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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Been Gone Fishin

    It's been a while since my last entry. I have driven from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and back, and have done a whole lot of fishing in between. I have fished about every kind of water you can think of, and landed some exciting new species and personal bests. After 8,000+ miles of driving,  with no cruise control and a manual tranny with stiff old clutch, I am glad to be back in California and off the road for a bit. That being said, it's time to post some footage and tell some stories!

This trip was one of epic proportions. I left Northern California last winter and headed down the coast to wine country and visited an old friend. From there I crossed the Mojave Desert and made my way to Texas to spend winter in the Austin area and fish the waters where I cut my teeth. Once things started heating up, it was time to head East to my true home in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It had been a long time overdue, and I was excited to reconnect with my Dad, some old friends, and some magical mountain streams. From there I drove to the North Carolina coast where I was able to spend some quality time with my extended family. I also got a shot at catching some new saltwater species, though my attempts fell short. Next up, North through Indiana where I fished the lagoons off of the Great Lakes, then the lakes of Minnesota. Undoubtedly,  the highlight of my fishing adventures were the ten days spent in Montana. I was really blown away by the scenic beauty, the quality of the wild fisheries, and the amazing people that I met throughout the state. I will certainly be returning to explore further.

    One of my favorite things about fly fishing is seeking new waters and new species. To be a successful fly fisherman you must connect with your surroundings and begin to understand the ecology of the fish you wish to catch and the body of water it inhabits. It is hard to describe the satisfaction I feel when I go to a river I have never been to before and am able to convince a spooky fish to eat my hand tied fly. To be able to read the currents, watch to see what insects are present, pinpoint the life-stage of the specific insect which is on the menu, and successfully present your version to a feeding fish is somewhat of a phenomena if you ask me. But the more you get out there and pay attention to the world around you, the more in tune you become. I think that is what keeps me coming back even after all the snags and tangles and associated cursing. That pure and undeniable union with the universe when you and the fish are connected through your fly line. 

    Though the elusive Muskee and Walleye evaded me on this trip I was fortunate enough to catch my fair share of memorable fish from wild native Appalachian Brooke Trout to Smallmouth Bass, even landed my first Carp. Montana provided me with several Brown and Rainbow Trout in the 20"+ range that I will not soon forget. I also entered into the world of film, and recorded over 200 gigabytes of fishing and adventure footage with my GoPro. I am currently in the process of editing the footage, which I am learning is not an easy task! My computer is fighting me tooth and nail, but I hope to get some clips availabe soon. Tight Lines till next time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Life On The Fly

    I've known for some time that I was not entirely the same as everyone else. Growing up in East Tennessee I never felt that I was on the same path as those around me. I never really understood it, nor did I give it much mind in those days. As a younger man I was more concerned with finding a place where I fit in. I moved between many social groups, never really finding one that kept my attention and interest for long. I tend to get bored with things easily. I pick up a new hobby, and dig into it learning as much as I can until something new sparks my interest. Some would say I have ADHD or whatever they are calling it now. I say I am blessed with a brain like a nuclear powerplant and a supercomputer had a love child. It is a little much to handle at times, but I roll with it.
    After living nearly entirely out of my truck for the last two years, I have confirmed my suspicions that I am not cut of the same cloth as today's average Homo sapiens. I tend to think of the world in an Ecological perspective, while still recognizing the uniqueness of the human experience. My background in Biology and Chemistry have given me the tools to develop a great understanding of how the world around me operates. However, I find that in science the scope of life can become so micro-focused that some of the bigger picture can be lost. I aim to strike a balance in life, in all its delicate facets. This balance is hard to recognize, but it does exist. Of that I have no doubt. A simple walk in the forest can quickly remind you of this often forgotten knowledge.

    So what does it mean to live life "on the fly"? I imagine this term  has different connotations depending on who is reading this, and probably none at all to others. To me, it represents a way of life. The most obvious reference is that of catching a fish using fly tackle, as this blog is mostly concerned with my fly fishing shenanigans. However, as I'm sure some of my readers are very aware, this term also has significant importance in the restaurant world.
    During my time working as a chef in the fine dining industry I learned many invaluable lessons about life. One of them that resonates more than any other is "adapt or die." In the restaurant world, you never know what the day will throw at you. It requires a level of awareness and ability to remain cool  in the most stressful conditions short of combat. When you have to make something happen in an amount of time that is completely unrealistic you say you need it "on the fly!!" And you find a way to make it happen. You don't always know how, but you do.

