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One of my good fishing buddies recently put together a short essay about some of his memories of a legendary fly fisher - Mel Krieger.

Thanks  Brian!

 

 

Was chatting earlier today with a fishing buddy, and we were talking about casting.  Talk eventually turned to instruction, and from there to great casting instructors.  Bringing up that subject with me will reliably elicit mention of Mel Krieger.

I thought the world of Mel.  He was one of the brightest shining stars in the fly fishing constellations that dominated my days and dreams growing up.  I admired his energy, his exploits, his technique, and his no-nonsense instruction skills.  I remember making a minor hajj to the Golden Gate Casting Ponds on a long West Coast summer swing late in college, hoping perhaps I’d find him chatting amiably with Steve Rajeff and then I’d....I’d....well, I didn't have a clue what I’d do.  Ask for autographs?  No, no, not right.  Stare?  Probably.  Stroll up and chat?  Maybe.  Ask for tips?  Ugh.  Pray?  Yup.

They weren't there, so it didn't matter.  But I did meet him years later at the International Fly Tackle Dealers show in Denver, must’ve been in the late 90s.  My Dad was working at Ross Reels, and I’d weaseled my way into a show pass and a semi-regular gig talking trash at the booth.  Got to meet Joan Wulff and Lefty Kreh, watched AK Best tie, hung out with Brad Befus, took home bags of swag and saw all the new gear.  Fun, right?

They had two big casting ponds and a fairly serious distance competition on Saturday night.  I wasn't brave enough to enter, but I was fresh back from a long steelheading trip and feeling pretty good about my stroke.  Off in a back corner some rod dealer had built a simple casting game with a timer and pizza boxes.  The boxes were staggered at 10’ intervals on either side of a narrow aisle out to 100’ or 110’, as if they were unusually squarish boulder pockets in an exceptionally straight stream.  They’d rigged a couple 8wt rods with a yarn fly, and you had to hit each box within 90 seconds -- or maybe it was two minutes, can’t remember.  Simple, but good fun.  Easy to replicate at home, too.

I took a break from our booth during a quiet period and found that the pizza box casting course was likewise empty.  I picked up a rod, stripped out and stretched a pile of line, set the timer and started casting.  I hit every box out to 60’ on the first try, and I was feeling pretty good about myself.  It took me two tries to hit the box at 70’, and I missed the 80’ box on my first throw.  Plenty of time on the clock, no stress.  I stripped in some line and worked back into my stroke, double-hauling like I’d been born doing it.  I looked back over my shoulder to watch my backcast -- still textbook -- and saw Mel Krieger standing about 10’ behind me, arms crossed with a stern look on his face.

Oh shit.  I missed the grab on my backcast haul and dropped 80’ of line on the floor behind me.

Oh shit.  Mel’s watching.  He’s not happy.  Scrambled to pick up the slack.  Started flailing with too much line out, couldn’t load the rod.  Stripped in more line.  Short cast, mangled the plane, threw a pathetic tailing loop, stripped in aga----BUZZZZZZZZ.....thanks for playing, you lose.

Oh God, what a mess.  I was red and sweating, my shattered pride coiled in knots on the floor along with my loops.  It was like missing a layup with Michael Jordan watching.  BECAUSE he was watching.

I’m not sure what he saw that he didn't like.  Could’ve been the burritos, who knows?  He was all smiles when I looked back again.  He chuckled and ambled over, chucked me on the shoulder and said something like, “Pretty good there....for awhile.  What happened, son?”

I shuffled and stammered, finally mumbled something about him scaring me.  “Little ole’ me, scare you?  Hahaha...”  Didn't really make me feel better.  But then he asked where I was from and who I knew and started an amiable little chat.

10 minutes later I floated back to the Ross booth on a Dickensian Cloud:  it was the best of times and the worst of times, simultaneously.  My hero had noticed me, even conversed with me.  And I had made a fool of myself.  Uff-dah.  But I still thought the world of him, and I’ll never forget that encounter.

I looked up his bio today and discovered, sadly, that he passed away in 2008.  Here it is, four years later, and I didn't even know.  I feel chagrined, out of touch with what was once a familiar realm.  And yet, his star in the most rarefied of my personal constellations will never dim, no matter how infrequently I manage to look to the sky these days...or to the water.  RIP, Mel.

Brian Clark

2

So it turns out that the snook trip was just too much to encapsulate in a series of short stories like I prefer to write - we would've been on 'Snook Trip 23424545234' and y'all would be thinking that this was not only boring, it was getting out of control. Much like the Matrix series. So, in order to avoid that catastrophe, I'm going to sum it all up as best I can with a photo gallery and quotes from some of the characters that showed up for this event.

