout, walleyes are headed upstream to spawn, and there are spring kings and steelhead navigating Northwest rivers, although on the eating front I’ve decided to leave kings and wild steelhead alone, unless there’s some major shift in management that takes them back to former abundance. Probably wishful thinking. But . . . all those wild Alaska sockeyes and silvers in my freezer that I scored from the Inland Fishmonger—#1 brights, pinbones removed, flash-frozen and vacuum sealed—they are prime for smoking and, in fact, that’s what I spent part of winter doing. If you think that sounds intimidating, it’s not. I used a dry brine consisting of equal parts brown sugar and kosher salt, enough to cover all the salmon strips on the top, bottom, and sides. I left them in the mixture for a few hours and then rinsed them very well in cold water. Then I patted them dry, set them on cooking sheets (skin side down) and placed them in front of a fan, in the cold garage, overnight. That formed a pellicle, which is a thin layer that keeps the juices, including heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, from escaping during the smoking process. After that, the fish went on the Traeger, with alder smoke, for six to eight hours on its lowest heat setting, which is about 120 degrees on my Pro Series 34. Every couple hours I basted the salmon with maple syrup, which formed a nice coating on the top of the salmon and provided great flavor. After removing the salmon, I let it cool, then stored it in vacuum-sealed FoodSaver bags. Then it went into the freezer for future use. So the grill . . . the Traeger Pro 34 is a tank. Its grilling/smoking area is 27 inches wide, which means you can load multiple fillets on it at once. And it offers two racks, which provides additional smoking area. It has a digital temperature setting, can accommodate 18 pounds of pellets (so you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel), and you can smoke with a variety of wood, including alder, cherry, mesquite, and apple. When grilling, the dual racks can accommodate 8 chickens, 7 racks of ribs, and up to 40 burgers, meaning this thing will get a workout during summer, too. And this: Don’t like the smell of bacon overwhelming your home? Do it on the Traeger. Want to smoke cheese? Try it out and embrace the results. Overall, for an outdoorsman/woman, owning a wood pellet grill opens up all sorts of interesting options, and the results are usually good. Think moose, elk, grouse, geese, and deer. traegergrills.com —Greg Thomas
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 27
3/4/19 10:06 AM
HATCHES by Dave Hughes
Ghost Hatches and Smallmouths
OME STRETCHES OF THE lower Umpqua River, far downstream from the famous steelhead water, are jumbles of exposed bedrock islands with bouldered channels between them, great places to catch a bunch of smallmouth bass if you’re after them, or to break a leg if you become careless in your pursuit of them. I got so busy chasing the chunky bass one late afternoon that I became stranded far from what might be termed the true shoreline, several islands and channels back behind me, with light fading fast. You know what happened then—fishing got better rather than worse, the bass I caught jumped up in size, and retreat became more difficult rather than easier. It was a beautiful midsummer evening, with just a breath of a breeze. I talked myself into ceasing fire after swatting the tail of a two-pounder, chasing it back into the almost black water from which I’d enticed it. I sat down on a comfortable clump of bunchgrass, on the island from
which I’d been fishing, dangled my unwadered legs in the warmish water, to rest a bit before turning toward shore. Then I noticed the sort of thing you see only when you stop focusing on fishing—a swirling cloud of caddis, about size 14 and so pale they became easier to see as the sky lost its light. They hovered right above my head, and as I watched began descending toward me. Soon they circled me as if I were a part of the landscape. It was eerie, there in the near darkness, to have them circling so near, as individuals dashing madly, in aggregate resembling a ghost chasing its tail. I watched them longer than I should, suddenly realized I’d better get moving or risk breaking that leg, began to work my way slowly back to the bank. As I did, I displaced similar ghostly swirls of pale caddis on every island, over every clump of bunchgrass, swirling in circles above all the channels, flying too high and fast for any bass to have a chance at them. I swished a few from a flight into my
hat, and when I got home keyed them out. They were white millers, Nectopsyche, night fliers. In reality, they had nothing to do with catching smallmouths that evening, but in truth they made my day a whole lot luckier. The John Day River is one of the finest smallmouth waters in the West. Its bass are noted more for numbers than size, but it also flows through Oregon’s Painted Hills, famous more for their beauty than any extremes in elevation. I fish the John Day most often when my favorite trout river is in midsummer doldrums, which turns out to be serendipitous, because that’s when smallmouths are most active. I usually fish bass early and late, take some ease through the midday hours. Not long ago, after a fine morning pestering plenty of fish with size 6 black Woolly Buggers, I sat under a shade tarp reading a book. My rest got interrupted, to my surprise, by an ovipositing flight of yellow sallies: stoneflies too small to be of
ALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVE HUGHES
28 I AMERICAN ANGLER
2/25/19 1:42 PM
Above: Smallmouths hang out in some surprisingly fast water, taking shelter behind boulders or down along the bottom, just like trout. Below: This is a typical western smallmouth, and when the fishing is good, anglers can rack up big numbers in a day. And, usually, they aren’t too picky—this one ate a hybrid carp fly. Left: Western smallmouth water flows through arid country. With most anglers focused on trout and steelhead, smallmouths are often overlooked. If you want miles of water to yourself, and a few bass for dinner, it’s hard to beat Oregon’s John Day River.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 29
2/25/19 12:03 PM
HATCHES interest to predatory bass, or so I thought. There were so many of them that a vast shoal of smallmouths rose up to dimple a long, placid stretch of the river. I strung a light rod, frisked my fly boxes, but found nothing closer than a size 14 Elk Hair Caddis and tied it on. It was suitable to those bass. Unfortunately, most of them were so small that the fishing quickly ceased to be interesting. But before giving up, I tied on a size 4 Yellow Deer Hair Bug, thinking it might scare those little fish rather than catch them. My interest was abruptly restored. It turned out there were some sizable bass, one to two pounds—not bad for any smallmouth river—mixed in with those small ones. Until I applied the larger dressing to the problem, the little ones simply beat the bigger ones to the punch. It wasn’t necessary to match those yellow sallies; in fact, it was deleterious. But they served me well. They got a bunch of bass up and feeding, and enabled me to spend some time engaged with fish when I’d have otherwise had my nose in a novel, though I have to say, that book wasn’t bad. On a more recent trip to the John Day, right in the midst of August according to the notes I keep on important hatches, I lucked into an even larger surprise. I’d already enjoyed an excellent morning, had taken my time in the shade snoozing and reading, and had geared up and gone back out for the evening fishing. As you may
30 I AMERICAN ANGLER
You don’t have to match hatches to catch western smallmouths, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the bankside brush. When you see this many mayflies collected in webs, you might think about trying one when the sun sets and shadows cross the water. Below: During summer, many western hatches begin at dusk. That coincides with the time that big bass get on the feed. When fishing smallmouths during summer, stay late should be your motto.
3/13/19 11:21 AM
have experienced more often than I have, the same water that produces an abundance of small bass during the day suddenly provides some that are up to twice the common size as evening approaches. I was doing nicely, wading deep from the shallow gravel-bar side of the river, casting a balsa popper long to land next to the far bank, which dropped off steeply into deep water. After a bit of time to sit, a few twitches to get it moving, and a pop or two if no bass had already attacked it, I’d loft that balsa bug into the air, let the backcast straighten, shoot it back a yard farther down the bank. Bass were plenty, and not all of small size. One or two of them pushed three pounds. Four of the smaller ones, just the right size to fillet, dip in flour and egg batter, coat with panko, and fry in hot olive oil, tugged at a cord tied around my waist. Smallmouths are not native to the John Day. They eat steelhead smolts that pass from the headwaters toward the Columbia River every spring. It’s almost a duty to eat a few of them, especially since they’re so delicious. When it became too dark to keep my popper off the far bank, I waded out, walked the gravel bar right at the edge of the river, back toward camp. It took time for it to sink into my consciousness that a swarm of mayflies, ghosts again, kept me company, flying along with me at about knee height. The air was full of them, but only low to the gravel. At first I thought they were pale evening duns, which made sense, because it was evening and they were pale. But they were size 8 or 10, too large to be PEDs. They were too elusive to capture in my hat. I simply walked on, enjoying being surrounded by them, wondering what they were. In the morning I found out. Spiderwebs had captured all I needed to see— they were Ephoron, simply the white fly, more famous in the Midwest and East, rare in the West. I’d never seen them before, and have never seen them since. They didn’t mean much to the fishing, but they made the fishing much more bountiful. Hughes’s latest book is an enlarged and revised second edition of Essential Trout Flies. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
AMAMG_190500_hatches.indd 31 AMAMG_190500_028-037.indd 31
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 31
2/25/19 11:09 3/18/19 12:03 AM PM
CONSERVATION by Ted Williams
Bucket Biology Gone Wrong A glut of big walleyes and other alien species are threatening native fish in the West.
N AN EFFORT TO IMPROVE ON nature, alien fish have been flung like confetti around the lakes and rivers of the American West (and the world) by bucket biologists, professional and otherwise. These days the professionals are mostly rehabilitated, the amateurs not so much. The results of bucket biology have almost always been the same—what a six-year-old would achieve by operating on a Bogdan reel to improve the gear assembly. Native ecosystems have been destroyed, native fish displaced and imperiled. In Montana alone, there have been about 600 confirmed illegal fish introductions in at least 250 waters. 32 I AMERICAN ANGLER
Consider the walleyed pike. Perhaps you’ve not heard that this large, predaceous perch is part of the native-fish complex in Montana east of the Continental Divide. Walleye fishing guide Dale Gilbert and his fellow walleye advocates have “proof”—a unique map Gilbert found in a book titled Biology, Culture, and Management of Walleye and Sauger, published by the American Fisheries Society, that depicts North America’s historic walleye range. On the strength of this map, Gilbert is petitioning Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to correct its classification of walleyes from “introduced nonnative” to native because, as he is quoted by
the media, “natives get priority as far as management.” If you’ve not heard that walleyes are native to Montana, perhaps it’s because the claim is BS. The map is wrong. “We’ve looked at this really closely,” says Montana fisheries biologist Eric Roberts. “We talked to our natural heritage folks as well as the national American Fisheries Society. Reviewing all the literature and distribution, we didn’t find any information to indicate the walleyes are native to Montana.” Walleyes could never have made it over Great Falls. And Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which occurred as far down WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
3/4/19 1:26 PM
PHOTO COURTESY IDF&G
the Yellowstone as the mouth of the Tongue River, can live only in water with temperature and chemistry incapable of sustaining walleyes. The fact that Yellowstone cutts were there and in other east-slope Montana streams proves that walleyes weren’t. The first recorded walleye catch in Montana was from Nelson Reservoir in 1922—the result of stocking, apparently by a fishing club. In 1933 the state stocked 300,000 walleyes in the Missouri River near Fort Peck. Since then anglers have unlawfully polluted aquatic ecosystems with the species, further imperiling such natives as federally threatened bull trout and grievously depleted westslope cutthroat trout. The push by Gilbert and his allies illustrates one of the many dangers of bucket biology—creation of public advocacy for aliens. Now that illegally introduced walleyes have naturalized in reservoirs of the Missouri and Clark Fork Rivers, walleye anglers are fighting modest suppression efforts by Montana and Idaho. This from David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited: “One potential impact in the Missouri is that in big water years, walleyes spill over dams into the free-flowing river, especially below Holter Dam. The stretch from Helena to Great Falls is a wildly productive tailwater fishery. It sees 12 percent of all trout angling in the state. That’s a huge economic impact. When rivers are flooded in spring, everyone goes there because it’s dam-controlled. There’s some walleye predation on the trout. Now the walleye management tool in that stretch is unlimited take. We would like to see it stay that way.” But Fish, Wildlife & Parks is being pressured by walleye anglers to reduce walleye kill in this wild trout water. So this year it will propose to change the no-limit walleye reg from Holter Dam to Cascade to 20 fish a day. “That proposal,” says Roberts, “comes mostly from discussions with our walleye folks. But just because we’ll propose it doesn’t mean it will happen. There will be lots of opportunity for feedback from the public. If the coldwater folks want to maintain that no limit, they’ll certainly have opportunities to comment.” Why should alien trout get priority
Walleye prey on kokanee salmon (left) in Lake Pend Oreille and elsewhere, but their toll on native bull trout and introduced Kamloops rainbows is minimal.
