Sunday, December 31, 2017

Second Shifter

The Second Shifter is a stream version of the stillwater Shape Shifter fly. I found the Shape Shifter to be effective in streams but sorely in need of refinement due to the requirements for smaller size and added flotation. On my first time out with the final incarnation of the Second Shifter I landed 4 rainbows ranging from 14” to 18” during a midge emergence on the Dream Stream section of the South Platte River in central Colorado. This pattern has since proved extremely effective along the entire South Platte River when chironomidae are present in good numbers and a good trailing searcher fly between active hatches.
Guadalupe River rainbow that fell for a purple Second Shifter

During a recent outing on the Guadalupe River downstream of Canyon Lake in central Texas the Second Shifter proved the fly of the day out performing a number of other proven patterns.

The history of the Second Shifter closely follows that of the Shape Shifter which was developed on the prairie lakes outside of Cody, WY over the course of 3 seasons. After seeing how effective the Shape Shifter was on stillwater I tried it repeatedly in the rivers of Wyoming and Colorado. When I could keep afloat it proved very effective but the floss “breathers” on the Shape Shifter just aren’t capable of shedding water well enough to make it feasible in moving water.
A South Platte River Rainbow taken on a purple Second Shifter.

Early incarnations of the Second Shifter tweaked more than the breathers as I searched for triggers that would make stream trout rise to the fly. Flashy tail materials induced rises but also resulted in a refusal rate of about 60% in bright daylight conditions. In low-light conditions the acceptance rate was well above 90%, an adequate rate of acceptance for any fly fished over trout conditioned to being hooked and released.

A close examination of the fly in a glass of water answered the question of why bright conditions caused such high refusal rates. When viewed from below, in water, the marabou abdomen emits a soft “glow” that mimics the gasses trapped in the husk of an emerging chironomid. Bright, flashy tail materials caused an even more intense glow in bright conditions making the fly appear 1-2 sized longer with a brilliant “flash” at the tail. In low-light conditions the tail more closely resembles the tail breathers on an emerging chironomid. Replacing the tail with a “snub” of marabou more closely resembles the tail of a natural in both conditions.

An added bonus to the water examination of early incarnations of the Second Shifter also revealed a lack of “glow” around the thorax which is one of the main reasons for the success of Shape Shifter. This was quickly remedied by replacing the marabou thorax with UV dubbing. The UV dubbing comes in a wide range of colors making it easy to match any shade of chironomidae.

Fishing the Second Shifter is pretty straightforward as dry fly fishing goes. For the most part it’s a simple matter of matching the size and shade of the dominant chironomidae on a given river. The difficult part is tying them down to the ultra-small, 28-32 size chironomidae that appear on a good number of rivers. Beyond size 26 the thorax proportions become visually exaggerated. As yet I haven’t been able to test whether this is a fatal flaw in the smallest versions but hope to soon.
This Dream Stream cutthroat took a black Second Shifter on a cool afternoon.

I generally fish this fly on the surface of slick pools and runs where I can keep an eye on the bright foam breathers, though there is a fairly short range of visibility with the smaller sizes. In that case I fish it as a trailer to a slightly larger more visible dry on a 16”to 24” tippet attached to the bend of the point fly.

There are multiple benefits to fishing the Second Shifter as a trailing fly even when it is visible. The first is the ability to show the fish another fly giving them a choice. My preferred point is a size 16 or 18 Royal Trude, a pattern that just looks like fish food. The second benefit is the slightly large fly alerts trout to the presence of possible food, though they may not take the point it gets them focused on the surface in the vicinity of the smaller fly. The third benefit is to use the point fly as a focal point for the angler. It is often possible to pinpoint the Second Shifter once the point fly has been located. However, even if the smaller fly can’t be located it gives the angler a range of surface area to focus on in search of indication of takes or interested trout.

This pattern does benefit from the application of floatant but it MUST be a product that is compatible with the marabou and foam. My preferred floatant for this and all of the J Wood marabou bodied patterns is Loon Lochsa. Lochsa is also compatible with CDC making it a good addition to the vest of any dry fly angler.