    After learning first hand the importance of adaptability, it was enlightening to learn more about the way evolution works when I left the restaurant business to finish my Biology degree. My combined experiences and knowledge  have led me to a point in my life where I have begun to ask myself, "What am I really doing with my time on Earth?" I hope we all ask ourselves that now and then, it's good practice to revisit your purpose fairly frequently. Life has a way of detouring you, whether you like it or not.
   What traveling has taught me is that there are many different ways to live. I don't think any one is better than the other, the important thing is that you are truly living. What do I mean by that? Our society has taken a strange turn. There are many traps designed to make us feel satisfied, pleasure button stimulators which satisfy our desire for life for a while. It is difficult in today's world to wade through all the complexities of modern civilization and still keep focus on the few things we need to be truly happy.


  So should everyone quit their job and become a fishing gypsy? Definitely not. The lifestyle I live suits me, for now. That will not last for ever. People are dynamic. To survive in a world that is changing faster than history has ever seen, you have to be able to adapt to change. That is the name of the game right? To evolve and be the most fit to survive as the environment changes, whatever those changes may be. In a complex world, it seems to  me the answer is return to simplicity. Living simply, within our means and letting go of our more, more, more culture. If we are to truly evolve as a species there needs to be a shift in value to things that really matter like maintaining the condition of our home planet. Things like community, and living sustainably.


    So although this blog is focused on fishing, it is really about life. I hope to share my experiences and way of living because I know we can't all pack our shit and hit the highway, but hopefully I can offer some of the wisdom of  the road to everyone that has access to a computer and the internet. So stay tuned for more adventures and follies, because there are many ahead and to be retold as well.
    My handsome dog model/pack mule Clyde and I have made our way back to the Heartland of East Tennessee to visit my home in the Smoky Mountains and hit some of the best fly fishing waters in the Eastern United States. Wild trout, smallmouth, and hopefully walleye and sauger are in my sights and flows are good after a wet and snowy winter. Keep your hooks sharp until the next installment.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Back on the Yak

    Today's outing was one which I have been long anticipating. Before I left on my recent travels I was faced with a choice. I was going to have to leave either my bike or my kayak behind, only one would fit on top of my truck with my current setup and lack of time for adaptations. I chose to bring my bike, thinking it would be less of a logistical problem as far as size and storage. Sadly, I did not ride my bike once and had to kick myself every time I passed a glassy new body of water just waiting to be fished. 
    After being separated for so long, I was chomping at the bit to get the yak back on the water. Unfortunately we have been experiencing some actual winter weather here in Texas Hill Country, and nice days were scarce when I first returned. Eventually, as it always does, that warm Texas sun came back out and the beautiful seventy degree days I came for were here again. I called up my fishing buddies to see if they were free,  loaded up my boat, and headed over to pick up my com-padre Grayson. We were headed to a spot I hadn't fished before in search of San Marcos Smallmouth Bass. The prospect of new water, Texas sun, and feisty smallies had me on the hook, pun intended. 

    We drove to the put in on the lower San Marcos River, and headed upstream. The first pool was a wide deep bend with lily pads on the slow side, passing under the highway bridge where we parked. Up river it became very shallow with narrow riffles pouring into deeper holes. This was smallmouth territory for sure. We started out swinging streamers through the riffles, but were finding no fish in the shallow water. We continued paddling upstream, and were forced to do nearly as much wading with boats in tow due to low water conditions. 
    Offering our best drifts and every color and pattern we could think of, we were still coming up fish-less. I could feel the sun and the upstream wading catching up to me as the "hanger" began to appear. Hanger is anger caused by hunger, the really nasty crabby kind you get when you just need a freakin snickers. So, we stopped on the bank and I enjoyed a couple tacos from my favorite San Marcos taqueria. Machado and al pastor, gifts from the heavens when your sugars are dropped and all you can seem to do is jumble your fly line up into a mangled bird's nest. A little
 hydration and a safety meeting and our lines were back in the water.

