Every once in a while I attempt to finish a writing to a publisher standards. What follows is one of those attempts.
The year I was five, my mother and father started looking for a new house. Danni was three; Amanda was one. The place we lived wasn’t large enough. I remember riding around with them as they looked. One place we looked was a corn field just off South Lewis. It was over a mile outside the Tulsa city limits. The next summer mother and father moved us to a new house on the new street in that corn field. We were not the first family in the addition; we were the second. Several other houses were under construction. The new addition was popular. Lewis was, and still is, a major North-South street in Tulsa.
For my first birthday in the new house, I got my first bike. Father spent the time needed to teach me to ride, and then the parents set the rules. I could go anywhere on the bike, provided I did not cross Lewis, 51st or 61st Streets. Joe Creek diagonally cut the section of land within those limits and made the fourth boundary. I was expected to behave and to be back for dinner time.
Their rules left me nearly 320 acres to explore and terrorize. About half, mostly to the North, was housing. To the South the land was more rural with two farmhouses, barns, sheds, and fields. Along the creek, scrub oak, grapevine, and underbrush formed a forest. This became my world. Their boundaries were really not a limit I felt. Jeff Cope and I built forts, caught snakes, and did boy things. The scar on his forehead marked the time I jumped from a ledge to catch a branch. The branch broke and smacked him square in the face. As time passed, I became obsessed with fishing the creek. I charted the numbers of perch and catfish I caught.
As I grew older, the cornfields began to disappear. New houses popped up in their place. To fish unspoiled creek, I had to go farther each year. Eventually, I had to go under the bridges where Joe Creek crossed Lewis and 61st Street. Each bridge had a path along which I could walk or push the bike. I do not remember how it happened, but, eventually, my parents found out I was fishing on the wrong side of Lewis. My father had an incredible temper. It didn’t come out often, but it was scary beyond belief. I explained that I had not broken the rules. I never crossed Lewis or 61st; I went under them. My mother laughed, but that only made Father madder yet. That was not a good evening.
Not long after that, my parents sat me down and set new rules for me. I was allowed beyond both 61st to the South and Lewis to the West. However, I had to check with one of them before I went; if I was on my bike, I had to walk it across; no aimless wandering; and all of the other rules about behaving applied double. My new kingdom seemed boundless again. I was grown up. From my old home, Joe Creek meanders South and East for six miles before it enters the Arkansas River. I fished every hole in the river. My parents understood.
When Tommy Meason got knocked down on Lewis by a car, I was afraid they would change the rules. He was a kid who lived two houses up the street from us. He wasn’t with me when he got hit, but I was sure it would make Mother uneasy. That night mother and father talked about it at the dinner table. When Father asked how Tommy was, mother told him he would be fine: “Betty said he’s just like his father, and he landed on his head so he wasn’t hurt.” From then on, when I checked with mother before I left, she would tell me, “Be careful crossing Lewis.” She expected an answer, too.
After I turned 16, I passed my driver’s test and got my license. I did not have a car and when I drove I used my mother’s Rambler American station wagon. It was clearly the slowest and ugliest car driven by anyone I knew. However, it was better than nothing as it moved the boundaries farther still. I was grown. The new rules: I had to ask permission and the parents had to know where I was going and why. Each time as she handed me the keys, she continued her habit from before and warned me of Lewis.
Mother and father insisted they drive me to college for my first year. Once we unloaded and unpacked, father was impatient to be on the road. On the other hand, mother had a prepared speech she needed to give. Father waited while she lectured, “Write. Study. Don’t drink too much. Be careful crossing Lewis.”
Sometime after I was at school, mother and I began to talk by phone late at night after father went to bed. We covered many topics and little was out of bounds. My two favorite dirty jokes of all time are ones she told me during talks. I didn’t realize it at the time, but somewhere I really had grown up.
During the fall break of my senior year, I took Nancy home with me. Mother and I had a late nighter during that visit and she eventually asked about Nancy. I talked about this, about that, and about how I admired Nancy. Mother always read me better than I read myself. At the end of the talk about Nancy, she concluded with an enigmatic, “Well, be careful crossing Lewis.”
After graduate school, Nancy and I moved back to Tulsa. We went to work; we had children; we went about living, all at that impossible pace only young people can maintain. Every month or two mother and I would stay up late and talk. Some times those talks became a way for me to talk about frustrations and worries, or ask advice. My mother offered advice whether I asked or not, often from the “Get over it” school of tough love. Sometimes she made constructive suggestions. From time to time a gleam would come to her eye and she would use her phrase.
When mother got the cancer, it seemed like she was confined to bed and on heavy drugs the next week. I will always admire the unflinching, honest way she faced her own death, but near the end we never knew if we were talking to her or the drugs. Sister Danni came up from Houston and stayed at the house. Every day I visited father in his nursing home and mother at home. I cannot fathom how Danni endured.
On my last visit before the night she died, mother didn’t say anything. I sat for a while, musing. When I rose to leave, she tried to say something. I could not hear her. I bent down and she tried again, “Be careful crossing Lewis.” I told her I would and left.
It was sometime later that I finally figured out, given the circumstances, the answer I should have given was, “You, too, mom.”
In 2008 I managed to hook myself while topwater fishing alone. Below is the original post I put up the next day on the Ozark Anglers forum.
OK. I apologize in advance for the bad typing.
I went out after the rain around 4:30 PM. The wife was at the Green Forest high school graduation - she teaches there - and I figured the rain and cloud cover would have the fish shallow.
Turns out I was right. The fish were shallow. Between 4:30 and 7:30 I caught 7 LM. 20, 18, 15, 15, 17.5, 12, 19.5 inches. Estimate best five were more than 18 pounds but less than 19. All came on a customized original size, silver black Zara spook. Best day in many many many trips.
After I netted the last fish, I was dreaming of more as I tried to unhook the fish. Of course the bait tangled in the net, so I tried to unhook the bait from the net first. Then I could unhook and measure the fish. The fish flopped hard. Suddenly, the 2x Gamakatsu Round Bend #2 treble I installed on the bait was buried in my right index finger near the first joint. Shucks. Darn. Golly. Fish flopped again and another barb caught the life jacket I was wearing. Double darn.
I used my left hand (Did I mention I am very right handed?) to slide my pants knife out of my pocket and somehow opened the thing one handed with my left hand. I then sawed my bait out of my life jacket.
Next I concentrated on unhooking the bait from the net. Every time the fish flopped, I explained in a calm voice how her efforts were counter productive. If she would lie still, I promised to release her as quickly as I could. Have you ever noticed that females don't listen?
After forever, I got the bait out of the net. I bit the line to take the rod out of the equation. My dentist will just have to understand.
Down to her and me, I used my needle nose to get her loose. I did measure her, as well as I could with a Zara Spook in my hand, before I turned her loose.
Resigned to quitting before the bite ended, I used my left hand to pull and secure the trolling motor, turned the key in my boat, and headed home. As I approached the slip at Holiday Island, new difficulties appeared. The boat I have is not responsive at slow speed. The slip I have requires a dogleg left at the last minute. I was excited and hurting. Things went awry.
I put the boat in neutral and went forward to keep the bow from slamming onto the right post of my slip. I used my left hand and arm since my right was occupied. The boat kissed the slip post soundly.
Ok. So there I was in the water. I had my left hand on the gunnel and grabbed for the dock with my right. Shucks. Darn. Golly. The right the hand was still full of hooks. That didn't work well.
Somehow I got the boat in the slip. Next I had to try and figure how to get in the boat or up on the dock with only one hand. That was a job for trained professionals. Don't try it at home, kids.
It took nearly twice as long as usual to tie off the boat, plug in the air pump and raise the boat, put the rods in my carrier, plug in the battery charger, and do all those other right handed things.
Then I walked up to the car. Just as I got there, my slip neighbor pulled up. Where was he when I needed help in the water? He was headed out and wanted to know if they were biting. He didn't even ask why I was standing there dripping lake water with a Zara Spook in my right hand. I will call tomorrow and apologize for telling him jigs at 20'.
I drove to the emergency room in my stick shift car. Pause for a moment and think about cars. Besides the stick shift, try to imagine putting on your seat belt and turning the car on with a fist full of Zara Spook.
I walked in the ER door, lake water draining onto their nice clean floor, and walked up to the counter. Without looking up, the person at the counter slapped a clip board with a form in front of me and said, "Fill that out." I explained to her, in that same calm voice I used with the fish, that she was being insensitive and uncaring. After all, how would she feel if I had had a farm accident and was carrying my own severed arm?
I must not have impressed the counter lady. She stuck me in a little cold room. Thirty shivering minutes later this teenager in scrubs wanders in. I started to tell him I didn't need my bedpan changed, but he introduced himself as the doctor.
Young Doctor Kildare thought my story was the best he had heard in forever. Several times he had to stop trying to take care of my hand because he was laughing so hard. Do you suppose the hours they keep make them punchy?
I got home around 10:30.
The wife, without looking up, said "How was your fishing trip?
A very good friend who has published 5 or 6 books, Larry Yadon, read the story and suggested I turn it into a Field and Stream type story. Over the space of several months, with his help, I reworded the story.
What follows is the revised version.
