I've been wanting to put together a collection of fly fishing stories for as long as I have run this blog (coming up on three years now) and I've finally gotten around to doing something about it. A few of the stories I have planned are ones that I wrote about in the blog already, as well as a few totally fictional accounts based on one or several real events that I have experienced.
Head on over and check out If You Give a King a Cookie (and other short stories)in the Kindle Store and let me know what you think! I included my email in the back of the book, so feel free to contact me with feedback, good or bad. Again, this is just three short stories to start getting my name out there and get feedback from the people that love to read fishing and adventure literature.
The next day dawned without any frost glazing my tent, which surprised me considering how high up I was. I climbed up on a rocky overlook searching for any signs of the fabled golden trout - not so much as a dimple. Ah well. Since the trout didn't want to play, I put away my fly rod and broke camp, chowing on some trail mix for breakfast.
Backpack cinched in place, rod tube firmly strapped and game face grim, I headed up the talus slope on course to break over the top of the promontory and get a view of my destination from on high. I think it was here that I first heard the signature calls of the high altitude rodents known as pica. Their warning calls often preceded ahead of me, and then popped up again behind me as I wound my way through the treeless areas of my hike. It was the first time I had ever actually seen them in real life, which I considered quite the treat. I tried to take pictures, but not only are those critters wary and fast, they're perfectly colored to blend in with their rocky surroundings. So, thanks to Google, I give you a pica. Cute, huh.
So anyway, there I was, scrambling up the slope, occasionally trying to fall, and generally loving life. Making it to the top of the outcrop, I was treated to a unobstructed view of my goal.
I sat for a while, ate some more trail mix, and considered life. I decided if I didn't catch a trout that day, I would try to make it to another one of the nearby lakes and see if fortune favored me more there.
As I moved around the edge of the lake, I walked through an area that seemed to have remained aloof from the human disturbances down by the water's edge. It was pine trees and trickling rivulets, thick moss and the smell of growing things. The sound of running water followed me everywhere, a soft counterpoint to the wind shushing through the pines. As I rounded a blind turn at the base of a huge boulder, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't being loud enough. This was griz country after all. Ah, what the heck. I wanted to see if I could sneak up on some of the elk that left the tracks I was following, and besides, the wind was blowing from my back. Any bear worth his salt would smell me long before I got anywhere near them... right? Maybe.
As I moved through the trees, boggy patches of soil sprouted beautiful flowers of different shapes and sizes. This one was my favorite - the Colorado Columbine.
I also stumbled across this - I was thrilled, in a totally unashamed, nerd-out kind of way. Because I had stumped across...
And since this is apparently 'geek out about all the cool stuff I found' time, I also happened to come around the corner and see this beautiful scene.
So, the water coming down at this spot was roaring, and I was walking slowly towards the log but still a few yards off to the side. Poof! Out of nowhere, a Boone and Crocket sized pine marten springs up on the log and lopes across with that funny-looking run that all cousins of the weasel seem to have. I had never expected to get to see one in the wild - it was a great moment. He never saw me, or ever figured out that I was there.
I wanted to finish this series today, but 5:30 comes early. Tomorrow, I finish this.
As I pushed onward and upward, the obvious choice seemed to be to closely follow the creek as it wended down through a narrow slot that water had carved over the millennium.
Picking my way through even more deadfall, I finally gained my first glimpse of the lake. Victory!
I eagerly began moving along the shoreline, looking for good places to scan the lake for trout activity. However, I was immediately confronted by a freshly vacated campsite. I checked the ash in the fire ring - still warm. Someone had just left the area, probably this morning. And there, sitting on top of the ashes at the edge of the ring, was a Jolly Rancher candy wrapper. I picked it up, feeling thoroughly annoyed.
Trying to keep my spirits up, I headed on around the lake, searching for my own spot to set up camp that would be far enough - 200 feet or more - from the water, as per the wilderness area guidelines. As I walked, I noticed first one additional campsite, then another, then another. They were in varying degrees of freshness. What was this, Yellowstone?!
I was practically stomping along by this point as I rounded the lake and came smack up against a large vertical thrust of rock. My fatigue was really starting to catch up with me, and I made the decision that I wasn't going to climb the scree up and over the prominence. It would've been too easy to take a misstep and get hurt.
