Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year in Review, looking forward to 2009

Happy New Year's Eve to all. It's time for the requisite review of the past year, and looking into the crystal ball for 2009.

My 2008 from a fishing perspective was one of my best ever, on a few different levels. I caught fish in 2 more states in my quest for a fish in all 50 states (Oklahoma and Iowa), went on my first family extended fishing tri with my Dad, brother, and son (Shoal Lake in Ontario), and did my most exotic trip, and one of the best trips I've ever taken - Tropic Star Lodge in Panama. I got my hoped-for trophy roosterfish - estimated at 70-75 lbs, as well as my first billfish. I ended up catching 28 different species of fish this year. So, I have nothing to complain about, only experiences to be thankful for. Here's a few of my fish from 2008

Trophy roosterfish - 64", 70 lbs. +

Cubera Snapper!

My first billfish - a Pacific Sail

A nice Alabama largemouth

My son Joey with a chunky Ontario smallmouth

Mississippi River smallmouth

Colorado brookie on a hopper

For the coming year, I don't have anything as exotic as Panama planned. I'm hoping to go back to my favorite pike lodge in August - Blackmur's Athabasca Lodge in far northern Saskatchewan. I'd also like to get my son down to Alabama with me in the spring - terrific bass and brim fishing. As always, I'll try to get in more fly fishing for trout, but will probably struggle to do so - Illinois is just too far from any good trout fishing, except SW Wisconsin. I'd like to knock off another state or 2 on my list. I have a myriad of new crankbaits, and love to fish them, but rarely do - I'll try to utilize these baits more in 2009.

So - right now I'm looking forward to panfish when the ice breaks, big pike in summer, and whatever else comes my way. No matter what the outcome, it shouldn't be dull.

Best wishes to all of you in 2009


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tough day on the Delta, and a Merry Christmas to the WORLD!

Well, I got my last day of fishing in for 2008 . The week before Christmas, I braved a snowstorm here in Chicago (took 4-1/2 hours to drive the 50 miles to the airport - usually takes an hour), spent the majority of the afternoon/ evening watching delays and cancellations pop up on the flight status boards, finally got on a plane, and got to San Francisco Airport at 2 AM (original time to land was 8 PM). The next morning, I met Lennie and we were off for a day on the Delta.

A classic delta spot - water flows on the tidal changes from the channel to the pond and back

The Delta in question is the Sacramento River Delta, a vast series of creeks, sloughs, ponds, lakes and marsh grasses that eventually feeds into the San Francisco Bay. It's one of those places - like the mazes of mangroves in SW Florida - that would be nearly un-navigable without a GPS. I feel like I have a very good "inner compass", but I am lost on the Delta from minute we leave the marina until we return. It's Lennie's home waters, though, and since he's the Hummingbird rep, his boat is outfitted with all the good toys!

The Jigging Spoon we finally caught some fish on!

This area can get fairly cool in the winter, but rarely gets downright cold. Well, I brought Chicago's weather along with me , because it was freezing cold the day I was there. I wore 2 layers of Under Armour, one of them being Coldgear, a layer of fleece, a sweater, and a windproof jacket. Gloves, a full facemask, and a helmet when running the boat. Still froze. A constant wind kept us company, and the temp never got above 36. It had frozen the puddles the night before - pretty uncommon for this area. And, worst of all, it dropped the water temps to the low 40's. We were fishing for stripers that come up out of the Bay, and with the water temp as cold as it was, they simply didn't show themselves. We fished all day, I got 1 striper on a swimbait, and we finally found a group of fish on the electronics late in the day that allowed us to vertical jig spoons for them. Three schoolie stripers, a few short strikes, and 2 carp on the spoons rounded out the day. Yes, the carp HIT the spoons. I'd never gotten them on spoons before, but have caught them fairly often on jigs. I lost one big fish that we weren't sure was a carp or striper, estimated 20#. Since neither of us saw it, we decided it must have been a striper! (Poetic license being used, since I'm the blog writer. Actually, I don't care what it was - it pulled hard for the minute or so it was on).

Len's Carp on a jigging spoon

Our stripers from the Delta

For those not familiar with the Delta, it is absolutely filled with birds of all kinds. this is prime waterfowl season, and we saw a number of hunters. The air and trees / shrubs are full of raptors, too. Flocks of Sandhill Cranes are constantly on the move, and in the afternoon, uncountable numbers of Snow Geese were on the move from their feeding fields to the water. It's a truly astonishing place, even if I was freezing my butt off - did I mention it was cold?