The Second Shifter is also very effective fished “wet” just below the surface. By omitting the floatant and allowing it to just penetrate the meniscus the foam brings the fly to the surface but the surface tension holds it submerged just like the natural insects. There are times when this is a more effective method than keeping the fly on top. When fished through slightly rough currents it’s extremely difficult to see the fly or keep it on top. One fine afternoon while trying to do just that I discovered a pod of hungry rainbows at the tailout of a riffle that found the fly quite acceptable subsurface. It turned out to be one of those times where I caught trout until the feed finally gave out, 14 trout to be exact. So far that’s been the most I’ve taken in a single location with the Second Shifter. I’ll keep trying whenever the opportunity arises but for now, not too shabby.

Follow are the tying instructions for this killer fly for those of you who want to tie your own. For fly shops, guides, etc, this fly can be purchased through the CATCH Fly Fishing dealer program.

Friday, November 10, 2017

J Wood Website Lives

In case you're wondering though you’re probably not, the J Wood Fly Fishing website is not dead it's just resting somewhere out in cyber-space. Being one who knows little of the details involved I can't explain exactly what's happening but I can assure you will live again, I just don't know when.

I recently decided to change the web-host for J Wood Fly Fishing and the domain transfer has been seriously bungled. The result is that until the bungle is resolved and the domain goes live again when you try to reach you will be greeted by a sales page for and sadly I can't even put up an "Under Construction" page.

I anticipate having at least a few J Wood Fly Fishing pages back on by November 15th. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Salmon Fly Tying Materials Sale


In life good things come and go. A few years ago I found myself in need of an all consuming hobby to occupy me while I was recuperating from a series of Knee surgeries. Being a fly fishing and tying fanatic I immersed myself in tying classic salmon flies. Now that I am not confined to a chair most of the time and can get around I just don't seem to be as interested in the art of Classic Full-dress Salmon flies. My pursuits at the bench these days are geared toward flies to be used in the field. To that end I want to get these materials into the hands of someone who will put them to use and allow me to finance other tying projects.

I will only sell this as a lot, no piece by piece sales. The price for the entire lot is either $225 or $250 depending on whether you want the book "Building Classic Salmon Flies" included. This price includes USPS Priority shipping within the US ONLY!!

The included "blind eye" hooks are as follows:

9- Gaelic Supreme Blind Eye in size 4/0
4- Mustad 3401-A in size 7/0
4- Mustad 3401-A in size 6/0
6- modified loop-eye hooks assorted

3- Gaelic Supreme Harrison Bartleet in size 6/0
There are several Alec Jackson style 2501 Spey Hooks as follows:
6- in size 3/0
7- in size 1 1/2
9- in size 3
4- in size 5
There are 6 pieces of 2 and 3 strand silk gut used for making the eye on blind hooks. I also came up with a way to make gut substitute using nylon monofilament fishing line.
One pair of hyacinth macaw tail pieces for making "Horns"
One pair of blue and gold macaw tail pieces also for "Horns"
10 Bustard feathers (very hard to come by at this price)
An assortment of dyed turkey tail feathers from Feathers MC. There are 11 pairs in 9 colors, most a B grade but all have excellent usable pieces suitable for building married wings. Most have a few barbs removed. Canary Yellow x 2, Highlaner Green x 2, Scarlet, Red, Brilliant Blue, Royal Blue, White, Black and Orange
2 pairs of peacock secondary feathers
A pair of faux Bustard feathers (dyed Turkey) and a pair of tail pieces from an Argus Pehasant
Prime turkey tail sections
14 pairs of grade A goose shoulder feathers and assorted grade B
Assorted natural and dyed guinea body and wing feathers
Assorted ringneck pheasant "ring" feathers dyed and natural
Amherst tippets some sorted and graded.
Golden pheasant crest feathers that have been sorted and graded by size up to 6/0
Golden pheasant tippet feathers sorted by size
Jungle cock nails sorted by size. There are only a few grade A most are grade 2 or lower.
Building Classic Salmon Flies by: Ron Alcott. This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to learn how to tie classic full-dress salmon flies. I was able to make it through the entire book tying every one of the flies listed. The book is in great condition!
This i not everything needed to tie classic full-dress salmon flies but it is pretty close. Off the top of my head a new tyer will still need to add: tinsels, floss, dyed neck hackle (I can supply some colors for a few more bucks) ostrich hurl, assorted dubbings. Yes it is an expensive hobby but very rewarding. Below are a fe more of the flies I have tied.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cut Out the Guesswork

