Monday, July 28, 2014

First Family Camping Trip

I had been anticipating camping with my kids since they were born. I wasn't sure what age is the right age to take them on their first trip. My wife and I decided to do a test run by going one day over a weekend. I have fished Stone Mountain State Park several times but never camped there. The day we arrived at the campground I was really impressed with the quality of the campsites and bathrooms. The bathrooms were cleaner than some of the hotels I've stayed in. We made camp and started a fire. This where I started to realize what this trip was going to be all about. Instead of just enjoying everything this experience was going to be about teaching the kids what they can and can't do while camping.
The first was to teach them that fire is something dangerous and not something you play with. This was actually harder than I thought. The kids were constantly getting too close to the fire ring. Especially when they were chasing each other around the campsite. 
I was sure someone was going to be impaled with a skewer but we managed to roast marshmallows and cook hot dogs without any incidents. My wife got these giant marshmallows that were almost too big for smores. They were a meal in themselves. 

The next day we decided to go for a hike. My wife and I didn't sleep that well due to our air mattress not inflating. She did buy some small 1/4 inch foam pads for the kids and we tried those as a substitute. It didn't work and we spent the night tossing and turning. She ended up sleeping in the car. Even with the bad nights sleep we rallied and went for a hike. 
Stone mtn is a impressive sight. The wall looks almost vertical but from a distance you can see the mtn is actually a rock dome. Many rock climbers from the surrounding area come here to test their skills. 
My daughter wanted to climb this so bad and it took me constantly berating her to keep her from attempting an ascent. The plan was to hit a natural water slide after the hike. My wife twisted her ankle pretty bad on the hike back to the car. She could still walk but it was obvious she was in pain. I made a walking stick for her and of course the kids bugged me to make them one of their own.
This seemed like a good idea until the walking sticks became guns and later swords. The walking sticks ended up back in the forest before the hike was over. 
The water slide was part of a small waterfall. The upper falls have a pretty spectacular view.
My daughter begged me to go down the water slide with her but it looked pretty bumpy. I heard from other hikers that people usually bring something plastic to sit on to protect their rear. We ended up just playing at the base of the falls and the kids had plenty of fun.
When we were about to leave my daughter was yelling about an orange lizard. 
I have been looking for one of these newts for years. The last place I'd expect to find one is by a popular swimming hole. The color of these creatures is amazing. You'd think the vibrant color would make them vulnerable to predators. The color actually indicates the newt is toxic. Various times on the trail we came across some mushrooms that had the same color.
I wonder if this is a coincidence or if the salamanders feed on these mushrooms. I think even with our mishaps the camping trip was a success. On the drive back home my kids asked if we can go camping again and stay longer next time. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Quality and Quantity

My buddy Troy asked me to fish with him last weekend. There's some people who just have a special knack for catching fish. Some call it mojo, sixth sense, a gift or the Troy Factor. Doesn't matter what you call it Troy has it. Fishing with him is a privilege and I try to jump on every opportunity I get. Storms were threatening in the forecast but we still hit the marshes early. 
The marshes off North Carolina's coast have a beauty all of their own. It can really only be appreciated up close and personal by paddling slowly. At first glance the marsh looks like a prairie with several creeks flowing through it. It doesn't take long for you to realize the still view you see above the water is the opposite of what's happening underneath. You'll constantly see bait and shrimp busting the surface fleeing from a predator. Wakes from creatures moving under the surface disturb eddies and grass lines. Every now an then you hear a splash or see an eruption of bait fish as a red drum attacks. There's so much prey in these marshes it's amazing that a fish ever hits a fly. What's great about this place is everything looks fishy. Around every bend is another pool, oyster bed or small cove that has bustling movement. 
Stealth is the name of the game and long casts are usually needed. Especially if the water is calm. In the summer the water is murky and it's hard to see even a foot into the water. The water isn't dirty it's visibility is clouded by plankton. We saw several fish moving through the shallows but none seemed eager to chase a fly. While blind casting near a bank I had my first real hit. The fish didn't seem very large at first. Then as it got closer to the boat it bolted. My reel screamed and I had to slow the rotations with my palm.
One thing you can count on with reds is a battle. They never just surrender and come in. The runs are fast and furious and you need to be on your toes. This fish circled the boat a few times before we could finally land it.
If I had a list of top 10 fish to catch with flies red drum might just top the list. I don't think anyone who catches a red drum ever forgets it.