over alien walleyes? Maybe because anglers who create illegal fisheries should not be rewarded for their ecosystem vandalism. What’s more, many western still waters are successfully managed for walleyes and not that many wild trout fisheries are as productive as that of the Missouri River. The river’s dams have pretty much precluded any fishery for native trout. So for anglers who appreciate wild trout, rainbows and browns are about the only opportunity. And at least the trout fishery is planned and managed by professionals. In the human-created alien hell of western water, there’s nothing wrong with managing for fish that don’t belong but have become permanent residents. States, Montana included, manage heavily for both alien walleyes and alien trout. While the Missouri’s trout are not native, they’re highly valued and able to provide a sustainable fishery. In contrast, introduced walleyes tend to do great for a while but eventually deplete the prey
base, grow slowly, and aren’t so desirable to anglers. “A big objective of our agency is to provide fishing opportunity,” says Roberts. “Nonnative species create that opportunity, and we dedicate a lot of time and resources to that. We also dedicate a lot of time and resources to our native fish.” To its credit, Montana stocks only still waters. But with the walleye irruption in the Missouri reservoirs, it has been forced to cease stocking fingerling trout—that is, walleye candy. Now it stocks “catchables,” a bit ragged from their long stay in the raceways. “They survive better,” says Roberts. “But costs are higher. The fish need more feed, have to be kept in the hatchery longer, and they require more truckloads.” There is some spillover of hatchery trout into the river, but Fish, Wildlife & Parks minimizes it by not stocking during the big spring runoff and stocking as far away from the dam as possible. Illegally introduced walleyes showed MAY/JUNE 2019 I 33
3/12/19 9:16 AM
CONSERVATION ROSS HALL, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME.
The world record bull trout, a 32-pound beast, was caught in Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille in 1949.
up in the Missouri system’s Canyon Ferry Reservoir in 1989, remaining at low levels until 1996, when they reached critical mass. In 1997 Montana attempted to suppress them with gill nets, this to the distress of Walleyes Unlimited and other walleye advocates. The effort proved futile, and since then, all walleye suppression has been by generous catch limits, what Brooks calls “suppression light.” In 2017 the already prolific walleye population in Canyon Ferry hit a record high, and the state was obliged to increase the 12-fish daily limit to 20 with only one over 20 inches, this also to distress from the walleye faction.
hile alien walleyes pose scant threat to native fish in the Missouri system, that’s far from the case in the Flathead Lake–Clark Fork system. In that water, federally threatened bull trout and imperiled westslope cutthroats are being outcompeted and preyed on by alien lake trout. This necessitates lake trout suppres34 I AMERICAN ANGLER
sion via gill nets. In 2015 two illegally introduced walleyes turned up in a gill net when Montana was suppressing lake trout in Swan Lake, deep in the Flathead’s critical bull trout habitat. State fisheries biologist Sam Bourret, who did his master’s work tracking origins of introduced fish via microchemistry, compared otoliths from the Swan Lake walleyes to walleyes from 14 popular fisheries in Montana. They were a perfect match for fish from Lake Helena, where Bourret’s analysis showed they’d hatched. The fact that they weren’t progeny of fish hatched in Swan Lake was a relief, and no walleye has shown up in Swan Lake since. Montana Trout Unlimited is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the criminal or criminals responsible for the Swan Lake introduction. The state will throw in an additional $15,250, a reward available for convicting evidence for this or any illegal introduction anywhere in the state. (The state contribution includes pledges from angling groups, including Walleyes Unlimited.)
The walleye reg for Swan Lake is mandatory catch-and-kill. Any walleye taken must be reported to Fish, Wildlife & Parks within 24 hours and delivered whole within 10 days. In 1991 illegally introduced walleyes turned up in 7,500-acre Noxon Reservoir on the Clark Fork. Twenty-one years later, after a popular walleye fishery had developed, Fish, Wildlife & Parks attempted suppression with gill nets and electrofishing. Walleye anglers howled, and the state went to suppression light via no limit. But some walleye anglers don’t like suppression light either. “We absolutely do not condone illegal introductions, but we also challenge the position taken by Fish, Wildlife and Parks and their loyal supporters that a ready source of walleyes will lead to introductions in other western Montana waters,” contends the Noxon Warm Water Fisheries Association.
oxon Dam is run-of-the river, so walleyes have spilled into Idaho’s Lake WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
3/5/19 9:03 AM
Pend Oreille. Embraced by the Cabinet and Selkirk mountain ranges, the lake has a maximum depth of 1,158 feet (deeper than Loch Ness). It’s 43 miles long, 6 miles wide, and girdled by 111 miles of mostly wild shoreline. Pend Oreille is now producing enormous walleyes of up to 16 pounds, and the fishery is being whooped up by anglers, guides, and the hook-and-bullet press. But the lake is the most important bull trout critical habitat in the United States. The walleyes are competing with bull trout and Kamloops rainbows for kokanee salmon; and the kokanees are a popular sportfish. So the Idaho Department of Fish and Game lets anglers kill as many walleyes as they want. In 2018 the department started netting on an experimental basis to see if it could curb the growing population. “We have not yet started [aggressive] walleye suppression,” declares Idaho’s Andy Dux. “There are folks who oppose even this experimental work, but they’re a vocal minority. The majority of anglers are very supportive of us managing against walleye in interest of maintaining traditional fisheries.” While current state and federal managers finally perceive the dangers of attempting to improve on nature by flinging around aliens, their predecessors in Idaho share responsibility with private bucket biologists for the woes of Pend Oreille and its tribs. A native suite of bull trout, westslope cutts, mountain whitefish, northern pike minnow, pygmy whitefish, peamouth chubs, redside shiners, largescale suckers, and longnose dace has been defiled with walleyes, Kamloops rainbows, brown trout, brook trout, kokanee salmon, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, bluegill sunfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black crappies, yellow perch, lake whitefish, black bullheads, brown bullheads, even tench from Europe. The two biggest disasters—lake trout and Mysis shrimp—were unleashed by managers in 1925 and 1966 respectively. For a while, though, introduction of lake trout appeared to be brilliant management. By the early 21st century, the population had transformed from basically nonexistent to prolific, creating a popular trophy fishery. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
AMAMG_190500_conservation.indd AMAMG_190500_028-037.indd 35 35
The Mysis shrimp were supposed to improve the already booming fishery for alien kokanees, which in 1933 had washed down in a winter flood from Montana’s Flathead Lake, where they’d been introduced by managers in 1916. Both kokanees and Mysis shrimp feed on zooplankton; and, while kokanees were known to thrive on Mysis shrimp in British Columbia’s shallow Kootenay Lake, they
couldn’t catch many in Pend Oreille (or Flathead Lake, for that matter, where managers had also introduced Mysis shrimp). Kokanees are sight feeders, and by day the shrimp dropped down into the dark depths where the kokanees didn’t venture. At night, when the kokanees couldn’t see them, the shrimp moved up in the water column, gorging on and depleting the zooplankton that sustained the kokanees.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 35
3/18/19 3/5/19 11:10 9:03 AM AM
Walleye may be non-native, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have fans—they provide great fishing options and thier fillets are treasured on the table. Fish to 16 pounds have been caught in Pend Oreille and larger fish are presumed to roam there.
36 I AMERICAN ANGLER
Meanwhile, the deep-dwelling lake trout chowed down on the shrimp, and the lakers’ population exploded. When the lake trout reached a certain size they switched their diet from shrimp to kokanees. Lake trout have a tremendous advantage over Pend Oreille’s two native trout in that they spawn on reefs. So they don’t have to expose themselves to predation by running up tributaries. And unlike the fry of bull trout and westslope cutts, lake trout fry hatch into a shrimp smorgasbord and don’t have to run the predator gauntlet down to the lake. In 1949 the lake produced a kokaneefattened, 32-pound bull trout, which still stands as the world record. But the alien lake trout depleted the alien kokanees that had sustained the native bull trout. In the late 1960s the robust kokanee fishery started to fall apart. Some of the decline may have been attributable to dissolved gases from Cabinet Gorge and Noxon Dams. And lake drawdowns from operation of the Albeni Falls Dam definitely limited spawning by exposing gravel. Flooding in the mid-1990s accelerated the decline. But the kokanee fishery would have survived all that. What it could not survive was predation by lake trout. So in 2006, in a move that made the current walleye war seem like a pillow fight, Idaho Fish and Game implemented suppression heavy for lake trout and Kamloops rainbows. It offered a $15 bounty for each fish head of either species presented by anglers, and it killed lake trout with gill nets. “It was very controversial,” remarks Dux. “For a lot of folks, the idea of setting gill nets in the lake was not palatable. Even if we were successful, they were concerned about damage to other species. We had to clear that hurdle and assure them we could put a program together that would not be detrimental to other species. There were already enough large lake trout that they were generating lots of interest. And we told anglers that, for a period at least, we’d also have to reduce the kams [trophy fish that commonly attained 20 pounds] because kokanee were in such trouble that we needed to lower predation in general. Rainbow anglers were troubled by that. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
3/12/19 9:16 AM
MIKE METALE, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME
That said, there was still a lot of support because people valued the traditional kokanee fishery, and many rainbow anglers understood that the traditional trophy rainbow fishery was made possible by the kokanees.” At first the lake trout kill was unimpressive. But lake trout are aggregate spawners, and “Judas fish,” implanted with transmitters, told managers where the spawning reefs were. In Yellowstone Lake, managers are recovering native Yellowstone cutts by suppressing alien lake trout. They’ve learned tactics from Idaho’s successful effort. In fact, Hickey Brothers Research, the commercial fishing company Idaho contracted to gillnet lake trout in Pend Oreille, now kills lake trout for the park.
