Last Updated on Monday, 05 October 2015 06:50
October 5, 2015
The Wife and I were supposed to fish a two-day goat rodeo on the Potomac this past weekend, but our buddy Joaquin put a crimp in that plan. The event was moved to Lake Anna, and then subsequently canceled when flooding, gale force winds and all sorts of other apocalyptic crap was predicted. Of course none of it came to pass. Well, the wind blew a bit but it probably would’ve been manageable on a smaller lake.
That’s about par for the course for my 2015 fishing year. As a result of two jobs, a wife who seems to like to spend time with me, a dog who needs attention and some other factors both inside and outside of my control, I’ve fished relatively little. In fact, you can probably count on two hands the number of full days I’ve fished in Virginia this year. Sure, I can occasionally slip away and hit the water from six to noon close to home, but in order to really stretch my legs and fish full days I’ve had to go out of town to escape distractions. Fortunately there have been trips to places like Texas and Montana, as well as two to Mexico, that have enabled me to scratch that itch.
Trip number three to Mexico is coming up surprisingly quickly, so I spent part of the time I would’ve spent competing this weekend making sure that I had what I needed for that trip. That coincided beautifully with the arrival of a package from custom painter and bait maker Phil Hunt in Indiana. I received some of his new crankbaits along with a quartet of my precious Sugoi Splashes, repainted to my specs. If you’re not going to fish much, you might as well make the most of it, and I’m counting on finding out just how durable those paint jobs are.
Last Updated on Thursday, 01 October 2015 07:17
October 1, 2015
Now that I’ve been been exposed to the fly fishing dark side, I’m actively looking to follow up on my brief exposure to the sport. I don’t know if we’ll someday end up in Patagonia or Christmas Island, but if I have my way I’ll head out west to chase trout again sooner rather than later.
Being an obsessive researcher, I’ve already started to look into where I might go and who I might fish with. That decision is still a ways off, but I’ve been surprised by the rate structure I’ve found so far.
Most bass guides, it seems, tend to charge in the range of $300 to $400 for a full day of fishing, with $350 being the sweet spot. Most of the trout clique, on the other hand, up that range by about a hunny, with their sweet spot falling at the $450 mark.
I understand that in both groups there are some who go higher and some who ask for less, and I’m not questioning their value or telling anyone how to run their business, but it leaves me a little bit confused. Frankly, I would’ve thought it would be the other way around. After all, the bass guides have big fiberglass, petroleum chomping 250s strapped to the back of their $70,000 boats, while the trout guys use muscle power to propel and position their much less expensive boats.
So what explains the difference?
Is it just a matter of what the market will bear, with their respective customer bases having different expectations? Are there costs associated with trout fishing that I’m missing? Does regulation or some other mechanism affect the supply/demand ratio?
Or is it just “that’s how it’s always been,” the answer to so many of the questions that keep me up at night?
Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 10:46
September 29, 2015
There are still a few straggler events, but the major tournament trails are essentially done for 2015. That gives me time to ruminate on how to improve them. No one’s perfect, they all can be better.
Not that anyone is looking for my advice, but just to ensure that no one accuses me of favoritism, I’m going to offer a suggestion (free of charge) to each of the three biggest (in terms of prestige) organizations to get the ball rolling:
Bassmaster Elite Series: Bring back WCF-style boat racing. No, just kidding. My advice is no special formats, no mystery venues, just let the best anglers fish in straight-up tournament competition.
FLW Tour: Increase the overall purse size by 25%, but hold that 25% in escrow. If an angler is still fishing the tour two years later, and hasn’t jumped to the Elite Series, he gets the balance, plus interest.
Major League Fishing: Impose a two-minute penalty on any angler who says something along the lines of “This is the most exciting fishing tournament I’ve ever been a part of” or “This is the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve had in competition.”
Last Updated on Friday, 25 September 2015 07:11
September 25, 2015
As a sea-level desk jockey, I was not prepared to deal with the thin air of the 5,000-plus foot altitudes of southwestern Montana. On our first afternoon there, my wife and I took a three mile hike up one of the nearby trails and were surprised to find ourselves gasping for breath just a mile into the uphill walk. Later in the week, I experienced similar effects just waddling the couple hundred yards back from breakfast, but that might be partially attributable to excessive intake of huckleberry scones that morning or too many Honey Moonshine Old Fashioneds the night before.