Shucks. Darn. Golly
I love to fish topwater baits, and beyond argument, the Zara Spook is my favorite. Bass don’t bite them. They explode on them, crush them, or create sudden, trashcan sized whirlpools to suck them under. You can never predict or anticipate a hit. You must have icy nerve control not to set the hook too soon. I spend hours custom painting Spooks; changing the standard hooks for expensive, black steel, oversize, acid sharpened trebles; and tying on white and red feathers. I prefer the four and a half inch original size and would rather “walk the dog” than fish any other way. As with all obsessions, there are occasional consequences.
Late last May we had a fierce, but brief, afternoon thundershower just as I let my eighth graders out. As I drove home the storm cleared. Nancy, my wife, was not due for some time. She had to attend graduation at the high school where she taught. I decided to go fishing. I’ve often had luck following showers.
I was right. The fish were shallow and active. Almost immediately I hooked a good largemouth on one of my Spooks. In the next three hours I caught six more keepers. The best five would have weighed more than eighteen pounds. It was my best day in many trips. Better yet, one of my custom Spooks accounted for them all.
When I landed the seventh fish, it was nearly as large as the first, almost five pounds. Naturally the bait tangled in the net. A Zara Spook always tangles in the net. I reached to untangle it. As I worked to free the fish and bait from the net, the bass flopped hard and buried the Size 2, Round Bend, UltraPoint, Gamakatsu directly and deeply into the first joint of my right index finger. Shucks. Darn. Golly. I bent close to the fish and net to get a better look at the damage. Before I could react, the fish flopped harder still and hooked the other treble in my life jacket. Faster than I can explain it, the fish, the net, the life jacket and I were now all hooked on the same Zara Spook.
By the time my nerves settled enough to begin solving the problems, my finger was truly hurting. I remarked my displeasure another time and began to sort things out. I disconnected the rod and reel by biting the line. My dentist would just have to understand. Then I snaked my left hand into my right pants pocket for my knife. My left hand has zero coordination, but I somehow got the knife out and opened with one hand. Sawing the bait from the life jacket was next. In the mean time, the fish flopped and wanted loose. Between expressions of discomfort, I tried to explain to her that she was not helping. Have you noticed that females often do not listen?
I was tempted to use the knife on the net as well, but the good nets with long handles and rubberized netting cost more than I wanted to spend twice. I did not want to cut it up just to get loose. After several minutes of fumbling, left hand work, the bait came free from the webbing.
Now we were free from the net, but the fish and I shared the same treble. To free fish you normally just jerk the hook backwards. That meant I would be jerking a honking large hook buried in my hand. I had to find a better way. I decided I needed my pliers. Where were they? They weren’t in the holder I had specifically installed on the boat to hold them. Oh - they were on the front boat deck where I used them on the previous fish. The upset and flopping fish and I went forward to retrieve them. I reminded the fish of our earlier discussion.
Pliers in hand, I tried several approaches. All seemed to drive the hook more firmly into my finger joint. The only solution was to hold the spook in my right hand and jerk the hook from the fish at the same time and in the same direction as I moved the Spook. At first, the fish refused to lie still enough. Yet more discussion. Eventually, after several painful attempts, I got the fish, the pliers, and hand jerk coordinated and yanked the bait from the fish. I put her back in the lake. Good riddance.
Now free of everything else, I looked more closely at the finger. The point was embedded straight down into the joint. The push through method wasn’t going to work without professional help. There was more daylight and the fish were biting, but my day was ended and I wasn’t happy.
As the boat approached my slip at the marina, new problems became obvious. My boat is not very responsive at slow speed. Docking the boat requires a last instant dog leg left with a simultaneous wheel turn and throttle adjustment. That evening I was hurting and one handed. I cut the motor and turned the wheel. It was clear the boat would hit the post at the side of my slip. I scurried forward to fend off the collision. I reached across my body with my left hand and pushed. The boat still kissed the post soundly - too soundly.
The water was chilly but surprisingly warm for May. I was glad I hadn’t taken my life vest off when I was hooked to it. Instinctively, I reached for the dock and the boat rail with each hand.
Shucks. Double Darn.
The right one was still impaled. Hanging left handed from the boat rail, I kicked until I could maneuver the boat in the slip. Next I slithered and leveraged myself up the dock cross beams until I was out of the water.
It took nearly twice as long as usual to tie off the boat, plug in the air pump and raise the boat, load the rods in my carrier, plug in the battery charger, and do all those other right handed things. I sloshed up to the truck. Just as I arrived, Bill, the guy with the slip next to me drove up. Where was he when I was in the water? As he got out, he asked me if the fish were biting. He didn’t ask about the wet clothes or the Zara Spook in my hand. He only asked what they were hitting. I later called and apologized for telling him they were taking jigs at twenty feet.
Once I was in the truck, the challenges just kept coming. The engineers who designed manual transmission cars and trucks did not envision my predicament. Drivers use their right hands to put on their seatbelts. The key switch is on the right hand side of the steering column. The shifter is made for right hands. Each of these facts does not allow for a big hook deep in your finger and a bulky plastic lure dangling from that hook.
The hospital was only about ten miles away, but those ten miles were hilly, two lane miles with stops, starts, and downshifts. The distance seemed much longer that evening.
Still wet and dripping, I entered the hospital emergency room. I waded to the counter and started to speak to the lady engrossed in her bodice ripper novel. Without looking up, she slapped a clipboard on the rail in front of me. “Fill that out.” No hello. No “How may I help you?” Just “Fill that out.” I explained to her that I couldn’t, “Fill that out.” My hand was full of hooks. Using the same calm, controlled voice I had used with the fish, I asked her if farm accident amputees had to “Fill that out.”
My new, unimpressed hospital friend arranged a small, cold room for me. Thirty shivering minutes later, a teenager in scrubs came in the room. My first impulse was to tell him I didn’t need a bed pan change. It turned out he was the doctor.
He looked at my hand and asked if I had caught a big one.
Then he wanted to know how I managed to set the hook so well.
Next he wanted to know why I was all wet. Every time I answered him, he burst into laughter.
He shot my finger full of lidocaine, backed the hook up and pushed the black steel through. Smugly, he clipped the barb off and backed the bend out. When he finished, he wrapped the wound with gauze and slipped a condom over it, “to keep it dry until you get home.” Then he started cackling again. I’m sure the hours doctors spend on duty must make them punchy.
I took my precious, customized Spook, now short a hook, with me when I left.
Driving home was much more comfortable, but it was nearly ten thirty before I walked in my door.
Without looking up, my wife asked, “Did you enjoy the fishing?"
Sometime later I was able to submit the piece to an editor and it was published in January of 2011 in the Water N Woods Magazine. A copy is viewable online.
I know I am no Patrick McManus, but I was very proud of the finished piece.
Feathering The Nest... One Twig At A Time
By Brian Wright a.k.a. Hillbilly Deluxe
A wise man once said "one man's meat is another man's poison," or as I would put it, one man's dead animal carcass is another man's trophy wall mount.
And that's just my point this month. Feathering your nest, one twig at a time, is in the eye of the beholder.
There's a certain pride we all get from creatively putting together a sense of style and substance when we decorate our favorite areas. Whether it be a complete home, cabin retreat, or just a small room, collecting and displaying items that have a particular significance is both fun and satisfying.
Just as a bird builds its nest twig by twig, looking for just the right twig for each layer, we humans search for just the right touches to create a comforting, homey, place for ourselves. An additional benefit is that our nest will bring smiles to the faces of friends and family.
I have two nests that are of particular importance to me, and both have an outdoorsy feel to them. My walk-out basement at my primary residence, which opens to a flagstone path leading to a small lake, is always a work in progress. Not a true "man cave," it must also accommodate assorted family and friends. Thus it is only lightly sprinkled with vintage fishing, hunting, and camping memorabilia. There is, of course, a fishing rod rack with poles for visitors, some classic outdoor books, and a small assortment of family treasures. However, the space must also serve as a media room for watching hi-definition television, a game room for cards and board games, and a wet bar for drinks and laughs.
The other nest is my quiet place — my retreat. Located on Table Rock Lake, it encompasses only 900 square feet, but the layering of twigs is quite special. My wife and I use it as an escape, and the feathering of the nest is quite deliberate.
Every twig (i.e., lamp, plate, picture, pillow, etc.) is carefully selected. Although the decor might be classified as rustic lodge, each item is unique and hand-picked with much aforethought. The littlest of details is examined and contemplated with great care before being deemed worthy of our retreat. For example, we can't just have any old napkin holder or fireplace poker — it must fit perfectly with our lifestyle and be approved by both husband and wife.
Although we welcome invited guests, both friend and family, our Table Rock Lake nest is feathered for our enjoyment. We have an emotional attachment to nearly every item in our hideaway. Whether it be an old hand axe once used by my wife's grandfather or a vintage Zebco 33 reel my grandfather used to catch catfish and crappie, we are surrounded by items that bring a smile to our faces.
The beauty of feathering your nest is that you can redecorate and/or change the theme anytime you want. As your priorities and interests change, so can your nest. Add or change items with your collectibles, family hand-me-downs, or store bought items. For those of us who love the outdoors, you're also likely to place some "found" items from the great outdoors as well.
In addition to your hand selected items, remember to create a complete feel to your nest with color, texture, and smell. Paint colors, throw rugs, and pillows should be used as the base of your theme. Ever notice how a certain scent can take you back in time and evoke memories? Use scents such as candles to enhance the feel of your nest.
If you're lucky enough to have a nest to feather — you're lucky enough. Whether it's a large lake house or a corner in your basement, enjoy the privilege of making it your own — one twig at a time.
