Archive for July, 2009

Circle of Life

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

pheasantcarpfly2

My father-in-law introduced me to wing shooting.  Since my own father didn’t hunt I never tried it when I was younger.  I have always been an outdoorsman, and always been surrounded by people that hunt but never thought I’d get involved in it.  A lot of  people that I took carp fishing would comment that stalking carp has a lot of parallels with the sport, so when my father-in-law invited me to walk with him during a Thanksgiving visit a few years ago I decided I’d at least go for the company.

That first walk we took behind his german shorthair was electric.  We never did flush a bird but when the dog pointed a meadowlark or got excited in the corn stalks I could feel the same excitement as spotting a tailing carp.  I signed on to that deal, immediately.  When I got back home I pestered him with questions over the phone and became the proud owner of a 20ga 870 Express.  It wasn’t a fancy shotgun, but, it went boom, and I prepared for my first hunting trip over the year by shooting some clays at the local gun range.

When the time came to return for a real hunt, I was pumped.  We hunted three days, and each experience added to the electricity.  The first day we raised a large covey of quail, and I shot one, all right, in my mind, but the safety I’d failed to disengage on the gun kept the bird safe.  My father-in-law asked “Why didn’t you shoot?”  Oh, I did, just a little problem with the trigger, that’s all. 

On the second day we flushed two hens early and when dad called out “hen!” I knew I wasn’t supposed to shoot but I was so confused: I thought only the roosters had the long tail.  I knew exactly what a pheasant tail looked like from fly tying, of course.  We drove on to an old honey hole of his and flushed a lot of birds, including about 6 or 7 roosters, but, they all flushed 70 or more yards in front of us or the dog.

Dad was a little frustrated with the weather, it was a little too warm and we were having a hard time getting close to a bird.  He wanted me to get some shots in at least, so we went slumming.  Anybody reading this who caught their first fish in life dead drifting a dry fly on a current seam with a cane rod can close their browser window at this point.  Since most of us caught our first fish under a bobber on a piece of worm, I’m not embarassed to say that I shot my first pheasant on a put-and-take preserve.

I hit three birds that day.  Dad and I shot almost simultaneously on the first two birds and both got a piece of them.  I was having a great time, and we were on our last pass knowing that there should be two more birds in the field unless they snuck off the edges while we weren’t looking.  The dog went on point and when the rooster flew dad’s gun jammed.  I shot and missed once, added some lead, missed again, swung way out in front of the bird and dropped it with the third shot.  It was a long shot by the time I connected and dad yelled out “yes!” and we high fived and went to retrieve my bird.

When I got back to Texas, I made the best meal I’ve ever cooked, pheasant breast with vanilla and pears.  The meal took 2 hours and 5 pans to cook and required two different sauces… a masterpiece.  A friend showed me how to preserve the skins for fly tying.  These two pictures are of carp flies I tied with the pheasant feathers. 

I have now caught carp on a fly tied from the feathers of a bird I’ve shot, tied to a home made leader, using a rod I built.  It’s a good feeling.  I haven’t yet eaten one of the carp from this little circle of life, but, I suppose there is always more time.

pheasantcarpfly1

upchucked in my livewell

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Was this creature of the deep…

waterdog 

the mudpuppy!

 AKA Señor Waterdog.

A friend at Cabela’s wanted some chain pickerel for their aquarium.  After delivering the fish, I just happened to look in the livewell and found these guys:

stomachcontents

My guess is that’s another waterdog on top, in slightly more advanced stages of digestion.  The two in the middle were some kind of sunfish.  It was pretty cool seeing this stuff.  I had never seen a waterdog before.

Unfortunately, none of the  pickerel survived quarantine.  It was sad to hear but it does happen.  Just an excuse to go try for more next winter, I guess.  I can’t help thinking about cooler weather: yesterday we were wading on 92 degree flats with a heat index of 107.  It’s been a hot year, and, like all anglers, I do have a habit of looking forward to winter when it’s hot and summer when it’s cool.  I won’t start complaining yet, though, I have a few more scores to settle with carp and long nose gar before this scorcher is done.

Gar are so 2003

Monday, July 6th, 2009

All the chatter on the net lately about gar on fly makes me wonder if I should post a bunch of old gar pics.  Or new gar pics… ironically it was gar that really got me motivated on trash fishin.  Early on, I went on a lot of wild goose chases and had a lot of disappointing moments with gar.  Oh to be sure there were a few fish landed here and there, but when I realized I could catch carp more or less “on demand” the fickle gar fell out of favor for quite a while. 

I suppose if I dedicated as much time to trying to learn gar as I did carp I might get them down a little better.  In the mean time, I guess I’ll just settle for the fleeting moments of 10-30 pound longnose gar in the spring, spring time flats full of laid up spotted gar, and the night time sight fishing for them in the summer.  In other words, fish them opportunistically instead of systematically.

I keep saying that I’m going to make this the year of the longnose but I’ve just been so busy and it’s so tempting to carp fish instead.  Recent forum posts and blog reports have brought back a flood of memories.  Here is a little thing I wrote up for an internet newsgroup back in 2003.  I had entirely forgotten about it until I was cleaning out my man room a few weeks ago and came across the Dallas Fly Fishers newsletter it was reprinted in:

 

Gar on the Fly

*   *   *

The call came early this morning.