As a seasoned fly angler, writer and angling journalist I find social media to provide a plethora of material, the latest being the question of matching a hatch. Social media can also be an endless source of misinformation and as a result irritation! The specific question that brought this particular subject to mind I’ve seen several times over the last few weeks and goes something like this; “I saw fish rising on my local stream but they wouldn’t hit fly X, Y or Z, what should I use?”. Now remember we’re talking about trout actively feeding on the surface of a river. It’s great that budding anglers are asking questions but I feel as a seasoned (maybe a bit too seasoned) fly angler I should be helping to steer those eager to learn toward the correct questions.

Justin Fleming shows off one of many fine trout taken on the South Platte during
our September outing. This one fell to a #24 BWO quill body parachute.

The conundrum that such posts present is “how the heck can I, or any other random angler possibly know what was/is hatching on a river at any given time without being there?”. I’m not sure what it is beyond the desire to help but the “what fly to use?” posts always elicit specific responses that are nothing short of conjecture when flay patterns start being listed one after another. I’m not trying to step on toes but I sure hope these anglers don’t fish like that!!

There is a basic question that any angler of any ilk should ask when they step out to pursue any species of fish in any water type, fresh or salt, moving or still; what does my target species feed on? From that basic question, in most cases, myriad other questions arise. The only way to answer those questions is through study, preparation and observation. In the case of surface feeding trout the observation is far easier than most emerging anglers might suspect. In fact, of all the situations presented to the fly angler this is arguably the simplest to decipher.

When trout are feeding on top simply drop downstream, preferably within the same current seam they are feeding and skim the river surface with an insect seine. Look at what comes up in the net and match it as closely as possible from your fly boxes. That’s the observation part of the equation and at any particular moment the most important aspect of successful angling to surface feeding trout during an active hatch.

Any seasoned and successful trout angler can tell you that what worked yesterday may not work today and what the trout are focused on at any given moment during an active hatch IS going to change in a matter of minutes or at most hours. What is happening now may or may not cycle back around tomorrow. That is not conjecture that is a fact. Hatches cycle daily, with multiple hatches occurring throughout the day and at times multiple hatches will occur simultaneously. The ONLY way for you to know what is happening at a given moment is through observation. The use of a seine is the quickest and easiest way to hone your observation. The one caveat I will ad here is that there are a small number of anglers on a given river that can somehow mysteriously pick the bug and stage by what seems like osmosis. But if you spend a little time around them you realize they just know the water and can decipher what is happening through extensive experience on the water.
It doesn't get much better than a payoff like this one for James Dionizio as Nick Haxhijaj looks on. Together they unlocked the hatch and alternated landing nice trout on the South Platte in Central Colorado. These are hard won trout that require a cerebral approach in addition to surgeon like presentation skills. 

Now if this is a discussion in a bar with a crowd of fly anglers this is the point where someone speaks up and says the fly doesn’t matter and it’s all about presentation or tippet size. This is an argument as old as fly fishing to which I say hogwash….kind of. There are times when there are few active hatches throughout the day and the best approach if you want to fish dry is to throw on an attractor and get to it. A good angler with a good sense of the river can catch quite a few fish. Where I cry “HOGWASH!!” is when there is an active hatch and the trout are focused on a particular stage of a particular insect. True there are usually a few trout in a pod of active, focused feeders that will take a well-presented attractor. But my question to the attractor guy is “Why would I settle for one or a few fish when I can take multiple fish by matching the hatch.

Then there are also times when ONLY the correct fly will do. This past June my friend Nick and I spent 4 days fishing the South Platte River in Colorado. We arrived early one morning to fish a favorite stretch of mine that always provides good dry fly action. Upon arrival there were clouds of tricos in the air and a good number on the water. Trout were feeding steadily on the female duns as they drifted on the surface. I had left my trico dun box back in the room where we were staying. Throughout the hatch I presented BWO patterns of the correct size and stage to them with only minimal takers. Later as the spinner fall started I began to focus on a reliable current seam that always holds the biggest trout in this section of the river.