So, we had a tough day of catching (a gross understatement) but, even with the trying conditions, it was another great day to be out. The only consolation came that evening, when Len called me to say he had talked to Bobby Barrack (the Dean of the Delta Guides) and Bobby had worked hard wit a client for 3 stripers. Some days, that's how it goes.

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and is looking forward to a wonderful 2009. All the economic doom-and-gloom aside, I can't wait to see what 2009 brings. It's the eternal optimist in me, I guess.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

100 species of fish caught - thanks Ben!

As you can see in my previous post, I tried to write down all the species of fish I've caught. I say "Tried", because I missed one. Ben from Madison asked I had ever caught a Lake Trout. Well, I've caught Lake Trout in Skaneateles Lake in NY, Lake Ontario, Athabasca Lake in Saskatchewan, and numerous lakes and rivers in south central Yukon. So - there it is - 100 species!!

Thanks for reminding me, Ben.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving, Life list

This fish is commonly called a Lion Fish, but is also known as a TURKEY Fish. I figured it was appropriate as a lead-in for a Thanksgiving post.

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone. It's snowing outside right now in northern Illinois. My late season pond fishing was thwarted this year by ice - we've had thin ice on the ponds for the past week and a half. A few years ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, I caught 6 nice largemouth in the pond across the street with 1/8 oz. Strike King Bitsy Jig and Craws. This year, those jigs wouldn't have made it through the ice. I still have one fishing opportunity this year to look forward to - I'm planning on fishing a day on the Sacramento River Delta a week before Christmas. The plan is to be there when the big stripers come in, but the fish don't always listen. Even if they're scarce, there are always stripers and largemouth willing to bite a swimbait.

I have a lot to be thankful for, even in these trying economic times. I have a job that I love, it's in the Fishing/ Outdoor Industry, a terrific family, I get to watch my 11 year old son grow up, - not bad at all.

My son, Joey, with a nice smallmouth from Shoal Lake , ONT, this past summer

Anyway, I've had a nagging urge to come up with a LIFE LIST of species caught. I just read Ben's list on his blog ( ) and it motivated me to try to put mine together. A couple of issues arose for me: 1) I don't know that much about species of panfish, so I only put down the ones I know for sure, and 2) one of the things I really like to do is fish off the bridges in the Keys when the winds blow too hard to get out on a boat or wade for bonefish. I fish light, and have caught a myriad of "aquarium fish". Don't know what 90% of them were from a technical standpoint, but they were neat. So - they weren't counted.

The recalling of the list is fun, and now that its been done, I can add to it when I catch something new. Also - I counted 99 species, so 100 will be a milestone. I think 100 is pretty attainable if you fish primarily SW, but I am primarily a FW guy with occasional forays into the brine.

FRESHWATER (58) :Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Brook Trout, West Slope Cutthroat, Greenback Cutthroat, Bonneville Cutthroat, Yellowstone Cutthroat, Coastal Cutthroat, Dolly Varden, Grayling, Landlocked Salmon, Atlantic Salmon, King Salmon, Steelhead, Inconnu, Lake Whitefish, Mountain Whitefish, Coho Salmon, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Spotted Bass, Wiper, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, Brim, Pumpkinseed, Black Crappie, White Crappie, Yellow Perch, White Perch, White Bass, Yellow Bass, Rock Bass, Fallfish, Musky, Northern Pike, Tiger Musky, Chain Pickeral, Burbot, American Eel, American Shad, Hickory Shad, White Sturgeon, Channel Cat, Flathead Cat, Blue Cat, Yellow Bullhead, Brown Bullhead, Walleye, Sauger, Common Carp, Mirror Carp, Sucker, Quillback Carpsucker, Bowfin, Gar, Sheepshead (Freshwater Drum)

SALTWATER (41): Striped Bass, Sea trout, Sea Bass, Sea Robin, Oystercracker, Stingray, Flounder, Tarpon, Bonefish, Grunt, Barracuda, Rainbow Runner, Lane Snapper, Mangrove Snapper, Cero Mackerel, Black Grouper, Redfish, Sheepshead, Snook, Spanish Mackerel, Ladyfish, Bluefish, Pacific Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Roosterfish, Broomtail Grouper, Cubera Snapper, Jack Crevalle, Amberjack, Lemon Shark, Blacktip Shark, Hammerhead Shark, Sand Tiger Shark, Tautog, Bonito, Skipjack Tuna, Ballyhoo, Spiny Dogfish, Pinfish

