Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ride The Bull Bream!

Normally this weekend I'd be down in Grand Isle participating in the annual "Ride the Bull" kayak fishing tournament. This year I was expecting to be out-of-state, so I didn't pre-register.

For those who don't know what Ride the Bull is, a brief explanation. It's basically a big weekend party for kayak anglers, with a tournament thrown in. The tournament takes place each August in a confined area of Caminada Pass. Usually by now the pass is flooded with mature red drum doing their spawning ritual. These fish can weigh anywhere from 10 to 40 pounds. Hooking and landing these brutes from a kayak is more fun than the law allows!

RTB is a contest of luck as much as skill. Folks gather in pods to fish and at times, you can watch dozens of fellow puddlers waiting for a bite. Add all the other activities and it's the reason why there are usually over 500 participants, with 732 anglers in 2015 setting a world record! 

When my plans got delayed, I thought about going down to Grand Isle and registering onsite. But the delay is only a week, and there are still a number of things that need to get done before I leave.

So yesterday morning instead of heading to the coast, I put my kayak in at the nearby launch here on Cotile Lake and did something I've not done in a few weeks - fished for bream.

The full moon of late August is a good starting point to the Fall bream season.  The shadows of the trees have gotten longer, and there are many good shaded bedding areas.  Thanks to radiative cooling, the water temperature has already dropped in the last couple of weeks from 88.1 degrees to 85.3 degrees.  Not much of a drop, but trust me, fish do notice! 

Got to the launch about 9:00am and slid my Native U14 in the water. The peace and solace was almost unreal. Only three boats on a 2,000 acre lake. Along with an osprey, a blue heron, and a small alligator.  Quite the antithesis of the world's largest kayak tournament!

I began working a shoreline. Almost immediately I had bream attacking a size 10 blue popping bug. Most were small, a few keeper size (7-inches or more).  As I came past a point, I could see a large group of beds in 2 feet of water descending past the point of visibility. A cast anywhere in this huge circle brought a dark shadow to the surface. Most of these shadows rushed up, then quickly rushed down. In a few cases, the shadow smacked the bug with great verocity.

For the next half-hour, it was as good as it gets. While most of the surface eaters were between 7 inches, when I switched to subsurface fly, the bream got bigger. It's very rare when the water temp is this warm for bream to fight this hard, but they put a big bend in my 5-weight rod and even pulled my kayak inward to the bedding area. On many occasions, I had to paddle back out after hooking one up. Most of these were bluegill in the 8-inch range, with the chinquapin (redears) slightly larger up to 9 1/2 inches.

Continuing on, I worked the shoreline for another half-mile, occasionally finding a small bed here and there, with very little action in-between. Just before noon, I hit another large bed. Mostly hefty redears. Again, most of the action came in 3 to 5 feet of water on either a Coma Minnow or a Rosborough Hares Ear.

I was just amazed how strong their fight was in 85 degree water. Anyone who fishes bream in September and October will tell you about "fall vigor". When the water temp drops below 80 degrees, sunfish - especially redears - get very active, have more energy, and start putting on weight that was lost during the hot summer months. This is my second favorite time (after early Spring) to fish redears.

By 1:00pm, the heat (92 degrees) had turned off the fish. And me too. The humidity has been low the past few days, so the weatherman says it's a "dry heat" that's not as bad. When you're inches above the surface of a lake, there's no such thing as "dry heat". After gulping down a bottle of cool water, started paddling back in - making a stop on the way at a deepwater dock for some shadow sacalait (crappie).

Total count was 53 bream, 37 keeper size.  Kept 8 bream for the skillet, released the rest. A few came on popping bugs, with most on a chartreuse/pearl Coma Minnow or a rusty Rosborough Hares Ear tied on jighead.

I guess I do miss all the comradery and fun of "Ride The Bull". Will probably be back next year. In the meantime, there are many more days of "Ride The Bull Bream" this Fall and next Spring.

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

Cokie masters the Smallmouth!

A few weeks back, Lisa, my daughter Cokie and I joined 24 other members of the Louisiana Hiking Club on a group trip to Shenandoah National Park.

Prior to the trip, our daughter Corinne received her Masters degree from Southeastern, earning several honors including Magna Cum Laude and  Outstanding Graduate Student honors in her department. I told her that my gift for her accomplishments would be a fly fishing trip. She thought it would be with me to the lake so she wasn't too excited.