For me, about the only thing likely to change at my Table Rock Lake nest are the entries in the guest book and number of dead animal carcasses, excuse me, trophy fish mounts, on the wall.
Good Fishing Outweighs The Best Intentions
By Brian Wright
It never fails. When I peel off the April page on my calendar to reveal May, I just seem to have a hard time focusing on work. Yes, I become distracted in April — but nothing like the month of May.
Although I have the best of intentions to work hard, save my money, and whittle down my to do list around the house, when May rolls around I just seem to falter. And in a big way. I try hard to sit at my desk and be productive, however, it seems that everything I do makes me want to close up shop and head outdoors for adventure.
My day usually begins around 7 a.m. when I fire up the coffee pot (yes, I drink coffee year round). While waiting for that first cup, I take a few minutes to browse the headlines on various news sites on my computer. I typically check the top stories on several major newspaper web sites. This leads to clicking on a sports page, which inevitably leads to the publication’s outdoor section — which leads to a review of anything to do with being outside.
While downing a few cups of coffee, I check the forums on my favorite fishing sites such as www.ozarkanglers.com and www.fieldandstream.com. This is a morning ritual, but in the month of May the forums are loaded with hundreds of daily posts describing terrific fishing in great detail. Where to go, what baits are working, what to tell your wife you were doing all day that kept you from painting the guest room and earning a living. You know, some really useful information.
After regaining focus, I make my way to my desk to begin work. Of course, since a significant part of my work involves writing, I begin to work on getting in the mood. Now, don't get me wrong, I don’t need much motivation to write about all things outdoors, however, in May, it seems like a quick trip around the lake out my back door would really get the thought process jump-started. And as I look out the window of my office, I can't help but notice some top-water activity right behind my house! (I wonder if that fat little female largemouth I caught last night and released to the water has gone right back to sitting on that bed just a few feet from my landing).
Okay, after fighting off the urge to take a spin around the lake, which could easily take me right up to lunch, I work on returning e-mails and focusing on the stories with the tightest deadlines.
This is a challenge in itself. You see, some writers can simply create the story outline, call a few sources, and crank out the word count. I, on the other hand, enjoy meeting with the sources in person, preferably in May, on a bass lake where we catch fish on nearly every cast.
It’s difficult to limit the “research trips” in May to just those that are absolutely necessary to complete a project. Especially when they all seem quite necessary. Funny how we humans justify our actions.
I try to complete somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 words each day that I dedicate to writing. This may not seem like a lot of work, but in the month of May, that's really tough.
Even something as simple as heading to the mailbox creates problems. First, the spring air hits me like a 5-pound bronzeback heading for deep water with a 4-inch grub. Then I notice the trailer hitch on my truck sure would look good with a boat latched to it. That of course, prompts me to open the garage door and check my supply of 4-inch grubs in the storage compartment of my Ranger boat. Okay, know I’m in trouble.
Once I start hovering over my boat, I’ve completely lost all ability to think clearly. Living in the Kansas City area, I have a very limited window of opportunity to enjoy my boat ( I say to myself). November through March are no good because it’s pretty cold. It’s also not good on a fiberglass hull to use it as an icebreaker to get to open water. April is okay. So is June, September and October. July and August are just too hot. May is perfect. Now I’m thinking it would be a shame to waste a beautiful spring day.
In addition to being perfect for fishing, this month is also prime time for canoeing, hiking, camping, trap shooting, sitting on the deck drinking beer, and other distracting activities. After all you really can’t get all that done over the weekend. And according to the calendar, there are 31 days in May. Perfect!
The other day I was pondering the beginnings of my love for the outdoors, particularly cabins and lakes.
My first memory of catching the outdoors bug seems to revolve around a trip to Lone Star Lake near Lawrence, KS.
I suppose I was probably 10 years old.
A childhood friend was fortunate enough that his dad had a small waterfront cabin at Lone Star — a beautiful lake of some 110 acres — and I was invited to go for a weekend to “open the cabin” for the season.
I was fascinated to say the least. The three of us — my friend Chuck, his Dad, and I —loaded up their family wagon (old school with the fake wood grain sides) with all the essentials we would need and made the short drive to their lake cabin. It was only about 20 miles, but to me, we were headed to the Alaskan wilderness.
You see, My dad was a music professor, and wasn’t much of an outdoorsman. He never fished or hunted, or even camped to my knowledge. After he passed away I did find of picture him and his cousin Sonny paddling a canoe in the Adirondacks of New York near his hometown.
Anyway, I was ready to experience this lake cabin thing.
When we reached the cabin, we went through what must have been an annual ritual of opening the cabin for the summer. First, the structure was unlocked and windows were opened. Next, we threw the main breaker in the fuse box and the cabin was electrified.
There was a hand pump atop a well out near the back door which unlocked the cabin’s water source.
Of course, when I say the back of the cabin, I really mean the front (the side away from the lake where the front door and parking were). Like nearly all lake cabin’s, the business end of the cabin is the lakefront side.
And when I first saw that screened-in porch overlooking the lakefront, complete with boat dock and boat, I could barely contain myself. It was that moment that I was totally and forever hooked on lake cabins.
Although we were only at the cabin from Saturday morning until late Sunday afternoon that spring weekend, it is firmly embedded in my memory banks.
We spent our time eating hot dogs and potato chips, running around the lake in a small fishing boat, and sitting out on the porch just staring at the lake.
We also did a few chores around the cabin like putting screens on windows and cleaning up the inside, but it hardly seemed like work. It was an adventure and I loved every minute of it.
I really can’t recall if we caught any fish, but I remember driving home with a euphoric feeling — a feeling I have to this day when I get anywhere near a cabin on a lake.
I never visited that cabin again as their guest. The family moved out of the neighborhood later that year.
However, I have fished Lone Star Lake more than 100 times since that first visit, and always like to take time to go by that cabin, just for old times sake.
It hasn’t changed much in more than 40 years. And if it ever comes up for sale, I’m likely to buy it.
Throughout my life, my greatest memories are times spent in and around cabins and retreats on or near lakes. There’s just something deep inside me that finds tranquility and comfort in these surrounds.
I now have my own retreat at Table Rock Lake.
I’ll likely be there this coming weekend making memories.
I have had a week to reflect on my Bass University experience in Shreveport, La. During that time, I have had a lot of folks ask me, "was it worth the trip". I usually start my answer the same way. It was worth it for me. Not because of any ah ha moment. If I was new to tournament angling, I am sure there would have been some. During the two days of seminars, I didn’t find a magic lure, a new presentation, or some closely held secrete technique that will catapult me to the next level of tournament fishing. But that wasn’t my purpose for attending. What occured last weekend fueled my passion. After the Shreveport trip, I am more dedicated to pursuing my dreams; but The Bass University was no Anthony Robbins “Date with Destiny” motivational seminar. So, what was it all about? Why did I decide to attend? What was my Bass University experience? I hope to answer all of these questions.
What was it all about?
Bass University has a lineage back to Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), but the latest edition comes to us from Mike Iaconelli and Pete Gluszek. They call The Bass University, the institution for advanced anglers. It was two days of seminars that consisted of twelve separate blocks focused on proven tournament angling tactics and techniques. The seminars were delivered by six of the world’s best professional bass anglers. Even if you think you already know everything you need to know about topwater, cranking, spinnerbaits, and soft plastics, the breakout sessions and “the daily weigh-in” may have held a surprise for you. The breakout sessions allowed us to go one on one with the pros, digging into their tackle box and into their years of knowledge of tournament fishing at the highest levels. The pros were frank and honest with no questions off limits. “The daily weigh in” was another special treat. No matter what was on the seminar schedule, “the daily weigh in” brought the pros back in for a discussion on the topic of the attendees choosing. So back to the question, was it worth it? The answer was simple for me. What is having any and all your bass fishing questions answered buy some of the world’s best professional anglers worth? My answer is priceless.
Why did I decide to attend?
I approach tournament bass fishing with a passion fueled by the competition with the hope of making it a future career. Just like in all life’s endeavors education is the key. Not just primary and secondary education, but I believe in the culture of lifelong learning. Even though, I have taught numerous fishing seminars over the years and have been relatively successful competing against some of the best local and regional tournament anglers. I still have the desire to learn and grow. For me, reading articles on new tackle and equipment is not enough. Spending hours on the internet doing tournament research is not enough. Learning from my peers and competitors is not enough. Spending every available minute on the water still doesn’t fulfill my desire to learn everything about the sport. For me, The Bass University was the next logical option.
What was my Bass University experience?
It was a reaffirmation, a rededication of sorts. It was two days with like minded people digging into the insights of six of the world’s best professional anglers. Did I walk away with something completely new? No. But, do I have new insights? Absolutely. The insights into details that will no doubt help me make better and faster decisions in the pursuit of becoming a better angler. I left Shreveport with a renewed confidence and a deeper conviction about my bass fishing knowledge and abilities. My experience was a reaffirmation on why the details mean so much and directly lead to success or failure on the water. I left with a rededication to the work ethic that it will take to reach my goals. Mike Iaconelli said, “No bites are accidental” and that resonated with me. The work that remains ahead is figuring out the why of each and every strike. I know that this experience hasn’t propelled my abilities to some new cosmic level. However, my Bass University experience has left me with an endless yearning to improve my abilities and a renewed dedication to achieve in the sport I love.
