Monday, July 10, 2017

IFTD 2017 - the preamble

Hey, Guru Fans!  I'm using this blog to report on what's going on this week at the International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD) in Orlando.  For the fourth year, it's being held in conjunction with the International Convention of Sportfishing Trades (ICAST).  The co-joined show is the world's largest fishing trade show and is open only to buyers and media.

What makes this show so exciting for many of us who live the fishing life - or write about it - is the opportunity to view the new products for the coming year.  They are usually unveiled at ICAST / IFTD each summer.  For me, it's also about seeing and testing a lot of products that the public usually doesn't see.  It's sort of a crusade of mine - to enlighten the fly fishing world.

You see, this all started with a column I write for Louisiana Sportsman (my Fly Lines column).   Many years back, I had looked at several magazines at new products and basically what I read was verbatim from the companies' press releases.  I felt this was "fake news" and that consumers deserved better.

I attended the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) Southern Conclave each year, which is held in the first full weekend of October.  It's the first major public fly fishing show following IFTD.  At that time, most of the major rod companies, and several of the reel and line companies exhibited at Southern.   So I used Southern as my opportunity to examine and test the new products and write up on them.

These columns were wildly popular - and still are.  Trouble is, some years back there was a rift between the FFF Southern Council and their show's exhibitors.  Don't know what it was.  All I knew is that suddenly I found myself without ample material.  Despite the added cost - and valuable vacation time - I started attending IFTD.

IFTD proved to be a gold mine of resources.  As good as it was, when AFFTA - the organization that puts on Fly Tackle Dealer - decided to merge it's show with ICAST, the good got awesome!  You see, fly fishing or conventional fishing tackle is only a fraction of the overall fishing universe.  Accessories, clothing, travel gear, maps, coolers, etc, etc, are a larger subset of both.  I saw very, very little of those at the original IFTD.

Which is why I'm a little saddened right now. Back in March, AFFTA announced that in 2019 and 2020, they would split from ICAST and hold their show in Denver in October.  There were many solid business reasons to join with ICAST.  And one big reason to depart - "Orlando in July".  Apparently, not only is ICAST returning to Orlando in July for 2019 and 2020, but on Tuesday they'll be voting to extend it in Orlando to 2024.  Yes, 2024!

The majority of AFFTA members are located in the West, Midwest and Northeast.  I realize that traveling to Orlando during the middle of "SweatFest" is no fun.  Much less having to put up with the worst traffic east of Houston (only a million families here for all the theme parks).
Tomorrow is the first day. Although the exposition doesn't start until Wednesday (and runs thru Friday)  IFTD will have a Demo Day in the morning, while ICAST has an "On The Water" event thru midday.  I hope to test several new rods and compare them to existing models. And get it done before the midday heat  (it was 97 today!).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

So long, Pete, until we meet again

Yesterday I received some heartbreaking news that Pete Cooper had passed away. It was somewhat expected. After a long battle with cancer, Pete had recently been placed in hospice care. Within hours of the news, Facebook was flooded with sympathies and rememberances from his many friends. And many others who had been influenced by the "Louisiana Fly Guy".

I'd known Pete since 1988. Back then, only a very few of us in this state had ever caught a redfish on fly rod, but Pete had been doing it for 17 years! Not just doing it, but writing about it. In fact, shortly after meeting him for the first time, he left his oilfield job and began writing full-time. The rest is history: he went on to pioneer offshore fly fishing in the state, write for several state and national magazines, establish the state fly rod record listings, give seminar talks across the country, author four books, and much more. For his written contributions to fishing, fly fishing, and hunting, he was inducted into the Louisiana Outdoors Hall of Fame.

Pete was the original Fly Lines columnist for Louisiana Sportsman magazine. I took over for him 17 years ago when the national magazines came calling. Since I organized countless events over the years, I was in frequent contact with him as a presenter. So we talked a lot on the phone, but never fished together. That was until a few years ago.

Most will remember Pete for all his saltwater contributions. But he loved fishing ponds and creeks. In fact, his last book was "The Fine Art of Creek Fishing". One of my favorites. He, myself and fellow warmwater fanatic and good friend Larry Offner would meet down at small pond in Jennings. It's a neat pond that offers good year-round fly fishing for bass, crappie, bluegills and redears.  One day, Pete calls me and tells me he visited the pond and caught some hefty redears. The next day I was down and sure enough, there were some big-uns! That's what made Pete so special... always willing to share a secret or two!