The impact wasn’t just limited to one end of my body. I’m struggling to figure out the most safe-for-work, family-friendly way of saying this, so I’ll just go ahead and blurt it out – I had serious gas when I was there. I mean, more than normal. Every morning I’d be bugling the troops awake, but there wasn’t a brass instrument anywhere in sight.
I initially assumed this had something to do with all of the heavy meals I ate, with snacks in between (fresh cookies and trail mix in your cabin every afternoon – I hoarded them like a squirrel) and plenty of libations to wash them all down. It didn’t seem to matter what I ate, though, whether it be fish, fowl, carbs or wild game, I was tooting like Satchmo.
Finally, in a brief moment of clear air, it struck me….maybe it was the altitude. So I googled “Does high altitude cause gas?”
The first search result was from Outside magazine, which put it plainly: “Just about everyone gets the ‘tude toots.”
Scrolling down to the next entry, from ever trusty Wikipedia, I learned that there is a name for this syndrome: “High altitude flatus explusion.” HAFE, as its name implies, is a “gastrointestinal syndrome which involves the spontaneous passage of increased quantities of rectal gases at high altitudes.” That sounds so much better than “farting a lot in the mountains.”
I’m cured now that I’m back home, but if nothing else I’ve gained a new appreciation for all of those old jokes about bears in the woods.
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 September 2015 07:35
September 24, 2015
While my two days of floating the Bitterroot last week are likely of interest to the fly fishing purists among you, you’re probably less impressed by my pond fishing exploits. I’m sorry that’s the case, because while the float trips were a highlight of a great vacation, the fish of the pond produced what felt like one of my greatest feats as an angler.
Nearly every vacation day, while the Redheaded Wife was panning for sapphires or engaging in some other activity that didn’t really interest me, I headed down to one of the ranch’s ponds to fish for stocked trout. I could see them swimming around, but given my flycasting limitations and the abundant bushes, trees and tall grasses around the pond, there were only a few places from which I could launch a decent cast.
Complicating the matter further, the pond was loaded with matted grass, and the grass edges were clearly the best places to get bites. Every session I’d catch a few McNugget sized salmonids, but any time I hooked a larger one, they’d run me into the vegetations. I don’t know exactly how tippets test out on the trout-to-redneck translator, but I think they had me set up with something like 5x, which I believe is something like 4 pound test. That’s light enough to make Aaron Martens shudder and to make me cry. Sneeze too hard and the stuff just evaporates. The first few tries with cross-yer-eyes hooksets resulted in immediate breakage. Later on, I tried to finesse them a little more and each time they got into the salad and managed to escape.
On the third day of trying I finally managed to play one perfectly – from the hookset to the strip, to landing my colorful foe with that tiny trout net. If you’d been within 50 miles of Darby, Montana when I scooped him, from my yell you might’ve thought I was Manabu Kurita or Mike Iaconelli, that’s how much the fish meant to me. Normally such a worthy foe would have earned a return to his ancestral grounds (in this case the pond), but I was so jacked up on testosterone, beef jerky, Diet Dr. Pepper and Moose Drool beer that I had no inclination other than to a vanquish him. Like an Aztec warrior, I had to drink his blood.
With that in mind, I flopped the net onto the floor of my rental Chevrolet Sonic (sorry next rent-a-car customer), drove up to the sapphire panning area to prove it to the wife, and then delivered my victim to the ranch’s chef. Victory, in this case, was a dish best served warm.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 06:29
September 23, 2015
Prior to last week’s trip to Montana, the last time I was on a horse was February 11, 1990 in Tallahassee, Florida. How do I know the specific date? I had to look it up, but it was the same day that Buster Douglas beat the previously-unbeaten Mike Tyson. Things were never the same again for Iron Mike, but that day was less life-changing for me. While I had a good time on the ride, obviously it didn’t compel me to pursue the pastime any further.