In closing, if you ask me do I think you should attend one of the Bass University events next year? I would say, it depends on what you want out of the experience. If you want to find some hidden secret to catch fish, don’t waste your time. If you want to become a better angler, then don’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime. But you will need to answer that question for yourself.
To read more of Larry’s Blogs go to http://larrystoafer.com/
Last week in part I of Red Hot Winter Time Bassin, we discussed the “video fishing” opportunities here in the Midwest. In part II we will look at some of the basics that you need to be successful.
First, where to find the fish? Like all other types of bass fishing you have to be around fish to catch fish. When the water temps start reaching the low 50s, it’s time to start looking for the mega schools of bait. I start in the major creek arms. Creeks with standing timber that tops out in 40-70 foot range are good places to start the search, but don’t discount areas because of a lack of deep cover. Remember these winter fish are focused on the bait more than oriented on cover. Start at the mouth of the creek and idle through the gut all the way to the back keeping your eyes on your electronics. Today’s side scan technologies make it possible for you to check out these creeks in a single pass. When you find the schools of bait you are in the right area. Once I’ve checked the creek and bait is present, I narrow the search to the areas within a couple hundred yards of the bait.
When you find the bait it’s time to narrow your search, drop the trolling motor and start looking for targets. The targets may be active fish streaks, a single fish arc, or something that looks a little different on the bottom like a small hump or rock. If the creek has submerged timber, check for hot spots in the tree tops and abnormalities in the trees. Sometimes the hot spots in the cover will look like a typical fish arc, but on most occasions the hot spots are subtle and any hot spot that’s not completely horizontal is a target to investigate. When you find the targets fish them. As the day progresses you will be able further define your targets and determine where the majority of the bites are coming. You can then focus on those types of targets. When you drop down on a target, your goal is to get the target to react and show itself. If the bass are holding tight to the bottom, you may only see one arc or a small bump. But the majority of the time, if you get a fish to react to your presentation, the school will show itself.
Early in the winter season when the water temps are in the low 50s and high 40s, I often find the bass holding tight to the bottom. A majority of the time these fish are in the areas where the channels start flattening out. In these cases, it’s all about finding the flat spots along the creek guts at the correct depth near the bait. These flat areas are easily found on good maps, it’s those areas where the contour lines start to get farther apart. A depression, no matter how small, in these flat areas along the gut of the creek is a prime location. Later in the season as the water temps dip into the low 40s, it seems that these deep fish start to suspend more. Use these general guidelines to get in the correct areas, but don’t get to narrowly focused. These fish will be around the schools of bait, if you can’t find them suspended they are on the bottom or in the trees
If the schools of bait aren’t in the creek guts start looking along the bluffs, bluff ends, secondary and main lake points. They will be in one of these locations. Again, during the winter these Ozark bass, Largemouth, Smallies, and especially the Kentuckies are often in open water relating to the bait. So don’t rule out areas just because there isn’t a lot of standing timber. The schools of bait are the key and easily identifiable with good electronics.
(left screen school of bait on 2D, right screen same school of bait on down imaging sonar)
It will take some practice to find the bass holding tight to the bottom, up under the schools of bait, or suspended in the nearby trees when they aren’t actively feeding. But with a good set of electronics that are setup properly, like the Hummingbird 997 or 1197, you can quickly get the hang of it with some practice. If you are new to using electronics, I recommend you find an electronics seminar in your area and take advantage of these smart guys. The first thing I recommend to setup your electronics for “video fishing” is to turnoff the automatic setting and adjust the sensitivity setting to ensure you can see your lure in the water. Each sonar unit is different, but using your manual settings to establish the upper and lower limits that define the water column you want to concentrate on, and increasing the sensitivity settings will make seeing the targets and your lure much easier. The seminar guys will help you get the settings that you need for seeing these depths clearly, then all you will have to do is tweak the settings when you get on the water. Once I have found the bait and start searching for targets on the trolling motor, I normally have two screen setups saved that I toggle between. One is a split screen with a zoomed in map and 2D sonar focused on the entire water column. The second screen is again split screen with the same 2D sonar looking at the entire water column and a zoomed in 2D sonar screen looking at just the water column where I see the majority of the activity.
(Left side shows the zoomed 2D and the right side shows the entire water column)
(Left side shows the map and the right side shows the specific water column with the top limit and bottom limit set manually) (Right side also shows active bass under a school of bait)
As far as tackle it’s pretty simple. All you will really need is ½ oz and ¾ oz spoons, 4-5inch grubs, 3/8 oz darter jig heads, drop shot hooks, 3/8 oz drop shot weights, and you favorite 3-5 inch finesse plastic.
(Single tail grubs and Darter jig heads)
(1/2 oz and ¾ oz spoons)
(Gulp minnows 2 ½, 3, and 4 inch)
Your line and rod and reel combinations are critical. I use spinning gear for all my “video fFishing”, but I do know several folks that are successful with baitcasters on their spooning rigs. My preference is a good spinning reel; the ABU Soron 40 is my reel of choice. I like the control that the spinning reel provides; the bait gets to depth quicker on a free fall and there is no need to pull off line to keep the bait falling free. Some complain of the line twists you can get with spinning gear, but with properly rigged baits, a small swivel, closing the bail by hand, a good line conditioner, and high quality line the twists are not a big problem.
As far as rods, I prefer a good medium to medium heavy action 7ft to 7 ½ ft spinning rod with a soft tip. I rig the spoon on the medium heavy rod and the grub and drop shot on the medium action rods. I like the long medium and medium heavy rods because you have to move line at depths of 80 to 100ft and the sensitive tips lets you feel the subtle bites. The hook sets are not the typical flipping and pitching hooks sets. With the light line and small hooks, the hook set is a simple lifting of the rod not the eye crossing big heavy tackle yanks.
Your line choice is the most critical of all. A quality fluorocarbon line in 6-10lb test is essential. I use the lightest line I can get away with and prefer “Toray” BAWO Super Hard Premium-Plus 100% Fluorocarbon. “Toray” is a premium imported line from Japan and can be pricey, but the performance and durability is worth every cent. I switched from Seaguar Invizx about a year and a half ago and the upgrade was well worth it. I rig the grub on 6lb test, the drop shot on 8lb test and the spoon on 10lb test. I will go up as high as 12lb test on the spoon, if I have to drop the spoon all the way into the tree tops to get the fish to react.
Let’s take a more detailed look at these three presentations. I usually start with the ½ oz white war eagle spoon; although, the Bass Pro Shops Strata spoonswork well but you will need to add a swivel. The swivel is key to preventing line twists and I use them on all three presentations. The War Eagles spoon comes with a high quality swivel right out of the package; if you are using another brand, you can add a swivel about a foot above your lure. Drop the spoon on slack line and keep it inside your transducer cone. Most of the time you will see the fish come up to get the spoon on the fall. In all three presentations, when you see the fish start up to take the lure start pulling it away. If the target doesn’t start up right away, I stop the spoon a few feet above the target and hop it a few times. These deep fish feed up most of the time. On occasions, especially when you see fish below a school of bait, drop the spoon all the way through the school and let it hit bottom, then start it back up quickly to trigger the strike. If the fleeing action doesn’t trigger the strike start the hopping action. I start with 4-6 foot hopes, but on occasion you may have to go with shorter hops to trigger strikes. On rare occasions, the fish may want it sitting perfectly still right in their face. When you identify fish submerged in the tree tops stop the lure just above the trees and work it at that depth. Occasionally, when they aren’t active you may have to drop all the way into the tree top. You will lose some spoons this way, but if you don’t set the hook hard on the tree you can recover many of them by putting some slack in your line and shaking it.
When I can’t get the fish to react to the spoon or after the action slows on the spoon, I pick up the grub. I prefer Yamamotoand Chomperssmoke color grubs in 4-5inch. Some prefer the smoke grubs with some red, purple, or silver flake, but the smoke seems to work for me. The Tightlines UV Silver Grub has been performing well also. I rig the grubs on a 3/8 oz darter head jig. There are several brands on the market but the key to selecting the right jig head is the line tie and quality long shank hook. The line tie needs to be positions so the jig sits horizontal in the water. Fish the grub with the same action as the spoon; however, it’s more common when the fish are less active for them to want the bait sitting right in their face with minimal action.
When the bite gets tough and the fish won’t react to the spoon or grub the drop shot is often the ticket. The drop shot can be every effective on suspended fish, as well as those holding tight to the bottom. I rig the drop shot with a 10-18 inch leader. I like the Gulp 2 ½ , 3, and 4 inch minnows for this presentation. Other finesse plastics will work, but I believe the minnow profile is key. When the fish are suspended try keeping the drop shot in their face with as little movement as possible. When the fish are suspended deep in the trees the drop shot hangs up less than the grub or spoon. When the fish are holding tight to the bottom, I am a big fan of the Secret Weapon “recoil rig”.The action of the recoil rig simply induces more strikes when the fish are near the bottom.
There will be days when the fish obviously prefer one over the other, but these three “video fishing” presentations will work on our wintertime Ozark bass. In closing, if you have never tried or had little success at vertical fishing, I highly recommend hoping in the boat with someone who is experienced in these techniques. A few hours with someone who can help you through some of the subtleties of the presentations will pay off in the long run. There are a ton of great guides in the Ozarks that will spend the day teaching the finer points of these techniques. As the winter doldrums start closing in, get out of the house and on one of these lakes and enjoy the best kept secret in the bass fishing world, Red Hot Winter Time Bassin in the Ozarks.