99 total, at least that I can recall. Chime in - rack your brain to come up with your personal list. It was fun recalling. Especially on a snowy November afternoon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hunting, Fishing, Outdoor books

As I read over the post I made last week about some of my favorite things, it dawned on me that the impetus for the post never made it into the story, and that it probably deserved a post of its own. I was looking through my books, and pulled out one of my absolute favorites - "The Old Man and the Boy" and "The Old Man's Boy Grows Older", both together under one cover, by Robert Ruark.

I am too young to have read Ruark's columns when he was writing for Field and Stream, first the series of columns that make up the book I've noted, and then his famous series of African safari articles. I have since come to look at Ruark's works as my favorite in all of outdoor writing, eclipsing (for me) even the works of Hemingway, Jack London, and Robert Traver. Much like art and beauty, the quality of the written word lies in the eye of the beholder - there is no right or wrong. Lengthy debates have, and will continue to, arise over the merits and shortcomings of one author over another. These are healthy as debates, but not much more - if you read and enjoy an author, then they are good. Period.

I have nearly everything Robert Ruark has ever written - I believe I'm missing "Grenadine Etching". In my estimation, the book seen above, along with his African Safari books (Use Enough Gun, Horn of the Hunter) secures Ruark's place in hunting's Written Hall of Fame. While "The Old Man and the Boy" stories deal primarily about hunting while growing up in coastal North Carolina (the stories are works of fiction but rely heavily on autobiographical content), a fair amount of these pieces are about fishing experiences - brim on the river, drum on the ocean barrier islands. All are memorable and, if you have not read them, go to your local library and take out a copy, pick up a cheap used copy on eBay, or hunt for one in your local used book store - you will not be disappointed

When my son expressed some interest in hunting at the age of 10, I told him he needed to read "The Old Man and the Boy" first, to understand what hunting was really all about. He read the stories, and still re-reads them, even though he's not a hunter. He loves to fish and finds the same joy in them that I have for years. I hope you do , too.
P.S. - this individual book is particularly near and dear to my heart. The forward in this book is from Peter Capstick who, along with Ruark, is proabably the most famous Safari writer. I met Peter in 1992 and he signed the book to me on the front page of the forward. He died a year later.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Favorite Things

I admit it - I have a LOT of stuff. Working in the fishing and hunting industries for nearly 20 years, and being a compulsive packrat, I have STUFF - lots of it. Rods, reels, lures, flies, boots, ... really, too much of it. The good thing is, when someone at work is going to the Keys for a weekend in Feb., for example, they know they can borrow a fly reel loaded with a bonefish line, and a box of flies appropriate for the destination! Still, with all the stuff, I have my favorite things. I define my favorite things as follows: regardless of the price, or how I came to obtain them (gift, bought them myself), I will NEVER be without them. These are the things that, if I was to wear them out, lose them, break them - I would replace them without a second thought. The following are my Favorite Things. Feel free to comment on yours as well as your thoughts on mine. They are in no particular order.

Muck Boots/ shoes. These are the most recent acquisition that I will never be without. I have both shoes and boots, and they are , without a doubt, the most comfortable footwear I've ever worn. Being neoprene, they are too warm for the summer, but that's the only drawback I can see. I wear the shoes for fishing from a boat - they're waterproof - and the boots for pheasant hunting. The shoes when its cold outside. I also happen to be afflicted with gout about once a year, making walking nearly unbearable. The shoes are the only things I can function with when gout flares up. These shoes/ boots are awesome!

Fenwick HMG UL spin road, circa 1985. This is one of the first "good" rods I ever bought, and I still use it as much as nearly any rod I own. I love to fish for panfish, so it is usually along with me on my walks around the local ponds. It's too short (4-1/2'), too light and whippy, and the cork handle is so dirty its hard to see the cork anymore. But - it works. This would be hard - to - impossible to replace, because the rod isn't made the same way it used to be.

Weighted bobbers and Cubby Mini-Mites. I found weighted bobbers about 6 years ago, and my panfishing has expanded tremendously because of it. These bobbers let you cast a mile, and the weight renders them close to neutrally buoyant, easily detecting the most subtle strikes. Paired with a Cubby Mini Mite, they create a perfect panfish combo. I don't know what it is about the Mini Mite that makes them work so well, but they just flat-out catch fish. I've tried the knock-offs, and I fish a lot of grubs (see below), but Mini Mites are my go-to baits when UL fishing.