I found a flat area at the base of the scree in a clump of pines that - no surprise, at this point - had another old camp site in evidence. I set up my Kelty Tempest 2, a great little tent, and prepared my air mattress and sleeping bag. I gotta tell you, reader, that at this point I was in a serious funk. Melancholy was the mood as I halfheartedly fly fished for a bit (no trout anywhere to be seen or felt), and snapped a picture of the beautiful sunset over the lake.
Tomorrow I would climb the scree slope, top the promontory, and go to the head of the lake where the creek fed in. There had to be fish there. In the meantime, I was exhausted, in a bad mood, and ready to give up on my day. I clicked on my headlamp for a bit of journaling, plugged my phone into my external battery, and I slept.
Sleet dribbles steadily from a glowering sky, the last vestiges of Winter returning to haunt us. To prove it, thick wet flakes fell earlier in the morn, managing to stick just enough. Parked cars now sported frozen, sloughing calluses of ice from windshields and hoods. My feet are cold, and the sleet’s windblown patter skitters across the roads, freezing and melting by turns.
But now the central heating kicks on. Ah, isn’t living in this time and place so grand sometimes?
No, today I am not crazy enough to go brave the cold and nasty to catch more pike. I have caught them, and walleye, though little else. I tried for smallmouth last week, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.
I have much to catch you up on, dear reader, so off we go.
My arrival in North Dakota you’ve already seen, culminating a grand journey through the plains which allowed me to see and enjoy country that I’d never been to, as well as savor the parts that I knew and loved.
But once I got here, then what happened? Well, of course I immediately tried to start finding places to fish. I was hungry to catch a northern pike. The only issue was that Nature hadn’t caught up with me yet. The ice was still on the lakes, and fish were, for the most part, inaccessible to fly fishermen.
I scouted out a couple local dam tailraces that were clear of ice, but the flows were extremely low and locals had fished those areas hard all winter. I had no recourse but to be patient while Spring got things kickstarted, opening the lakes up and getting the fish thinking amorously. The pike spawn soon after iceout, and then linger in the steadily warming shallow bays and wait for other fish to move shallow.
I knew that, and I went looking. I focused on shallow water, especially edges thick with cattails and brush. I got hung up enough that I started tying big flashy bendbacks to slither through the sticks.
Finally, after a couple of weeks of searching, I hook a stick that wasn’t a stick. Fish on!... off. Though I had lost the first one, I felt triumphant. The next sunny afternoon, I went back.
Working the edge of the marshy slough, I moved down the bank towards a fishy looking clump of timber. Probing casts hit every likely pike lair, but no strikes. Somewhat perplexed, I started to move on down the bank. Out in the open water past the trees, I got my first solid jolt - hooked up! A few moments later, I said hello to my first northern on fly. I was stoked.
Hard work, research, planning and execution... plus a good dollop of that secret sauce, luck. I'll take it!
The river wasn't a big one by most standards. Brandon Fox of Sea Level Apparel and I had decided to take a drive and see if we could find any hill country carp.The cypress trees along the river, buttressed against the threat of flood, spread branches thickly curtained with Spanish moss. A dense deposit of rounded cobble and gravel crunched and shifted underfoot, sculpted by years of flood. In the shade of one of the towering cypress, we stepped lightly into the water. Minnows scattered from around our legs and curious bluegill stared for a moment before darting away. I moved downstream, casting where it seemed I should. Cool, clear water embraced my calves as a light layer of bottom muck covered my toes. A few panfish nibbled to indicate their interest, and a sudden bump prompted me to lift the rod into the first bass of the day, a little guy who was swiftly returned to the water.
As he darted for the deep, I turned and studied the bank downstream. It curved lightly back to the left, with several large trees shading the inside curve. There was a shallow mucky area right before the curve, and a dropoff just past that. It looked like prime carp territory. I carefully approached the shallows, scanning for any signs of mud puffs or cruising fish. No one was home on the flat, so I eased over towards the dropoff.