Check out the below link for an instructional video on “video fishing” hosted by my good friend Robert Jorgensen and produced by Winkiedoodles on You tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJP4UqsWNv0Here is more Table Rock “video fishing” action thanks to Winkiedoodles.
Special thanks to Robert Greene and Robert Jorgensen for their collaborative efforts on this article
To read more of Larry’s Blogs go to http://larrystoafer.com/
Here in the Midwest many of us look forward to the morning chill that signals the changing of the seasons. As the fall colors start to fade and the nip in the air becomes more prevalent our excitement begins to build. It’s not just for the upcoming holiday season and the time spent with family and friends. Nor is it just for the upcoming hunting seasons and the chance at monster bucks, upland birds, and water fowl. A lot of us enjoy those winter time activities; but personally, my excitement grows from the anticipation of red hot winter time bass action. There are a group of anglers out here that don’t follow the societal norms of winterizing boats and putting tackle away to await the spring thaw. While the snowbirds and southern folks among us are now saying, “what is this loon thinking”? And most are now positive that we Midwestern winter time bass anglers are truly nuts. However true in some cases, when the snow, wind, and winter storms start to take hold of the central part of our country, so does the red hot winter bass action.
In December, our highland Ozark reservoirs start to come alive with the hottest bass catching action of the entire year. It gets so crazy that it’s hard to understand until you experience it firsthand. Places like Bull Shoals, Beaver Lake, and my favorite, the world renowned Table Rock Lake, transform from some of the best bass fisheries in the country to one of the bass fishing world’s best kept secrets. In Mid December, when the water temps start approaching the magical 40 degree range, a mythical migration begins where these lake’s shad populations start creating mega-schools. These schools can grow to 50+ feet in diameter and 300+ yards in length. The guts of the major creeks and deep channel bluffs become their preferred winter time hang outs. As these aquatic buffets begin forming, the predators soon follow and on Table Rock from December – February that means bass, lots of bass. On Table Rock during the winter catching all three species is very common, but the Kentuckies are the most abundant. A winter fishing trip to one of these Ozark beauties targeting the schooling bass is one of the most exciting, action filled angling adventures you could ever enjoy. I start looking forward in anticipation to my first mid-December trip soon after the normal tournament season winds down in October. I am a relative newcomer to this thing we call “Video Fishing”, but with some simple tackle, good electronics, and an understanding of where to look, it doesn’t take long to start taking advantage of the winter time bite.
If you aren’t a regular on these highland reservoirs the first thing you need to do is get rid of your bass biases relative to cover and depth. Growing up in western Kentucky and spending most of my military career stationed in the south, my understanding of fishing deep meant 8-10ft with the occasional 20ft ledge coming into play. My home lakes on the Tennessee River just didn’t require you to think about deeper depths to catch fish year round. Moving to the Midwest in 2005 and joining the local bass club, I soon started hearing stories about catching hundreds of bass a day during the winter doing this thing they called “video fishing”. No not the latest Xbox, Wii, or PS2 game. These guys were vertical fishing for schooling bass in 40, 60, 80, and even 100 feet of water. Like most fish tales, the stories were unbelievable and I was very skeptical at first. But the more I listened, the more enchanted I became. Even then, I couldn’t comprehend schools of bass in the hundreds and maybe thousands.
It wasn’t long until my first Midwest winter and after several of the usual winter time power plant lake trips, I was ready to try this “video fishing” thing. The bass club guys finally succumbed to my continuous nagging, whining, and crying and invited me along on a December trip to Table Rock in 2006. I started my preparation with some online research and a seminar from one of the best vertical fisherman in the club. After a couple weeks of anticipation and a stop by Bass Pro Shop to pick up the needed tackle, the day finally arrived and off we went.
I can still recall that first trip like it was yesterday. Being the hard head that I am, I figured I could take what the guys taught me in the seminar and the subsequent answers to my follow up questions and make this thing happen. Oh not so fast puddle jumper. After struggling all day that first day without a clue, I was just about to head in humbled and humiliated. I was already thinking about the stories that I would have to endure back at the room later that night. I had seen some of the guys throughout the day and knew they were just slaying the fish. Feeling sorry for myself, I decided to make one more pass along a main lake point before calling it a day. That’s when I noticed something that looked like an isolated cedar tree in about 60ft of water. I dropped the ½ oz white spoon down like I was taught and had done a zillion times previously that day without reward. I watched the spoon falling on my electronics and stopped it just above the tree. I hopped it once, the graph exploded as fish swarmed out of the lone tree, and the rod loaded up. Not sure of what had just happened or what I had on the end of the line, the excitement was unnerving. It felt like I had just hooked into a nuclear sub and the images on the graph reminded me of a video game called Missile Command, I played as a kid. After a struggle that seemed to last a half hour, I finally landed the 3lb spot. From that moment, my addiction grew to all consuming and unbearable.
(The right image is a school of actively feeding bass under a school of bait; the vertical lines are the lures being dropped into the strike zone)
After four winters of practice, some great mentoring, and a couple of rounds of electronic and tackle upgrades, I am convinced very few things in the outdoors can compare to the excitement of this thing we call “video fishing”. The rest of this article will focus on the basic tackle and techniques required to be successful. We hope that part II of this article will narrow the learning curve, so even a relative newcomer can get out and take advantage of our winter time bass bonanza. Next week, we will discuss some of the basics like where to find the fish, electronics, and the tackle you will need to get started.
Until then, let your excitement grow by enjoying some of these “video fishing” videos I found on You Tube.
Table Rock: The Cold and the Beautiful
Getting Grubby at Table Rock
Fishing With Table Rock Loons
Special thanks to Robert Greene and Robert Jorgensen for their collaborative efforts on this article
To read more of Larry’s Blogs go to http://larrystoafer.com/
What really happens in the mind of an individual when they start fishing, and collecting, and I don't mean just fly fishing, I think this all starts
to happen really young in life, I was brought up in the junk mans way of thinking, now I don't mean this as bad, I mean this
was great for a young boy to be raised like I was, I was taken to many different arenas of life, junk stores, flea markets, auctions
just about any kind of place that had used junk, my parents were always going to places like this and so I was taken along for the ride.
I learned so much and didn't even know I was learning things that would change my life when I was older, I got to where I could talk to just
about anybody, wasn't to bashful, you couldn't be when you were trying to barter on a fishing reel or fishing pole, if you could just get the
person to take a 1$ for the reel instead of 1.50 $ then I could save that .50 for something better down the road. Now my dad can talk people
down on the price of an item, but my mom is 100 times better than him, and that is saying a lot.
But I remember buying a stack of old outdoor magazines when I was about 11 and thinking I had hit the jackpot, the reading in those old
magazines was like going off into a new world every time I would read about the cape buffalo hunting, the fishing in far away places, at that
time places like colorado, wyoming and other western states were nothing but dreams for me.
I read and reread those old mags and still have them to this day, I will never part with them, like an old good feeling pair of jeans, I won't
get rid of them, someday I'll be reading one of those old mags and it will just go up in a poof of dust and be one with the universe again, but
until then I'll keep reading.
When I was just a young man I owned several rod s and reels, mostly old zebcos, and old fiberglass rods, but they were my prized possesions at
the time, I cared for them like I do my high dollar rods today.
As I got older, I was working more and had a bit more money, I remember mowing yards all one summer so I could afford to buy this 4 1/2 foot
HMG Fenwick spinning rod, I had looked at this rod for over a year, and I still remember the day I got that rod, and I went to Roaring River the next day
and caught so many trout on that little spinning rod, that may have been one of the turning points in my young life, because, I think from that day
forward, I lived to buy the nicest rods I could afford, and then came fly fishing.
I remember my first fly rod, it was an old eagle claw, bright yellow and all of 6' feet long, I guess here is where my obsessions with small rods started.
I can remember going into the fly shop at the bottom of the Roaring River hill(now where the Devils Kitchen trail starts) and with my 5$ I could get 4
wooly worms, and leader or tippet, a soda and still have a few dollars left over, the owner of the shop, Gary Box was a big help, he always
seemed to be willing to help and I was willing to listen and learn.
I enjoyed fishing the park, it was where I could go and spend the day, when I was all of 12 years of age, you could spend the whole day at the park
and fish and enjoy and you were wore out from fishing when your parents came down to pick you up after the got off work.
I don't really remember catching that many trout, I know from time to time I would catch a mess and we would cook them when I got home, but
even then I didn't really like eating them or cleaning them, so I was catching and releasing most of the time.
Well from that old eagle claw fly rod, I graduated to a 7' Fenglass fly rod, and I was ruined, that rod was really nice and light, I belive it was a 5wt
but it was so much lighter than my eagle claw, and I do remember that rod fondly, I lost that rod in a fire in the upstairs of the lodge at Roaring River, but
I have since replaced it with a like rod.
Everyday I look at forums, auctions, vintage tackle sites, I'm not sure why I do this, I started out collecting old lures and stuff when younger and then
while working for Mr. Nickols at Roaring river for 13 years, I acquired many, many, many fly rods and reels, I got into collecting the Ari-T-Hart reels for
awhile, until I had over 40 of them, I have since whittled that # back down to only 15 ATH reels, I had to sell some of them to buy other reels.
