Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cheating anglers

Professional athletes do it with chemicals. Texas angler Robby Rose did it with a fish.
Did what? They cheated, though only Rose was trying to cheat by stuffing a 1-pound lead weight down the gullet of a fish that he had caught last October in a bass fishing tournament.
Rose, a Texas business owner and bass tournament competitor, was caught stuffing his catch in a tourney at Lake Ray Hubbard in Texas. The Dallas Morning News reported the dastardly deed, mentioning that the prize for biggest fish was a $55,000 bass boat.

This was more than just a fish story shared with buddies at the local tavern. Hey, with enough time and beer all fish grow in size, and it’s generally accepted that a trophy trout or bass will gain a couple of pounds after the weekend’s glow wears off.
But this turned out to be a felony. Rose insists he was not really cheating to win that nifty boat and he sorta apologized for it and admitted he could have handled the whole thing better. The judge handed him a $3,000 fine and 15 days in jail. He also lost his fishing license for the five years he’s on probation.

Rose was not exactly repentant. Even with the extra weight, his fish was not enough for the top prize, but if he had left it alone he had second place locked.
"Second place was mine to do with as I pleased," the newspaper quoted him.
Others disagreed.
"Cheating is cheating," the lead prosecutor said. "And neither the fishing community nor this office will tolerate it."

Rose continued his defiance by asserting he had been bullied by tournament officials in the past and had to pass numerous polygraph tests and the rumors about how he won other contests in the past were based on jealousy.
Back in another century when I did a little part-time guiding, I helped with a trout fishing contest. We had all the safeguards, we thought. Each participant would get a disposable camera to photograph the fish stretched next to a ruler, to show how big it was. Of course, the biggest fish would win a considerable amount of cash, and folks will go to all sorts of trouble to win cash.

A couple of good ‘ol boys tried to pull one over on the fishing guides and the good ‘ol boys got caught. The fish, a monster rainbow, had been a faded dead for several days. You could actually tell from the photo. Tempers flared. Threats were issued. But the good ‘ol boys did not go home with the prize.
I said from the beginning that a fly-fishing tournament offering money for the biggest trout was a dismal idea. It smelled of trouble like a fish dead too long. We never held another.
Smallmouth bass fishers have their summer-long contests where each angler chips in an entry fee. At the end of the summer, the guy who brought in the biggest "live" smallie would walk off with the bucks.

Just about everybody cheated in one way or another, though I know of nobody who stuffed a fish with lead weight. Too obvious.
The smallmouth fishermen were more imaginative.

A big fish was caught and kept in a private pond all summer. At the end of the summer, the pond was drained, the fish scooped up and the top prize was claimed.
Funny, I know.
But it was still cheating.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fishing like a kid

As a boy I began fishing with little more than a hook tied to a string with perhaps a washer or bolt attached as a sinker.
I would impale some poor sea creature, mostly shrimp, on the hook and sling it all as far as my 8-year-old arm could into the Elizabeth River in Virginia. I didn’t even have a rod; I used a short stick, and pulled in my quarry hand over hand, like Hemingway’s Santiago in "Old Man and the Sea."

But, hey, I wasn’t fishing for marlin. I caught croaker and spot. The croakers made funny noises and were a big hit with my friends.
Then I graduated to using a rod and reel. I used big ol’ lead sinkers to get the bait into the deep water. It was years before I discovered bobbers, which dance on the gentle waves until a fish strikes and pulls its red-and-white body violently underwater.
Boy, that was fun.

I fished like that for years. One time in South Carolina, I fished for bass with a fellow who used long rods and bobbers. I thought that was weird at the time. Still do.
About 20-some years ago I discovered fly fishing, bought a rod and a bagful of flies and attacked the nearest river 225 times out of 365 days. I kept a record.
I forgot about bobber fishing.
But within the past couple of years, I began to zero in on nymph fishing under the surface. At first, I just watched the fly line for twitches that indicated a strike. Then I began tying on a dry fly with a nymph or wet fly attached to about 6 to 8 inches of tippet. When a trout nudged the nymph, the dry fly got dunked like a bobber. Fish on.

But a lot of anglers today use yarn tied to their leaders as strike indicators, while others use a fluorescent colored putty on the line. And there are indicators like the Thingamabobber that’s supposed to be easy to put on and remove.
On the MidCurrent fly fishing Web site, they say strike indicators have three primary jobs: they must float well, be easy for anglers to see and small enough not to scare all the trout. Big roiling water requires a much bigger indicator than slow pools.

Last week I tried fishing a blood midge attached by a skinny 7X tippet and a No. 16 dry fly. These little nymphs, about the size of a little girl’s freckles, are usually deadly on the Davidson River, and huge trout will gobble them like corn chips all day. It was way too early for any major mayfly or caddis hatches, so I fished the little nymph.
And you know what? I caught trout … on the dry fly. They ignored the nymph, which I thought was odd.