 

.

When asked about what they remembered of the trip, I got a rich hodgepodge of memorable moments. I had to whittle down many to a few, but here they are, unedited and straight from the horse's... mouth.

"Rain, fishing the flats, walking up 3 flights of stairs, Bobo the clown, Cops, the jetty walk in flip-flops, Getting Curtis' hitch stuck in the road when trying to back out of a driveway, while cops where pulling people over left and right, Curtis' getting stuck in the first ten feet of sand road, the great view from the top balcony, the mo-ped fisherman, the smokey ass grill, the sea hares, all the ladyfish tearing up shrimp...

"...how it smelled like someone dropped a deuce when the kitchen faucet ran."

"Running out of gas, eating lady fish, did i mention cops, new friends, paddling in the dark for hours looking for a lost clown with a blow up doll, hooking a snook and not landing it, night fishing in the lights while drinking a beer listening to live music getting photographed, Cops, beer, rain, wind, ticket for 8 over, sweet pad, great new friends, losing the blow up sheep on the bridge, and last but not least getting everyone home safely and COPS."

 

Did he mention cops?

 

Hard to top off that boatload of memorocity, but my favorite memory from the trip was when several of the guys decided to brave the weather and go hit the flats for a while. Not only did we catch fish, but we ran into a local fly slinger who asked us where we were staying. We described the place, and he kinda chuckled and said ah yeah. That place used to be a gay bar.

Without missing a beat one of the guys piped up with something like 'Hey, that makes sense - Paul was getting a good feeling about that place; a good vibe, if you will."

 

Oh yeah. It was one of those trips.

2

It was hot.

The line burned through my fingers as the thing I had hooked down in the turbid water heaved and surged. I started taking steps back up to the water’s edge to help clear line faster as my eyes darted down to my line, searching for heart-breaking tangles that might catch on a guide and ruin this adventure before it hardly began.

The last of the slack whipped up off the water and came taut with an audible ‘Ting!’, slapping against the arbor of my reel. I could hear my fishing buddy reeling furiously from down the bank as he prepared to come assist and spectate.

My 8wt throbbed with powerful headshakes; I dropped my rodtip to the downstream side to try and lend some side pressure and turn the force of nature I had latched on to. I was still unsure at this point if I had them or if they had me…

My buddy arrived, mud spattered and a little breathless. I grinned at him and he gave me a slap on the back – we knew this was as close as we had gotten to the Goal. After the initial run the creature in the depths had settled down to a steady, inexorable pull. I couldn’t turn it, couldn’t control it, so I applied pressure and settled back to wait. I tried not to think about all the rocks and trees and other debris that the river had swallowed and that might be waiting to part my twenty pound leader.

When you're fighting a big fish there is that niggling worry that grows in the back for your mind - you must master it. The very fear that you might lose the fish can cause it to happen. Hurried netting attempts, horsing the fish, grabbing too quickly for a leader, bringing in a green fish... all can spell disaster for that fish of a lifetime. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Now, I'm not saying baby the fish either. Apply pressure when applicable, and whip that fish's ass with good fighting technique. You will dispel the whispers of doubt in the back of your mind if you know you're fighting the fish as best you can. This is good for your mental state and leaves the fish in better condition to swim away after a picture or two.

In the middle of the river, the fish surged to the surface.

I got a glimpse of it for the first time as it made a huge swirl, pushing back towards the bottom. My rod was bent in a smooth parabolic curve as I grudgingly gave a few feet of line, and then stopped the fish again. Ah, yes - we've got 'er now. Applying brutal side pressure and reeling in a few inches at a time, I worked the fish up from the bottom and ever closer to my feet.

My fishing partner slipped on a glove and got out a camera. After a couple more short runs for the depths, the fish was beached in all her glory.

Gloriously Beastly

 

We quickly applied a tape and got a measurement -

Taped In
Taped Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And revived her, watching her swim away powerfully. Goal Accomplished.

Release... The Kraken!

 

'Til Next Time...

 

And on to the next spot...

Ah, the summers of youth. Long hot days, freedom to roam after my chores were through, and miles of river to explore. It might come as little surprise that as much of my time as possible was spent with a line in the water - back then it was spinning gear with nightcrawlers caught on rainy nights out in the backyard. Catfish were my target, and I got pretty good at finding them. Then we went through a period of little rain... the river got low and clear, and finding catfish was difficult. Carp on the other hand were easy to find; cavorting in the deeper pools, nosing like pigs through the silty bottom of the shallows.