I knew from experience that the three fish I really wanted were gorging on the spinners. Unable to get into the seam and seine because of the location I started presenting fly after fly opening with size 18 and working my way downward. With each fly change I stepped away from the feeding lane, retied, returned to my casting position and made multiple drifts over the feeding trout without a single look. I even watched in frustration as the size 22 spinner pattern slipped over the downstream trout so perfectly that it pushed the fly upward while taking a natural, not just once but three times!

My last fly change was down to a size 24, the smallest I had on me. I got back into casting position and on the very first drift into the trailing trout’s feeding lane it tipped up a took my fly!! It was a cutthroat of approximately 24”, full of fight that immediately dropped into the heavy current downstream. I followed, and in an attempt to get the trout to move out of the current applied increasing pressure until the hook pulled lose. Slightly downtrodden but exhilarated I stepped back into casting position. It only took two drifts to get the fly over the next trout in line. When it raised its head and took I knew the fly was right. Just a few minutes later I slid a cutthroat identical to first one hooked into my net.
Trout like this over-size cutthroat can be extremely selective feeders.
After many fly changes this one finally took a #24 Trico spinner.
After a few quick photos and an enthusiastic high-five I gave Nick a duplicate of the fly I was using. He made his way back upstream to a large cutthroat that he had made acceptable presentations to with multiple flies. On the first drift into the trout’s feeding lane or rose and took. Unfortunately we did not land that fish but the take proved that the right fly was the only fly that morning while fishing to those particular trout.

A similar experience happened to us the last week in September. Back on the South Platte, Nick and I, as part of a party of four spent hours of both frustration and exhilaration while matching hatches on some of the most technical water in the state. Time and again the correct fly proved to be the difference between cooperative and non-cooperative trout. The key to success and multiple trout landed was three-fold. We had prepared by knowing what insects to expect and tied, purchased the correct patterns. We knew the patterns to have on-hand through previous study. But the most important thing of all was that we observed what was happening by seining the water column and selected the flies that the trout were focused on.

Ever since I was a youngster wanting to be a top-notch fly angler I’ve heard and read about how complicated it is to be successful. In a way, being a successful fly angler is difficult but only if you make it so. Stop guessing what the trout are feeding on. Do yourself a favor and get some type of net to seine the water with and learn the basic bugs you need to have in your fly boxes. And don’t forget the most important aspect to becoming a successful, seasoned angler. There is NO substitute for time on the water.

Friday, September 1, 2017

South Platte River, CO Trip Openings

South Platte River September 25-30

Update October 2, 2017. This trip went off without a hitch....well kind of. The weather this time of year in Colorado can be a bit unpredictable. Because of that we had to make some changes to our fishing locations. We ended up fishing 2 sections of the South Platte twice with great success.

How would you like to be able to spend 5 nights with 4 days fishing on one of the country’s premier trout rivers? 
The dates are set for the last week in September. We will depart north Texas early on Monday September 25 and return Saturday September 30. If you are from a different region of the country you can get to Woodland Park and meet us there. The lodging is a fully appointed 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in beautiful Woodland Park, CO which is 20 miles northwest of Colorado Springs. At an elevation of over 8,400 feet and surrounded by alpine mountains, Woodland Park is one of the most picturesque cities in the country. Breakfast and evening meals will be prepared hot, daily from a set menu or we can eat out at the many local establishments. That aspect can be determined beforehand. Lunches can be prepared for you or you can bring your own.  

We will be fishing what are arguably three of the most famous and sought after stretches trophy trout water in the country! These are pristine stretches of river that are full of wild, stream bred rainbow, brown, cutthroat and cutbow trout.