However, I had something else in mind. Back in February at the Atlanta Fly Fishing Show, I attended a presentation on fly fishing in Virginia. I knew there was smallmouth fishing in the western part of the state, but didn't realize how truly good it was. Being that I love fishing for smallies, I decided to book a trip as soon as plans on the LHC hike were finalized.

My first call went to the guy who gave the presentation, but he was booked the first half of the week and that was conflicting with our best hikes. He recommended Galen Westman of Shenandoah Valley Fly Fishing. Turns out Galen had an open day on Sunday prior to all our major hikes, so that was perfect.

We met him in Luray about 9:00am and loaded up our gear. Although I'd brought my Redington Predator and Ross FlyStik bass rods, we decided to use his TFO setups which worked out great. We were planning to do a full day float in Galen's inflatable raft on the South Fork of the Shenandoah, one of five prime smallmouth rivers in the area. The only caveat was the weather - an 80-percent chance of rain that afternoon.

No sooner had we launched than we started catching fish. I pulled up a couple nice bronzies on one of Galen's crawfish patterns. I forgot what Cokie was using, but she was catching quite a few in the 8-10 inch range.

Then things slowed down and we began experimenting with different flies. I had brought my bass box and pulled out an olive Y2K Bugger which I killed the smallies with in Maine, Arkansas and North Carolina last year. As well as largemouths all the time here at home.  It did it's magic, and started hooking up smallies left and right.  Mostly small, but even a 12-inch smallie can double up a 7-weight rod!  As Jeff Guerin says, "they fight like wet cats!".

Things were still going slow for Cokie, so Galen suggested a popper. Especially since we now had heavy cloud cover. The popper worked okay, but it seemed they wanted something with a little more "show". Again I pulled something out of my box - Stephen Robert blue/white popper.

I don't know what it is about Stephen's poppers, but damn! They sure catch fish! Even moreso than my beloved Boogle Bugs. As it turned out, that was the only fly Cokie would fish the rest of the day. Twice the body fell off the hook from vicious strikes and Galen was able to secure it back on using UV epoxy. At one point she caught 13 in 19 casts! Including the biggest smallmouth of the day - 17 inches!

After losing my 3rd and last Y2K Bugger, I began trying different flies from the box. Two worked pretty good - my own Coma Crawfish and Daniel Moss' Kray Phish pattern. Not nearly as many smallies as Cokie was catching, but more decent fish on average, 12 to 15 inches.

We ended up with almost 100 smallmouth. We also caught about a dozen redeye rock bass and several hugamongously-thick longears. They must've been bedding because their bellies were 4-inches thick!

Not a drop of rain fell on us this day, and we even had a few periods of sunlight. Although shore lunches are pretty standard fare on trips, I must say this was one of the better ones we've had. I've been blessed to have fished with several wonderful smallmouth guides across the country, as well as some great guides for trout and saltwater, and Galen definitely fits that distinction. The young man was very patient, and knowledgable. And knowing that I was a certified casting instructor, he allowed me to give Cokie advise on her casting. Yes, she struggled a bit early and often, but by the afternoon she was laying out line like a pro! Let's just say after 4 years in graduate school her skills had gotten a little rusty.

In hindsight, booking that Sunday was a very wise decision. The rain did come - and stayed. The original forecast had called for highs in 70s and lows in the upper 50s. Instead we had highs in the 50s and lows in the 40s until Thursday. And heavy fog. Fortunately all the rain - and boy was it heavy - came at night so the club was able to enjoy our hikes. And even a day trip to Montpelier and Monticello. Wednesday night we had  heavy rain, 48-degrees and 40-mph winds!  Sleeping in a tent in those conditions takes a lot of faith that God will keep you safe!

On Galen's recommendation, I did make one more fishing trip for brook trout. We'd hiked along several of the park's many dozens of small streams and on each occasion, I spotted trout in the waters. Even a couple of 10-11 inch brooks which are considered big fish for these waters.

So I packed up my TFO Finesse 3-weight and hiked back one of those trails. All the rain made stream fishing difficult, not so much clarity but just difficult to get fish to rise in swiftly moving water. But I did manage a couple dozen, all 5-8 inches before finding a pool where I hooked up with two of those "big" fish. Got a few pics of them in the water and did a quick rod-tip release.

The bonus of this fishing day was that I sighted a black bear - my 4th of the trip. But before I could snap a picture, a little girl on the trail spotted it too and began yelling. You can't imagine how fast a scared black bear can disappear!