Being the opportunist, I learned to hunt carp. I learned that they are a wary creature, and any approach had to be made with care. A weightless presentation was best - casting a hunk of worm on a smallish hook well in front of the fish and trying to get a natural drift. Good times. Soon thereafter I had summer work and then went away to college and didn't get to fish the river any more. But you never forget your first home river... and this past week I found myself standing on her banks again, but this time with fly rod in hand. Driving to my parents' place I had crossed over a couple bridges further downstream, and  found myself grinning like a fool when I saw how low and clear the river was.

Ohhh yeah baby. It's carp time.

First things first - what're they eating? I have my standard carp catcher patterns - my rojo bug, and a couple others - but it was mulberry season on the river. Mulberries? you might ask... what does That have to do with the price of tea in China. Well my friend, I wasn't kidding when I said carp rooted 'like pigs'. They're omnivorous and like to munch anything from veggies to protein depending on what's available. However they can also be frustratingly picky - if they're eating cottonwood fluff, you gotta come up with a convincing fluff fly.

Mulberry Overhang

If they're eating mulberries, throwing much else in front of them will elicit few eats. You get the idea. Mulberry trees like to grow along river-courses here in Kansas - hanging over the water, they provide both a shady spot for the fish to hang and at the right time of year literally drip a steady supply of floating berries into the water. Bingo. Berry pattern. Challenge accepted.

Finely tuned mulberry imitation.

 

 

 

 

A bit of black poofy yarn, palmered and picked out made an admirable-ish berry profile. The real thing is a deep purple color but I made-do with black. Dark colored hooks in size 6 rounded out the pattern - I cranked out half a dozen and got ready to hit the water.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things that I enjoy most about fishing familiar water is that you get the added benefit of all the memories that the place holds for you. It's like reminiscing with an old friend - warm and reassuring because you know that even if you don't find them today, the fish Are there and you Have found them before. Humans are creatures of habit and I am no different - being there in my old haunt was a trip down memory lane and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Things have changed - a new bridge, some riprap that didn't used to be there - but the river is still the same. It doesn't know how to be anything but what it is, and it doesn't try.

Cruising Carp under Mulberry

1

I recently had the great opportunity to fly across a whole lot of water to a small speck of rock in the middle of the pacific and though I only really had time to fish seriously for one day, I managed to connect! A big tip of the hat goes out to Clay over at Nervous Waters Fly Fishing for helping me out with a spot or two where I might run into a bonefish on a do it myself basis.

The habitat here is diverse - deep channels and flats, waist deep sandy pockets and mixed coral, all the way up to super skinny water that goes dry with a low tide and is nearly always subject to waves washing across it. I hit the water an hour before tide change, and saw a feeding pair almost right off the bat. Sneaking up on these fish while crunching across treacherous coral is no walk in the park. These guys got uneasy and cruised away to who knows where when I was trying to set up for the roughly 80' shot quartering into the wind. I had the hardest time seeing these fish if they weren't tailing - you old hands at the bonefish game are nodding and smiling right now, but for this redfish hunter they were grey ghosts indeed!

After the initial jolt of adrenaline from spotting my quarry, I was completely psyched up and eager to find some more. I slowed down my wading pace and went along as stealthily as I could. After another hundred yards or so I was rewarded with a large tail popping up at 40 feet, facing away - if you've never seen a bone tailing before it's like seeing a spike suddenly thrust from the water, their caudal fin is deeply forked and very pointed. I strained my eyes behind my polarized lenses but even in 5 inches of super clean water I just could Not see the fish. The best I had was a slightly darker green-blue smear attached to the tail. Seizing my chance, I quickly calculated the wind and laid a cast aimed at placing my fly a foot ahead and to the left of the fish. The loop straightened and dropped, and the tail went down... I waited, intense, and twitched the mantis shrimp imitation...

Twenty feet further on, the bone popped his tail up again to mock me. I quickly learned to appreciate how fast the fish were moving across the flat; I never had time to take more than two shots at any fish that I saw, and if I was further than a long cast from a fish that I saw tailing it was pretty much pointless to try and wade to the tail because they would be long gone by the time I got there over the coral.