Lake Pend Oreille’s trophy Kamloops rainbow trout fishery is as good as its been in decades. Here, an angler hoists a 26-pounder.
o what does the future hold for the alien morass extant in the stillwaters of Montana and Idaho? Don’t look for lots of change in the Missouri system. The fishery for hatchery rainbows will continue to cost more money because of the need to stock bigger fish. But the fishing is excellent and will likely remain so. Spotty evidence of dreissenid mussels in the Missouri system’s Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs (quagga or zebra; it’s unclear which) is an ill wind blowing a bit of good. The threat has inspired Montana to increase its boatcheck stations and fisheries enforcement. And with that effort, more people are getting the message about the dangers of alien introductions. In Idaho’s beautiful and sprawling Lake Pend Oreille, the scene is much less scary than it might appear. While abundant, and in some cases providing great fishing, the northern pike, bass, perch, crappies, sunfish, bullheads, and tench are pretty much restricted to the shorelines and shallow north end of the lake. They’re not having a huge impact on native fish or rainbows; nor are lake whitefish, which may constitute Pend Oreille’s biggest biomass. In feeder streams there’s hybridization between alien brook trout and native bull trout and between rainbows and native westslope cutts, but it doesn’t seem to be ecologically significant. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
With suppression of lake trout and rainbows, kokanees have rebounded. Kokanee fishing was outlawed from 2000 until 2013, when the population was estimated at 1.4 million, higher than it had been in 17 years. So managers were able to allow a daily kokanee limit of 6 in 2013 and to increase that limit to 15 in 2014. In 2012 Idaho ceased gillnetting Pend Oreille rainbows and removed the bounty on them. “We don’t have good estimates of current Kamloops abundance,” says Dux. “But we certainly have seen tremendous increase in growth rates as kokanee have increased. The rainbow fishery is as good as it’s been for decades. We’ve reduced lake trout by about two-thirds from when we started netting in 2006. And we’ve recently completed some modeling work to look at how we transition into more of a long-term maintenance program so we can start dialing back effort. That modeling has shown that if we keep our effort at a high level for ten more years, we will be in a position to reduce effort by about eighty percent.” The $15 bounty on lake trout will remain in effect indefinitely. The most important news is that the
lake’s bull trout are now thriving.
as anything been learned by the American public about playing musical chairs with fish species? Perhaps. On the other hand, walleyes are under threat in the heart of their natural U.S. range—from Vermont and New York through the Midwest. Among the aliens being illegally superimposed on their habitat, by bucket biologists seeking to correct what they perceive as divine error, is the zander—a larger relative of the walleye widely distributed across Eurasia as far north as Finland. Other aliens merely compete with or prey on native walleyes—or both. But zanders are capable of hybridizing them into extirpation. Walleye advocates agitating in the Rocky Mountain West would be well advised to shift their focus east. Ted Williams’s environmental writings enjoy national acclaim, and keep the bad guys sometimes honest and looking over their shoulders. MAY/JUNE 2019 I 37
3/5/19 9:03 AM
38 I AMERICAN ANGLER
2/25/19 12:14 PM
TCHEWAN You can still find untouched northerns— and maybe that elusive 50-incher— in the Canadian wilderness. By Rasmus Ovesen / Photos by Rasmus and Anders Ovesen
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 39
2/25/19 12:14 PM
f there is a carbon dioxide hell, that’s where I’ll end up; it’s taken three flights to reach Saskatoon, Canada, and it’s another three flights across Saskatchewan to reach Stony Rapids, a barren outpost in the northwest corner of the province that serves anglers who are eager to disappear in the north country. The final leg is covered in a De Havilland turboprop, which had its heyday in the post–World War II era, but is still treasured by adventurous anglers and the pilots who fly them. After two days of travel, we touch down on Phelps Lake and moor at Wolf Bay Lodge. I can only hope that the fishing for trophy northern pike is as advertised, which might make my effort worth the carbon-footprint burn I’ll certainly feel later.
40 I AMERICAN ANGLER
2/25/19 12:14 PM
Phelps Lake boots out some giant pike. During spring they are found prowling the shallow bays, at once looking for places to spawn and devouring anything that moves.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 41
2/25/19 12:14 PM
During our flights over Saskatchewan, I watched symmetrical, lush-green pastures and a labyrinth of gravel roads give way to vast woodlands and the flickering waters of ancient, glacial lakes and meandering rivers. For a while I saw a few wooden cabins, and the odd uranium mine, but all traces of mankind slowly ebbed away. Two hours later, Phelps Lake appeared below, with all its wild branches, shallow bays, and jagged rock islands. It was an early summer day in mid-June. A comprehensive highpressure system killed all winds, and when we finally landed, it felt like touching down on a giant mirror. After greetings with the Wolf Bay Lodge owner, Brent Osika, things unfolded quickly. My brother, Anders, and I had half a day’s fishing ahead of us, and moments later we glided across the lake in a Linder skiff with Merasty B. Jason, an experienced local guide, at the helm. Merasty navigated the boat with surgical precision, at a high speed, through narrow passages, wide-open expanses, and big bays. I soon lost all sense of orientation. It was intoxicating and
further amplified when, after a 20-minute ride, Merasty cut the engine and a deafening silence greeted us.
ith more than 300 islands, countless reefs, backwaters, bays, and tributaries, you couldn’t possibly fish all of Phelps’s prime spots, let alone its surrounding lakes, in a full week. The season here stretches from mid-June (ice-out) until the end of August, at which point winter looms. At the beginning of the season, these fish have just finished spawning in myriad shallow bays and flooded meadows. During the summer months and onwards through the end of the season, pike move to deeper water, along drop-offs, reefs, and islands, where lily pad and cabbage beds rise from the bottom and baitfish gather. When fishing Phelps, you don’t have to worry about competition—Wolf Bay Lodge has exclusive rights to guide anglers here, and they host only six anglers per week. In addition to spectacular pike fishing, it is also possible to catch whitefish and
Wolf Bay Lodge has exclusive rights to fish Phelps Lake, which means its easy to find willing fish. Anglers can use boats to access remote arms and bays. In some places anglers can wade the shallows and sight fish to cruising pike. Any cast could give up a 50-incher. 42 I AMERICAN ANGLER
3/13/19 11:25 AM
lake trout (Salvelinus namaykush). The latter can be found in tremendous numbers, especially at the south end of the lake.
n our first afternoon, we weren’t interested in lake trout, nor whitefish. We were interested in what Merasty had to say. And what he said was exactly what we wanted to hear—“Pike are still in the shallows,” adding, “The fish are hungry and it’s only a matter of finding them.” Post-spawn, Phelps’s northerns school up in the bays, especially shallow bays with dark, muddy bottoms where the water is warmed by sunlight, and baitfish are abundant. Overall, Phelps is incredibly fertile, testament to all the shallow water and weed growth. and baitfish thrive. We still had no idea, however, whether we’d sight-fish for these pike, which was our hope. But it didn’t take long to find out. The fish were hovering above bottom, along shorelines and in places where cabbage beds had started to grow from the silty lake floor. The fish weren’t easy to see, even though the water was
clear. But we made out silhouettes and declared them to be small males, not the big females we were hoping for. Soon we were busy warming up. These pike looked rather apathetic, just hanging there, semi-petrified, along the bottom. But sure enough, they were hungry and aggressive. They promptly reacted at the sight of our rabbit Zonkers, hunted them down and, oftentimes, inhaled them next to the boat in a big, splashy explosion of water. It had been a while since my brother and I fished for pike, but we were quickly reminded why we both love to target this lightning-quick predator. We hadn’t traveled this far, however, to fish for small pike, and Merasty was well aware of it. So, having wiped the skunk off with a handful of small pike, we decided to check out one of the lake’s countless other bays. After scouting out a few, we finally made it to a bay in Phelps’s northern corner. The bay, which was backlit by the beams of an evening sun, didn’t look like much at first. The entrance was so shallow that we used oars to get in, and at first glance across the dark, ocher-colored water, there were no signs of pike. When we
LOGISTICS Travel info
For additional information about prices, check the following link, monster pike. ca, or send an email to the camp manager, Brent Osika: email@example.com. A regional Saskatchewan fishing license is mandatory, and you’ll need to buy it ahead of your trip. Buy online at: https://saskatchewanlicences. active.com/licensing.page. For additional information about fishing possibilities in Saskatchewan, and the wealth of other interesting wilderness activities ,visit Tourism Saskatchewan: tourismsaskatchewan.com. To reach Phelps Lake and Wolf Bay Lodge, you’ll travel via Toronto or Calgary to Saskatoon, where you land on a Sunday and stay overnight. From there, a domestic flight, which Wolf Bay Lodge can arrange, takes you to Stony Rapids on Monday morning. The last leg of the trip, from Stony Rapids to Wolf Bay Lodge, takes about two hours.
When fly fishing Phelps for pike, 9- to 10-weight rods paired with floating or intermediate weight-forward lines are typically used. Lighter rods can be used, too, since really big flies are rarely necessary. However, since there are great chances of hooking a real monster, the larger rods are preferred. Long rabbit-strip Zonkers in light colors, preferably with weed guards that allow you to fish them along the bottom or through weeds and lily pads, work well here. Furthermore, small imitations of the lake’s silvery baitfish are productive, and the same goes for noisy poppers and Gurglers. Be sure to take along a 9-foot 5-weight and a few dry flies and nymphs if you’re interested in catching whitefish. Also, take an extra 10-weight, or even a 12-weight, paired with a fast-sinking fly line for lake trout.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 43
2/25/19 12:15 PM
reached the far corner of the bay, I saw a big shadow under two bowed, moss-clad trees, and inside a patch of flooded meadow grass. That fish wasn’t alone. Several males stuck close to the big female. With lightly trembling fins and a tense, aggressive look on its face, the pike seemed likely, at any given moment, to lunge at one of the males. I gave it something else to contemplate when I cast a light-gray rabbit-strip Zonker to the edge of that flooded grass. As soon as the fly hit the water, the female was right behind it. I gave the fly a little bit of action, and the pike instantly shot forward, plowing purposefully through the water to inhale the fly. I set the hook instinctively and felt the weight of the fish. It made a couple explosive runs and a couple cartwheels before I had it next to the boat. The fish was bigger than we thought. I lifted it aboard and put a tape from nose to tail—49.2 inches, just short of that magic 50-inch mark. Still, my dreams of catching a big wilderness pike had come true. We shot a series of photos in shallow water along the bank, and as the fish thrust free, I drew a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished. There was no time to rest, however. A faint “Psst” sounded from the casting platform where Merasty was perched. He pointed at the water. We joined him on the bow and quickly spotted another big pike . . . and another . . . and another.
we got to experience some cool dry fly and nymph fishing for whitefish, and some streamer fishing for feisty lake trout that schooled up along Phelps’s drop-offs and shoals. To the non-angler, it may sound like madness to travel way beyond the outskirts of civilization—to the middle of the vast Canadian wilderness to search for pike. But if you’re into pike, and a 50-incher is your goal, you shouldn’t hesitate to fish here, no matter how far you may have to travel and how you might pay for that carbon footprint later on. Rasmus Ovesen lives in Oslo, Norway, and fishes around the globe. Check out his travels at instram.com/rasmus_ovesen.
wo hours later, we’d caught seven more full-grown pike, including three in excess of 47 inches. Furthermore, we cast at a couple of fish that Merasty estimated at 53 inches long. Those fish, for whatever reason, just didn’t respond to our flies. As we headed back to the lodge, my brother and I were in a semi-state of shock; we’d never seen so many big fish. But over the next five days, we learned that this is nothing out of the ordinary on Phelps. During our stay here, in fact, we sight-fished another 200 pike, with 40 of them measuring well over 40 inches and several more ranging in the very high 40s. Furthermore,
44 I AMERICAN ANGLER
2/25/19 12:15 PM
Pike arenâ€™t the only game in northern Canada. While fishing Phelps Lake or other northern waters, anglers get lots of shots at enormous whitefish (left, above) and solid lake trout (left, below).