The tentative itinerary looks like this:
Tuesday, day 1-Fishing will be on the Dream Stream stretch of the South Platte river approximately a one hour drive from our lodging. This strectch of river gets it’s nickname by making angler’s dreams come true. Every fall brown trout of up to 34” are taken as they migrate to the tailwater of Spinney Reservoir. There aren’t many of these behemoths, some anglers fish for years without ever hooking one and even fewer anglers land them but that’s why they are the fish of a lifetime. But fear not! The river hosts a healthy resident population of rainbow, brown, cutthroat and cutbow trout that average 18” with large specimens over 24” fairly common. If that’s not enough then add in the chance to catch kokanee salmon as they migrate up out of Elevenmile Reservoir and stage alongside the staging brown trout. PLEASE TAKE NOTE!!!!!! We will NOT be fishing for actively spawning fish. If the brown trout are on redds, which is highly unlikely, we will NOT target them. Historically they do not move on to active beds until weeks after our scheduled trip.

Wednesday, day 2- We will be fishing in Elevenmile Canyon, which is a little closer to Woodland Park at just a 40 minute drive. Elevenmile Canyon is no secret to the angling fraternity and with good reason. This beautiful stretch of river lies within a granite walled canyon and flows from the dam at Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir. This stretch of river is a sight to see and visually a complete contrast to the Dream Stream section of the river. With everything from plunge pools to long quiet runs this stretch of river offers something for any and every style of fly fishing. The majority of the trout landed here are browns that range in size up to 20” though I have heard tales of larger browns being taken. The real treat here is the dry fly fishing for cutthroats which I have personally taken up to 24”! These are picky trout with an appetite for tiny flies drifted perfectly. In total contrast the deep seams, plunge pools and rapids scream for a dead-drifted nymph, the smaller the better. September is an excellent time to fish Elevenmile due to the prolific hatches and minimal crowds. You can expect to find BOW, PMD, Trico and caddis hatches along with a still healthy populating of terrestrials to keep the trout looking up. The wading and climbing in and out of the river are more demanding than the Dream Stream-which is a piece of cake by the way- so being physically fit is important, especially since Thursday will be even more demanding.

Thursday, day 3- We will be making a trek into the famous Cheesman Canyon stretch of the South Platte River. Cheesman Canyon is a 45-minute drive from Woodland Park many miles downstream from Tuesday and Wednesday’s fishing locations. Of all the waters in Colorado, Cheesman Canyon is considered the most picturesque by almost all who enter and make the trek we are scheduled to make! It is also unique in that it requires a 2-mile hike at approximately 8,000 feet elevation to get to the sections we will be fishing but the hike is well worth every step! Once in the canyon with boots planted firmly in the river you will have the opportunity to fish over some the most selective trout in the country. These trout live in pristine clear water that is loaded with tiny insects. The trout here don’t see as much pressure as other stretches of the South Platte yet somehow they are inherently selective and that’s the challenge. This stretch of river is a nympher’s dream. You will be able to sight fish to some very large rainbow, cutthroat, brown and cutbow trout. You will also have the opportunity to fish deep slots, seams and pools where you will be relying on nothing but your nymphing skills to detect subtle strikes from trout that you may not be able to land once hooked! There are brutes in this section of the river. The bonus here is the dry fly fishing, the catch is that it doesn’t always occur. Conditions have to be right but when they are trout up to 20” will sip tiny flies from the surface in challenging lies, a situation that may well test your patience and casting skills to the limit.

 Friday, day 4 and our last day on the water- We will be driving up to an alpine lake managed by the city of Colorado Springs. This will be our longest driving day but also the shortest fishing day. We will want to arrive at the gate before 7:00 a.m. ready to go, because we have to be out the gate before 2:30 p.m. when the gate is locked for the evening. I can’t say enough about this lake and the awesome cutthroat that live there. Lake fishing for trout is completely different from river fishing and will require different flies and techniques but these trout are worth it. This is not a numbers lake it is a size and beauty lake. These are definitely some of the most beautifully colored trout in the world! If you are a tyer I can supply photos and recipes for the go-to flies and if you are not a tyer I can supply them or they can be purchased locally.

Having a short day on Friday will give us the opportunity to get back to the lodge by mid-afternoon and get all our gear squared away. We will be leaving pre-dawn on Saturday morning for the drive back to north Texas.

