It was the biggest fly rod I have ever seen. A huge two-handed spey, eleven feet long, if it was an inch. Do they make 20wts? It made my 4wt look like a toothpick. Heck, it made my trusty ¾” wading staff look like a toothpick!!! The rod could have kicked a tuna’s ass and there it was in the hands of a large, white haired, bearded gentleman, standing in the middle of Wilson Creek; a creek so small that in most places, if he stood mid-stream, he could easily touch both shores with the plank. All I could think to say was “That’s quite a stick you've got there”.
I'd trade all my fishing tomorrows
for one single fishing yesterday.*
If the Ghost of Christmas Past was to appear and grant me a single step back in time and place, I might very well return to the day pictured above, sometime in the summer of 1982, on a quiet North Carolina farm pond, to re-live a delightful afternoon chasing bluegill with my father and my two sons, Greg and Andy. This particular image is dear to me as the two patient anglers, my dad, Andy, and my youngest son, also Andy, are no longer with us. Each was taken away long before their time and I miss them dearly. You often don't know how precious a day can be until it's gone so, if I could return to this one, I'd savor every second.
This picture returns to my consciousness regularly, but particularly this week as Sunday, the 13th, is the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting, an evening in which we place a candle in the window in remembrance of the children that have been lost to us.
It’s time for the eagerly awaited and highly influential first annual Mike’s Gone Fishin’ New Gear of the Year Award. Yeah, it probably seems a bit premature for year-end acknowledgements, but this year's nominations have been closed early because it has been strongly suggested that I purchase nothing else until after Christmas. It’s very likely that I have bollixed up enough gift ideas already.
This year the competition for New Gear of the Year has been tough as I have come a long way in filling out my fly fishing arsenal. New rods, reels, and accouterments galore have found their way into the closet (you have, no doubt, read about a few of them here) and all have made fishing this year a blast. So, drum roll please.
I'd had it up to here with Frau Nature. I've been trying for weeks to get in a trip to the hills to chase some trout and every time a plan got close to execution she'd rain on my parade. Monday was the last straw as the Geezer and I resigned to the postponement of the next day's trip to the North Fork of the New because of high, muddy conditions.
Pushed over the edge, I made a call to Bo Cash, owner and proprietor of the Table Rock Angler, a small shop tucked in the hills above Morganton, to see what conditions were like in the Wilson Creek area. While he hadn't been on the water for a few days, Bo said he did have a couple of clients hitting the creek that day and, if I'd call back after dinner, he'd have the lowdown.
It's not my fault this time. I swear. Blame Frank. He did it. He GAVE me the rod. It's my third new fly rod in the past four months, but this time it's bamboo.
The fly fishing seeds were planted years ago in my backpacking days when I liked nothing more than hiking along a beautiful mountain stream or camping within earshot of the soothing constant gurgle of running water. The desire was further cultivated by my stepsons who had hiked some of those waterways with me, recognized my love of that environment, and gave me my first rod and reel for Christmas; a gift I will be forever grateful for. It was my friend Frank, though, that brought the passion to full bloom.
It was a lazy fall afternoon, back in our previous life, and I was comfortably stretched out on the couch, considering a little cat nap, while the neighborhood kids scampered about the manicured lawns of our fancy suburban subdivision. The living room where I reclined looked out onto a sizable back deck where Mary had created a beautiful setting, replete with potted plants of all shapes, sizes, and vibrant colors. As I began to drift off to sleep in this peaceful setting, all hell broke loose.
From the deck there came a crash and, almost immediately, my gentile, diminutive 4'11" wife came flying through the house with murder in her eyes. She blew through the living room and out the back door, waving her arms and screaming at the top of her lungs "Get out of there you little assholes!!!!" Fearing for their lives, a handful of squirrels, interrupted while hiding their winter meals in Mary's potted plants, scattered in all directions.