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 45
3/13/19 11:23 AM
Sapidi C A S T I N G
“Too bony . . .” “Cat food . . .” “Bury ’em in the garden . . .” There’s a lot of hate out there when it comes to the eating qualities of American shad, the oversized herring that, each spring, runs up the Delaware River to spawn, and readily takes a fly. Ironically, much of this criticism comes from shad anglers themselves, people who lob insults at the very fish they have just released. “Cook ’em on a plank, then throw away the fish and eat the plank! Hyar, hyar hyar!” Lame. I’m not sure why shad has fallen out of favor as a food fish among anglers. Its Latin name, after all, is Alosa sapidissima, which translates to the “most delicious herring.” Maybe it’s the stigma of the shad’s myriad bones—it is ridiculously endowed with 1,300 of them. Or perhaps it’s the mechanical catch-and-release ethos that has permeated fly fishing culture. And while I am all for conservation, I am equally in favor of a sustainable, wild-caught meal—particularly one that’s guaranteed as good eats by Linnaeus himself.
46 I AMERICAN ANGLER
2/25/19 11:55 AM
dissima F O R
Eating my way through the Delawareâ€™s shad run. By Stephen Sautner
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 47
2/25/19 11:55 AM
Two ways to prepare shad for the table—roe with thick cut bacon, and smoked filetts.
My fishing pal Jim Leedom and I have been chasing—and eating—American shad on the Delaware River for close to three decades. We look forward to the annual shad run the same way we would the arrival of any seasonal, local food. A fat springtime shad, properly bled and iced, is as cherished as a quart of wild asparagus harvested from a fallow farm field, or a ziplock bag of morels picked from an ultrasecret woodland. (Don’t even ask.) Come late March or early April, our shad quest begins. I meet Jim at first light in the usual lower river turn-off. We wade to a narrow island, then follow a short trail that ends abruptly at a hissing, swirling eddy. Below there, the river regroups, then continues along unheeded on its march to the Atlantic. We venture in just knee-deep, wary of a steep drop-off and the risk of being swept away. Keeping in mind the brushy island behind me, I roll-cast a chartreuse shad fly of my own making on a fastsinking shooting head. I allow it to settle for a few seconds before stripping it back with sharp jerks. Jim pitches out a shad dart on spinning gear and swings it through the eddy’s tailout. Despite our dissimilar techniques, our goal is the same: dinner. 48 I AMERICAN ANGLER
Between casts, we blow on our fingers in the early morning chill. Though it’s technically spring, the lower Delaware remains a study of somber grays and browns: the pewter of cold river water, the dark umber of woods still mostly winter-bare. But look closely and there are signs of hope. Some trees are swollen with burgundy buds. Downriver, the first osprey of the year patrols the river channel. Bang. Shad on. The 7-weight bucks and a spurt of fly line zips from the reel. Here in this heavy water, the goal is to prevent the fish from powering into the main current and blowing out of the eddy. So I exert as much pressure as 10-pound tippet allows. The fish repeatedly tries to turn into the current, but I won’t let it. We tug-of-war until I feel the moment when it finally gives up and tacks toward me. I step toward shore, easing it into pebbly shallows. A four-pound female shad, now on its side, repeatedly slaps its tail like a tuna until it beaches itself. It is deep-bodied, thick, and as bright as any steelhead. When the light catches it a certain way, iridescent blushes of pink and purple flash back. Just a day or two earlier, this fish abandoned the tide’s pull for the first time in three years— WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
2/25/19 11:55 AM
since before it entered the sea as a migrating juvenile. I kneel down and remove the fly. Then I bleed the fish by grabbing its gill rakers and pulling. I turn and see that Jim has hooked up, too, and I watch as he plays his fish the same way— a down-low slugfest. He lands a similar-sized roe, and it meets the same fate as mine. But then the show is over; a fishless hour later, with the sun now over the ridge on the far side of the river, we reel up and call it a morning. One and done—early season shad fishing can be like that. Back at our cars, we carefully place our respective catches in ice-filled coolers. Then we briefly discuss the fine meal that awaits each of our families, and go our separate ways. At home, the fish is scaled and filleted, and the orange roe sacks carefully removed. Later, my wife, son, and I will feast on broiled shad seasoned with lemon pepper, along with roe cooked on a bed of thick-cut bacon. The fillets have self-basted in their own fat. Lemon is squeezed generously on both flesh and roe. Then, using either forks or fingers, the shad’s many bones are separated from its nutty, delicate flesh. Roe, fused with crisp bacon, is piled high. The sounds of lip-smacking and a few low mmmmms can be heard. If early spring can be rendered into one glorious feast, we are sitting at the head table. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
hree weeks later, and 50 miles upstream, the river valley has transformed into a chartreuse wonderland. River birches and sycamores burst with new foliage. The first migratory songbirds have arrived: phoebes, towhees, yellow-rumped and pine warblers. An oriole zips from branch to branch flashing neon orange. Across the river 300 yards away, a bald eagle sits low in its massive nest. Fleece hats and fingerless gloves have long been shed and forgotten. But the river is still cool, maybe mid-50s, a perfect temperature for active shad. This spot, a cobble shoal gently giving way to deeper water, suitably lacks the brawling brutality of the lower river. I stand solo, double-hauling the shooting head. Coils of running line whirl from my stripping basket—essential gear for shad fishing. Then they settle and straighten in the current before I begin retrieving the fly. The key to this fishing is speed— fast, foot-long strips as if you were prospecting for bluefish or stripers. The other key is leader length—just two feet of straight 10-pound test and a simple unweighted shad fly. A fly with a body of chartreuse ice chenille on a size 8 streamer hook is all you need. The fly stops mid-strip. Keeping the rod pointed at the strike, MAY/JUNE 2019 I 49
2/25/19 11:55 AM
When the shad are in, they’re in. Anglers who find them can land plenty of fish in short order. When that happens, a smoker gets a workout.
I jab back with my line hand. First I feel solid thumping weight; then fly line yanks from my hand and out of the basket. I lift the rod, and the reel chatters away. This is open water, so I give the shad room to fight. It responds accordingly with a wild jump and another nice run. It looks to be a male (a buck), of about three pounds. As I bring it closer, a dozen similar-sized shad ghost behind it, curious about its sudden runs and jumps. The hooked fish swims within a few feet of me, prompting the others to peel away two and three at a time. I slide the buck into the shallows and pounce on it. I clamp the shad to a chain stringer hanging from my wading belt and let it bleed out in the river. But I don’t stop casting. Eight releases later, including a fine roe pushing five pounds, it is time to leave. I take the buck to my car, where another shad angler has parked next to me in his pickup. He looks at the fish, and then at me, and asks with a bemused expression: “You’re gonna eat that?” I place the fish in the cooler, taking my time to make sure it is well covered in ice, and then say without looking up, “Oh yeah.” This fish is scaled and filleted, then cut into smaller chunks. I toss these into a container of briny water, where they will soak overnight. The next day, the chunks are rinsed, patted dry, and then placed in a jar with alternate layers of sliced onion and carrots, along with a smashed clove of garlic, a bay leaf, and a teaspoon of chopped fresh dill. Last, I pour a heated solution of vinegar, sugar, and pickling spices over the fish, then seal the jar for three days. On the third day, I drain the vinegar and replace it with several generous dollops of sour cream. Then I gently stir until the shad and onions are covered. I now have before me the greatest appetizer ever to adorn a crisp flatbread—a tangy, sweet, briny, firm, and creamy gift from the river gods. The traditional accompaniment is a chaser of freezer-cold Scandinavian aquavit, but Absolut over ice works, too, if you must force me. 50 I AMERICAN ANGLER
y the second week in May, I am almost 100 river miles farther upstream in the Catskills, on the upper Delaware’s famous trout water. It is late morning. And though caddis bounce over riffles and an occasional stately March brown rides the currents, it is the shad I still seek. The chartreuse wall of foliage has followed me to this spot, along with what seems like the entire eastern migratory bird population. Vireos, thrushes, tanagers, redstarts, ovenbirds, and various other warblers I can’t identify sing all around me. I look at the riffle chuckling downstream and then the dark mysterious pool a short cast away. Above me, a blue dome with a few lazy cumulus clouds smiles down. I breathe in deep lungfuls of the sweet, earthy aroma of the Delaware Valley in its full spring splendor. At this moment, calf deep, there may be no better place on the planet. And I am already into a half dozen shad. A single buck is tethered to my stringer, which I looped around a partially submerged tree limb. By now, my casting has fallen into a pleasant routine. Shoot the line, aiming for the far shore. Let it sink for two seconds; then begin stripping quickly. Repeat until the line jolts to a halt. Strip-set; then let the shad pull loose line from the basket until it’s on the reel. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
2/25/19 11:55 AM
A drift boat approaches from upriver as I fight another fish. Two sports, both decked out in full wild trout armament, stare at me. They look perplexed at the stripping basket and my otherwise minimalist setup (no vest, landing net, or other high-tech accoutrements; just a fly box, nippers, and leader wheel stuffed in the pouch of my waders). The guide, trying to play it cool as only a fishing guide can, says something about how it’s just a shad, and the two sports immediately try to look disinterested. Yet they continue staring as a fat roe damn near takes me into my backing. They float around the next bend before they look back and see me land it. Late that night, I place the shad fillets in a ziplock bag filled with a solution of water and equal parts kosher salt and sugar. The next morning, I rinse off the brine, blot the fillets with a paper towel, and let them air-dry for an hour. Meanwhile, my trusty Little Chief electric smoker, its insides blackened with a quarter century of sticky tannins and oils, stands at the ready. I plug it in, lay the fillets on the rack, and replace the lid. Then I slide in a panful of wood chips. For shad, I use any wood as long as it’s apple. Soon a steady stream of wonderful-smelling smoke trickles from beneath the lid. An hour later, I replace the pan with more chips, and four hours after that, the shad is bronzed WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
with a patina of smoky, caramelized perfection. I will share one fillet with Jim, a surprise for our next fishing trip together. The other one I’m about to devour with my paws like a grizzly bear. I pour myself a chilled mug of spring wheat beer. Then I peel off a piece of shad along the mostly bone-free upper edge. The tang of the apple smoke and the almost creamy flavor of the shad intertwine like two beautifully played musical notes. I sip the cold beer. Then I break off another piece and pick out a prominent Y-bone. I consider it for a few seconds, this quintessential shad calling card, and place it next to the rapidly shrinking fillet. This will be my last shad of the season. Many have already started spawning, and some of the early fish are past their prime, having burned up much of their fat reserves. I’ll watch them while I cast for trout at last light, the males torpedoing along the surface, chasing females. Later in the summer, pools will dimple with shoals of fingerling shad dropping back to the ocean. Before I know it, both the beer and smoked shad are gone; just an empty mug and a pile of oddly shaped bones are all that’s left. Stephen Sautner’s latest book, A Cast in the Woods, is published by Lyons Press. Learn more at stephensautner.com MAY/JUNE 2019 I 51
2/25/19 11:55 AM
Drift T The cold water of fall boosts muskie metabolism by an order of magnitude, but youâ€™ve still got to strip a fly through the kitchen. A multi-boat Esox caravan makes finding those lies easier.