The next day I bought some bobber indicators. They’re as bright as fire trucks’ flashing lights and may startle some wary trout in quiet pools.
But bobber fishing makes me feel like a kid.
If I catch fish, so much the better.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Always on the lookout for more feathers for flies

Anybody who ties his own trout flies is always on the lookout for new sources of material. All those piles of feathers and fur do not come to the fly tying desk easily or cheaply, even though it’s really just a bunch of dead animal parts. It is a wonderful feeling to discover a newer, less costly supplier.
Virginia Beach, Va., may be the future for feathers.

The story, as related to me the other day, goes like this. Two brothers, age 6 and 8 ½, crashed into their parents’ bedroom to demand, beg and cajole politely without too much volume for a big piece of cardboard.
What on earth for? They were asked at 6 a.m.
For a business sign, of course, the fledging entrepreneurs replied. Get up.
Patrick and Spencer decided they would go into business for themselves by taking advantage of all those wild ducks flapping through the air that visit the many ponds, lakes and waterways when they tire of dodging Navy fighter jets.
The boys were ready to sell ducks.

"Duck Co." reads the sign, which also mentions the open-air store begins each day at 7 a.m. and goes until 7 at night.
Now, most fly tiers use some ducks feathers. Others might use a lot and the messiest of us spray the room with bits of feather while actually using very little for the fly being fashioned.
I’m one of the messy ones, so I’m on the lookout for new duck feathers that haven’t been trampled by my boots.

So, naturally I thought that the Patrick and Spencer Koontz Duck Company could fill that need.
One problem. No inventory. The boys have no ducks in stock.
When informed of this shortcoming, they disappeared for a long time. Apparently, they found the Pepperidge Farm bread, ripped it out of the bag and put the crumbs inside a big bucket, all with the intention of luring unsuspecting ducks from the air. Once inside the bucket, the boys could do what they wanted — maybe pull some feathers for Papaw or sell whole ducks to the neighbors.

I’m not going to rush my first order. Fortunately for our feathered friends, the inventory remains low.
I’ve had miserable, or perhaps just ironic, luck tying flies this year. One week the trout slam the wooly bugger, so I tie a pocketful for the next weekend only to find nothing is interested in the big ugly flies when the time comes. Instead, they gobble the last of my blue winged olives, so for the next weekend I tie a bagful of BWOs. You guessed it, armed with the BWOs that were so effective just seven days ago, I get skunked. The trout were looking up for light hendricksons and blue quills.

And I still have two dozen teeny midge flies that I needed way back when on the Davidson River. Perhaps today will be the right time to fish those little guys low and slow where the big rainbows go.
I almost expect the trout to be rising to little yellow sallies, of which there is a paucity in the fly box.
Do I tie a boxful? Should I place an order with the grandsons for dyed yellow duck feathers?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring's teasing me on the river

Like a kid pulling a prank on a neighbor, spring has enjoyed the last month by teasing me with lots of nice, flowerly days during the work week and then rain, snow and cold on my days off when the real important stuff, fly fishing, awaits.

There’s a little more green today in the hills, and Panther Mountain looks more like a handful of paintbrushes dipped in gentle pinks, greens and yellows instead of the pile of old sticks it resembled earlier. Robins dance and sing. The air softens. Fly fishermen tie flies in anticipation of glorious days on the river.

Then spring pulls another prank.
A few weeks ago, after a long week of warm sunshine, I ran into fire hydrant rain on a Sunday and then snow on the third day of spring. The snow was tolerable and the trout were vulnerable.

I caught a ton. I had a box with some tiny midge flies that never saw the light of day, but the black wooly bugger did a number on those trout they likely will not forget. That night, I tied up another dozen black wooly buggers for the next weekend.
Well, we had another wonderful work week full of bluebird skies and puffy white clouds. Spring was teasing again, I figured.

The weekend arrived and the gray sky wept all day Sunday — lousy weather and a lousy prank for the new season to pull — but Monday was not half-bad once the chill in the air subsided. And I was loaded with a box full of black wooly buggers, which figured to be the fly of choice with the water still high from the rain. I figured to tear up some trout lips.

I should have known it would be a weird fishing weekend when I noticed the deer grazing with a neighbor’s cows. What’s she doing there? I wondered. I parked the Troutmobile on the other side of the field, next to the rowdy, rain-swollen river that was clobbering the banks.

If rivers dance to their own tune, then the French Broad was stomping like a drunken clogger on the front porch. It was loud, raucous and remarkably clear. The neighbors had not begun plowing. Too wet, I guess. Perhaps that deer was hanging around until the gardens were ready.

A couple of pit bulls got into the chorus, singing along with the river and annoying me, even though I knew they were just doing their jobs as watchdogs. One came over the bridge to sniff and check me out. We both watched the wooly bugger splash and sink and get lost in the deep pool. We did not see any trout.

Then there was a rise just downstream, like the trout were teasing me too. I saw a big gray mayfly. The wooly bugger came off; the dry fly went on. It worked. As the sun winked in and out all day, teasing with its warm rays, I teased trout with a dry fly.

Fish shredded that fly to rags. The rainbow trout were acrobatic and the browns, sporting spawning color, fought like bulldogs gnawing on a bone.
It never got warm. Spring stayed just outside the door, ready to pop out the next day as I drove back to work.

This week I figure we can stop the pranks. I’m expecting a huge mayfly hatch.
Don’t tease me again.