Another thing to note is that I am NOT a guide and will NOT be actively guiding. This is a DIY fishing trip. I know the waters we will be fishing very well and have had great success over the years on all the stretches of river mentioned. I have only been on this alpine lake once and my personal success was…..well there wasn’t any due to extreme hard headed stubbornness on my part in refusing to fish the way my guides told me to. That said everyone else in the party caught trout. I won’t make the mistake of squandering the opportunity to land one of those beauties again!

If you are a reader of Southwest Fly Fishing magazine you may have seen articles covering the Dream Stream (May/June 2017) and Cheesman Canyon (July/Aug 2017) in recent issues. I haven't written about Elevenmile Canyon.....yet.

Please note that Thursday's hike into Chessman Canyon is a demanding hike. On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is sitting in a lawn chair beside a river and 10 is scaling a cliff with a rod in your teeth the hike itself is a 6 if you can handle the altitude. If you have never been at altitude or have trouble with it it will be 8 on that same scale.

If you want more details I can be reached at 719-640-2198. Please note that I don’t usually answer calls from numbers I don’t already know. Leave a message and I will call you back promptly.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Maiden Voyage

There are some days you write home about and then there are days you just write about. I'm not sure which one this morning turned out to be-probably the latter-but either way it was a ton of fun.

As of April 15 Sharon and I are no longer traveling the country in our travel trailer. Of all places we settled down, for a couple years anyway, in Denton, TX. The reasons for Denton are numerous but but few are of any consequence. Since this is the part of Texas where I was born and raised we're close to family and that's inducement enough at this point in our lives.

From before the time we landed here I have been telling myself and Sharon that I was going to get a kayak so I can can get out on the local lakes, fish with friends across the state and just generally get on the water. Last week I finally pulled the trigger. I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek because it's not like I spent a ton of money and got a top of the line model or brand for that matter. The thing is I'm not one to spend big bucks, as a general rule, on any item when a regular model will do. Not that wouldn't like to have a Diablo, Jackson, Hobie or one of those other super cool brands but the truth is I think my $300 Lifetime Tamarack Angler will do just fine.

Before you tune out I should tell you I chose this one because I was fortunate enough to use a predecessor to this hull in Florida this past winter. I was extremely impressed with the stability and the amount of room for the size. As for the stability it is far more stable than any of the other kayaks I've been in; not exactly a ringing endorsement since that number now totals 4 different hulls designs but it is stable enough that I feel completely safe hitting open water after just one outing.

Being of the mind that once it's mine it needs to be branded the first thing I did was wash the warehouse dust off the hull and start applying decals. In honor of my time this spring in Rockport I deflowered the hull with a decal courtesy of my good friend Jeff Johnson owner, guide, head cook and chief bottle washer at Fly Fish Rockport then a bunch of others I happened to have around including a few from Cam at The Fiberglass Manifesto. You can bet there will be more as I can collect them, along with a mane for the vessel I'm calling "My-Yak" for now because that's just the kind of guy that I am.

This morning I took My-Yak on it's maiden voyage to Lake Ray Roberts north of Denton. One of the benefits of being close to family is that they are all is finatical (it's a pun) about fishing as I am and my brother Mark is in the know about Ray Bob as the locals call it. With the aid of an AID map (yes another pun, it's that kind of day, you'll see why soon) he directed me to a starting point which as it turns out would be fine in a bass boat but not so much for a kayak. Launching into the wind on a maiden voyage just doesn't seem like peaches to me, luckily I have the map, which by the way wasn't as easy to locate in stores as one would think but maybe that's a story in itself examining why local sporting goods stores only carry maps for locations other than the ones closest to them. Like I said, a story for another day.

So off I went with the aid of my AID map to another boat launch. Not knowing the lake I felt it best to stick with known workable locations rather than try and find some of the hidden gems Mark rattled off in a fast paced phone conversation. I could visualize him visualizing every detail as if I knew what the F&@k he was seeing in his head after spending years roaming the lake. I think we may need to sit down with the map or do some physical recon together so future conversations like that will mean something to both of us.