ALL PHOTOS BY DREW STOECKLEIN
52 I AMERICAN ANGLER
2/25/19 12:08 PM
Time Launching a drift boat for muskies eases the mind. By Dave Karczynski
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 53
2/25/19 12:09 PM
It’s late October in muskie country,
the first wintry blow of the season. Packers flags wrap tight around flagpoles, and leaves clot the windshield of the lead truck so thickly we have to stop our caravan twice. I’m fishing today with the boys from Boulder Boatworks, who’ve hauled their goods halfway across the country from Colorado to northeast Wisconsin to do something they can’t back home: chase teeth. I’ve ogled their boats long enough to have violated any and all angler commandments about coveting thy neighbor’s property—something about the combination of classic woodwork on a modern build—but this is the first time I’ve gotten the chance to fish from one. I’m as ready to chase Esox as I’ve ever been. I’ve got 12 more flies than I need, a wader pocket full of energy bars, and even a beer koozie-cum-lanyard around my neck—good for Saint Bernarding yourself when a casting hand turns to pulp, or a shoulder goes kaput, or you suffer any of the other dozen maladies associated with muskie fishing, not the least being an often bruised ego. At the launch, all three boats slip in without a hitch, and as the concrete landing disappears behind a riverbend, I give thanks for this opportunity. There’s no place I’d rather be than right here, which is good because there’s no other place I could be. That’s the beauty of a day on the river in a drift boat: the point of no return comes early. Drift boats. I’ve traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles
54 I AMERICAN ANGLER
in them. I’ve sung in them, slept in them, screamed until I saw stars after great fish I’d missed, laughed like a madman for hours after boating a personal best. As a moving-water fishing tool, the drift boat is unrivaled. I’m here to celebrate the drift boat as a social club par excellence, the hub of sporting hubs. With apologies to worm-dunkers with their wobbly piers, and buddied-up bowhunters in tandem tree stands, the drift boat is as perfect a space to share with other humans as you’ll find in the sporting world. For starters, few flotation devices this side of an Alcatraz raincoat have such a sense of escape built in. With no direction but downstream, and no stopping unless you really, really need to, a drift boat has all the joy and adrenaline of a jailbreak. Adding to this feeling of escape is the fact there’s nothing to distract you, and few questions to figure out. Direction? Just one. Acceptable behaviors? Casting or rowing. Which beer to drink? Whatever is in the cooler. In a world of countless micro-decisions, where we swipe and scroll a billion times a year to find everything from mates to meals, the single-minded course of a drift boat yields a rare existential clarity—no matter what sort of mental mess you start the day in, by the time you shimmy up to the takeout, the world—for a time, at least—makes good firm sense. And then there’s the idea that you and your buddies are in it together—for better or worse. The wading angler can decamp from a shared beat at a moment’s notice, whether to nap or crap or just stare at the clouds. Not so in a drift boat, where among other
2/25/19 12:09 PM
things, tight quarters seem to bring out the best kind of storytelling. New yarns are met with a generous credulity; twice-told tales get better. Always, the fishing dictates the rhythm. On a day when the smallmouths are crashing surface bugs, there are plenty of starts and stops, wisecracks and asides, but on a muskie trip, where there might be hours or even days between bent rods, things can get positively Homeric. On today’s float, I learn about chicha, an Amazonian alcohol made of chewed plants and spit. About how to trap a wild pig with just a flat rock and an empty schedule. I learn the ins and outs of fishing every type of river in the mid-Atlantic. I hear an unabridged history of muskie guiding in the Midwest. And then a crackling comes over the radio: the lead boat has a fish in the net. We push hard around the next bend, and sure enough, the rest of our party is anchored flush against the bank in a victory formation. It’s a good fish, a worthy fish, deserving
of a hailstorm of beers. The tale of the eat and fight is told three times, once by everyone in the lucky boat. Eventually, with the whistle of the evening wind, we realize we’re losing heat and light. Anchors up and sunglasses off, it’s time for last-ditch flies in bright colors, fire-tigers and electric fuchsias and nuclear oranges. Talk stops for the first time all day and the world goes silent except for the churning oars. There’s still an hour yet of freedom to the takeout, still three winding river miles, still 100 or so casts of anything-can-happen—and damn if I’m not convinced it will. And maybe that’s the last great thing about moving through the world on the bow of a drift boat: the odds always feel slanted toward a miracle. Dave Karczynski is the author of Smallmouth and From Lure to Fly. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Left: A good muskie fly should move water— a lot of water—no matter what part of the column it swims in. Here, a fighter is released to live—and eat—another day.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 55
3/12/19 9:11 AM
Before the Storm One day, one fish, in Muskie Central By Krissie Mason Under falling barometric pressure and an ominous October sky, the radar image on my iPhone was aflame. The storm, moving slowly on a northeasterly track, and appearing as hues of orange, red, and purple, was headed for the river we were about to drift. Occasionally, the phone pinged, the National Weather Service sending out another tornado watch or warning. It would be a few hours before the storm hit Vilas County, so with an eye to the sky we launched the Hyde. “Ever caught a muskie in a tornado?” asked guide Wink Weary. “Never caught a muskie, period. Let alone on a fly rod in a tornado,” I replied. Having just returned from a trip to a high-end Alaska lodge, I was still strung out on the tug drug after catching char, coho salmon, rainbow trout, and grayling. As a novice fly fisher, I’d landed countless trophy-size fish in a span of 10 days, and now I only hoped for one, which may have been expecting too much. Literally, I had a day to fish, and we were trying to catch “the fish of 10,000 casts.” I knew muskies were not easy to come by, but at the same time, I was wholly unaware they were so elusive. The largest fish I ever landed was a 20-pound coho. Netting an even larger muskie was a thrilling prospect. But I wondered, how would they fight in comparison to a coho? Could I perform a figure eight if we had a muskie at the boat? Would my body wear out hucking a big rod? I was throwing a 10-weight St. Croix. It was larger than the setup I used in Alaska and took more energy to throw. After a 30-minute warm-up, I found a groove, and here’s the score: six eats; two follows; a toilet flush from a big one that got away; and the frustration of missing another when I looked away just as that fish grabbed a Wink’s Original Supper Club, a throwback fly tossed on a slow-sinking line. And then Wink said, “That storm is coming. I think we better head to the landing.” Mist fell. Thunder cracked. The iPhone pinged. And then it was as if the bizarre weather willed a muskie into eating a Golden Freak Chub. It was raining lightly. The fish was close to the boat. Wink said, “Bring him this way,” and with a noble one-handed stab, the fish was in the net. One muskie landed. Two smiling people. A five up high, welcoming me to the Muskie Club. This wasn’t a giant, but exceptionally beautiful: lustrous, pearlescent chartreuse. I held the fish briefly as lightning flashed. My neck hairs rose and I shivered slightly while admiring the teeth, the long body, the remarkable color, the placement of fins. Thank you, Musknado! And then I put that fish back in the water and watched it glide away. Krissie Mason writes for a variety of publications, covering food, fishing and hunting. Check out more of her work at krissiemason.com
56 I AMERICAN ANGLER
3/12/19 9:08 AM
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 57
2/25/19 11:43 AM
58 I AMERICAN ANGLER
2/25/19 11:41 AM
STRIPES Hitting striped bass at night, off dock lights, is sometimes otherworldy. By Zach Matthews
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 59
2/25/19 11:41 AM
The eerie green glow was the exact color that Hollywood uses to depict something as radioactive. This light hung in the black depths of the lake, like a star in outer space. It was after midnight on a cloudy night with a new moon, so there was no horizon, making it nearly impossible to tell up from down. The effect was disorienting. Our trolling motor whirred softly, drawing us into casting range—into orbit. Two of my closest friends stared intently, just like me, into the emerald halo. Jay Malyon worked the trolling motor’s remote control. He has meticulously rebuilt and customized a 1972 Robalo center-console skiff, slowly creating the perfect craft for this special game. The boat’s multicolored modern electronics lit up his face. Our approach was glacial; just barely moving. Andrew Wright half crouched on the front deck, his 10-weight fly line stacked in neat curls at his feet, which were temporarily bare for traction. Our breath steamed the air—temperatures would soon drop below freezing. Suddenly a shadow crossed the green light, like a partial eclipse, and we all sucked in breath at the same time. “Good fish,” Jay said. “Fifteen pounds, maybe twenty,” I agreed, snatching a pair of binoculars. Andrew said nothing, but stretched and restacked his line, his mouth set. Sixty feet out, Jay killed our momentum, and Andrew cast. Jay and I automatically popped our clear safety glasses down off our hat brims. Andrew’s fly—a Clouser Minnow–Deceiver hybrid, all black and tied to sink quickly—whistled through the air. It slipped into the water just on the backside of the light, darting across the underwater penumbra exactly like a wounded threadfin shad. Two striper-shaped streaks immediately slashed out of the darkness, rewarding our stealthy approach. One was the big striped bass we had spotted, with another, slightly smaller fish acting as wingman. The big fish surged right up to the fly, silhouetted against the green glow behind. He peeled off at the last second, sensing trouble. His smaller competitor seized the moment—and the fly—but quickly regretted it. Twelve pounds of striped bass is still plenty of fish, in the dark, on a freezing, black lake. Jay hammered the trolling motor into high gear; spinning us off the light, giving Andrew room to work. The fish shook its head, taking line, and headed straight for the bottom. Andrew—a tarpon angler—was having none of that, and quickly turned it. Within minutes we were staring at its black and silver horizontal stripes in the bottom of our net. Lake stripers tend to be thicker for their length than river stripers; they have shoulders, giving them short-burst power but sapping their tenacity.