    In much better spirits after some caloric intake, we headed further upriver. The next hole looked promising. A steeply cut bank with a downed log, probably six to eight feet deep at most with solid current. We split up and began probing the murky water with the silhouttes of our dark streamers. About five minutes or so went by when I heard Grayson behind me, "Fish on!" I picked up my slack line and turned to see his rod tip diving as the fish made a strong run, this was a decent fish for sure.
     I hurried over to the bank and grabbed a net from the boats. As I made my way over in the direction of the fish, it surfaced. It was a really nice smallie. Probably around sixteen to eighteen inches and meaner than hell, it was testing grayons four weight fiberglass and even taking some line. I positioned myself downstream, and readied myself for the fish to swing over in the current. As the fish swung my direction, I dropped the net. The current was far stronger than I expected however and turned the net. The fish careened off of the side of my net, bolted across the hole, spit the fly out, and disappeared back in the the murky San Marcos for another day. I felt terrible, I lost this one. Grayson was kind and didn't give me too much shit. 

After several more casts at the one that got away, we continued on to the next hole. Their were some challenging log jams which required some creative portaging, but we were able to push on further. We were starting to wonder where the hell all the fish were. The conditions were perfect, sun shining, bugs hatching, beautiful fish holding water, but still no fish in the net. Finally, Grayson coaxed a rowdy little smallie from the outer bank of a bend in the river. I matched his color and pattern and continued searching for the subsurface bite to no avail. We drug and paddled upriver fishing every potential pool, but the bite just wasn't on. The river was getting the better of us. There were more lost flies, lost fish, and curse words murmured than I care to admit.

        We made it back to the last hole, a much slower pool with shallows and lilly pads along one side, while the opposite bank was steep with some submerged fallen brush. It was approaching dusk, and streamers had not been producing so I decided to go topwater. I tied on an new pattern I learned to tie recently called a Llanolope.  Within a few casts, I started getting hits in the shallows. Most of them were missing the hook, so I guessed I had found some sunnies. After a few more tries, I landed a nice Bluegill. Several Red Breasts followed suit, offering an entertaining fight on my three weight. The bite was picking up, and apparently the Llanolope was looking pretty appetizing.

    After a landing a few sunnies, I got my first real bite of the day. The kind of blowup that you imagine in your head while you chug your popper along in anticipation. A bass came out of the water, arching downward on top of my fly and dove straight down with it. This was a crushing smallmouth bite without a doubt. Once the fish was on the reel I could immediately tell the difference in fight between that of a largemouth. The smallies dive with reckless abandon, and seem to never tucker out like a Largemouth Bass.
    This fish was strong, it was working my three weight for all it was worth. It pulled me under my boat repeatedly before I was able to bring it up to the surface to get a good look at it. Probably around fourteen inches, and beautifully colored with fiery red eyes. I fought it for a couple minutes before it dove and spit my hook with embarrassing ease. Smallmouth are wily fish, much harder to land than I had imagined. 
    Fortunately, I would get another chance. In fact I would get numerous chances. The bite really began to heat up on top, and as we paddled our way back to the take out my popper was getting crushed by airborne bass. Though many of them never made it into my net, each hook up provided a heart pumping fight no matter what the size of the fish. I probably landed around eight to ten lovely smallies, most around ten to twelve inches and my best around fourteen. I imagine i lost close to as many. So, although it was a challenging day of fishing, I learned why smallmouth are so revered. I have not found a more tenacious fish on the fly, I will most certainly be back in search of the airborne smallies of the Lower San Marcos.
    Exhausted, sun baked, and totally content, we drug our boats back to the truck. And in classic form we managed to fish util the absolute last sliver of daylight. I squinted to fasten the last ratchet strap around the kayaks, another minute and I would have certainly had to brandish a flashlight. We all know the curse of the fisherman, "One more cast........"  