I have since those early days at Roaring River acquired many many rods and reels and other fly fishing paraphernalia, I have lots of neat nets, boxes,
chest fly boxes, old bamboo has just about ruined me, I have bought so much bamboo in the past few years, I think I may have a little problem, I
figure I have about a rod a month habit right now, sometimes it is a rod a week, since I started collecting old vintage glass rods, as I'm sitting here
typing this my phone dings and another auction ends and I have yet another nice rod to add to the pile, and old Herter's 5pc glass rod, made by
Phillipson, I'll fish it a few times and set it with its brothers in one of the safes I have purchased just to keep the rods in, not worried about them
being stolen and many are worth very little, more worried about fire, and my dogs chewing on them.
I would like to know if this habit get better with age or gets worse, I guess if I live long enough I'll find out, but for now I just keep on buying and trying
to buy rods and reels of my youth, I'll buy a rod now just because I wanted it when I was young and couldn't afford it and now, it is still kind of expensive,
but I keep telling myself that I really should buy it and see what I missed out on when I was young.
I am writing this because I was going to sell a few rods to make way for a few bamboos I have on order, or that I may acquire in the next few months,
as I sat and counted rods, after I got up to 160 I quit counting because out of the 160, I could only find one or two that I really wanted to sell, and that
really isn't worth the bother to just sell two rods, so I packed them all back in the safes and closed the doors and started looking on line to see if I could
find a deal on another safe, after all it might be easier to just buy one more safe than try to start selling off my rods.
Tim's Fly Shop
If you don't like to fly, don't even think about taking a trip like this one. All together we took 12 flights, including the bush plane ride from Kotzebue to the Kelly River. By the time we landed on the gravel bar next to the river, we were ready to be out of the air – despite the incredible scenery. It was two hours to Denver, six hours to Anchorage (overnight), more than two hours to Nome, 45 minutes on to Kotzebue and an hour in a 206 to the headwaters of the Kelly. It was a long haul. We did upgrade on the long flight and got good seats, with extra seats beside us –a big plus. If you ever fly to Anchorage, spend the extra bucks and get a seat with extra room - it's worth it.
We needed to pick up our satellite phone in Anchorage before heading to the airport. We asked the hotel desk clerk about the shuttle, but she said by the address she knew a cab would only cost $10. Naive tourists we were! We called a cab and headed out to -- the other side of town! We sat in the back of the cab and watched that ticker click off $2.50 every minute or so and thought, "How much is this sat phone going to cost us?" Little did we know. As we got closer to the address, the cab driver was confused. So we drove around the block, and then again. I said, "Let me go in this building and ask." I found out it was down the street, so I ran over and went in. Of course, the phone wasn’t ready, plus it wasn’t the right phone, so I spent over 20 minutes on what was supposed to be a quick turn-around. Heading back to the street, I saw Bill sitting on the curb with all our stuff piled up behind him. I should have taken a picture! “Our epic float trip in remote Alaska starts here!” The same cabbie came back by, picked us up and took us back across town tot the airport. Bill may have to correct me, but I think the cab ride cost us $100, about what the sat phone cost us for the week.
With no other issues, we made it to the airport and boarded for Kotzebeu. Neither of us had been to Nome or Kotzebue, Alaska, so it was exciting to visit both cities. We were disappointed, though, that we weren’t getting off the plane at Nome on our stop. But the quick stop there carried us to our final destination quicker.
Seeing Kotzebue from the air was surreal. It’s completely on a knob stuck out in the bay with water on almost all sides. The runway was even built up out of the water like a bridge to the mainland. As we got out bags, Bill went outside in the parking lot to see if he could locate our air service company. He asked an Alaska State Trooper for directions and the young man promptly said, “Get in and I’ll take you.” Pretty cool welcome, I’d say! It was just around the corner so personnel were soon back with a small truck to haul us and our stuff to the hanger.
After visiting with Jim Kincaid, the owner of NW Aviation, we found the supplies we had mailed up ahead --all there and in one piece. We unpacked it all and organized it into waterproof containers. Then we ran to the store and bought some fresh groceries plus our fishing and hunting licenses. When we returned and weighed it all, plus ourselves, we found out we were 100 pounds over the plane’s limit. We had suspected as much, but Bill thought Jim would be forgiving - nope. I don't blame him. We pulled out what we thought we couldn't live without and he blessed our load.
Looking at the plane, I thought how are we going to get all this and our bodies stuffed in it! The pilot said it would go and it did. It was cloudy, a little breezy and it felt like about 60 degrees -- just what we expected. We were ready to go.
The flight was beautiful. We crossed several rivers before the Kelly. Our river looked nice and big at first, but as we flew further and further upstream, it got smaller and smaller. The water was very clear, and we thought for sure that if there were salmon or char we should see them. We saw no signs of fish. About half way up I was beginning to get concerned about our chances to float, let alone catch fish. I could envision us dragging the boat through riffle after riffle for miles! I didn't realize it, but Bill was thinking the same thing.
The pilot circled the landing "strip" to check the wind and then landed -- very smoothly despite rolling over sticks, brush and rocks. Pretty cool -- we were there! Once we got off, the awesomeness of this special part of Creation -- the quiet, the breeze, the water, mountains and tundra – hit me. Who cared about fish? It was already an amazing trip.
I kept peeking around for bears as we unloaded the plane. Even while blowing up the raft, I kept up the “guide wariness.” Little did I know we wouldn't see an animal on the entire float. I ran down the "runway" to film the plane lift off. Again, I was amazed how easily he took off from the gravel bar. After he was in the air, I thought, "It's just us!"
Our plan was to float down a ways and find a good place to camp. We had no idea what was ahead of us as far as places where fish were holding. We shoved off and floated about a mile, found a nice, sandy spot and set up camp. It was about 6 p.m. when we landed. I knew sundown was around 8:30 p.m., but I also knew that it takes another hour after sundown to start getting dark that far north, so we had plenty of time to get settled.
The next morning we awoke to frost on the tent. Just a couple of days before, we were enduring triple-digit heat at home in the Ozarks. Now frost! I much prefer frost myself. We broke camp, loaded the raft and headed out for holes that were home to big char.
We floated for I’d say three hours through some beautiful country. Vast – that would be a good word for what we were seeing. The mountains lining both sides of the valley we were in looked almost fake—a painting may be. The river in front of us at times gave us choices to make, dividing into braids, taking off in lots of different directions. We said on more than one occasion that it would have been nice if the river had stayed in one stream, providing us with plenty of water to float and may be hold a fish or two. But that’s not the makeup of most rivers in Alaska. The valleys are wide and flat. In the spring and early summer, I’m sure they’re full of water from snowmelt. By the looks of the floor of the Kelly River Valley, the braids have different pathways each year through the valley. I’d love to see the area with the water high.
In fast, deeper sections, I’d see a fish or two darting from in front of the raft, but it was hard to identify what kind of fish. I thought, at the time, they were chum salmon because I caught a glimpse of white. When salmon start their dying stage, their flesh will die off and turn white. That’s what I thought I was seeing, but knowing now what we saw later in the float, these fish were actually char -- so we missed at least a few chances to stop and fish for them early in the float. But the numbers of these fish weren’t close to the big numbers we’d find just a little farther down the river.
We were looking for a river coming in from the east, one that Jim called “No Name River.” Not sure if that was its name or if the river actually had no name. Odd, seeing there aren’t many rivers up there flowing into the Kelly. We failed to turn on our GPS for the first few miles of our day’s trip, so we were guessing at the distance, fearing that we had missed it somehow. But we noticed a wide valley coming up to the east, and then we saw a small stream entering our river. That was it. Bill rowed the raft up in an eddy close to the inflow, and we saw our first male char, a sight that about made both of us fall overboard.
There was a perfect place on the shore to camp, so we beached the boat and started to scope out this section of river. We still suspected we’d see chum salmon close by and thought our beads would be the right tool to catch these trophies. But we were wrong. No salmon. So we went to Plan B — big streamers.
Bill was the first to hookup. He was fishing the plume where the No Name, or what we now call “Maggie Creek” flowed in. After a long fight, he landed what was the first of many male, sea run arctic char in that stretch and the largest of the char we’d catch on the trip.
We tore ourselves away from fishing to set up camp. But then it was back to the river and more hookups. Bill figured out the best way to present our streamers. He’d lay out a long cast across the river and immediately started mending his line upstream over and over. Each time, he’d bump the fly while still letting it drift downstream. These were heavily weighted flies, either with lead eyes or lead wire, so they were getting close to the bottom, which was about four feet down. But the water was swift and the drift was short, or the heavy flies were perfect for this style of drift. You knew when you’d get a strike—they didn’t mess around.
We both landed male char pushing 38 inches in length, but more impressive than the massive bodies was the color they presented. A master painter could not create a more beautiful fish than these, and we were so grateful that God created them for us to enjoy.
We decided to camp for three nights at Maggie Creek. We explored the river up and down from the mouth but saw no other fish. We did, for the first evening and next day, see more char making their way up the shallow riffle below this hole, but after the first day we didn’t see another fish come up. Were some of these fish heading further upstream or staying here to spawn?
I did hike over and up onto a ridge overlooking the valley. I was tempted to walk on up at least to the base of the mountain range, but Bill wasn’t up to it, and I didn’t want to meet a bear out in the open tundra by myself, so I sat and took in the view -- and picked a few wild blue berries to add to our pancakes the next morning.