60 I AMERICAN ANGLER
“You think that twenty-pounder’s still there?” Jay asked, halfhoping. “It better be,” I quipped. “It’s my turn.” Over the past few decades, a fishery has emerged on lakes throughout the Southeast and beyond. Originating in Florida’s saltwater boating communities, this style of fishing relies upon “dock lights”—more specifically, a special kind of decorative green light (sold under monikers such as the Green Monster or Green Glow Dock Light). These lights resemble underwater streetlamps; they are typically uncovered glass bulbs, about 250 watts or more, and are placed near private boat docks. Most dock owners purchase these lights as decorations. They do look pretty dramatic sitting on either side of the end of a dock, like
2/25/19 11:41 AM
Fishing at night has its challenges, and running a boat after dark can be risky business. But, anglers who point the bow towards these otherworldly dock lights are sure to find fish, including some large striped bass.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 61
2/25/19 11:41 AM
indicators on an aircraft runway. Once a dock owner in a cove deploys these lights, his neighbors frequently follow. Of course, anywhere there is significant light, baitfish congregate. Often they form the same whirling baitballs that bluewater anglers report seeing. Snook anglers in Florida were the first to realize the tremendous fishing potential these bait schools offer, and their methods soon spread northward. As a rule, pulling more than one fish off a light is difficult (thus our extreme emphasis on stealth), but the fishing itself is not hard. This is a great way to introduce an angler to striped bass fishing, provided they can cast safely in the dark. The by-catch often includes large crappies, largemouths, spotted or smallmouth bass, and even walleyes. We started targeting these lights several years ago, eventually building up a routine. We meet at a certain gas station just after sundown, loading up on fuel and coffee. We fish from sundown until around midnight, unless the fishing is especially good, when we might stay out until dawn. In mid-winter, baitfish and stripers seek warmer water at the backs of coves, exactly where most of the lights are positioned. Conditions can be practically subarctic even in Georgia, so you have to get used to casting in heavy coats and sometimes handling line around thick, warm boots on icy decks. We mostly stick to 10-weight rods with intermediate or slow-sinking integrated shooting-head lines. There is a still-developing ethic around this fishery. Dock light fishing necessarily concentrates angling pressure, forcing us all to respect other anglers. Dock lights often “calm down” after about 30 minutes or so, meaning the same light can be fished by multiple groups in a single night, but only if they give each other space and time between attempts. I was generously introduced to dock light fishing by American Angler contributor and guide Henry Cowen, who showed me the ropes and took me to my first light. However, as a general rule, anglers do not share light locations with others. This creates a conundrum; on the one hand, everyone wants a good experience and these lights to themselves, but on the other, the most prominently located lights develop the most fishing pressure. Given enough pressure, many dock light owners decide they have had enough company, and turn them off. About an hour after we released that 12-pounder, Andrew and I huddled inside our waders and duck hunting jackets, encased in thick layers of down, as Jay rocketed us across a black mirror. Jay wore motocross goggles, peering into the night from his post behind the console. A houseboat hosting a raging party chugged slowly down the opposite shoreline, its disco lights flashing onto the water. People get a little loose at night on a lake. Years ago, someone shot a pistol at Jay and me, presumably some coked-out landowner who had been blaring music from his million-dollar home’s outdoor stereo before he decided to take a little target practice. We didn’t bother calling it in. Jay cut into a cove, then suddenly killed the motor, bringing us into a wet skid, then a stop. “New light!” he exclaimed.
62 I AMERICAN ANGLER
We deployed the trolling motor and slowly approached to find a double light—the very best kind. Many homeowners like the effect of two lights a few yards apart, one of which generally holds the bait. Stripers and other large predators prefer to stick to the shadows, but occasionally flash through in a quick blitz. As we drew near, I realized one of the lights held a true rarity: a “baitball” of stripers, rollicking around the light in a classic tornado. Most were schoolie sized, up to seven pounds, but you could hardly ask for a surer thing. I hopped onto the deck and launched a cast across the outer edge of their whirl, immediately pulling three fish out of the pack. The greatest joy of dock light fishing is that it is almost all sight fishing, with the black silhouettes of the fish, and sometimes even their stripes, clearly visible. The trio raced to catch my fly, with the fastest pivoting towards open water as soon as he felt the hook. While I was fighting my fish, Jay quickly hooked another. As a rule, we fight only one fish at a time to avoid tangles, but schoolies in a blitz are an all-hands-on-deck situation. We both landed our fish, putting Andrew back on the deck just in time to watch the tornado melt into darkness. That’s how it goes; the fish will be there for a few minutes, then disappear, following bait to another light, maybe, or back to deep water. Green-light fishing can be summed up into some pretty simple guidelines: move quietly; fish safely, because open water can be dangerous in the dark; and above all, resist the light. Those green lights draw you in—just like the fish. Like moths to a candle flame, if you aren’t careful, you will find yourself sitting right on top of the light, trying to fool wary predators with 25-foot-long casts. Stay back and work the outer edges of the halo instead, especially if you are searching for bigger fish. If you want to catch more than one fish off a light at a time, prioritize the quick getaway, and move any hooked fish away from the light as soon as possible. As the green-light phenomenon spreads across the country, opportunities for this kind of fishing are increasing. This is a potential win–win for everyone. The landowner gets a cool statement piece (or two) for their lake house, and knows fish will always be around for their grandkids to catch. Anglers get to prospect and open up new fisheries. Dock light fishing is best when almost all other fisheries are shut down, extending our season. And as the number of lights increases, angling pressure can grow with the resource rather than overwhelming it. The only real threat to dock light fishing is the attitude of anglers; if we remain respectful of each other, respectful of the landowner, and curious enough to keep expanding our dock light options instead of visiting the same lights night after night, this type of fishery should thrive, no matter where you find it. Zach Matthews is a frequent contributor to American Angler and the host of The Itinerant Angler podcast. He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia.
2/25/19 11:41 AM
Baitfish imitations work best for striped bass, and largemouth and smallmouth bass eat them, too. Here, a dock-monster is readied for release.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 63
2/25/19 11:41 AM
BULL BLUEGILL, BY ROD CROSSMAN
64 I AMERICAN ANGLER
3/4/19 10:32 AM
On Bluegills By Reid Bryant
hen I was a kid in Massachusetts, there weren’t rivers or salt water in the roughly five-mile circle that I considered my backyard. My fishing was relegated to a bike ride’s distance or a decent walk, at the end of which were ponds and backwaters, and lazy bits of snaky suburban still waters. I grew up in a New England town that was digestible as milk toast, but something less than inspiring for the aspiring angler. So, I took what I had. And what I had were a lot of bluegills. Lake Waban was my primary target, particularly a two-acre cove flanked by the local college library’s lawn. It was all cattails and lily pads and milfoil by midsummer, redolent of decaying organic matter and populated with dragonflies and bullfrogs. The channel of a feeder brook cut a slot through those pads, and scoured enough of the muck to make for some palatable wading, which I did barefoot through the summer afternoons and evenings. I had a wiggly 9-foot glass Fenwick back then, and an assortment of flies that seemed buggy enough to me but were, in retrospect, an abomination. Most were spun deer hair and mallard flank, chopped and stacked and affixed at random to Taiwanese hooks that had rusted, I’m quite certain, well before arriving on American soil. These I tied to a leader of level, 4-pound Stren, with something akin to a clinch knot, before wading into the sand and the leeches to learn a little bit about patience. A montage: Dusk and mosquitoes and knee-deep water, and the smack of bluegill lips on the slimy undersides of lily pads. On the lazier days, waiting for the witching hour in the heat and the lightning, I swear you could watch the lily flowers close. But that was all part of the ritual, the eagerly measured prolonging of the day. I’d ease into the water with a fly in hand and pick a pocket not 30 feet out, one of those holes that emerges through the density of weeds as a bucket full of promise. This was hard for me—hard to take the time to ease my way in, hard to get the loops high and level and tight with my crappy rod and my cracked line, and hard to measure the length quite right so that I could drop that travesty of hair and feathers into the dark black pocket and not into the weeds around it. A miss required a hard yank or a wade-out or a break-off, and the almost invariable disturbance of that bucket, and the departure, for a few minutes at least, of the blue-gilled leviathan that I imagined lurking there. So I took my time, stripped off line, measured my casts, and prayed just a little. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
In case I have not been clear, in my 12-year-old mind, the reality of laying a fly among a flotilla of aquatic hazards was quite a feat, and one I was proud of. I knew if I could get that bug into a bucket in the lilies, a bluegill would eventually eat, and I could wrestle it through the tangle without breaking it off. But if I grew impatient, and tried to lift the fly out of the pocket to recast, I would either snag on the lift and break off, or snag on the lift and spook a big fish. With limited patience, and a limited fly selection, and limited means of acquiring more, this was high-stakes poker. At times I’d lay out a good cast, and I’d wait. I’d watch the nudges of juvenile fish whose rounded lips were not big enough to engulf the fly, and I’d imagine something bigger, something lurking, finning beneath them with its nose aimed up, its patience growing thin. If I waited long enough, my fly would disappear in a boil, and I’d lift hard enough to get tight. Digging a good bluegill out of those weeds was an art. But it wasn’t always pretty; sometimes I’d lift-and-skitter a fish over the thick stuff and into the channel, where it could dance. Then it was all steerage, and the occasional surface swirl, before I could bring a slab to hand. I’d chuck the rod on the lawn, cautiously lay the bluegill’s dorsal fin down, and admire my hard-won prize, aware that the waiting was finally over. I’ll roundly admit there are few things as beautiful as a colored-up bluegill in July’s midday sun, when the oranges wink, and the silver greens glitter, and the swatch of blue-black on the ’gill gets darker by contrast and precise as ink. In evening light the bluegill descends from an artist’s palette into a living fish, something beautiful but spiny. Bluegills, of course, are near harmless, but they also demand some care. Their dorsal spines and rough scales will get you if you don’t watch out. Bluegills are, for this reason, the child’s perfect fish. As a kid I admired each one, something only the size of a small salad plate and no more than a half pound that somehow commanded attention. In the chirr of American toads, and the hum of crickets, beneath the swirl of nighthawks and bats, and under the soft light of a rising moon, I gained a first appreciation for what it means to wait for something . . . and why doing so might be worth it. Reid Bryant hunts, fishes, and writes from his home in Dorset, Vermont. He serves as the Wingshooting Service Manager for Orvis. MAY/JUNE 2019 I 65
3/4/19 10:32 AM
Sunfish Strawberry Wine
By Jerry Hamza
ne of the greatest joys of living in the Northeast is the advent of the seasons. All four hold their wonders, each giving what it can and then, at just the right moment, giving way to the next. I can qualify my love of each. In studying the rite of spring, the stirring of the bounty in the earth is truly arousing. The early flowers—crocuses and daffodils—wake up and tell of warmer, lighter days ahead.