The next day we hit the Neuse River in search of striped bass.
Rumor had it that the fish were hitting top water lures and we were all armed with stealth bombers. There was one hit with in the first 10min then no other action. We moved to the bridges to see if the fish were holding near structure.
Cruising towards the bridge the views were spectacular. Once we got there we looked for birds working and signs of fish activity. It didn't take long until we saw birds hovering over fish busting bait. I've seen birds bust bait before but never this close.
The birds and bait seemed to move all around the area. Sometimes the bait was pushed right against the boat and shad almost jumped up on the deck. The birds would get in a feeding frenzy and seemed to disregard our presence. There were so many that it started to interfere with casting.
We weren't sure what to do when a buddy hooked one of the birds,
Luckily the bird just had the leader wrapped around its wing. When it came close the leader loosened enough for the bird to free itself and it flew away unharmed. The fish chasing the shad turned out to be small stripers also called schoolies. Most were barely 12 inches. I'm guessing these fish were barely 2yrs old. Even with their size they were very fun to catch. We could almost predict our hook ups with what showed on the fish finder. The screen would literally turn black. The schoolies were fun but we wanted to explore up another river. 
A family of osprey greeted us at the mouth of the river. It was neat how the scenery changed from a wide river with intercoastal type features to something almost swampy. 
As we moved upstream more gnarled trees showed themselves and many had spanish moss hanging from the branches. 
After people watching and checking out the scenery we headed back and had our fill of some more schoolies. It was a great day and I hope to some day return and explore this area more.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dredging For Gills

When the water gets really warm and all the beds are empty I start dredging. The fish all seem to stay deep and won't investigate a fly on top. That's when I use something heavy with a lot of legs. I drag it across the bottom feeling every rock and stump. The strikes vary from slight resistance to a super hard yank. The really vicious strikes almost pull the rod out of your hands. I find the fish aren't as plentiful but the ones you manage to hook are a nice size.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How Do You Net?

Someone asked this question on a forum I frequently visit and it got me thinking. Many people go over various fishing techniques but not how to net a fish. Which is really probably one of the most important things to learn. It can be the difference between telling a fish story or having the fish available for further admiration and photographs. 

Some say you should put the net in the water while fighting a fish then scoop it in as it gets close. I've had many problems with this method. I either have to drop the net because I'm so preoccupied in the fight. Then I spend too much time grabbing around in the water for the net blindly because my focus is on the fish. The resistance of the water itself is always more than you think. The current can make you lift the net slower than you like, sometimes that one split second can give the fish a chance to flip a fin and dodge the net. 

When I net a fish I try to do it in one motion. I bring the rod hand back and stick my other hand out with the net. I think this picture from the blog AZ Wanderings illustrates it best.
Netting a fish this way is very effective because it's done in one motion and after awhile it becomes a habit. Lifting the rod high gets rid of slack line and keeps the fish's head out of the water. This gives the angler an advantage. Of course this scenario is only good for fish small enough to net. I'm curious about other anglers philosophies when it comes to netting. So..... How do you net?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Drum and The Shark