The third morning, the fish seemed to be tired of our company. They weren’t hungry. We had already decided it was time to get on down to Wrench Creek, the second and final creek that Jim had told us entered Kelly River, again from the east. So we broke camp, loaded up and headed downstream.
The river kept breaking up in multiple braids, and at times it was hard to tell which were the right ones to pick. We were doing pretty well when we decided to take a path that lead us to shallow water and lots of dragging. We could see the main stream to our left just a hundred yards away but couldn’t get to it. Finally, we pulled our way through tiny streams of water to the big water and vowed not to do that again!
We stopped at several interesting spots. One was a huge bluff and deep holes. The water was a emerald green color in one spot and a sky blue in another. We did see a couple of male char holding in one deep pocket but they were way too spooky to entice with a big leech. We ran into several large wooded areas with tall pines. Upon further exploration, I found the floor of these wooded patches to be tundra, which I thought was strange. But Alaska is full of wondrous surprises.
Finally we found the mouth of Wrench Creek. It was much larger than Maggie Creek, much more like a creek you’d find here in Missouri. I’d almost switch the names around and call Wrench a river and Maggie a creek but I’ll leave it alone. Wrench had wooded areas on both sides of the creek as well as up and down one side of the Kelly River. Pines and willows, and the willows were in full fall colors – bright yellow. The tundra was also sporting its fall foliage in shades of red and burnt red. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. If only the sun would peak out, I thought, it would be totally eye-popping.
We pulled up on the bank across from the mouth of Wrench Creek, knowing we could wade across the Kelly to access Wrench when we wanted to. The gravel was small enough for our campsite and tent to be staked it out and set up camp.
Fish were jumping in front of camp on the Kelly on the opposite side of the river in deeper water, and we did try fishing that stretch, but the current and depth of the water were not right. We fished and caught out fish up in Wrench and that’s all, just in the creek. Because we only found fish at Maggie and now at Wrench, where water flowed into the river, we decided instead of floating on down to the mouth of the Kelly, we’d stay here and finish out our week. We called Jim at NW Aviation, and he said that would be fine. Why leave fish and take a chance on not finding any downstream?
Not every bend had fish up in the Wrench, but the mouth and first bend did. We did have to walk about a fourth mile up around three bends before finding more char and grayling. They were holding mainly along deep-cut banks. We found four good areas with fish. The river split in two parts above the last hot spot. Exploring up another half-mile, we thought it didn’t come back together, but when we flew out, we could see from the air that it did, meaning we probably should have walked up farther.
It did seem there were new char in the creek each day, so we weren’t fishing for the same, exact char each day. But I know we caught some of the fish twice over the three days we were there.
There were still a good number of chum salmon in the river and dead ones along its bank. But for the most part, they were done spawning. Fortunately for us, though, the char and grayling were still interested in anything that looked like an egg floating down through the chutes. Our chuck-n-duck method served us well, pegging a 8mm bead about two inches from a #8 hook. We also did well tying on a black leech or wooly bugger and pegging the bead two inches above the fly.
The bigger char were found at Maggie River for sure. We did land quite a few males well over 30 inches at Wrench but nothing close to the 36- and 38-inchers we caught at Maggie. Those were big brutes. Also, I did see one male char at the mouth of Wrench that would have measured well over 40 inches, but he wasn’t interested in anything we offered.
Bill did a great job bringing everything we could possibly needed on the trip, including a great sleeping mats, bags and an efficient Cabela’s tent, cookware and good eats and every tool needed to keep us alive in the “bush.” It sure pays to be prepared!
The last morning, we woke to dense fog, the only day that we couldn’t see the mountain to our west. We had already packed up our fishing gear and most of our equipment the evening before, thinking it might rain that night. We didn’t want to ship back wet stuff! Having nothing to do, we lay in our tent and read, snoozed and waited for the skies to clear. With obviously not internet to check the weather, we had no idea how long it would be – an hour – a few hours – a day or even two!!!??? Pretty helpless feeling actually! But about 10 a.m., I peaked out of the tent’s door, and I could see the mountains! We called Jim on our sat phone. It was clear in Kotzebue, and he estimated he’d be there in about 45 minutes.
Would I do that again? Float a remote river in Alaska? You bet! I’ve been going to Alaska for six straight years and this trip by far was one of the best. I’m already thinking about next summer.
We made it. Great flight. We're at the Micro Tel Motel tonight. Pick up out Sat Phone tomorrow and fly out to Nome and then Kotzebue at 11 am.
Last night in a real bed before hitting the river... and a shower
Bill and I are laying over in Denver right at the moment. Our flight out of Branson was flawless. We have 2 hours to kill before our 5.5 hour flight to Anchorage.
It's hard to believe we'll be on the Kelly River tomorrow. Air flight in this day and age is amazing.
The Healing Water Event kept us hopping. We both were 99% packed since Thursday and it was a good thing. Coordinating guides and meals for the guys has a full time job. But it was all worth it.
I'd been packing, or thinking about what to take, for the last 3 weeks. I'd run through potential problems and situations on the river and think... what would I need. Add it to a small list and then run to Walmart and pick up stuff. Made a couple of trips to Springfield, Sams, Bass Pro and Lawrence Photo among other places. I made trips to other outdoor outfitting places but couldn't shell out the bucks for the real good stuff.
The weather in Kotzebue has improved the last few days. The forecast for Monday-Wednesday is 55 and partly cloudy!! Oh man is that going to be nice!!! As Bill put it, that's great picture-taking weather.
We were told the area had gotten quite a bit of rain so we were afraid the river would be high and muddy. Nothing we can do at this point but we think we'll be ok now that the weather is better.
We get in Anchorage at 10:45 pm which is 1:45 am at home. We won't be calling our wives till in the morning.
Our flight leaves Ted Stevens Int at 11 am tomorrow. We have a 1.5 hour layover in Nome which is going to be cool. Hopefully we can get out and walk around alittle.
This might be the last entry until we get off the river and back to Anchorage on 9/6.
Sorry for not writing more about our plans. Try to get current on our trip.
We mailed 5 packages to Kotzebue last week. Mailed 2 big soft duffle bags, one barely made the minimum size (108 inches) and weighed about 65 pounds. The other was smaller and much lighter. Mailed two boxes - the plano and another utility box. Sent them usps priority mail. Cost: about $390.00. Mailed them on 8/12 and they arrived on 8/17 with a weekend in between. Not bad. We have 2 more utility boxes to take up with us on the plane along with our 2nd check-on bag and carry on. We'll mail everything back except what we need for the second week usps ground from Kotzebue - we'll see how long it takes to get home using ground instead of priority.
Our plans have changed for our second week in AK. Instead of going to King Salmon and my cabin, we're heading to Kodiak from Anchorage and spend a week, or may be less. The flight will cost us $100 less than the flight to KS from Anchorage but we'll have to rent a car and pay for lodging on the island.
Why the change? I've never been there, Bill has. The silver run should just be starting when we arrive plus the char fishing should be really good. Next fall, we're planning on taking several groups of clients to Kodiak for KAA (Kids Across America) as a fund raiser so we're going to check things out and figure out the best plan of action. The plan is to take couples so we're going to look at bed and breakfast establishments.
I had bought a Canon 7D camera a couple of weeks ago thinking that would be the best all round camera for me. I had it 5 days and was totally overwhelmed. I'm not a photographer. I thought I could take a couple crash courses, plus I thought I had a line on a few camera lenses I could take to AK but both didn't work out. I took the camera back.
I bought a new Pentax Optio 90w, same as my 20 but newer. For this trip, I'm taking my GoPro, my Flip and my Panasonic minidv camcorder. I've bought extra batteries for all and should be set. Bought a couple of 16g sc cards off ebay too.
I bought a GPS and reserved a Sat Phone from this company - GPSphones.com We'll pick the phone up in Anchorage and drop it off on our way back through on the 6th. I don't think we'll need it but it will be handy if we get fogged in on our take-out day.
I check the weather for Kotzebue every few days to see if there's any changes on the horizon. None really. The outfitter said they're getting quite a bit of rain. That should help bring fish up into the headwaters. Again, the outfitter will tell us which river would be best for our float. Of course, we wouldn't want one that's high and off-colored.
http://www.weather.com/outlook/health/fitness/tenday/USAK0135 Highs are still reaching almost 60 but today's high was only 49. There seems to be wind most of the time which is a good thing- keeps the bugs down.
Words of the Day . . . Well more like words of the week for us.
Our plans are changing each day it seems the last week. Bill has packed 6 containers full of fishing and camping gear. Our plan is to mail up 4 and take the other 2 on the plane with us. We trade emails about ten times a day--I'll share the last one from Bill on shipping vs check-ons:
Here is an even better way to do it. Send up both of the Cabelas bags, the Rubbermaid Packer and the lighest of the Plano totes. Also weigh the heavest two if you can so we will know their exact weight each, not to exceed 50 pounds. Here is my reasoning. The 3rd. bag for one of us on our flight to Anchorage will be $50. It would then cost for that bag another $20 to get it on to Kotz. Total for the tote would be $70 and we would have to "Tote It." I am guessing it will be under that figure to send it or right around there and we wont have to mess with it. That will take us down to our carry-on's and two checkins each. Check-on luggage cost would then drop to a total of $122.00.
It's tricky but Bill is great at figuring the best and cheapest way to get this stuff up there and back.