66 I AMERICAN ANGLER
“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters. . . . But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.” —Charles Baudelaire
3/4/19 10:32 AM
SUNFISH, BY FRED THOMAS
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 67
3/4/19 10:32 AM
In fly fishing, we have serious business and then we have nonsense. My nature is drawn to nonsense, like a moth to a bug light. (Fooled you, I didn’t say flame! See, nonsense.) Sometimes, subjects don’t have to mean anything more than what they are. My spring trips to Pine Lake are just like that. To take a whimsical trip, with a perky little 3-weight, in search of delicious colorful slabs of bluegills and sunfish. Pine Lake is small—really, it’s a pond. A lovely late-stage eutrophic lake, its better days are behind. It once gave up good largemouth bass. Now you must release them, as the fertile lake is slowly dying. It is a natural cycle. As the conditions have become worse for bass, they have got better for panfish. You could say Pine Lake has become the perfect domain for the bluegills and sunfish that live there. They have waited out their queue and are finally at the front of the line. There are a few places on the lake where they spawn, but most of the action takes place on the southern shore. One stretch about 75 yards long consists of a sandy gravel, which is perfect for bedding during the spawn. The peak of the spawn seems to slide playfully around, demanding you to keep it under observation. I knew I would be close to arriving at the right time. I had the cooler in the old Sears johnboat that I borrow when I fish the lake. The oars are old and weathered; the paddle section has worn thin over time. No motors are allowed on Pine Lake. The thought of one would be obscene. The brass oarlocks rhythmically knocking in the socket keep time with your progress. In front of me is a cooler filled with ice and a bottle of strawberry wine—Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. No pretense here, a fruity cheap wine with a kick, buried deep in the ice. It needs to be just this side of a brain freeze to be right. The day is a perfect mile-high blue sky. As the rhythm of the oarlocks carries me closer to where I want to fish, I smell the smell. It is such a wonderful smell. It is briny, fishy, laden with a certain saltiness. It is the smell of sex. No matter how old a buck I become, I will always know that smell. It is as primal as the earth itself. It lets me know it is going to be all right. That it is a full orgasmic, contentious orgy happening straight ahead. Though you could take a thermometer to see if the water temperature has triggered the pretty, round fish to get ready for love, there is no need. All you need is a clear nose. As you get closer, you can see the spawn beds jammed together. It has the look of an underwater honeycomb. The smaller fish are risking it in the shallow water. At any moment, a great blue heron could swoop in and make vacancies. If the fish were bigger, they could fight for the prime real estate. Still, they are all busy jockeying for the best spot. The gods have them needing to breed. They don’t even notice the large shadow approaching. They may hear the oars swish, swish, swish, swish. No matter, they have to concentrate on the task at hand. I know I am the only guy who takes fish here. It isn’t private. Though the lakeshore is, the fishing is open to the public. One of the requirements is that you sign in. I can see from the books I am the only fisherman since my last visit, before the spawn. At the sign-in book, I run into the caretaker. He tells me to please take as many as I can. The panfish are of a good size. Some of the
68 I AMERICAN ANGLER
regulars who had fished in seasons past have been conspicuously missing. I wonder if one day, when I am missing, will anyone fish this place? Fly fishing is a sport that has grown up. It has so many glamorous components, I have to wonder if this panfishing is too pedestrian, anymore. It doesn’t matter. I am here and I love it. I tie on a size 12 Bluegill Bee. It doesn’t matter. The fish don’t remember the flies and would knock the shit out of anything I tied on. I am wrong—it does matter to me. I want the fly to be right. I tie the fly gently to the line. I run my finger down the delicate spine of the 3-weight. One of the qualities of genius of a premier fly rod maker is finding the spine to the rod correctly. It is surely more art than science. A master craftsman will sometimes contemplate a subtle spine. In the end the wood tells the maker just what the rod will be. It is one of the reasons I love bamboo. You can take two rods made by the same guy in the same way and they can have personalities as different as daughters. In this way, we certainly love them all, but the glory of finding one that suits you is special. Rods that love you back and just work better with the way you fish—this 3-weight is like that. It is sweet and it is delicate. Sometimes I am afraid to fish it. Bamboo is sturdy, but not tough. I am close with some guys who own historical rods. They wear gloves when handling them. I do respect their delicacy, and the history of the grand sport. I just can’t own a rod I won’t fish. In time I think I will. I have even retired a rod. “Jerry’s Killer” is a custom-made 7-weight from Carl Coleman. I have caught thousands of fish with it, including some very large ones. When I hold the rod, it feels tired. Rods are like prizefighters, they have only so many fights in them. The number, exactly, is not known, but you can tell when it’s getting close. I know Carl’s rod will never fight another round, so it sits in my cabinet. The 3-weight is lovely and game. It can sport a perfect parabolic arc. One of the great things about fly fishing is choosing the rod weight. You can handicap the game to keep it in proper proportions. A 3-weight on a scrappy bluegill approaching threequarters of a pound would need to be handled similarly to a big Atlantic salmon on a stout 8-weight. Life and fly fishing mirror each other. Perhaps that is why I enjoy it so. Life without proportion is wrong. Fly fishing without proportion is wrong, too. The deftness we apply to both is directly related to the joy we take. The sweet little rod and the light leader deliver the fly delicately. The tiny ripples caused by the fly push out concentrically. It is enough to gather the intended response. In a moment, the fight is on. The round fish use their shape to best advantage. Keeping their side to you, forcing you to work them. Hard pulling, with the fish swimming in tighter and tighter circles. Eventually I reach into the water and extract a fat male bluegill. He is easily as big as my hand, which is the benchmark. He will go into the cooler. There are many fish here. Each cast elicits attention. Though there is no limit, I tell myself I will keep 40. That is enough for a nice fish fry. When I was younger I enjoyed filleting fish. I could spend hours doing it. Now 40 is the arbitrary number with which I choose the deal. The knock on bluegills and sunfish is that they are too bony for eating. That is a myth. They
3/4/19 10:32 AM
are about as easy a fish to fillet as there is. I’m guessing where the rumor started there was a hell of a honey hole. The sun is bright and direct. No sign of any clouds to divert some of its powerful rays. I could feel my core heating up. I know that taking sun like that is probably not a good idea. But it felt good. We have put ourselves in the position where we take calculated risks just to enjoy the planet as our species always has. This is the position we created when we evolved to the point of imposing our own paradigms on our planet. You have to wonder if that kind of evolution is a cul de sac. There are times when I choose to live in the moment. I slather on sunscreen and wear a hat. I think maybe the other guys who used to fish here were killed off by the sun. I laugh to myself at the silly notion. I am enjoying this. The direct sun has another effect—it can make you thirsty. I sit down on the bench seat and open the cooler. I look at the eight big panfish lying on the ice. Quickly I figure I am 20 percent done. My mind does that. Always chugging along and redefining things. Then I stick my hand into the ice. The chill sends goose bumps across my body. At the same time, a warmish breeze blows across my stooped back. It’s great to be alive. I reach for the bottle of wine I know is there. As the sting from the cold starts, I find the bottle. I retrieve it and shake off the ice chips. With my right hand, I grab the screw cap. With enough force, I turn it so the cap breaks from the security ring. Crack, crack, crack, crack, we all know the sound of a screw top breaking loose. I tip up the bottle to my lips and take a deep drink. As the sweet alcoholic wine hits my taste buds, the cold water from the outside of the bottle runs down my chin and then my shirt. After a deep pull, I wipe my mouth with my shirtsleeve and make an audible ahhh that travels in a satisfying way across the water. It is delicious. Not the wine but the day and the wine. I’d never had Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. It was on the shelf at the store at which I always stop before I fish Pine Lake. In the years of my college education, I would purchase some sour apple flavor from the great Boone’s Farm. It was affordable and somewhat tasty in the same way you can enjoy a Charms Blow Pop. At $3.99 in the store before Pine Lake, the intrigue was too great and the nostalgic pull tickled my fancy. It was one of the better impulse buys I have made. Sitting there in the sun, drinking ice-cold strawberry wine on Pine Lake, is delicious. Delicious moments in life seldom have any weight to them. They occur on a whim and tickle your fancy. They are fleeting and unpredictable. You just have to enjoy and be amazed. Like a meteor shower, or a rainbow. Fragile, lovely, and short lived. It is the hottest part of the day. That time just before three when the constant sun and its warming effect have slowed things down a bit. I am still catching fish, and approaching the selfimposed limit. I lift the lid of the cooler. I have culled a nice batch of fish so far. Next to them is the half-empty bottle of wine. It is a good day at a good pace. I have switched to a blue popper. All the action was chewing up flies. In a mildly buzzed mind-set
I decided a more durable fly would be better. The nice thing about panfish on poppers is the sound of the take. Like an overarticulated kiss. SMACK! Then you set the hook. This smack has me set up on a very good fish. It instantly puts a hard arc into the rod. I have a few like. You suddenly pay closer attention because you want to protect the delicate rod. The fish is pulling hard. You can feel the constant and rhythmic thrusts of the fish’s tail. Each flex of the muscle sends vibration up the line, through the rod, and into me. It is not an epic fight. Well, that is not right . . . as all things are relevant in their own way. The fish has a big heart and fights its best fight. The duration is no longer than four or five minutes. The best fight of the day and I love it. When I pull the fish from the water, it is a very large sunfish. Maybe it weighed as much as a pound. I suspect a little less. A magnificent bull. It is mature and has the slight head bulge the dominant males will get. Its colors are in full spawning electrification. The blues and green are intermingled with yellows and oranges. It is just so colorful even by sunfish standards. Its belly is that creamy orange you get from the freshest farm eggs. I take the popper out of its mouth and set the fish on the ice. It lies there with its gills fanning, alongside the half-drunk bottle. I look at the fish, along with the rest; it is so much more striking. The thought in my mind is, Too pretty to kill. I carefully pick him off the ice and revive him in the water. With a flick of its tail, it is gone. It makes me smile. I sit down and take a break. With the bottle in my hand, I take it all in. About 30 yards away, I can see a muskrat working on its summer home. Perched in a tree nearby is a male cardinal calling its distinct birdie, birdie, birdie. The sound of the wind blowing through the freshly greened boughs of the trees. It was a good day. I never was taken into my backing. I was never bothered by another human being. The sweet strawberry taste was as good as any expensive Riesling I have ever purchased. Thus confirming what I had always known. The magic of wine, and wine is magic, is matching the wine to the surroundings. This is not an epic tale, by any means. In fish-story importance, it lacks even the required stretching of the truth. For me, it is the subtle essence of this sport of ours. Some truths were found that day that probably have no applicable life lessons. One that comes to mind is, What kind of wine goes with sunfish? Then there are others that teach that the greatness of life isn’t necessarily the big life-altering events. Instead, it is the small unpretentious moments that give us fleeting tastes of simple pleasures. One of those little moments is a tale about sunfish and strawberry wine. Jerry Hamza lives the life you want. For 30 years he helped manage his good friend and legendary comedian George Carlin. Along the way he hunted and fished across North America. In addition, he’s fly fished and hunted on every continent except Antarctica. His latest book is Outdoor Chronicles: True Tales of a Lifetime of Hunting and Fishing. “Sunfish & Strawberry Wine” is part of a new collection called The Zen of Home Water.