Jig and Grub / Twister. The classic "nickle crankbait" - just cast them out and reel them in. At times they're almost too easy. At other times they're the only way to find and catch fish. Size of the grub and weight of the jig vary depending on the target species. And these are not just for freshwater - they 'll catch fish everywhere. Over the past year I've fished them from 1" long for panfish to pulling a gang of 9" 'ers on a dredge to attract blue marlin. It doesn't get anymore versatile than that. And I literally never go fishing without having some along. I'm not quite as fanatical about them as an old friend from PA who, to the best of my knowledge, never used anything in his life other than a chartreuse or motor oil "twister" - right Ken?? - but I do use them a lot, and catch a lot of fish with them.

F9 Floating Rapala. The old standby - the original floating balsa crankbait. Years ago, these were the most expensive lures you could buy, but everyone had some. Now they have been overshadowed in some circles by the Japanese baits (Lucky Craft, Daiwa, ....) but they still work. Very well. It's probably out of a sense of nostalgia, but I always have some of these with me. HINT - if you break off the lip of one of these baits, don't throw it away. Turn it into a good topwater - the bait will dance and dart erratically when twitched and ripped.

Barbour Border waxed cotton coat. My Border is now 15 years old, and is starting to really feel like it's getting broken in. It was worn everywhere for about 8 years, and has been relegated to hunting and fishing in cold, windy, rainy weather for the last 7 years. It has frayed sleeves, a few patches on the back and elbows. In short - it's almost perfect. I send it back to get re-waxed every 2 years (it's due right now). When I'm going pheasant hunting in a rain/ snow mix, with a stiff wind - the Barbour Border is the perfect coat to keep you warm and in the field. This jacket, with its liner, were my primary means of warmth in Norway at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994, when the temp. rarely got north of 20 degrees.

Those who have read this blog know I love to flyfish for trout. I have a ridiculous amount of trout flies, but a few always go with me. West, East - doesn't matter. Brook trout, cutthroat, browns, 'bows, grayling - this trio has caught them all. The elk hair caddis is a terrific fly in and of itself, and also serves double duty as a high floating indicator. The cone head Wooly Bugger just plain catches fish, especially in black or olive. And the bright pink San Juan worm is flat out deadly everywhere I've fished it, including the famed technical waters of flyfishing lore. A day on the West Branch Delaware River about 10 years ago illustrates this perfectly. Dave Colley and I were fishing with a guide (I've forgotten his name) and he showed us a deep run that held some nice fish. He suggested bh caddis pupa or gold ribbed hares ear, but Dave put on the worm. "They don't work here - these aren't those stupid fish from out west" was his reply. 15 minutes later, after a 18" and 16" brown brought to hand, he was a believer.

Let me know your favorite things - just the ones you can't live without.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Bahamas Bonefish 10-07

I feel like I've been remiss in posting. Actually, I've been on the road almost nonstop recently - I'm actually posting this from a hotel room in Atlanta.

I have a few articles that I've written and posted on a friend's website, and over the course of the winter I'll share them with you. this is the first one - a bonefish adventure from Grand Bahama last fall. I hope you enjoy it.