I've been trying to find the best video camera to take up and for my usage down here and I think I've settled on a new Canon camera but it won't be out till September. So we're taking what we have - a GoPro, a Flip and my MiniDV video camera as well as buying a new Optio 90 for stills. There's a new panoramic camera out I'm going to look at too. Brian Wise has inspired me to learn how and shoot a bunch on my GoPro. I've order extra batteries.
More to follow. . . we're still not sure where we're going our second week. King Salmon or Kodiak. We'll make our decision today.
As Phil blogged, we are pretty much on our put together phase of the Alaska Float Fishing Trip. One note of caution here, we are kind of going to be a primer, but before you think of trying something like this reguardless of your physical conditioning, it would be a good idea to have some very exact information, and be aware this is pretty wild country you about to visit.
I guided raft trips for a couple of years in Alaska, and had most of our Alaska River Float Gear, but sold quite a bit of it to our friend Jim Johnson, at Naknek River Camp. So, I am regearing to a lesser extent, not so much the commercial equipment, but just way upper end extended camping gear.
I am a research fanatic when it comes to stuff like this and will usually as you should dig up every available scrap of information on any adventure like this you would like to do or our planning.
There are extended stay raft trips all over Alaska, and before renting a raft, or doing one on your own, it is always a good idea to take a float trip with a professional, not only to see their gear and setup, but to learn as much as you can about the rivers.
Phil and I are taking a very easy Class I river this year, with fishing being the key.
We will be fishing one of the rivers out of Kotzebue this year in the Noatak drainage. We are fishing for Andromous or Sea Run Char. The fish get to the largest size here and in the Tree River in Canada. The Alaska State Record comes from the Wulik River at 27.8. Most all these Northern Alaska Rivers, above the Arctic Circle, have Char visit them in the 5 to 25 pound range.
We are also looking at the Kelly River. We are leaving the river to our Bush Pilot that flys the area on a daily basis to provide the best fish and float conditions, for the river of his choice. To tell you the truth, most all the floatable Arctic rivers have Huge Char, and it really does not matter to us, which one we float.
I'll lay out the gear equipment and how we plan on going about getting it all there commin up.
We were talking . . . we'd like to bring some sockeye home with us but the problem is that sockeye will be spawning and dying when we're there in September, at least at Naknek, so what do we do? I emailed Jim, my friend who owns Naknek River Camp on the Naknek River, where my cabin is, and he said he could call Heidi at Diamond Lodge and buy some from her. She would store it till we get there. 150 pounds would do us - 50 pounds each. So we're set.
BUT - I threw a wrench in the mix. I said we should THINK about flying over to Kodiak Island instead of to the cabin at King Salmon and fish for silvers which run in September. This would add expense to the trip but we could explore the island and camp. So Bill's researching.
Here at the Landing, we started carrying a new wader line called Hendrix. I sent my Orvis waders in for repair or replacement cause they're leaking AGAIN. I've had bad luck with the guide waders from Orvis but at least they stand behind their product. If you're floating a remote river in Alaska, you better take an extra pair of waders. I now have one.
I'm not buying a new pair of wading boots. The pair I have, Orvis, are about 4 years old and have seen alot of use. The felt soles have been glued back on a couple of times. I ripped one off the other day and glued a new one on. It's taken several sessions but I think it's on good. I'll have to test it before leaving. Boots are another item you don't want to be without in the bush.
We have a 800 pound limit on the bush plane flying from Kotzebue to the river. That's including camping and cooking gear, fishing gear, clothes and food. 400 of that will be US. We'll have to weigh everything closely, before we leave as well as after we pick up our food in Anchorage. We'll use water purifier kits and drink water from the river.
I was thinking . . . haven't asked Bill yet but I assume we're cooking using butane. September can be a rainy time in AK and there's not a whole lot of trees where we're going so depending on dry wood for a cooking fire wouldn't be wise. That adds to our weight.
Sat Phone - we're weighing that option. Found a place to rent a phone for $59 per week but I'm not sure we'll need one. A GPS - yes. If this river was alittle wilder, I would say yes to the sat phone but it's very tame. Shouldn't have any problems floating. Bears - another thing. But there's aren't as many bears as, say, where we go in southwest Alaska. So we'll decide shortly.
Bill's been trying out jackets - fleece water proof, windproof. He's ordered and received 2 so far. He likes one. He brought it over and showed me- it was nice. It's a riding jacket - motorcycle riding. Reinforced elbows and shoulders. Has a hood. It's nice, especially for the price - $89. I'm still looking. I have a nice windproof Orvis fleece - I think that will do me. It was misplaced till this week.
Cameras - I have my Optio. It's still a great camera. Waterproof. Been through a lot. I have a video mini DV that's 3 years old but I'd like to get a HD. I have some leads. I want to document this trip as best as I can.
Bill and I are flying out of Branson, mid afternoon on August 29th and flying to Anchorage, AK. We'll arrive there at that evening - there's a 3 hour difference in their time and central time. Bill booked a book at the Microtel Airport Inn for $167. Our flights costs $1591.82 round trip.
We get up the next morning and go shopping. We'll need to buy staple items such as meats for 2-3 dinners as well as other items we don't want to take up on the plane. There will be other items that we'll share later when we have our list.
We leave for Kotzebue mid afternoon. It's a 4 hour flight with one stop. We are using Jim Kincaid, an outfitter and pilot in Kotzebeu. We will fly from there to the Kelly River. It will be a 30 mile float and we'll fish for ocean run Andromous char and grayling. These char average over 15 pounds and will grow to over 25 pounds. Grayling are good sized too.
We're taking one shot gun for ptarmigan and bear protection, as well as bear spray.
We are getting our gear together and ordering supplies and clothing we need, but we have most of everything. Bill has great camping gear including bags and tents. We've scouted out dried foods. Everything is coming together.
We've considered, or really are still considering renting a Sat Phone but we're not sure we need to go to that expense. The river is class I so no danger there. Not many bears. But it is remote - not many other people or planes flying over.
I'll let Bill add to this entry. It's his idea to start this blog, hoping to help those who may consider taking a trip like this in the future.
I truly love this site! Really! My wife is a facebook fanatic and along with about everyone else in my little world has been trying to get me to sign up for that crazy stuff just about everyday. The more I think about it though, I really don't have anything to share that any of those folks really give a hoot about! I'd just as soon sit here tonight in Stillwater, OK and write this theraputic blog about finding out just how much I love bass fishing again. I'm an addict again..... For a while when I lived in SE Oklahoma, I lived on a pond bank. Everyday after school I'd gather up my stuff and find the nearest hole of water and fish it till there wasn't a still spot of water left on it! Then.... I got married and moved back to NE Oklahoma and went a while without even thinking about picking up a rod and reel(unless it was in Cassville, MO). Just by accident one day, I was standing at my brothers house and asked him if he had an extra pole I could borrow for a while just in case I wanted to go. 6 rods later, and enough tackle to fish the BASS tour, I found myself trying to find ways out of work, and on some water fishing. Since then, I have fished at least 4 times a week, and my wife, who is due with our first child in November, is just about ready to whip my brother for giving me those rods! Anywho, it just seems amazing to me how much I missed being ANYWHERE fishing. If I had my choice, I'd certainly be at Roaring River, but between trips, I'll fish anywhere I can.
Here goes. I have fished Stockton Lake for many years. Just love this lake for its beautiful water and lack of traffic. I can get to the lake in under 30 minutes from my house. Walleye. I know they are there. I can feel there presence. I do catch a few, randomly. I want to catch them on a more consistent basis. Like most, I can catch more in the spring while crappie fishing. However, when the waters warm, and I assume them move deeper (over 20 feet) it ends for me. I can jig crawlers for hours off points, near bluffs, flats, constantly fighting wind and waves to keep my boat where I think I should. Nothing. Ever. A catfish here and there, perch nibbling like crazy, even the occasional smallmouth. Don't get me wrong, these fish are just fine. But they are NOT walleye. Trolling? Oh yea. Then I catch Drum. Lots of Drum. Sometimes BIG drum, but the are NOT walleye. I have fished canada and caught hundreds, maybe thousands of walleye. So I do have a clue, just not on Stockton. All this said, I do enjoy my time on the lake slowly drifting and thinking of the day when a walleye actually bites. Way back in 2005 I actually caught 5 walleye in one day. Fluke. I havent caught one since. Do the math, that's 5 years. I don't get out all that often, but still, 5 years is one long dry spell. Now I am not asking for anyones "honey hole", but throw me a bone. Above 215 Bridge or below? Point B2? B6? Thanks for your time, and good fishing.
First and foremost I want to wish everyone a very happy Easter 2010. I heard an awesome message this morning and wanted to share just a bit of it with you all. The message centered around Matthew chapter 6 verse 22 and 23. It speaks of the eyes being the lamp of the body and if they are good, how the light will fill the body. If they are bad, how the darkness can fill your spirit. I don't know about the rest of you, but this verse really makes me think about what I choose to light my lamp. So often evil and bad can consume everything we look at. GOD wants us to fill our spirit with the light of JESUS CHRIST and be filled with the love, joy and peace that is in HIM. I hope that we all can find the fuel that is provided by our risen savior to light our lives. I sure enjoy this site and all of you that are a part of it. I know my journey in life has been marked by failures and bad decisions, but reminders such as these.... and good places to get away and fish and get close to my GOD are sure the blessings of life. Speaking of blessings..... I found out that I'm going to be a daddy in 2010!!! Can't wait to take my new one fishing!