Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Love Is In The Air

Late August thru September is when Louisiana gets invaded by "love bugs". These tiny black and red insects get their name from their mating ritual. Once a male and female are joined together, they fly around looking for automobiles to get splattered on. Or so it seems.

According to Alex Mangini, entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lovebugs are actually members of the order Diptera, the true flies. They have two generations - one in Spring and one in Fall. The Spring invasion is minor compared to the Fall invasion - at least here in the Cenla area.

When I was young, the old folks used to say the bugs arrived three weeks before the first cool front. This year, the bugs arrived early, the third week of August. Sure enough, we've had an early and prolonged spell of cooler-than-normal weather here in central Louisiana. Today's high was only 78 degrees!

But there's another old tale about these sensual insects. It's that when the bugs stop mating, prime fall fishing begins. This could be because no fish eat these bugs. So when they leave, the bluegill start surface feeding again - making up for lost time! That's one theory. Another is that the bugs leave when the soil temperature reaches a certain point. Love bugs - and their larvae - originate from moist, warm soil. So when the bugs leave, the water temperature is also cool enough for bass and crappie to begin their fall feeding frenzy.

Whichever theory you believe, it seems there's a correlation between the time the bugs disappear and the start of the best fall fishing. I just hope the bugs don't stay around too much longer!

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Y2K Bugger

I've had a number of readers ask about this fly, it's origins and it's recipe.

Back in 1997, after a few previous trips to Yellowstone, we ventured to the east side of the park and Cody, Wyoming. There we fished the North Fork of the Shoshone River and it was love at first cast!  What it lacks in big fish, it makes up for numbers and variety - and a penchant for the trout to rise to dries.

At the local fly shop, we were told there were bigger trout in the tailwater below Buffalo Bill Dam.  What we needed to get those 20-inch browns to eat was a size 4 Yuk Bugger.   The Yuk Bugger is a bushier version of a Woolybugger, with crystal flash body and rubber legs.  We bought a few and sure enough, when one of those browns hit it was bone-jarring!

In 1999, I was about to tie some of these up for a trip when the thought occured, "Why not give it the SR71 treatment?".   The SR71 Woolybugger was my variation on Russ Blessing's classic.  Instead of saddle hackle, I use a schlappen feather.  The SR71B gets it's name because of the fly's swept-back look, much like the famous spy jet of the Cold War era.  I decided to renovate the YukB in the same design.  I called the revision the Y2K Bugger.  At the time, I was working on a project to make our systems Y2K compliant and up to ISO 9000 code. I figured this fly should meet those standards as well, lol.

The Y2K Bugger has been good for trout, but over the last 15 years it's been a major bass fly.  It may imitate small lizards or crawfish.  One thing is certain - it has lots of motion!

Prior to last year, I had used it for smallmouth a few times and did okay. Then last year on a trip to Maine, I broke it out while fishing with Kevin McKay on the Penobscot River.  On a heavy overcast day when poppers were ignored, the Y2K Bugger shined in landing a couple dozen nice bronzebacks.  Then in May, while fishing with Galen Westman on the South Fork of the Shenandoah in Virginia, the Y2K came through again that morning (later the smallies would go nuts on poppers but that was afternoon).

So now the Y2KB has become my favorite submergent fly for bass, whether their mouths are large or small.  There are times when other patterns work better, but I always start off with the Y2KB on one rod and a popper on another.

Now to the part you readers have been waiting for - the recipe!

Thread:  Danville 210 denier flat-waxed, black or burnt orange
Hook: size 4 Mustad 3366 or Gamakatsu B10S
Tail: marabou, olive or rust
Body: Krystal Flash Medium chenille, olive or bonefish tan
Legs: Sili-Legs barred, either yellow/gold-black or olive/green flake (for olive), or orange/orange black (for rust)
Eyes: Brass eyes medium black (Hareline code BEM11) or equivalent
Collar: Schlappen, olive or brown

Tie on the eyes close to the front of the hook. Tie in the marabou at the back end to just over the barb. Tail should be as long as the hook.  Tie in the chenille, then palmer forward. One-third of the way up, stop and tie in 1 or 2 strands of Sili-Legs on each side. Tie them forward, then pull them back and tie backward.  Continue wrapping chenille past the legs. Two-thirds of the way up, stop and tie in 1 strand of legs on each side.  Again, using the tie forward / pull back / tie over. Continue with chenille to just behind the eyes - but do NOT crowd!  If possible, leave a tiny gap. Before tying in the schlappen feather, first cut off the tip and the "webby" end.  Tie the feather at the truncated tip and wrap 3 times, then tie off with the thread. Pull the feather tips backward and build up the thread behind the eye. Coat the threads and eye with UV epoxy or other hard durable coat.

For you fellow pond gurus, this fly is a killer on pond bass when surface action is slow.  Give it a try and tell us (on Facebook) what you think!

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.