The reason you go to the Bahamas

February has to be the longest month to a sportsman in any northern state, particularly an ice fishing fringe state. As I sit at my desk in Illinois on February 18, there is a weather advisory being issued in anticipation of -30 wind chills tonight. At times like this, I wonder if spring and warm weather will ever come, if the waters that are currently ice choked will ever be wadable. Of course, they will, but until it becomes a reality, I get through these dreary end-of-winter months remembering warmer, happier, fish filled days. Right now, my thoughts are drawn to last October, to a trip to North Riding Point Club on Grand Bahama Island for bonefish.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Florida Keys over the past 15 years, usually in Jan. or Feb., and often have had the vicious winds ruin any attempt I have at trying to catch bonefish or permit. Every once in a while, the weather cooperates, and I get to try my hand at these fabled saltwater targets. Permit have lived up to their esteemed reputations and I’ve never had one show any interest in anything I had to offer. Over the years, I’ve actually had 2 small-ish bonefish take my offerings (once a fly, once a jig), so the proverbial bonefish monkey was off my back. Still, I’ve never had an opportunity to go to one of the storied resorts in the Bahamas or Belize for an extended bonefish trip, with expectations of actually catching the silver ghosts
For this trip, I had a simple, straightforward objective – catch fish. I didn’t care how that objective was accomplished. I took an 8 wt. fly rod and a collection of standard bonefish flies, but I really only planned to use the fly rod if I had already caught a fair number of bones with spinning gear, and if the conditions were perfect. I also took a couple of spinning rods that would be considered MH freshwater rods. I fished straight 10# fluorocarbon. When I packed the rods, I felt they were on the heavy side, but I wanted something that could handle a permit or big bonefish if the opportunity presented itself. In retrospect, the rods were perfect. Like all saltwater fish, bonefish are tough fighters, and their fabled runs are everything they are cracked up to be. Even a small (3 to 4 pound) bonefish will melt 75 yards of line off your reel as if you have no drag on your reel. As we found out on this trip, your reels need to have more than line capacity – they need to have metal gears. Bonefish will absolutely melt the gears on an inferior reel. Actually, inferior isn’t the right word. Inappropriate is better. The reels we torched on this trip will serve their owners very well when used for general freshwater applications like bass fishing. Since I don’t like to trash a company’s products unless the company purports it to be something it is not, I’m not going to mention the brands of reels we melted. I will mention, however, that the Daiwa’s on the trip (Sol’s and Capricorn’s) and the lone Okuma ( V series) performed flawlessly on bonefish.

Tim and Mercedes

We arrived in Freeport on a Monday night after a short flight from Ft. Lauderdale. We were met by Tim from North Riding Point Club. Tim and Mercedes Comstock are the lodge managers and I can’t imagine to people better suited to the task. They are attentive, personable, and do everything in their power to ensure a memorable stay. I couldn’t think of anything they could have done better after our stay.
North Riding Point Club is one of the premier bonefish lodges on the planet. The guides are great, and the feature that makes the lodge different is the one I feel makes it better – there is no fishing from the lodge. You and your guide will tow the flats boat to one of a number of launches on the island, so you are more adaptable to changing weather conditions. Our three days of fishing showed the guides’ prowess at finding bonefish for us.

Steven (guide) poling the skiff

After a cooked-to-order breakfast, we towed the boats to a very makeshift launch located on the north side of Grand Bahama Island. This would be our launch for the 3 days we were on the island. The ride on the dirt / broken road probably wasn’t more than a mile from the time we left the paved road but seemed longer. The striking thing about the ride – we were driving through tall palm tree thickets when, all of a sudden, there were no more tall palms – only 4’ -5’ high scrub plants. This was the point at which a hurricane had sheared vegetation off a number of years ago. It really drove home the vulnerability of living on an island in hurricane alley.
Day 1 was overcast and windy – everything you don’t want a day to be when trying to sight fish for bonefish. We motored to a series of creeks and mangroves, and the guide began poling. A suggestion to anyone who attempts this type of fishing in the future: over-communicate with your guide from the beginning - it will flatten out the learning curve. We asked him how long the average cast would be, what we were looking for, … Stand in the front of the boat and say to him “OK, when you say fish at 40’, 10 o’clock, this is where I’m going to cast.”, and fire out a cast. You’ll quickly get on the same page and have a better shot at success.

Bonefish “creek” in the mangroves

Even with the communication, day 1 was tough for us. It takes longer than I would have expected to get your eyes accustomed to the foreign environment of clear water and sand bottoms. In addition, the perspective of distance from the boat was hard for me to grasp initially. The guide would say “See the sharks at 2 o’clock, 50 yards?” Where I looked, and where the sharks were, wasn’t even close, at least initially. Still, we found some bonefish, but often missed them with the cast or spooked them by getting too close before anyone saw them. Still, I hooked 3 and landed 2 on Day 1. They were average sized fish – 2-3 pounds – and I was awestruck by their power. Remember, I was fishing with a rod/reel combo that I would feel very confident using for pike or steelhead to 15 pounds, and these little bonefish put a deep bend in the rod and tore off line as if there was no drag. They are truly awesome fish.