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 69
3/12/19 9:05 AM
THE COMPLETE FLY FISHING GEAR BAG FISK BAG… spelled with a “K”
Renee Schatzley Gall 419-535-8888 Renee@tightlinesjewelry.com www.tightlinesjewelry.com • Waist strap/shoulder strap combination. • Fishing rod holder. • Magnetic workstation. • Rod tube holder. • Three inner compartments, three outer pockets.
• Magnetic snaps, YKK Vislon water repelling zippers. • Fleece drying patch. • Shoulder strap “D” ring. Quick adjustment for deep water wading, equipment attachment.
I think you will ﬁnd it’s what you’ve been searching for for ﬁshing or otherwise.
Available at timesnine.com
AMAMG_190500_angler outlet.indd AMAMG_190500_070-077.indd 70 70
3/19/19 3/1/19 8:30 4:55 AM PM
WATERLINES (Continued from page 72) The carp were mostly four-pounders with a few a tad heavier. The bigger ones could drag the canoe in a sleigh ride that gave my paddler a rest. With plentiful bait, a willing paddler, and no shortage of fish, it soon became too much of a good thing. We tried locusts along the bank hoping for something we could eat for dinner. At one submerged beech tree, I lofted a locust directly over it. Slowly, a largemouth rose and opened its mouth in a way that got it its name. I could see the red gills and braced for the bite so I wouldn’t jerk the bug out of its mouth. Just as it reached the surface, it seemed to spot our canoe and turned brashly, slapping the bug with its tail. A few bluegills tried to munch on the locusts, usually chipping away at the underbelly and not taking the entire bug. Still, they attacked every one I put in their vicinity and would peck away as long as it was left in their reach. Late that evening, we went back out with spinning gear to plug topwater for bass. I caught five carp on a black Hula Popper. I kept changing lures to find one that carp wouldn’t eat and bass would, but never found the key to success. Though we had planned to fry fish, we preferred Spam and Vienna sausages to carp. So for the rest of the week, we amused ourselves with carp on locusts. By the time we broke camp, my fly casting with a moving bait had improved, but I’d had my fill of carp. Now when I read the stories of fly fishing for carp, I have to wonder if someone is not masterminding a colossal joke on the fly fishing world. You can see the clues if you look for them. For instance, someone seems to be orchestrating an ingenious marketing campaign. Take the nickname they have come up with: freshwater bonefish. Here they’ve stolen a fish’s reputation—namely, one that people spend thousands of dollars to pursue in remote places—and attached that halo to a carp. A carp is to a bonefish as a VW Beetle is to a Maserati. Bonefish are sleek speed machines, and the dealership is located on an ocean island. Carp are stubby workhorses with good mileage, a rusty color, and they can be found in seedy neighborhoods. Fishermen often remark that trout don’t live in ugly places. Well, carp do. They inhabit waters that the EPA has on its watch list. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
Instead of majestic mountains in the background, you are more likely to fish for carp in the shadows of an apartment building. And most grip-and-grin shots are more likely to make others grin at your carp rather than be jealous. Replace that carp with an equal-sized salmonid, and Facebook will light up with requests for directions to your beat. Carp photos sometimes bring jeers and jokes. In part, this is because many people believe carp to be plain ugly. These fish must be unattractive to each other as well, since they have to spawn in muddy water. If you want to scare a roommate, just tape a headshot of a carp to his bathroom mirror first thing in the morning. His scream can serve as your alarm. Even hooking these fish is interesting. For instance, you can’t hook a carp in the corner of the mouth. Circles don’t have corners. So your fly design needs to compensate for being sucked through an opening the size of a grape. Once you hook a carp, the fight is sort of methodical, to be polite. Sure, the first run can take some line, and the fish has certainly mastered zigzagging. But I’ve never had a carp go airborne. I should add that I have never taken an Asian carp on a fly. Seeing the videos of all these fish jumping simultaneously does make me wonder if I’d just get confused on which one I was fighting. Having said all this, I will confess to fly fishing for carp on occasion. Primarily, I waited 17 years to catch that one special hatch. To be on a slick lake, sight-casting to cruising carp, is indeed a special way to fish. Large black flies fished with minor vibrations are deadly. In between these hatches, I struggled to go after carp. In the back of my mind, I imagined some old white-haired advertising executive standing in pristine waters, catching trout after trout, all the while chuckling softly to himself. The reason he’s chuckling is that he’s the one who came up with the campaign to promote carp fishing. And he did it to lighten the pressure on his favorite trout stream. If I can ever meet him, I’d like to go fishing with this guy, at least for a day. Even if it’s just for carp during a locust hatch. Check out Jim Mize’s two award-winning books of humor at acreektricklesthroughit.com.
307 S. Main St. P.O. Box 475 Twin Bridges, Mt. 59754
CUSTOM PACKAGES: Guides, Lodging, Meals
Professionally guided float and wade trips on the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Jefferson, Madison and Ruby rivers & spring creeks. Call for Rates and Brochures.
Flatline Outfitters & Guide Service: Matthew A Greemore (Lic. # 4005) Cell: 406-596-2036
800-222-5510 • Phone: (406) 684-5639
Cast Out Clutter. Renew Online! Sign up to receive all
subscription renewal notifications via e-mail instead of U.S. mail. It’s fast, easy and earth friendly! Visit www.americanangler.com for details.
Tied in Maine Fished Everywhere www.ssflies.com
MAY/JUNE 2019 I 71
3/14/19 3/1/19 8:24 3:27 AM PM
WATERLINES by Jim Mize
Hatches, 17 Years Apart Forget beauty—locust and carp can be an appealing combination.
weight in the bow was a plus for training, even if that deadweight was casting a fly rod. Soon after pushing off from the bank, we noticed the surface of the lake was riddled with the wakes of fish, as if small sharks cruised the waters. Whenever the fish came upon something floating, a round orange mouth broke the surface and slurped it in. These objects looked from a distance like black wine corks. Up close, they could easily be recognized as locusts. Their “pharaoh” droning hovered over the lake like Muzak. I convinced my Boy Scout paddler to push into some overhanging branches, which I shook, that littered the canoe floor with bugs. I rigged one and prepared to sight-fish for carp. On our first attempt, we slid delicately into the path of a cruising carp. Carefully I took aim and lofted my buzzing bug in its path. Then I waited. The locust sent out vibrations, something as appealing as a chummed blood
trail to a shark. You could see the carp turn toward the vibration, line up, and slurp without pausing. Upon the hook set, the carp took off and we were in pursuit. The carp preferred live bugs and the vibrations that emanated out like distress signals. These insects had minds of their own on the cast, sometimes deciding to fly in an unintended direction. For instance, your backcast might come buzzing by the back of your head, sounding like a swarm of angry bees. Everything it contacted, the locust grabbed—whether line, leader, or limb. So finding a cruising carp willing to eat wasn’t the challenge; the problem was casting a large insect that might decide to fly during mid-cast. You could take pinpoint aim only to have your fly take off like it caught an ill wind. But anytime I placed the locust in front of a carp, the fish homed in on the bug and we were on. (Continued on page 71)
CARP SCALES, BY DEREK DEYOUNG
OR THE SAKE OF FULL disclosure, I caught my first carp on a fly rod over 50 years ago. Here’s how it happened. Back then, parents thought turning kids loose outdoors amounted to training in independence. So my cousin and I made plans to camp for a week as soon as school was out. He had just gotten his driver’s license and I was a couple years younger and happy to have a ride. So we headed to a public campground at the lake. I had an Eagle Claw fiberglass fly rod that I used back then to fish bluegill beds. I also took along some spin fishing gear for bass. Our plan was to walk the banks and fish for our supper. As it turned out, a Boy Scout troop also set up in the campground to train for a canoe race. They each had a canoe and planned to paddle for strength training. They would spend each day on the lake paddling for miles. Having some dead-
72 I AMERICAN ANGLER
3/1/19 8:24 AM
NAUTILUS PRO GUIDE DATA SHEET
Capt. Dino My dad introduced me to Fly Fishing for trout at the age BIO: of 14. Living in NYC so close to the salt I decided to try fly fishing in it and became addicted. During a visit to Jupiter, FL many years later I fell in Love with it and relocated. I guide 10 months in Jupiter, FL and 2 months on the Salmon River in NY. TARGET SPECIES:Snook, False Albacore, King Mackerel and Steelhead BOAT: 27 Ft Onslow Bay for off shore and 18 ft Action Craft for inshore FAVORITE KNOT: Per fection Loop FAVORITE FLY: The one they are eating that day. Atlantic Ocean and the south Fork of the FAVORITE RIVER/WATER: Snake river in Idaho Any type of fishing that involves my FAVORITE TYPE OF FISHING: grandson Logan FAVORITE FISH: Steelhead and Snook FAVORITE NAUTILUS REEL, WHY: The XLMax and the NV-G 7/8 but I really like them all. FAVORITE SAYING: Trust your friends, tie your own knots. DREAM DESTINATION: Northern British Columbia for Steelhead. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO GUIDE ONE DAY?: Flip Pallot WHERE CAN WE GET YOUR AUTOGRAPH?: Book a charter! WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT NAUTILUS REELS?: They are light yet bullet proof. They have never failed me. NAME:
EXPERIENCE NAUTILUS® NAUTILUSREELS.COM
Nautilus ® XL Max
138865-A1-62.indd 1 AMAMG_190500_0C2-007.indd 3
07/03/19 3/14/19 10:21 3:06 PM PM
Instinct by design. Days on the flats can be a wild ride of slow hunting punctuated by adrenaline pumping action unfolding at warp speed. When the opportunity comes to intercept prehistoric poons, or to psychoanalyze neurotic permit, your instinct kicks in. And thatâ€™s the moment you take your place on the bow and make the improbable possible. We designed Meridian fly rods with a similar mindset. At the core of it all is the kind of fine tuned performance that comes with 45 years of innovation and experience. The result? Something akin to effortlessness, something intuitive. Take a Meridian along on your next saltwater journey, and fire on instinct. Colorado, USA | 970-249-3180 | scottflyrod.com
136645-A1-9.indd 1 AMAMG_190500_0C2-007.indd 4
08/11/18 10:47 3/19/19 7:31 AM PM
American Angler May/June 2019