The tide started to rise, prompting bigger fish to push up into the skinny areas and I started to see some very large. At least this Texas boy knows how find some tail! Walking slowly with the wind, into the tidal flow, I caught the flicker of a fin above the surface and snapped my attention to that spot. A bonefish was worming his way towards me into the wind with his back emerging up out of the water as I watched. I dropped to my knees, ignoring the coral biting into my kneecaps as I readied myself for the shot. He stopped and tailed on something at around 65 feet, and I almost cast to him but something stopped me; I decided to wait a bit more. My heart thudding in my chest, I held my leader as my fly swung loose in the breeze. I watched the fish's gleaming, shark-like profile get closer and closer.

At what I guessed as 45', the bone stopped with his head behind a knob of coral. I tossed the fly aside and rolled my line up off the water, back and then flicking out, landing the fly a foot to the fish's left, out of sight behind the outcrop. Sliding forward, the bone turned towards me slightly and I could see his head clearly, just under the surface. I made a 3 inch strip; the fish immediately turned on the movement. I made two tiny twitches; he simply swam over and ate it. Thankfully my hands knew what to do, because my brain was melting down. No way he just ate that! No WAY! As klaxons were screaming in my brain, my hands smoothly and swiftly executed a strip strike, lifting the rod quickly to keep tension and keep the leader above coral. In a giddy fog, I watched the fish as he cleared the remaining line and hit the reel. Lurching to my feet, I just held the rod as my reel arbor started to groan backwards, slowly growing in speed and pitch as the fish figured out he was hooked, and then the reel was screaming. I was grinning like a fool and watching him torpedo across the flat, slinging water and chunks of seaweed everywhere. I expected the fight to be over any second - any errant bit of coral could cut me off. To my surprise the fish tired out around 80 yards of backing into the run... or at least I thought he tired. Whipping around, he began swimming nearly directly back to me. My eyes were wide and my mouth started uttering all the proper profanity due the situation. Reeling furiously and backing up as quickly as possible, I was stumbling over coral and almost ended up on my back more than once.

I finally caught up to the fish and got tight again - no sooner had I a good connection than he burned off again, but this run was much shorter than the first and I began to dare to hope that I would land him. Gingerly controlling the bonefish, turning his head every time he tried to gain momentum, I worked him to my hand. I let out a little whoop of victory, and then yanked my head up to the unfamiliar sound of applause. Seems on Hawaii everyone either fishes or appreciates fishing as an art - my screaming drag and splashing around had attracted a small crowd of locals. Realizing I had to get rid of the fish before they figured out how good it was and got any closer, I snapped a couple hurried pics with my camera phone and gave him one more lingering look as I popped the hook from the corner of his mouth. Moving him once forward and back, I released his tail as he surged away from me. Turning back to the crowd, I waved and smiled. They were very disappointed that I released it and I explained to them that the fish had been small and that I would leave it for them to catch later. They brightened a bit at that idea, and wandered off without asking me what I had caught. Turning back to the flat, I closed my eyes for a moment and basked in the euphoria a bit more before going back on full alert and covering more water. That would be the only shot I had for the rest of the trip, but I didn't care much. I had already done what I came to do.

6

Every once in a while a fisherman finds himself invited along on an adventure of grand proportion with a bunch of complete strangers. Such was the situation a while back when I got a call from Brandon. When I heard Chris, Mike and Jen were all going to be there, I was excited for the chance to make new fly flinging friends and to show off my home waters a bit.

Everyone with their own favorite little water that they like to occasionally show to people knows that the guests always seem to arrive during crappy conditions. The fishing was So bad in fact that the ubiquitous 'shoulda been here yesterday' curse wasn't in effect this time; the fishing had been pretty terrible for a week or so already prior to the group flying in from their various places around the country. Brandon and I kept in touch and from time to time I would send him another depressing fishing report - I am pretty sure he dreaded my name on his caller ID after a while.

Long story short? We by-golly Did find fish for everyone, after some work. And frustration. And running from a squall. And more frustration.

Don't believe me? Well, the proof is in the pictures, and I didn't take a single one*... but I know a few people that did!

Hello, Texas - Eat More Brook Trout

The Cabin – Eat More Brook Trout

Beat the Drum – Eat More Brook Trout

Sandblasted ... - Eat More Brook Trout

We Have Your Redfish – Mike’s Gone Fishin’

Redfish Palace – Mike’s Gone Fishin’

Laguna Sunrise – Mike’s Gone Fishin’

Bohemia, TX – Mike’s Gone Fishin’

On Being Ready – Mike’s Gone Fishin’

Fishing with the Devil - Mike’s Gone Fishin’

On the board – Mike’s Gone Fishin’

Laguna Sunset – Mike’s Gone Fishin’

Texas Transition - Mike's Gone Fishin'

 Thank you guys for the Great times!