6 Pound Bonefish


On day 2, I fished solo with my guide from the previous day. There were 7 of us in camp for the first two days, so 1 person each day had the boat to themselves. Since I was the only person on the trip who brought a fly rod along, I was elected to go solo on day 2 and, if conditions were right, break out the fly rod. Well, conditions were the same as day one, with a little bit of sun peaking through the cloud cover periodically. But, we saw a lot more fish, had more chances at fish, and I had a great day with both the spinning and fly rods.
We began the day by pulling up to a mangrove lined creek mouth on a falling tide. Stephen (my guide) cut the outboard about 75 yards from the shoreline and began poling. After a few minutes of adjusting to the lack of motor noise, I stood up in the skiff and was greeted with the sight I had dreamed about for a month prior to the trip. In front of us were 3 sets of tails. The group slightly to my right had 3 visible tails, 2 tails showed periodically behind a V-shaped wake coming from the creek mouth, and a single tail was working the shoreline on the left. I asked Stephen to stop poling – I wanted to stare at the vision before me, to burn it into my memory. This was life’s version of the many paintings and prints I had seen and read about over the years. It was awe inspiring.
I strung up my fly rod and peeled off about 60’ of line. Now, let me explain my level of flycasting expertise – I’m NOT a fly casting expert. Period. I’m actually a pretty good fly fisherman for freshwater fish, but distance casting is not my strong suit. I had practiced in a local field using the weighted flies I would take to the Bahamas, and got fairly comfortable with a 60’ cast. This would easily put me in range of the fish in front of me. I was ready. A new 8 wt. Tropic Plus line, a Winston B II X rod – nothing could go wrong.
I’m not really sure how to describe the series of events that happened next. I proceeded to: wrap the flyline around my rod, wrap the flyline around myself, pile up the line in a ball about 10’ in front of the boat, and, finally, splash the fly down directly on the back of the world’s most oblivious bonefish, who finally tired of being entertained by my ineptitude, and swam away. His buddies in the creek had already left, and the 2 companions from the morning were now about 50 yards away and moving fast. I had just watched 5 larger than average sized bonefish swim contentedly within 40’ of my boat, feeding the whole time, and caught a whopping ZERO. I had embarrassed myself in front of the fishing gods. The only saving grace was that I was fishing solo, so none of my buddies could chime in immediately with the deserved chants of “I thought you knew how to cast a flyline, …” My chance to redeem myself lie in the one remaining fish, the solo to my left. We poled over to get in position. I actually made an acceptable cast, a few feet in front of – a lemon shark.

8 ½ pound bonefish

The rest of the day turned into one that will live with me forever. Unlike many fishing trips, which start bad and get worse, this one turned around quickly. Stephen had me on fish most of the day, and I hooked up with 10 bonefish, landing 8 of them. The other 2 broke me off in mangroves. My best fish of the day went 8 ½ pounds – a very respectable bonefish in any circle, and a true trophy to me. And, I even got 2 average sized fish on flies. I guess the flycasting thing IS like falling off a bicycle – you just have to get back on.


Day 3 dawned bright, clear, and calm – a perfect day for sight fishing. The four remaining fishermen (3 of the guys had to get back to the states) talked it over with the guides and we decided to run to Sale Cay. Sale Cay is an uninhabited island lying north of Grand Bahama and Abaco. Since the boats used for bonefishing are flats skiffs, and not designed to take on rough seas, it is really only accessible when the winds are calm, meaning it gets very little fishing pressure. Even in calm seas, it is a 45 minute run to the island from the launch. We launched, fired up the motors, and headed for Sale Cay.

Average bonefish on Day 3

The boat ahead of us got to the edge of huge expanse of flats before we did, and, seemingly within seconds, the 2 anglers were hooked up on a double. I hooked up on a medium sized bonefish on a blind cast, and we were off to the races. This day would exceed any possibility I had dreamed about. Both boats were on fish the majority of the day – the other boat seemed to be in a zone from the beginning, while our boat struggled a little in the morning (not due to lack of opportunities!) but shined in the afternoon. This Cay had everything - bait expansive flats, some deep trenches – you couldn’t ask for a more perfect set-up. Add to that a crystal blue sky, bright sun, and no wind, and we had the perfect day. There were fish on the flats, and a lot of fish in some of the deeper muds. I found these muds to be intriguing. You could cast a 1/8 oz. jig tipped with a shrimp into the muds and get pretty consistent hookups, and the fish seemed to be larger in the deeper areas. It was a pleasant diversion from straining to see shallow fish, and the deeper fish were not skittish at all. I actually took a number of fish on an un-tipped jig in the deeper water – they were just flat-out feeding.
The day ended up being one-for-the-books (at least my book!). My boat landed 21 bonefish; the other boat landed 29. I ended up being high-stick for the day with 16 bones landed, and got the largest of the trip – 9 pounds. I missed a few pickups and dropped a few hooked fish as well – I certainly could have gone over the 20 fish mark if everything had come together perfectly. All in all, there could have been no better way to end this memorable trip.
For anyone contemplating a first-class bonefish trip at a world class resort, you should take a serious look at North Riding Point Club. The experience with Tim and Mercedes was nothing short of outstanding. They can be reached through their website: You won’t be disappointed.