A shadowy spot underneath a big cypress caught my eye down the way, and I laid out a cast to see if any fish were willing to play. Nothing for the first and second casts, but I caught a nice redbreast sunfish on my third cast. Encouraged, I laid one more extra long cast past the shadow, working the fly slowly along the bottom.
Hop... hop... the fly stopped with the subtle feel of a sunfish strike. I struck back, raising the rod and coming tight to a fish that suddenly grew much larger than the bite had indicated. I didn't know what I had, but I knew it was a good fish; it ran hard enough to take some drag and made me think I had latched onto a big channel catfish. The fish came up and showed its flank; my first thought was holy crap! That's a bass! A big bass!
After a few tense moments, the fish was in hand. It was the biggest bass that either myself or Brandon had seen landed on that river, and my personal best on fly. I will never catch a bigger bass from that river system, fly or otherwise.
The last afternoon of the Louisiana trip faded quickly into evening. We had been off the fish for an hour or so, searching new water and scouting different areas to add to Jeremy's bag of tricks. Rounding a shell point on an island thickly populated with white pelicans, we fired up the engine and started putting our way towards deeper water, and home.
We nosed into a broad channel created by two islands close together. Cruising forward, we noticed big pushes and wakes from fish reacting to the engine sound. Some of the fish looked huge.
Shutting down the engine, Jeremy hopped up on the poling platform and heaved us forward. I stood on the bow, battered but freshly sharpened fly in one hand, 7-weight in the other. The low angle of the sun coupled with the off-colored water meant that our chances of seeing anything were pretty low.
Suddenly, a fish spooked out beside the boat. The huge wake it made while stampeding down the waterway ahead of us literally made my chin drop. There it went, the fish I had dreamt of catching in Louisiana. She gon' now, boy.
It was all happening quickly now; more fish blew out beside the boat as I grew frustrated, trying to watch every bit of water all at once. A redfish rolled to the surface, giving me a glimpse of a big orange flank; obviously spooked, the red went right, then back left. I flopped a cast where I thought the fish might go, trying to intercept it. Somehow, she did just what I wanted, and as the red barreled past my hastily stripped fly, I saw a gill flare. Left hand goes back, rod hand lifts - fish on!
Running hard, the redfish unwound line from my reel at an impressive rate, not stopping 'til it was about 20 yards deep into backing. Fighting a dogged battle, the fish made several more short runs. I enjoyed the fight, but I really wanted to put my hands on this fish. This was the one.
At boatside, I lifted her head from the water and admired her huge maw before carefully lifting her into the boat for pictures and a measurement.
She taped at 43", not the biggest fish in the marsh but definitely on the upper end. A big thanks to Capt. Jeremy Chavez for his hard work and dedication. The following are all pictures taken by him of fish caught that day.
And drumroll (drum! ha) - here she is.
A trip I will never forget. I've been looking forward to the next time since I left. Fair warning - that place will spoil you.
After a morning full of 'baby' redfish, some of which taped over 30", Jeremy was ready to find some big ones. I was ready to see these giants for myself, and do battle.
Pushing off down the shoreline, we moved quickly to cover water as the sun climbed higher and allowed us better visibility. We came across a slight dropoff, and boom. There they were. Fish appeared in ones and twos, at 60 feet, at 10 feet, and everywhere in between. Some fish were obviously big - some were obviously bigger than even the massive bulls I had seen caught from the jetty. It was crazy. Never in my life had I seen anything like it.
The calm conditions of the previous night had allowed sediment to settle out of the water, leaving it much more clean that the day before. We still weren't able to spot fish that were hugging the bottom, but more often than not they would move off slowly enough for me to get a shot. A lot of the time, even after they spooked, they ate.
Color didn't seem to matter much to these fish, so of course that led to a game of 'let's see what they won't eat.' Not much, it turned out. I landed fish up to 39". Most of the fish came on a 7wt. It was pure fun.
Prowling about the edges of the drop were groups of big uglies - massive black drum that stampeded when we floated over them. I quickly learned to keep a weather eye on these herds, because oftentimes there was a big redfish trailing along with them. Trying to work a fly in around the black drum in such a way that the redfish ate it first became an issue several times.
Despite my best efforts to make them spit the fly before they hooked themselves, I still hauled a few to the boat.