That was 25-plus years and 30-pounds ago, back when Milli Vanilli still had their Grammy. When the Redheaded Wife and I elected to celebrate our 10th Anniversary in Montana, I knew there’d be an opportunity to ride, and I knew she’d want to do it. I assumed it was going to be a boring but necessary evil in between meals and fishing trips. From our first 75 minute “test drive” on our first full day, though, I was enthralled. Heading up through the Bitterroot Mountains in silence – except for the swishing of branches and clomp-clomp-clomp of the horse shoes – was remarkably therapeutic.
I liked it so much that we signed up for a four-hour ride the next day, up higher toward the peaks, with a purposely brief stop for lunch atop a cliff. In addition to another trail ride, we also went on a cattle drive and got to participate in some team penning. A week later, I’m certainly not an experienced rider, don’t know any terms or even proper technique, but I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to go again.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 September 2015 06:56
September 22, 2015
Our fly casting instructor Tom told us that “trout do not live in ugly places,” and while I have not been to many places where they live, if the Bitterroot River is a good example then he’s certainly right. Nevertheless, while the scenery was a plus, it wasn’t the primary factor that made me enjoy our two Montana floats so much. Nor was it necessarily the fishing itself. Despite the fact that we caught quite a few rainbows, cutthroats and cut-bows – including the 18.5” cutthroat pictured above, and all on dry flies – I’m still a little bit too awkward with nine feet of whippy graphite to be completely comfortable with the experience.
What I liked about the experience so much is that it reminded me of why I love to fish in the first place. There was no serious “bass talk,” no discussion of sponsors or rules violations, and our guide Steve couldn’t have cared less about the AOY race, the Alabama Rig or CHIRP technology – it was just about being present in the moment. There was no competition, except from the redhead in the front of the boat, who was sure to keep an accurate count at all times, but especially when it favored her.
It’s not competition per se that bothers me about bass fishing. Even though I don’t participate in tournaments these days more than a few times a year, I’m still a fan of the game and understand the thrill of weighing in a big bag. Simply enjoying our troutward bound experience allowed me to see how much competitiveness infects the whole bass fishing game these days, often for the worst. I’m as guilty of it is anyone else – I’m the guy idling by you up the creek who doesn’t really look up and just offers a half-wave as he passes by. I’m the guy who says “Kinda slow,” when you ask me how my day’s going, even if I’m catching the dogsnot out of the little green suckers. I’m the guy who may give one or two trusted friends a hint of what’s working, but not much more than that. There’s way too much of the too-cool-for-school in my corner of the bass world.
On the contrary, the trout game, at least in my very limited window of experience, is overflowing with Montana nice. Several times during our float, Steve called out to wading anglers or other rafts with details of how our day was going, with specific fly recommendations, all truthful. He was joyously upbeat no matter what happened and that made our experience all that much better. Believe me, 40 years of bass fishing and avoiding any even incidental contact with a fly rod put me behind the eight ball. My muscle memory caused me to break my wrist on the cast and set the hook to the side. Tom the casting instructor had told us to “show the fish your armpit when you set the hook,” and Steve laughed as I chanted “armpit, armpit, armpit, armpit” as my fly made one of the all-too-rare perfect drifts. Even though I was expecting the strike, I still missed it more than I connected. If I’d been bass fishing, even just for fun, that would’ve pissed me off, but I laughed it off and moved on to the next “armpit” mantra, hoping for another slurp and another chance.
Steve was a good example of the Montana attitude that made the trip so good, but he wasn’t the only one. After leaving the ranch on Saturday, we had an afternoon and an evening in Missoula, and I was determined to hit a fly shop. That wasn’t hard because directly out the front door of our hotel was a large sign which read, unambiguously, “FLY SHOP.” We stopped in at that one and three more and in each place there were clerks and owners and anglers eager to talk to us, even when we made it clear that we didn’t know squat about their passion. They were still more than willing to talk and offer information when it became obvious that we were unlikely to spend much. We’ve all been in bass-focused shops where that was the case, but we’ve also gone into tackle shops which have a core group of local old-timers clustered around the coffee pot alternately ignoring and sneering at anyone they don’t know. We never got any of that. No superiority complex, no patches, no “I could’ve had 25 pounds today when you couldn’t have caught a cold.” I hope that I brought a piece of that home with me to Virginia, and that the next time an opportunity presents itself I pay it forward.