The dinner is NOT to be missed!

Land crabs scurry away as you walk the paths

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Everything old is new again - plastic swimbaits now and then

Old School swimbaits from 80's and 90's

Soft plastic swimbaits have been gaining in popularity for a number of years. On many waters, they are THE way to catch the resident populations. And, by and large, they work. I've been fairly astonished at some of the prices these baits command, but as long as they work, they're worth buying and trying.

Over the weekend I was going through some of the scads of tackle I have in my garage (I'm a self admitted gear and tackle junkie) when I came across some of the following, and it got me thinking - is there anything really new about this trend? Bottom line - I think not.

Some of the current crop of swimbaits

I remember back in the 80's when I fished Sassy Shad, and really got behind Twisters Sassy Grubs. I thought they were a step ahead of using Mr. Twisters, which many of us derogatorily referred to as " nickle crankbaits". Anyone could cast them out and retrieve, and catch fish. Gene Larew Long Johns were pure poison on the Susquehanna River smallmouths in the early 90's. As you can see from the pictures, the early swimbaits look eerily similar to the modern ones. They have something else in common - they work just as well now as they did 20 years ago. Another revelation - so do Twisters / grubs.

One thing that is new to the scene is the Cotee Cracker Shad. It is a fine swimbait in its own right, but it has a rattle embedded in it near the base of the tail. It adds a previously missing element to the game. And - it works! Bass attack these baits, and pike wouldn't leave them alone in Canada this past summer. Since Cotee is primarily a Saltwater bait company, you may need to search online for them if you don't live in a coastal area. I know that Cabelas carries them - not sure who else.

Don't take this observation as being disparaging - I don't dislike these baits at all - on the contrary, I have them along on nearly every trip to the water, regardless of the target species. As a matter of fact, I rely on them, and on the previously mentioned grubs, more now than I ever have. I realize that you don't get "more points" based on degrees of difficulty associated with your method of fishing, and don't really care if you did. They work. Period. Both types of baits should have a space of prominence in your tackle box. They do in mine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blustery day on Lake Oneida

The flat water belies the conditions - it was this dark at 10 AM!

Well, the weather forecasts were right. When I WANT them to be wrong, they're not!I met Rob Goffredo at Lake Oneida around 10 AM, and the dark clouds that define fall weather were already pouring in from the west. The heavy rain held off, though, and gave us a 3-1/2 hour window to chase smallmouth. I've mentioned in previous posts that I really enjoy fishing with local talent when I get out on water that I'm not very familiar with. I'd fished Lake Oneida back in the mid 90's, but I really needed to be with a local on this trip. Rob filled the bill perfectly. I first met Rob in the early 90's, when he was working the fishing dept. at one of the Dick's S.G. in Syracuse. Since then, he has fished tournaments from National level to Red Man trail to local club tournies. Oneida is one of his "home waters", so I knew I was in good hands. I was right.

A smallie that fell for a tube

We fished out of Oneida Shores on the extreme SW corner of the lake. It was really the only part of the lake to fish - the SW -W wind made the rest of this 30 mile long lake unfishable. Oneida is only 50' deep at its deepest, and mostly runs 10 - 30' deep. This lake gets very rough with west winds, and that's what we had on Tuesday.

Rob with a swimbait bass

We started trying to locate fish in a nearby channel. They weren't as concentrated as we had hoped, and left that area after taking about 4 or 5 on tubes. The water temp wasn't quite cold enough to concentrate them in that area. Instead, we spent the remaining time drifting weed flats that were 8-15" deep and fan casting swimbaits at first, then some spinnerbaits. The fish were scattered over this structure, but there were enough of them to keep things interesting for the rest of the day. We ended up boating 19 smallmouth, with 15 of them over 14", and 3 were estimated over 4 pounds. ALL were fat and getting fatter for the looming winter months. I LOVE football sized fall smallmouth!