I don't normally borrow content for my blog, but I love this piece of film. The scenery is magnificent, the fishing is incredible, and I laugh every time the door slams. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
For those of you living in North Carolina, you know just how I feel. Damp. Tropical storm Ida has dumped a load of water on us the past two days (I've measured 4.1 inches of rainfall in the past 36 hours) and it looks to continue through Friday.
It was with a twinge of sadness that I worked my way down the trail to my favorite stretch of Haw River water. Night temperatures have begun to fall into the 30s and tonight we have our first freeze warning for the year, usually the closing bell for catching largemouth bass on the river. This might well be 2009's last trip to my home waters and I was feeling sort of bummed about it.
I haven't fished the Haw as much as I would have liked recently as a chunk of prime season was taken with my ankle injury, but, according to my fishing log, this was still my 22nd pursuit of shoals largemouth on this pretty stretch of Piedmont water this year. I suspected the bass were hunkering down for the season, but I had to be sure, both for myself and because I owed a trip to these waters to a couple of good friends. I wanted to be certain the fishing year was truly done before I put them off until spring.
Scarecrows typically do a decent job of keeping the smaller natural critters out of our gardens, but the real varmints, land developers and city planners, don't seem to be much put off by them. This whimsically protected garden sat on the outskirts of a municipality that has exhibited a distressing penchant for rapid suburban creep into the surrounding woodlands, so it was with no small amount of trepidation that I cruised back by the area where this shot was taken a couple of years ago.
He can roll out of bed, stumble out the front door, and practically land in a pretty little trout stream. You can't ask for much more than that in a mountain hideaway. My thanks to my Neuse wading buddy John for inviting me up to see his trout shack and fish the Shelton Laurel Creek that's happily gurgling along in front of it.
As I drove across the county yesterday, I was struck by the amazing combination of cool overcast morning light, the opening salvos of brilliant fall color, and their combined effects through my polarized sunglasses. It felt like I was driving through an impressionist watercolor painting. That visual imprint set the tone for the day and for the images in this post.
I was on my way to find the Rocky River, a small flash stream located some fifteen miles west of here. Recently, I happened upon a small brochure distributed by the Rocky River Heritage Foundation that described the waterway as "37 miles of beautiful pools and riffles resembling a mountain stream" and it seemed worth a short trip to check it out.
A time honored, traditional recipe. Good for both body and soul.
1 medium sized Colorado freestone river
2 lifelong friends, aged and generously salt-and-peppered
2 large boxes of hoppers, humpies, and assorted terrestrials
1 flask of Kentucky’s finest
Reduce the river over a slow Indian summer heat and then cool with the first breaths of high country autumn frost until the surrounding aspen dazzle the eye.
Add the fishermen and sprinkle liberally with the terrestrial assortment until the mixture begins a slow boil of rising trout. Whisk lightly with 6wt utensils and carefully strain with a fine 5X monofilament mesh, removing the fisherman and a precious few trout after a long, satisfying day.
Clean and dress the fish - a simple field gutting is sufficient - and place them on ice. Marinate the fishermen with the contents of the flask to soften their grizzled flesh and set both fish and fishermen aside to chill for a couple hours.
You don't know it yet, young master Carter, but your grandpa is ready to take you fishing. Yes, he knows you are only a few hours old, but don't worry. He'll wait.
Grandpa wants you to enjoy this time when all that is important in life is that you eat heartily, sleep soundly, and poop with gusto. (In truth, he envies you this simple existence). But as soon as your world expands, you and he can get started. You can begin with Dr. Suess' One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, except that in Grandpa's version the redfish are tailing and the bluefish are swimming happily in bait balls with their playmates Manny Mackeral and Fattie Albie.
We have some early Halloween decorations displayed, courtesy of this marbled orb-weaver and a whole host of his friends. They have been in a web building frenzy of late and it seems I can't walk out of a door in the morning without getting a face full of silk. The corners of our decks are a fly's worse nightmare and forget about walking in the woods without getting draped in a layer of gossamer fine threading.