Another of his favorite spots was Kisatchie Bayou, just up the road from where I now live. Soon I hope to go there and revisit some of Pete's spots. Spotted bass, that is. Being the good conservationist he was, I know he left a few for us to enjoy. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Fathers Day recalled

With Fathers Day approaching, seems like a good time to flashback to one of my favorite pond memories.

A few years back, my two sons and daughter were all home for the weekend and decided to make Saturday "Take Dad Fishing Day". Mom cooked us all a hearty breakfast, then we were on our way to one of the local ponds in Baton Rouge.

This particular pond is managed by LDWF as catch-and-release for bass and bream, and there are good size fish of both species.

The boys - Cosmos and Tiger Jake - decided that a little competition would be fun. Cokie accepted the challenge although she hadn't been fishing in several months and her fly casting was a bit rusty.

I decided to tag with her, figuring she might need my help.

On her third cast, Cokie laid a yellow and black Accardo Spook between two clumps of matted algae.  Up from the depths came a big bass, swimming non-chalantly. It stopped just inches from her popper and stared it down.

She lifted the tip of her rod so slowly, as to only nudge the popper, and make it's legs flutter without the body pushing water.  That must've triggered an instinct, because then Ol' Bucketmouth rose a couple inches to the surface and slurped it up!  Then swam to whence he came.

Now I would've set the hook the instant the bass inhaled it. But Cokie waited just a second longer, until it turned back down.  Then she set the hook. Later I realized that action probably kept her from losing that baskeen.

Needless to say, it was a spectacular fight and the fish jumped at least three times! I kept giving advise, but I think it was largely ignored. She knew what she was doing... as if she'd been doing it forever.

As the morning went on, the bigger the deficit grew between her and her brothers. I began to realize that, while she hadn't mastered casting or knots like her brothers, she'd mastered  something more important - the art of observation.  She had taken notice of the insect behavior on the pond, the things I was doing to catch fish, and imitated those actions.

Even when it comes to fishing - being a successful Dad is leading by example.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hodges Gardens

Since moving to central Louisiana, I've fished several area waters with large redear sunfish - otherwise known among us Cajuns as chiquapin (pronounced chick-a-pin). Maybe not as large as the four and five-pound giants that come out of Lake Havasu in Arizona, or Merritts Mill Pond in Florida, but large by Bayou State standards. I'm talking 10 to 12 inches in length.

Two of those don't require a boat. Anderson Pond near Pitkin and Hodges Gardens State Park near Florien. Both lakes are small, do not allow motorboat traffic and have large areas of clear bank. More in the realm of pond fishing than lake fishing.

On this day I went to Hodges. The wife enjoys the gardens and I get to go fishing. Win - win!

You can rent a jon boat with trolling motor, canoe or kayak. But I decided to do the bank thing. Not that I didn't mind spending the money, just that I was feeling lazy. I rigged up my 5-weight rod with a bass bug and my 4-weight with a size 14 Rosborough Hare's Ear until a tiny football indicator.

I started with the bass setup but managed only just one in two hours. The lake has a good number of bass, but once again a late spring cool front had pushed through and probably sent them deep. So I changed rigs.

No sooner than I cast the four-weight with the RHE, the tiny float plunged underneath and I set the hook. For a short time, I thought "maybe it's a bass". Turned out to be a 10-inch chiquapin. Turned it loose, then made another cast to the same area. Same result.

Each of these chinks was in the 10 to 11 inch range and full of fight. It was good to have brought the 4-weight rather than the 2-weight otherwise I would've needed a gaff to land them! Much to my wife's chagrin, I turned them all loose.

While it was a great day at the park, I received some sad news before leaving. Turns out that Hodges is on the list for possible closure due to state budget constraints. The Sabine and Vernon parish officials are working hard to prevent this.  They need the tourism dollars as much as I need my favorite redear bank fishing spot. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mardi Gras bassin'

In Louisiana, Mardi Gras is a holiday. My good friend Kevin "Doc" Andry is like me. We both love fly fishing from kayaks. And we both have the good sense to stay away from Mardi Gras festivities.

Doc does his own blog, "Kayak Fishing With Kevin", which has a fairly large following. It's my favorite, for sure. I knew if I invited him to come fish for Mardi Gras, he'd have material for his blog and I'd have material for my column in Louisiana Sportsman. Win - win!

Of course, that's all predicated on us catching fish. But when we fish together it seems God gives his blessings and we do quite well. He made the 3-hour drive to my house on Sunday evening, giving us two days of fishing.