I was sitting on the very end of the Port Aransas south jetty in May, staring out over the windy, rolling chop as it was pushing in, when it occurred to me. “I want to catch a shark on a fly.” I said aloud to myself.

Why not? It's fairly common in Florida and other places around the world, but I only personally knew one or two guys here who had successfully targeted and caught them. One of these gentlemen was a man by the name of Clif, who happens to own the Texas state blacktip record on fly. He said that he had caught the 54.5” shark while out in a kayak past the breakers following schools of anchovies around. I figured if he could do it, so could I.

Now, I think most people that care to have, by now, seen or heard about the 12'6” tiger shark that was landed and released, (great job guys, by the way), over by Bob Hall Pier. Oh, we heard about it alright, saw pictures the day it happened. We watched the videos several times. Did this deter us from plunking ourselves into small plastic boats and paddling out past the breakers? Of course not. Hey, we never claimed to be smurt.

So the plan evolved and gained members, and we gathered the necessary safety gear and equipment to make our risk as low as possible. The group total came to 5, making for lots of eyes to make sure everyone was okay and lots of boats to distribute equipment around. All items in each kayak were safely leashed to the boat somehow; if you don't tie it down, you're asking to lose it. Just trust me. I've seen rods go swimming, and it ain't pretty.

After the seemingly inevitable rendezvous setbacks, (taco stops, forgotten tackle, you know the deal), we hit the beach. We decided to cruise the sand until we found a likely stopping point and strike out from there. After spotting big flocks of working birds in the middle distance, we stopped in line with them and loaded up our trusty vessels with a lot of very expensive gear that we hoped would still be attached to the boat when we got back to the sand. The surf was very slight and the flat conditions gave us the confidence that our little plan wasn't as insane as some of our doubters might've first thought.

Yakkin' to the birds

After zipping out to where the birds were, we found huge anchovie bait-balls being completely molested by swarms of Spanish mackerel. The 'smacks', as they're affectionately known, were everywhere; free-jumping with bait in their mouths, schooled up under our kayaks, crashing the anchovie schools. It was chaos, casting into the frothing schools and the fish biting everything that was moving – connector knots, fly line, and fish slashing at anything remotely shiny in the water, including bare hooks. Anchovies schooled under my boat trying to use it as cover, and the streaking electric green and silver blurs that were smacks would rocket up from below to slash at them. It was every cast, can't not get bit for a short but furious span of time. I quickly got bored with underwater action and decided to try and feed my topwater addiction. I had never caught a smack on top before, and I wanted to add that to the list of accomplishments. A quick re-rig of my 40lb bite tippet – I don't use wire for smacks, just use a hand-over-hand retrieve as fast as possible – and I was blooping a gurgler through the swarms of screaming 'chovies. While my hook-up rate went way down, the way the fish kept blasting that poor fly made it worth the misses.

 

I was tired of the smack attack by that point, and was ready to drop something big down below the fray and see if anything of more substance lurked below the swarming mackerel. To my 25lb mono leader I attached a braided wire bite tippet attached to a heavy baitfish pattern tied on a 4/0 hook that I had made up the night before specifically for the trip. I laid my 10wt between my knees as I chunked the fly off to the side of the 'yak to organize the cockpit before heading off to the next spot. I looked up just in time to see the rodtip start to flex as something grabbed my fly and sounded for the bottom. Snagging the cork of my handle as it headed over the side, I found myself fast to a strong opponent. After an intense, bulldogging battle under the boat, I raised the fish close enough to the boat that I could see it – shark! I called out excitedly to my buddy and he drifted closer to see the action. After bringing the scrappy 30” shark to boatside, I veerrrry carefully removed the hook and snapped a picture to commemorate the moment. High fives all around!

Charkin' on the Fly

That day and on subsequent trips we caught smacks, ladyfish, lots of atlantic sharpnose sharks (goal accomplished!), chicken dolphin (total surprise), kingfish, spadefish, some massive gafftop, small vermillion snappers and a small amberjack. Not bad eh? In short, it has proven to be a not-so-crazy way to go after some of the fish that're hard to reach from the beach. If you prepare correctly and use common sense, kayaking beyond the breakers (BTB) can lead to very rewarding fishing trips. If you have the gear, bluewater fly fishing can lead to some of the most intense encounters you will ever have while fishing.

 

Grip'N'Grin!
Terrible pic, but kayak/fly rod mahi! First for me.