September 17, 2015
When I started writing for BassFan back in 2005 (Has it really been a decade? Doesn’t seem that long.), I was assigned brief snippets about anglers from the AAA level, BFLs and the Federation. Some were seasoned pros, others were new to the game, but in either case my job was the same – to tell their story in a confined space.
BassFan had only been around a few years at that time, but I assumed it was pretty well-known in the bass universe. Therefore I wasn’t surprised when I’d cold call an angler and he’d be eager to talk. I kind of welcomed those scenarios because I had something they wanted – space on a leading bass site – and that gave me a certain amount of cache. On the other hand, there were guys who had no idea what BassFan was (“Bass WHAT?”). At the same time, the internet had not yet spread to some corners of the tournament world (I can’t figure out how to say that more politely), so at least it was a little bit understandable. Nevertheless, I dreaded those calls, when I spent more time trying to explain that I wasn’t selling anything that I did actually interviewing them.
A decade later, it might be nice to occasionally speak to an interviewee who has no idea what the internet is and no aspirations of being the next KVD. It seems everyone is trying to sell something all of the time, or jump to the next level, or “build a personal brand.” A little naiveté could go a long way.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 September 2015 08:36
September 15, 2015
I don’t know quite how to write this without sounding like a boot-licking suck-up, but I feel that it needs to be said – Larry Nixon is a good dude.
Many of you may not believe this, but I am both shy and an introvert. That’s why I like writing, because I’d much rather express my thoughts on paper or on a keyboard than by talking. Nevertheless, I’ve chosen to take on two occupations that require me to spend substantial numbers time on the telephone every day. I dread calling someone new, whose talk rhythms and personality I don’t know firsthand. It’s particularly bad when that person is an older and established angler. I simply expect them to be grouchy and crotchety and to do their best to rush me off the phone.
Even though I’ve interviewed Nixon a half dozen times or so over the years, and know that he’s not a curmudgeon, I’m guilty of profiling him, assuming that he’ll be similar to many of his contemporaries and peers (most of whom are curmudgeons). That’s why I’m pleasantly surprised again and again when he turns out to be exactly the opposite. There are very few anglers in this sport who consistently make an interviewer feel like his job is valued and Nixon is at the pinnacle of that pyramid. Not only does he make you know that your efforts are appreciated and important, but he genuinely goes out of his way to make sure you have everything you need. You’d be surprised at how many supposedly “good guys” turn out to be difficult and mediocre interviews, so the ones who really get the program are worth their weight in Senkos.
Last Updated on Friday, 11 September 2015 07:02
September 11, 2015
The Elite Series goes to some pretty incredible venues and every year their experiences leave me with new bucket list destinations.
This year they went to two incredible largemouth factories, Guntersville and the California Delta. I’ve been to both multiple times, and while I’d love to go back any time, those visits aren’t quite as urgent because of my past trips. They went to the St. Lawrence and St. Clair to fish for big smallmouths, and I haven’t fished either, so one of those might be near the top of my list if it wasn’t for another entrant.
The winner is Havasu. It features amazing scenery. It has both largemouth and smallmouth. Neither of those is the main impetus for my desired trip, though. The reason I want to go is to fish for Red Ear sunfish.
The lake produced the world record, a 5.78 pound finned freak of nature. I’m pretty sure that if they grew much bigger than that, they’d keep us humans as pets.
Looking at the Bassmaster blog and Facebook during that event, it seemed that everybody was catching 2- and 3-pounders inadvertently. The pros’ kids may have had the most fun of all as they just whacked on ‘em again and again throughout the week. It appeared that Laker and Oakley Howell had a best five that would’ve pushed 15 pounds. In fact, I’m so confident in their skills that I’d turn down a trip to Guntersville with Randy to have his boys attempt to guide me to a 4 pound Red Ear. Nothing against Randy, but that’s just amazing.