I realize this is a pond blog, but the reason I'm posting here is because that first day was spent at nearby 70-acre Valentine Lake.  For all practical purposes, it's a really big pond and fishes as such. No motorboats are allowed, so kayakers love this place. Although the lake's fertility is fairly low, it has lots of submerged grass, deep stumps and artificial structure.  It also annually produces a few bass over 10 pounds.  The state's 2nd largest bass - 15.88 pounds - was caught here on conventional tackle.

What Doc and I were interested in was each getting a solid entry into the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club's / Masseys Outfitters Fish Pix tournament. This is a year-long CPR event with a Fly Rod Division.

The morning started out great for me. Using a size 4 frog-colored Boogle Bug, and with the help of heavy cloud cover, I managed to get several bass in the 10-14 inch range to eat on top.  Then in the span of 10 minutes, I landed a 15 3/4" and a 16 1/2".

Doc was way behind, but catching up. His Crease Fly was getting some vicious strikes. I often joke that he's Louisiana's Crease Fly Ambassador. But on this day the joke was on me! I watched as he hooked and landed a solid 17-inch bass.

The wind was coming up, the storm clouds were gathering in advance of a front. The bite had slacked off completely. It was time to head back for some of my wife's famous gumbo and toast another fine day on the water. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Want more, bigger fish? Act now!

Your pond doesn't produce big fish. Or lots of fish. Or both. There's potentially several reasons why. Let's address the most common.

If your soil has low pH, then probably your pond has low water hardness. You can use a pool kit to test, or bring a water sample to a pool supply dealer and let them test. If the hardess is less than 20 ppt calcium carbonate, then you have an issue.

Many years ago I took a pond management course and one of the first things I learned was that biggest impediment to fish production was low water hardness. Most community water coops define anything above 150 ppt as "hard". There are very few lakes in the country that measure over 100 ppt. One of those was False River near New Roads. At one time, it had one of the highest gamefish populations of any lake in America. The fly fishing on that lake was incredible. Due to environmental reasons, False River now gives false hope to anglers.

To get the hardness of a pond up, just add lime. Simple, right? Until you calculate the amount of lime required. For a 7-acre lake - like the one we had in our neighborhood - getting the hardness up from 20 ppt to 50 ppt required 8 tons of ag lime. Fortunately, ag lime in bulk is fairly inexpensive.  And if you have a little help from friends, delivering it into your lake can be done in a half-day.

However, timing and delivery method are extremely important. CaCO3 has very low solubility. It's also unusual in that its solubility decreases as the water temperature warms.  Another property is that carbon dioxide dissolves it readily. So... to get the maximum effect, the pond owner should apply lime in winter both directly to the pond in shallow water, or along it's banks. The spring rains - which contain moderate amounts of carbon dioxide - will help increase hardness even further.

With the 7-acre lake I mentioned, we undertook the project in early February. By late April, the water hardness was up to 40 ppt. At that time we went ahead with a fertilization. Let me make this clear: fertilizing a low hardness water does nothing for it. Period! Previous attempts at fertilizing this pond had no impact whatsoever.

After the liming - and the doubling of the hardness - the fertilizer worked miracles.  The pond color turned from dark yellow to a rich green. Within a year, the hardness had increased another 8 ppt and the bluegill and redears were big and thick. The shad population exploded. The bass took every advantage of all this protein and soon we had loads of multi-pound fish.

Now the liming and fertilization certainly made a big difference. But during this time we also undertook another project where we added vegetation and structure. The combination of all these things turned our neighborhood lake into a small fishing paradise! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Bill Brown remembered

This past week we were very saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Brown. Bill was a longtime member of the Red Stick Fly Fishers, one of club member, one of it's most active members, and a good friend to all.  Over many years, he served in various positions on the club board, but most memorably as Warmwater Chair and Membership Chair. During his tenure as Membership Chair, he continually recruited new members such that our club maintained it's status as one of the largest fly clubs on the northern Gulf Coast. Equally as impressive was his dedication to our annual "Red Stick Day" event. His hard work and attention to details as a co-chairman of the Events Committee was reason for it's annual success.

Probably Bill's greatest contribution to our club - and even to the world of fly fishing - was his long-running series of "Eternal Novice" articles he wrote for "The Red Letter" newsletter. These were educational pieces often written in a storytelling format. It reflected his personal philosophy - one that many of us adopted - that in fly fishing, one never stops learning!