Wanting to keep things as simple as possible, and up my odds of landing a bass on the maiden voyage, I reverted to casting gear for the day. Yes gasp, gasp I used casting gear, freely admit it and I am writing about it on a blog devoted to fly fishing. Life is hard now let's move on because this is where things get a bit interesting. Feel free to let me know about it if you are so inclined.

Picking up casting gear after basically NOT for several years presents just as many challenges as a gear angler picking up a fly rod after a long hiatus. First item of note is that bass lure have far more hooks than a single hook fly. When you grab the rod watch out for the pair of extra sharp treble hooks they will stick to your thumb, or should I say into your thumb and subsequently into the index finger of your other hand while trying to extract them from the original stuck thumb!!! And that's what it's like to have battle scars before you even get started!

But wait there's more. Having not used my casting gear for several years it has been packed away without line, drags completely loosened and stored in a cool dry location. Last night while spooling new line, which by the way has increased substantially in price over the last few years.
Who knew? I tightened the drags on my reels enough to get the line in place. Now here's a little tip for all my fly fishing friends who may want to pick up a casting rod and reel. When you spool the line on the reel go ahead and tighten the drag to the proper tension. More about that later.

I was on the water just after daylight, prime time to try some topwater because  just like trout fishing I will eagerly forego catching numerous fish subsurface in order to catch one on top. That was a no go situation this morning. The sunfish were eager enough to oblige my desire to catch fish on top but try as hard as they did they could not get that 4" spook in their mouths and the two bass that showed themselves were quite half-hearted about it. I wasn't too broken up about it though because I was on the maiden voyage of my new kayak, which I absolutely love by the way. I can feel the addiction genes multiplying as I write.

Knowing what I do about bass fishing from a former incarnation of my angling career, after over an hour, with the sun peeking through the clouds it was time to go deep, Carolina rigged ringworm to the rescue which I rigged last night. Now as much as I absolutely prefer catching fish on top it may seem quite peculiar that my #2 for bass fishing is a Carolina rigged worm. For my fly angling friends it's the equivalent of Booby fishing but instead of using a full sinking line a 3/8-1 oz. weight is attached to the line above a large swivel and a section of leader is attached to the other end and tipped with a floating rubber worm on a light wire hook. I have long suspected that some bass fisherman somewhere, sometime got the idea from the English practice of Booby fishing but try as I might I have yet been able to find a definitive answer on the origins of the Carolina rig. Stories abound.

On the first cast I felt the familiar tap and pressure of a bass picking up the worm. I reeled down and set hard........kind of.  What you're expecting did not happen. I did NOT go over backwards. I've seen far too many blooper reels to let that happen. Remember the drag? You guessed it, I forgot to finish tightening the drag and the spool freely spun backwards. I frantically reeled and tried to set again but by that time a rather hefty largemouth had catapulted from the surface and threw the hook.

Slightly frustrated I calmed myself down and cranked the drag on the reel. Three casts later I felt the familiar tap and run again. This time I reel down and set to the feeling of the fish swimming toward me, the one down-side of Carolina rig fishing. The weight is so heavy that you can't tell if the fish is swimming at you or towards the other end of the lake. Oh and lest I forget, the drag still slipped, not free-spooling slipped but just enough. Repeat previous hook throwing sequence. The fish wasn't quite as big but it would still have made a fine model for the first photo shoot in my new kayak.

It was quite some time before I got another hit but the drag was tight enough to pull down a tree, instead I pulled up a dull gray Gaspergoo of about 2 pounds. Do we measure Gaspergoo? I'm not sure. Just so you are aware, no Gaspergoo were seriously harmed, it revived quickly and swam away with more gusto than I thought those fish had. Reeling one in is a bit of a let down but at least I didn't get skunked. I got Gaspergooed and that's just fine. As the old adage goes "A bad day fishing beats a good day at work" In my case, as a fishing writer, I think the two are the same right?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wind, Rain and Cedar Key Yakkin'

Looking out the window this morning I can only imagine what it was like on Thursday afternoon when Nick Althauser and I went out to chase redfish around the oyster flats near Cedar Key, FL. It rained all night overnight as a front blew in a took the warm temperatures with it, where ever that is. It's still raining on and off, cold, with gusts of wind that shudder the awning on Prime Mover (our travel trailer) every few minutes. So all there is to do this morning is sit inside, write, simmer a pot of chili on the stove and dream of warmer, calmer days.