The next morning we were out the door fairly early, granola bars washed down with water and gatorade. There was no need to be out before the sun had risen high enough to warm the water and provide light for spotting cruising marsh pumpkins.
Layered against the windchill, we headed back to the general spot that we had left the previous evening. We figured it might be holding fish waiting for the sun.
After the cold of the boatride it was great to stand on the bow again, soaking up some sun and enjoying the excellent visibility. The area that we had fished the evening before was barren of fish except for one lone straggler that we blew out. Rounding a point, we headed up a shallow shoreline after crossing a deeper gut. Jeremy heard the characteristic sound of redfish crashing bait and poled us down the shoreline towards the commotion. We didn't get far before we started running into fish.
It started with a phone call, or maybe it was a facebook message... or possibly an end-of-the-jetty bs session. I don't remember; it doesn't matter.
What mattered was that I rolled into Houston on that cool December night to meet up with Capt. Jeremy Chavez (Casting Tales Guide Service) and catch a ride on the Midnight Marsh Train headed to Louisiana. Rods loaded up, materials stashed, boat hooked up and off we went into the night.
Sunrise saw us well into Louisiana, stopping to pick up licensure. Regular ol' saltwater license for me and a bonafide Louisiana guide license for Capt. Chavez.
Paperwork concluded, we headed for the water. I was practically hanging my head out the window like an eager bird dog, tongue lolling.
I watched as cities faded to towns, and towns faded to hamlets and fishing villages with tired houses and small, locally owned grocers. The restaurants, like the houses, were small and weathered. I expected to find myself in the middle of all the cajun food I could eat; I'd find out later how mistaken I was.
Finally arriving at the water-side in the afternoon, we messed around with trying to arrange a place to stay. Due to the offseason doldrums, that was easier said than done. Eventually, we gave up and launched the boat; we had wasted enough fishing time.
Flyfishermen are an introspective bunch, tending to philosophize a little more than our other fishing brethren. We like to catch big fish and high five about it, but we also like to talk about WHY we fish. I figure that is mostly because it's something we ask ourselves often as we are picking another tangle out, or standing waist deep in frigid and/or shark infested water.
That being said, there are also physical and mental attributes that make a fly fisherman respected among his peers. A few days ago I read a post on Chi Wulff where a list of "reasonable fly fisher skills" for his area was laid out. I thought it was well done and it got me to thinking about what would pass for a good list in my area. Saltwater fly fishers have to deal with a different set of obstacles than coldwater fisherman, arguably separate but equal.
At any rate, I started thinking about what made a respectable salty fly guy/gal, and started asking a few of my more crusty friends for some input. Some were more tongue-in-cheek than others. This is a shortened list of what we came up with
Tell by looking out at the roadside palm trees in the glow of the streetlight roughly how fast the wind is blowing.
Be able to tell the difference between the wake pushed by a mullet and that of a redfish or black drum.
Know that terns always lie, but gulls can lead you to treasure.
Be able to filter the sounds of jumping mullet from the sounds of bait being crashed.
Fully load the vehicle and have kayak strapped on top, in the dark, in ten minutes.
Spot a tailing redfish from over two hundred yards on a good day, from over 50 on a bad one.
Knows where the most sheltered spots are to get away from the wind, but generally only fishes those on days over 20kts.
Must be able to two-handed strip at warp speed to trigger mackerel and other pelagic species.
Must be as comfortable laying in a back cast as a forward cast on target.
Be able to maintain relative composure as a fish bigger than your duck dog approaches your fly.
Not locking up when a red/bone/permit/tarpon suddenly appears less than 30' from the boat.
Effectively pole a boat with and into the wind all day, positioning the caster for best shot on fish.
Know how to interpret tide chart and mentally calculate the difference in water movement for local area you plan to fish.
Navigate labyrinth marsh and marl while neither running aground or putting others in danger.
Be able to wade with ninja-like stealth while avoiding the mine field of oyster shell and stingrays.
Turn over a fly at 60' into a 20kt wind.
Cannot drive by hobby stores without wondering if they might have gotten any new foam or tinsel in...
Willing to endure withering wind and endless staring at empty water to hook the silver king from the granite of the jetty.