Tight Lines

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Back to Where It All Started

    Tonight I was reminded of just how far I have come in my journeys into the world of fly fishing. I have been a fisherman for as long as I can remember. My father was the one who first put a fishing pole in my hands. Poor guy, it was years of climbing in trees to fetch snagged lures, whining kids, chiggers, backlash, and all of the other trials that build the saint-like patience of an experienced fisherman. I grew up in East Tennessee fishing backwoods ponds full of plate sized bluegills Those tenacious coppernose gills would make my eyes light up time after time as the ultralight spin rod bowed over helplessly, bobber dissapearing into the murky pond water. I began of course, with a spinning reel chucking treble hook clad rapalas and spinners, eventually graduating to soft plastics. I still have my absurd box of rubber lures, and crank baits that I have since retired for a few small boxes of flies.
    Years later, after moving to the Hill Country of Texas I was fortunate enough to be gifted my first fly rod. My girlfriend of the time had received a fly rod for Christmas from her mother. As to be expected, she was not terribly excited seeing as she had no clue how to use it. I on the other hand took quite an interest in this new piece of equipment. Wasn't long before I was wishing for one of my own. My birthday rolled around, and I was surprised with a trip to Cabellas and a credit card and told to pick out my gear. I, having no clue whatsoever what I was looking for, began fiddling with every rod in the store. Then I looked at the price tag on a few of the ones I liked, nearly passing out from shock at the 500 dollar price tag on the Sage or whatever it may have been, I began looking for something for a little more reasonable price. I came to find an 8'6" Temple Fork Outfitters Professional Series 5wt rod that immediately felt like it was meant to be in my hands. It is still to this day my favorite overall rod in my collection.
    It was all over after that. I now tie my own flies, which of course comes along with boxes of absurd materials, own four fly rods, and plan on building another one with my old man in the spring. I am fortunate enough to have landed a lot of beautiful fish of varying species, in some truly incredible places, and am no doubt a lifetime fly fisherman.

    For the past year and a half my dog Clyde and I have been traveling and exploring along the mountains and coast of Northern California and Oregon. It has been an incredible journey filled with epic beauty, trials and tribulations, and fly fishing on some of the most beautiful waters I have ever encountered. There are many stories to be told, but not that will have to wait for another day. I am back in Central Texas now for some rest and recovery over the winter. More importantly, I'm back for some good ol fashioned freshwater fly fishing. The kind I cut my teeth on. Topwater blow-ups from big San Marcos Red Breasts, and rowdy Guads in the Pedernales. For those strange and beatiful Texas Cichlids, and of course the ever sought after Large Mouth Bass.

  Tonight's outing, however, was a completion of the circle. My dear friend called me and said that he decided to go for it, he had bought his first fly rod. He asked me if I would teach him how to fly fish. I always hesitate when people ask me this favor. Anyone who has learned the art of fly fishing knows that it is not the sort of thing you just teach someone in a lesson. It is a lot like golf, you play your whole life but never really master it. There is always some new scenario, some new current, new hole that will test you in a way you have never been prepared for. That is the beauty, and the battle of choosing to begin the journey of a lifestyle such as fly fishing. However, to my surprise, he was fervent about learning this new skill. So after about an hour in the driveway, and some helpful instruction, he was actually casting like a champ. Nice tight loops, setting his fly line down softly, it was time to hit the water.
    We went to spot that I though would be good for easy casting, and let him loose. He had focus like I have never seen. After tossing a yellow popper for a while I suggested he switcthed to something more natural. About two casts after tying on his muddler minnow he got a  nice little pop from a sunfish. As was the case for most of us on our first topwater hit, his eyes got as big as silver dollars and he jerked the fly right out of the fishes mouth as his fly line went all over the place. But I could tell, he was hooked right then. He was determined to catch a fish. The bite was really tricky, they were taking caddis on a long still drift but were sipping so gently that they were not sticking on the hook. After the sun went down, we went to a spot where I knew we could fish under the lights. His determination was ten fold as we neared the end of the session. Finally, "I got one!!" I looked over to see his rod high and and he pulled in a tiny but beautiful Red Spotted Sunfish. It was incredibly rewarding to teach him to cast, and see him put a fish on the line in one afternoon. I felt as if I had  truly come around full circle. There is no greater gift I could think of. Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Tight Lines