Nick Rigging his Rod at the Launch

As surprising as it may seem, to me especially, Thursday was the first time I ever sat in a kayak on the water. I really liked the experience, that is after the perfunctory dunk I took trying to sit in it the first time. It wasn't a full dunk but I did have a wet left arm up to the pit and a damp ass before I got the knack of staying upright. Then there was that initial wobbly feeling as I started out across the flat where Daniel from Cedar Key Paddling had steered us. The wobbles didn't last too long. Once I stopped thinking about wobbling and started thinking about fishing it was all too easy.

With the incoming tide and a short 3 hour window before pick-up time Daniel launched us on a beach near an expanse of oyster beds. His advice was to fish the edges of the oyster beds where the reds come in and feed on the tide. The conditions couldn't have been better with low winds, incoming tide and sunny skies.
Nick Landing The Fish of the Day

I would like to report that Nick and I caught a boat load of fish that kept us busy the entire time. But........ what really happened was us trying to figure out how this redfishing works. We're trout guys with minimal saltwater experience, although I wouldn't mind changing the latter. Damn that was FUN!

The water here isn't as clear as it is in most other locations across Florida. Probably due to the extremely shallow conditions. The night before as Nick, I and our wives sat in Steamers Restaurant waiting on our waitress Nick pointed out a power plant on the horizon where he had done an engineering study many moons ago. The study was for a cooling water intake location. The intake required a depth of 30 feet. Using charts and sounding equipment it was determined that the nearest 30 foot depth was over 7 miles offshore. Like I said, shallow.

Given the slightly off-colored water and our low positions in the kayaks sight-fishing was out. The best we could hope for was blind casting to likely spots or looking for active fish in shallow water. Finding active fish wasn't that hard but the population of mullet in the flats is off the charts. It took some time to determine the difference between the mullet and the redfish. Then all we had to do was get the kayaks into position without running over an oyster bed, guess which direction the redfish was moving and place the fly in a position close enough to get their attention without spooking them. Piece of cake right? Not always.

We both had several follows, I had one touch by a fish that didn't hook up but mostly I skidded over lots of oysters, blew lots of casts and generally just flailed around and had a good time. Near the end of our allotted time I had what was most certainly a redfish in my sights working the back of a small cut. Cruising in at a good speed with line stripped and stored in the floor of the kayak I pulled into position and stopped with what felt like deft yak handling skills. Insert image of me patting my own back here...........

As I lifted the rod out of the holder I heard the faint cry of my name........and again. I turned to see Nick's rod bent as the redfish on the end of his line slowly turned his kayak. Have you ever had one of those moments when you're right there, the efforts of the day feel like they're about to pay off and suddenly you're faced with a choice. Mine was to try for this fish and ignore Nick who most certainly was destined to land a redfish presenting a photo opportunity and our chance to record the event.

With a heavy sigh, not too heavy, I spooled the line, turned and made it to Nick's kayak just as the redfish was spent enough to be landed.  We took advantage of the photo op with huge grins and congratulatory expressions. It's no surprise that Nick scored while I didn't. He's far more patient and methodical in his approach to practically everything than I am. He's a confident angler, smooth and accurate caster, experienced paddler and jut generally a pleasure to be around in any situation.

With little time left I headed back to the back of the cut I had been in to find the redfish I was after had vacated the area, most likely having something to do with my noisy exit. Just a few minutes later I saw Daniel's truck and trailer pulling onto the parking area. It was time to go.

It seems that I will have to add redfish to the list of fish tried for and not captured. It's not quite as high on the nemesis fish list as a large striper but it's moving up fast along with a good-size walleye. I may be able to break the redfish jinx this March however when I spend a few days in Rockport, TX with Jeff at Fly Fish Rockport.

Until then I'll just sit and listen to the rain outside our little house on wheels, rock with the wind and think about the one that got away...........for now.