Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I didn't deserve this!

On Friday evening the Project Healing Waters Program Leads from the Mid-South Region started rolling in. There were folks from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, and the plan was to meet Saturday afternoon to share ideas and brainstorm ways to improve their individual programs. Our friend John Bass, the Regional Manager, put the weekend together and I was invited to update the leaders on my recent activities with TU's Veterans Service Program.

Before we got down to business though, Ryan and I took John Bass to one of his favorite spots on Saturday morning. As we feared would happen, with one exception the creek treated John rather poorly. The recent hurricane brought enough rain to push the West Prong of the French Broad trout downstream and the lack of rain that followed left the creek low and clear. On this little creek, “low and clear” means skittish trout, and they certainly were.
A perfectly dead-drifted Sheep Fly...
...and the result.

Saturday’s meeting was very productive, but the anticipation of Sunday’s fishing was on everyone’s mind. Well, it was on mine, anyway. John and Ryan had arranged with Davidson River Outfitters to have the entire private water section to ourselves, and that’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.

I and four of the PL’s that could stay for the fishing met at DRO at 8:30. We reviewed the stream map, spilt up and headed for the water. Rob Lurie and I headed for the section known as “The Island.”

Both of us prefer down and across wet fly and streamer fishing, so downstream we went. I managed to catch a few 6 inch wild rainbows, but to be on one of the south’s premier trophy waters…well, that wasn’t what I was hoping for. Sure, they were pretty, but they were small. Finally, I landed a fish that put a bend in the rod I was testing. A blue gill! I didn’t deserve this. Here I was on a premier trout stream and the best I can do is two little trout and a bluegill?

Yes, I was testing some new equipment on Sunday. LL Bean has long been a great supporter of TU, and earlier this year I received a shipment of rods to distribute to our chapters involved in our Veterans Service Program. I see the remaining rods every time I walk through the garage and today I decided to put one to the test. They are from their “Angler” series, and though very reasonably priced, these rods are fantastic. I’m usually good for a couple of hours of pretty good casting before I tire - even with my TFO 2 wt. - but at the end of my five hours Sunday I was still casting tight loops. I also was testing a wading staff from Springbrook. In recent years my balance hasn’t been what it once was and that lack of balance has led to way too many wobbly knee experiences. For you guys of my vintage – trust me – invest in a wading staff. Even though with all the gear I carry I might be mistaken for the Wichita Lineman, I’ll never again head to the stream without that 3rd leg.
About the time I was really bemoaning my situation and mentally whining that I didn’t deserve this – that I deserved more than two measly little trout and a blue gill, that LL Bean 8 ft. 6 wt. twitched a bit and I found it attached to a very nice trout. Twenty or more inches of nice. Then, thirty minutes later I netted another of the same size. I took a break for lunch, went back to the river and found myself totally alone. All my colleagues had headed for home and I had the entire private water section to myself. Really…all to myself. I fished for another hour and landed the brute shown below. Another twenty incher. I was right in the beginning. Thanks John…I didn’t deserve this.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Night Fishing

Fishing in the dark. Fishing for big brown trout and not having a clue what I was doing. And as evidence, that picture above aint me.

Wading a big river that I had never laid eyes upon…even in the daytime. Well, that’s not exactly true. We got there just before dark and tried our luck along with a crowd of other anglers at a pool right next to the parking area. We had heard that the big browns were in the area spawning but I was beginning to doubt it. But we were there for the night time fishing and I was imagining that the river would come alive after sunset.

As I recall it was right around Thanksgiving…a little nip in the air. We were right below Table Rock Dam on White River. With the darkness increased, I walked away from that original pool and tried all the proven flies until I could no longer see to cast on this moonless night…to no avail. And then it started. A splash here, a splash there. Then more and more. Big browns were breaching everywhere. That, or people were throwing rocks into the river. Big rocks.