Surf fishing is tough. There's so much going on it's hard to figure out exactly the proper way to fish. The current is going different directions the foam creates shadows and the current stirs up dirt. Many times you have no idea where to cast. I'm always hoping to see some sign that a fish is in a certain area. I tried finding beach features that stood out. Places where the sand created a crater or some kind of underwater dune. I figured fish might try to pin or trap bait in these places. I worked an area for awhile and used various retrieves. I felt a tug during on one of my retrieves and pulled in my first fish ever caught in the NC surf.
It was a little bluefish and it gave me the confidence to continue working the surf. I started to trust my hunches about where fish might be. Then I noticed some shadows that weren't moving with the flow of the waves. As I got closer I could tell it was a school of something. I was guessing bluefish. My first cast yielded nothing. The next cast landed right on top of the school. I waited a couple seconds then gave the fly some quick strips. There was some tension then the rod started to bob but the resistance was strange. It felt more like the fly was dragging in the sand than a fish fighting. As the current went out I saw a splash and tail slap. There was a huge disturbance and the other fish in the school bolted. The rod started to really bend and at first I wasn't gaining any line on the fish. Then I saw the tail come out of the water again and noticed the spot that marks a red drum. At about the same time the fish decided it was gonna fight. I figured no big deal I'm using a 9wt. I severely under estimated the fish. Every time I thought I had the drum under control it would make another run. It took awhile but I eventually realized I needed to get the fish into shallow water. I started to work my way back up the beach. The drum gave in after what seemed like 10min.
The fight red drum dish up is almost unreal. They have so much power in a small package. I've caught bigger reds but I can't remember any of them fighting like this fish. I used to think you could get away with a 5wt in the surf. This fish would have snapped that like a twig. My 9wt was perfect and even with that the fish torqued it good. 

As I released the fish and watched it swim away I started to adjust my line and get ready for my next cast. I noticed a dark shadow coming my direction. It looked like a seal. I used to see them all the time in San Diego. Then the shadow moved in front of me and a fin broke the surface. It was a shark and it was swimming no more than 20ft from me. By the time I knew it was a shark it had spotted me thrashed the water and took off. The whole thing happened so fast it really humbled me. It reminded me how vulnerable we really are once we're in the ocean. I think that shark was investigating the area because of the drum struggling as I brought it it. If that shark wanted to get me I wouldn't have had a chance. 

You'd think an experience like that would keep me out of the water but it didn't. I was having too good of a day. I continued to work the surf and after several hours of not even a bump I hooked my first flounder.
It was truly an awesome day. All of the fish were caught on a clouser that I tied. Even though it was scary it was cool seeing the shark. Before I left the surf late afternoon I saw a sea turtle. I have never seen once since I've lived in NC. It was so close to shore I could have ran out in the surf and probably swam with it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dragonflies Love Fly Rods

I've learned the last few years that dragon flies think your fly rod is one long dragonfly. I've had them land close to me countless times. Usually moving the rod scares them off. Today this one was determined to hang on for awhile.
This is an Arrowhead Spiketail and at nearly 4inches long they look like they can pluck a blue gill right from the water. There's something about dragonflies that I find fascinating. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

I'm Changing

My philosophy towards trout fishing is starting to change. Gone are the notions that trout are fragile almost timid creatures that shy away at the nearest vibration from the bank. These thoughts have been replaced by predators with the capacity to overcome prey with fierce speed and ferocious annihilation. There's two types of trout. Those that stay in the main water column and eat what they can. The others hide in the darkness and out of reach places. They eat what they want when they want. Usually they've been caught once or twice and their years of wisdom have made them leery about anything out of the ordinary. It's these fish that I've started to target and my enjoyment of fly fishing has increased tenfold. The small size 20flies and 7x tippet no longer exist in my fly box. 3x is the standard and as an added bonus you rarely lose flies. Big fish indeed want big flies and it usually takes something larger than 3inches to entice them. Even when you do the most you can expect is a follow. I have finally learned the difference between a curious follow and a chase. Then there is the ambush which is an unexpected flash that usually ends as quickly as it starts. Since I've started fishing this way I have seen more big trout this year than in all 10yrs of fly fishing combined. The method works and the fish aren't any easier to catch. The technique allows you to get a glimpse of the fish but doesn't guarantee anything. The game becomes about a well placed cast, proper retrieve and fast reflexes. The fish wins 99% of the time and the challenge just makes it more fun. For me just the sight of a 20inch fish trailing my fly is exciting enough. The visual part is what I love and I'm addicted to seeing more.