I know it's cliche, but a picture truly is worth a thousand words. That is, unless you are comparing my words to the images created by my buddy, Alan Folger. Then the exchange rate is more like ten-thousand per pic. His beautiful images capture the simple grace of our sport and the fish we love.
And now, the winning ticket for the TFO Lefty Kreh Signature fly rod is, number 4-1-8-7.
YES!!! It's MINE!!!
And, best of all, Mary was there with me at the annual club pig pickin' and saw that I hadn’t spent an arm and a leg on my newest fly rod, this time. All was right with the world until that all too familiar sense of deja vu began to creep in…
I need a snake. Corn snake, rat snake, green snake, hognose whatever, any non-poisonous. Its for something I'm doing with my grand kids. The snake will not be harmed and will be released the same day (or returned). No black racers, too ornery for kids.
Please accept my sincerest apologies as I have obviously displeased you in some fashion. Last week you blew out the Elk River in front of my eyes and this week you soaked my meager campsite and made the New River a high, muddy mess, hostile to fish and fisherman alike. Whatever I have done, I promise to never do it again.
Your humble minion,
P.S. Any clues as to what exactly the offense was would be appreciated.
It felt like one of those muggy Carolina 90/90s, ninety degrees Fahrenheit and ninety percent humidity, and the deck thermometer, caught in full sun, was pegged at 120. I was soaked to the skin and thinking that gills might just have been more effective than lungs in this soup. And, oddly enough, I was worried about keeping warm.
It seems I'm not the only one attracted to nature's amazing blues.
Most of the pictures offered in this blog are taken within a stone's throw from our home. These, however, came from our birthday visit to the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, down the road a bit. It's a delightful place to get a great perspective on the amazing diversity of flora that is native to this beautiful state we live in. Following are a few more samples.
Huddled under the dense rhododendrons in a futile attempt to escape the downpour, we tried to remember how many Mississippis there are in a mile. You know, Flash, 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, …., Boom. Divide the number of Mississippis by 5 (or is it 10) and you know how many miles away the lightning strike was. Unfortunately, the question was merely academic as our flashes and our booms were now little more than a startled heartbeat apart, more appropriately measured in meters than miles. It was no time to be in the water. All we could do is sit and watch the river rise and take on the color of a nice mocha java.
Mary went on a closet cleaning binge yesterday and, amid the chaos, she redicovered this picture of her grandfather, D-Dad, and a couple of friends. We believe the shot to have been taken in the late 1940s after a fine day fishing in central Florida, around Sebring. I'd have been thrilled with just the little one.
"Since tomorrow's your birthday, why don't you go fishing in the morning?" Sweeter words were never spoken. Have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate the lady of this house?
In truth, as you reach a certain point in your life, birthdays sort of get lost in the wash. There's no need for big events, piles of presents, or life changing resolutions. A call from the kids, a spouse initiated fishing trip, and a day well spent will do quite nicely. It doesn't hurt when the weather serves up a peach of a day (as my early September birth date quite often does) and you are lucky enough to be living in a small slice of paradise, tucked away in these Piedmont woods.
Po’ Boy says it’s like fly fishing from your living room easy chair. I’d agree, providing you insert the phrase “demonically possessed” between the words “your” and “living room easy chair”. Oh, and you stay soaked to the waist, not normal for my living room.
Kidding aside, there are few better ways to spend a pleasant summer afternoon than floating lazily down a foothills river with a fly rod in your hand.
This is what I carry for chasing river largemouths.
This is what I almost always end up using.
It’s sort of like lugging your whole golf bag around the miniature golf course, thinking you just might need any one of those clubs. “Let’s see. The windmill hole. 9 iron and chip it? No, I think I’ll use…my putter again.”