“I’m not going to let That Water beat me… I’ll be back there just as soon as I can get the kids out the door.”

“Okay, ” I said, “I have a few things to do first.  I’ll be there later, just leave me a radio.”

*   *   *

Drink coffee.  Spend money on the phone/internet.  Pet dog.  Kiss girlfriend goodbye, et cetera.

*   *   *

Okay, yesterday a little flash worked: cone-head no-hackle crystal bugger.  But it didn’t work so well, and even drew a few refusals.  Also, it sank too fast. So today I will try something different– a poly-yarn clouser.  Green poly/black flash/white poly and small black bead chain eyes.  It’ll sink, but slowly.

I tie up a couple of the poly clousers in the baby bass colors.  The black flash makes a very nice lateral line, and I picked up a couple of bucket-boys out of That Water yesterday, so I know there is fry from time to time.

*   *   *

I set off my friend’s car alarm retrieving the radio, but I’m glad I got the radio anyway.

Before I’d been on the water 2 minutes he yelled into the mic:

“Woo-hoo! I’ve got a carp!”

It’s not a bad carp, either.  A little smaller than the one I pulled out yesterday but not so small, either; the rod is bent hard and the water is boiling.  Thanks to the radios I paddle up in time to snap a couple of pictures of

a) his largest fly-rod fish to date;
b) his largest fish to date;
c) his first carp, by any method.

Two casts later and he catches another carp, 50% larger and a very nice fish by any means.

Congrats, mental high fives, and I’m on the hunt.

*   *   *

Drifting slowly through the water, not paddling.  Quiet, invisible, fly in one hand, rod in the other.  Suspended just 20 feet from me are living, swimming spotted sticks.

GAR.

More false casts than I thought prudent later, the fly landed just beside the gar.  I was thinking about how badly I needed to clean my line (recent incident with wet clay– casting/shooting line is a complete joke at this point) when I twitched the fly and the gar came alive and turned, hit, shook, and was gone.

The hit and miss was with incomprehensible speed.  I didn’t realize what was happening until it was already long over.

*   *   *

I didn’t get another chance for almost an hour.  I finally found myself in a back cove shaped more like a feeder creek, and there were gar literally everywhere.  Gar on the left, gar on the right, cast to the middle gar, fight, fight, fight.

For a brief moment I thought I would land one that had around an inch of poly yarn firmly embedded in the mouth… then it yawned and swam off slightly irritated.

Finally, it happened.  The gar was no more than 15 feet away.  I cast, the fly dropped like a feather next to the beast’s eye.  It turned, hit, and I hit back, 3 times, fast, hard, with the rod, the line, and my upper body for good measure.

The water EXPLODED. Then the fish just laid there, motionless, looking at me, thinking:

“I am the top of the food chain in This Water.”

“Go away.”

Slight upward pressure with the rod to swing the fish toward the boat and it came STRAIGHT OUT OF THE WATER!  Then it hit the water and laid still again.

Hmm…

Upward pressure, the fish jumps again. Seems to be a pattern.

I debate about whether to touch the fish or just attempt to release it with the hemostats and a slow, steady hand.  Then I realize, hemostats in hand that the fish is *not hooked*.  Rather, the hook shank is laying perpendicular to the snout, upside down on the roof of the mouth, so that the hook bends outside of and on top of the snout, the hook point resting on top of the gar’s head/nose/paddle/handle/snout.

And then it decides it is done playing, twists, and the hook falls to the side. The fish disappears into the murky edges.

Half of the battle was trout/tarpon/sailfish/smallmouth bass, leap straight out of the water.  The other half was drum/am I hooked here?  What is going on?  Did that fish bite back?  Honey, where is the remote?

*   *   *

All in all, I ended up getting maybe 20 shots at gar today.  I had about 4 or five hookups but just the one fish landed.

Everything came together, I was living between the pages of a magazine:

saw the challenge
gained some experience
thought it through
tied some flies
found the fish
made the presentation
hosed the presentation
tried again
hosed it up again
(and again, and again)

and then just one beautiful moment when a fish probably best described as “you rat bastard” ate the fly, looked tough, lept, and hunkered down.  No, not hunkered down, exactly.  Just “hunkered.”

Oh, I could say he ran off 15 million feet of backing in the blink of an eye, or came to the top and did three of those triple-axle ice skating moves everyone was talking about after Nancy, Tonya and the Trailer Trash Gang Incident.  But in all reality the gar was good for a couple of jumps and then it was mostly dead weight.  A stick with kick, I guess.

*   *   *

I found my fishing partner into another carp.  They just kept getting bigger.  I sort of wanted to be jealous but couldn’t bring myself to it.  I did what I set out to do, which, in fishing, is kind of like jumping over the moon.  It doesn’t work out often.

I’ll go after more gar, but not for the fight.  I will chase the gar for the strike– which will most likely be referred to as “sight fishing for heart-attacks.”