As the splashes were not right at my feet, and since I was a little leary of wading that fast water in the dark, I hoofed it back to the car to get my spinning gear so I could reach the splashes. After tying on a Rapala of about three inches, I would try to judge the distance and direction to the most recent splash. Cast after cast I would jerk at every sound just to be safe. This went on for hours until finally a jerk met some resistance. A nice fish. Heavy with lots of fight. When I managed to pull it onto the gravel bar and get a good view of it, I was quite proud and would have been content to go home with one nice fish to my credit. If only I could have.

As I reached down to grab the big fellow he flipped towards my hand, and yes, he placed one of those treble hooks squarely in the back of my left thumb…right behind the thumbnail. Deep into the bone. Later, we guessed that he weighed around six pounds and I felt every once of it as he continued his flopping around. I needed to get to my knife - and fast. With the hook digging in deeper with every flop, I managed to get my waders down enough to reach my right hand into my left jeans pocket and grab it. I put an end to his antics. It’s a wonder that I didn’t stab myself in the process. So there I was, alone and in pain with a six pound brown attached to my thumb.

Finally one of my buddies arrived at the bloody scene, and thankfully he wasn’t carrying a pair of wimpy hemostats – he had a pair of needle nose pliers with that handy wire cutting thingy up near the handle. Goodbye trout. Now I only had the hook – minus the lure and the fish – stuck in my thumb. Off to the hospital we went.

Branson, Missouri is lit up day and night. At least it was that early 2:00am morning. As we headed through the emergency room doors we must have been a sight. I doubt they had seen many fully outfitted fly-fishers trudging down the halls leaking water from waders and boots at that ungodly hour. Thankfully, other than us and the few docs on duty, the place was empty.

Checking out my situation, one of the docs reached in a cabinet and pulled out a huge hypodermic needle that looked more suited to turkey basting than delicate medical work. He said he was going to deaden my thumb before removing the hook. “Whoa there doc! Haven’t you seen the latest method of hook removal? The one where you get a length of cord and just jerk it out? How ‘bout we give that a try before stabbing me with that thing?"

He says, “Sure, it’s up to you,” so I proceeded to explain the process. At least I thought I had explained it. After looping the cord around the bend of the hook…he yanked on it…I screamed…and the hook remained. I then explained that they needed to press down on what would have been the eye of the hook at the same time he yanked the cord. He tried again and I screamed again…but louder this time. Fortunately my screams had attracted another doctor, and about the time I was agreeing to be basted, he came to see what all the hollerin' was about.

This guy knew what he was doing…knew the process exactly having done it many times. He assigned two orderlies to hold down me and my arm, got a longer cord, and yanked it like he was trying to start an old Briggs & Stratton. I mean, he reared back, and unlike the girly man doc, gave it all he had.

And the hook came out with no pain at all. Back to the river we went.

The point of the story? Print the directions below and carry it in your vest. That, or scream REALLY loud when the first doctor blows it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

And he's got high hopes...high apple pie, in the sky hopes

This weekend John Bass, the Project Healing Waters Mid-South Regional Manager, will be hosting an event in Brevard, NC for all of the PHW Program Leads in his region for a day of meetings followed by a day of fishing on Davidson River Outfitter's private waters.

Some how or another I got invited. Did I accept? Of course. I haven't fished those waters for a while and the opportunity was too much to resist. So I figured that since the trees have a larger collection of my flies than my vest does, I had better get to work at the tying bench.
Do you think you see too much yellow on this table? Not a chance! I think not.
So this week I've spent more time than I should have doing a little replenishing. I had to tie up a few yellow and black marabous, and a few Nub Worms. One of the guys at our Asheville PHW program found a smaller size of our secret Nub Worm material, and so with the creators approval (Not really...sorry Jerry), I tied up a few size 14's. And since John's favorite pattern is the Sheep Fly, I tied up one for John.
Someone is going to catch a very large trout. It could be one of the Program Leads...it could be John...it could be me. Regardless, we are gauranteed to have a great time on some of the premier waters of the southeast. And if not, as everyone knows, "Oops there goes another problem kerplop."
(My apologies for you young whipper-snappers that don't recognize the lyrics. Think Sinatra, not Pink Floyd.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hey guys…I got an idea

How bout we build a giant enclosure out in the ocean. We’ll call it a park…a National Park. We’ll pick a beautiful spot. A place that tourists are sure to flock to. We’ll stock it with every species of ocean dwelling creature that we can find. Both the common ones and those that are endangered. Then we’ll invite the tourists. Families can swim the underwater trails that we’ll establish, take pictures, and have a great time taking in the beauty and the wildlife.