Around here, the wildlife typically chooses to wrap itself in the safe, natural browns and greens of the surrounding woodlands and streams. But now and then a species aspires to more, sets side this safe, earthly pallet, and dons the color of the sky. Whether it's the neon warpaint of the feisty bluegill, the cheery flash of the nesting bluebird, or the deep royal majesty of the butterfly pictured above, they say "Look at, appreciate, me".
Sad to say, fishing has been a little slow for me as of late. Ongoing ankle recovery, high school soccer tryouts, and some work being done around the house all have conspired to keep me off the water more than I would have liked these past few weeks. But today, with finally a free morning, I jumped into the truck and drove a couple hours west to Pilot Mountain State Park, hoping to pull a few smallmouth bass from the Yadkin River.
Sometimes bluegill colors can simply knock your wading socks off. Add a little Carolina summer sun and you had better be wearing your polarized lenses. Thanks to this ambitious little Neuse River 'gill for bringing a ray of sunshine to my fishing afternoon.
“What do you suppose has them so upset?” Mary asked as she stood looking out the sliding door leading onto the covered porch. Outside, a handful of titmice raucously fretted, hopping excitedly between the porch railing and the holly tree that infringes into the space. Something was up.
Curious, I joined her at the door to figure out what their issue was. As Mary peered intently into the holly and the woods beyond, I looked down and there, eight inches from our toes, on the other side of the glass, was a four foot black rat snake, stretched across the jam, looking back in at us. I pointed down. Mary’s eyes followed and she calmly replied, “Well, I guess that would do it”.
A quick thanks to my new buddy John, the Neusewader, for a fine Saturday morning fishing the Neuse River, my first time on that waterway. We waded about a half-mile of the river, a bit downstream of Falls Lake Dam, chasing largemouths and any overly aggressive, and unlucky, bream that could handle a 1/0 hook. With a hot day on the way, we took advantage of a perfect North Carolina morning, fished a few hours, and called it a day before the summer sun settled in.
Stumbling through the house this morning at much too early an hour, I glanced out a side window and noticed that there was something odd in the woods, some forty yards from the house, behind the compost pile. A quick eye rub and a clearer look revealed that it was only Whitey, settled down for the evening. I'd never seen him bedding this far down the ridge.
This post was supposed to be about my triumphant return to real fishing following my fractured ankle. I was going to tell about skipping my favorite Haw River haunts in favor of a spot with easier access and easier wading (if such a thing exists on the Haw) and about how my new Redington Predator fly rod worked out and how I caught several 10-12 inch largemouths and especially about how much my ankle hurts right now, but in a “pain is weakness leaving the body” kind of way. It was going to be a great post. But it all went out the window when I saw the fawn.
What would southern fly fishing be without brim? Be it bluegill, pumpkinseed, sunfish, shellcrackers, crappies, whatever, there's something quintessentially Carolinian about taking a whippy little 3wt fly rod and a rubber legged yellow popper and catching a big mess of panfish. It just feels like down home.
I'm normally a catch and release fisherman, but we decided to hang on to a few keepers during one day of our Arkansas River outing. A simple fillet, a little batter, an 18" cast iron skillet, an open fire, and you just don't get any better Colorado eatin'. Add a little Jack D. and we were in high plains heaven.
Day 1 - June 10th
This little guy couldn't have been more than a couple hours old and was awaiting the arrival of his four siblings. Mom had already cleared out the broken egg shell pieces and the proud parents have been all over the bluebird box today.
We set up the creekside blind with the best of intentions. We figured we’d drop it in, leave it empty over the long Memorial Day weekend so mom and the kits could get used to it, and by Tuesday we could settle in and get some great pictures of the red fox litter as they came and went. So we dropped the blind on Thursday and Juan and I headed out of town.
I went south to play in a soccer tournament in Charleston and Juan went west to photograph waterfalls near Brevard. I returned home with my leg in a cast and Juan returned to a s**t storm at work. The sad facts are that the blind went empty for a couple of weeks, the kits grew up, moved on, and we got no pictures.
A pink woolly bugger. I can’t believe I’m throwing a pink woolly bugger. And it’s not just pink. It’s HOT pink…with red sparkle ribbing…and crystal flashing in the tail. Someone shrank a child’s fairy princess costume down to fit a size 8 hook and I’m trying to fool a fish with it. Pink. Perhaps I should go add some nice accent lace to my waders and trade in my floppy fishing hat for a glittery tiara. Heaven help me, I’m throwing a pink woolly bugger.
I tell ya, I'm going freakin' stir crazy. Looking out the door at the beautiful weather, nice local water conditions, just me and the dog and my John Deere green cast. I'm simply going bonkers.
Since I can't fish, I can play with my gear. My fly boxes are rearranged, my leaders are in order, my wading gear is neatly folded, my rods, reels, and lines are cleaned. I even blew up my float tube to see if it survived the winter. And I definitely need to get away from the TV and the computer. The Tyra Banks Show? Shoot me now!!! And you should see the Cabela's online whishlist I've accumulated. It's probably on a par with what this little ankle owwie will cost me in medical bills.
I can hear, and feel, the fish take to the air less than twenty yards in front of me, but I can’t see him. It’s simply too dark. I want to reach up and flip on my headlamp but the largemouth just won’t stop jumping and I need a hand on both rod and spinning reel to try to keep him on the line. And it’s a legitimate concern too, as with each aerial and shake I can distinctly hear the jointed jitterbug rattle in his mouth, a warning signal that my hookset is tenuous.
Sure enough, on the third or fourth furious launch, my line goes slack, the rod recoils, the 'bug lands somewhere near my feet, and the bass is gone, sight unseen, despite all his flamboyant acrobatics. All goes silent and, when my heart stops hammering, I realize that the frogs have started their moonlight songs once again.
Who knew I even had something called a distal fibula? It turns out that I actually have two and today I've learned a lot about them. The most important thing I've learned about distal fibulae is that they hurt like a sonofabitch when you fracture them.
The odds finally caught up with me. After 25 years of playing competitive soccer without significant injury, I fractured my left ankle at a tournament in Charleston, SC. As I lay on the lowcountry pitch, my first thought was "I’m done for the season". My second, "This really screws up fishing."
It all started about a week ago while my neighbor Abby was in the shower. Through a face full of shampoo, she glanced out the window of her upstairs bathroom and noticed the shape of a dog moving along the woods line. A quick rinse later, she saw more clearly what appeared to be a female fox, a red, sulking along the wooded boarder with a guinea hen in her mouth. Abby jumped from the shower and moved, dripping wet, from window to window along the upstairs, following the fox as it moved down the ridge and into the woods towards our home. The puddles could wait.
In her excitement, Abby called to her husband Juan downstairs. “There’s a fox out there, with a guinea in his mouth.” Juan, a nature photographer who would jump at such news, did what all husbands do and misunderstood what she was saying. “There’s a hawk with a guinea out there” he wondered. I don’t think so. With a dutiful “That’s cool, dear”, he returned to what he was doing.
A couple of days later, Abby mentioned the sighting again and Juan uttered the following fateful words. “Fox? What fox? Why didn’t you tell me there was a fox?” During the course of our married lives, I'm sure we've all had the resulting conversation.
Today I had the pleasure of fishing with a new buddy, Ken, with whom I connected via the Southeast Fly Fishing Forum (despite the fact that he lives but a few short miles from me). Ken is a veteran western trout fisherman who’s casting is graceful and wonderfully accurate, all the more impressive considering he was using an unfamiliar rod and throwing brick-like 1/0 bass flies instead of his usual diminutive #20 olive duns. I envy that proficiency and I suspect that 95% of the time, he’ll be schooling me, big time. But today we were on my turf, chasing largemouths in the Haw, so I was the guide. Scary.