It will be a masterpiece. Everyone from Al Gore to The Sierra Club will praise our commitment to ecology and the environment. It will be a true show place of sea creatures large and small. We’ll have scientists monitor the various populations and if they see a fall-off in any given species, well, they’ll just have to up the protection levels or maybe bring in some critters from the outside.

Our park will be known far and wide as the showplace of deep blue sea. Of course there will be some sharks to contend with, but hey, they’re part of the environment too. Part of the food chain, you know, the eco-system depends on them. Of course there will be warnings signs posted from time to time if their population gets out of control, or if any of them get a little frisky, but just imagine the thrill that little Sally will have seeing a Great White up close and personal. Be careful though Sally. Don’t feed the sharks. Might even have to close the trails occasionally if things get out of hand.

Through our study of the parks environment we will learn our rightful place in the grand scheme of things. We’ll learn that even with our smarts we are no match for a Great White. Yes, there will be some deaths. But ya know, they were here first – we’re in their world - and they’re just doing what comes natural. If folks encounter these top predators in the park and they cause problems, the authorities will have to relocate them to another part of the park…over by the kelp farm perhaps. And if we wake up one day and find that we are loosing too many Sallys, we’ll have to put up more signs and maybe even close a few more underwater trails.

Who knows, the water park environment might be so conducive to reproduction that our top predators, to expand their range, may bust out from time to time. After all, we can’t really put a fence around the place, so the escapes will probably be pretty common. Sure, they’ll harass the folks outside our borders, eat a few surfers and such, but hey, that’s their domain too. The outsiders will just have to deal with it. Our goal is preservation and protection of the species. The aquatic species, that is.

This is ridiculous of course, but so is our current attitude towards another top predator. The grizzly bear. I just read that another death has occurred in Yellowstone. The second one this year, and I read not one word about the need to get rid of them. Yes, they were there first, and yes, we are intruding upon their space, but who’s to say whose space it really is? Last I heard we were in charge here. See Genesis 1:28. It continually amazes me that we, the true top predators, will allow a creature that can kill and eat us to share our hiking trails and fishin’ holes. Taken to its logical conclusion and given enough protection, these creatures, by “doing what comes naturally,” will run the place.

Or take a look at south Florida, where folks move into waterfront condominiums and run the risk of loosing their children to alligators. What do they do when one of these gators has the neighbor’s Pomeranian over for lunch? They relocate the gator. Give me a break. Kill the damned things, will ya!

Imagine yourself a city dweller. You’ve saved and saved for years and you finally have the dough to buy that little slice of heaven out in the country. You move in and find that the place is swarming with fiddle back spiders and rattle snakes. What do you do? You kill them, of course. Even though they were there first, they are a risk to your health and safety, so you do what any right thinking person would do. What’s the difference between spiders and snakes and the griz? Or the alligator, or the Nile crocodile…or that marauding tiger in India?

So we have a problem. Do we annihilate this most incredibly beautiful large killing machine called the grizzly, or do we live with it? There are just over 600 of these magnificent animals prowling through Yellowstone National Park and due to a number of factors our encounters with them are becoming more common and more dangerous. Their traditional food sources are dwindling. White bark pine trees are dying off, leaving the bears with a diminishing supply of pine nuts; cutthroat trout are at risk from global warming and army cutworm moths are at risk too. And there are few things angrier than a hungry bear coming out of hibernation and not finding the usual number of winter killed elk and bison to replenish his protein requirements.

What’s a hungry bear to do? More importantly, what are we to do?
Just wondering…