Author's Swimbait smallmouths

The baits of choice on this day were from Strike King. More than half of our fish were taken on Strike King Shadalicious swim baits (4-1/2") in Sexy Shad color. Rob got on a spinnerbait bite toward the end of our trip. Within a half hour of the time we pulled the boat out, the skies opened up, the wind picked up, and all hell broke loose. We were glad to be watching it from a restaurant rather than fighting it in the boat. Even though it didn't rain much while we were on the water, the wind was very heavy. the only way we could fish effectively was by deploying a 60" drift sock, which slowed us down to a comfortable speed. Drift socks are indispensable in situations like these, and are greatly under utilized. I was very glad Rob had his along.

Rob with a big spinnerbait smallie
Another great day to be on the water. And, as I anticipated, thank God for good raingear! I love Fall smallmouths.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chilly day ahead

I'm supposed to go fishing on Tuesday on Lake Oneida in upstate NY, near Syracuse, on Tuesday. Just checked the weather forecast of Weather Underground - high of 50, 50-60% chance of rain. Good clothes make a day like that bearable. Layers of Under Armour and Medalist will keep me warm, Muck Boots keep the feet warm and dry, and a great rainsuit will keep all the bad stuff out. I truly believe that a rainsuit is the item of outdoor clothes you should spend the most on, and get teh best you can afford. Especially for fishing. When hunting, especially upland birds, where yo uput on mile after mile, I could be pursuaded to change my opinion to leather boots. Either way, quality clothing can make terrible weather bearable, and extend your time on the water or in the woods. And thats what it's all about.

Since I don't have any photos that mean anything to this post, Ill throw in a pike from Lake Athabasca in June 07.

Actually, it does have something to do with the post. That rain coat will see action again on Tuesday. I can't remeber the brand of it - it's made primarily fo the sailing industry - but the coat and pant hacve been with me on a lot of trips and have always performed flawlessly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fall smallmouth on the Mississippi

The jonboat is ready to take us to the smallies

I had a chance to get in a day on the upper Mississippi River, between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, on Wed. October 15. It's among my favorite trips to make, and one I get to do woefully few times. While all fishing trips are good in some way or another, this one is special - it's with a friend, former co-worker, and truly great guy to fish with - Gregg Thorne. Musky anglers will recognize the Thorne name from the shop Gregg and his brother, Paul, started many years ago in Minneapolis - Thorne Bros. Gregg and I worked together at Cortland Line a number of years ago, and remained close friends after I left. In addition to being a terrific fisherman, Gregg's just one of the guys I enjoy spending time with. Our fall trips for smallmouth have also exposed me to a type of fishing I never do any other time - bait fishing for bass.

Gregg Thorne with a tiger striped smallmouth

Author with typical smallie

We launched Gregg's jonboat at a dirt ramp and went upstream to see if the bass were on their winter spots yet. We soon found out that, indeed, they were. Each spot we tried held a number of smallmouth that pounced on our sucker minnows. Since I'm not usually a practitioner of bait fishing, it takes me a little while to get the feel for the timing of setting the hook, especially with minnows as large as we were using (Some were over 6") But, I came around, and didn't deep hook any fish. All the bass were released alive to fight again, but both the walleyes we got "volunteered" to be dinner at the Thorne residence that nite!

More smallies from MN

As I look back on the day, one recurring theme to my trips jumps out at me - I have no idea how many fish we caught! I'm just not a fish counter. I know we had 2 full buckets of big minnows when we started, and only a handful of minnows left when we quit, and we didn't lose much bait, so, if I had to guess, I'd say we caught 40-50 bass, the 2 'eyes, and one nice channel cat that I got, pushing me over the edge in our hotly contested battle to see who caught the most species. When I go fishing, and someone asks how it was, I answer honestly with "It sucked", "It was pretty good", or "It was great". I usually know how few fish were caught when it sucks, but on the other days, I really don't know . My brother is a fish counter. He was with me on my recent trip flyfishing in Rocky Mtn. National Park. On the day we caught all the brookies, he asked me how many I had caught. I just looked at him - "I don't know - a lot". On last Wednesday, on the Mississippi, I had a good case of "Bass Thumb" at the end of the day, so I know I caught a lot!

Buckets full of sucker minnows

This section of the Mississippi, between St. Cloud and Minneapolis, is a terrific section of water. According to Gregg, a number of years ago, the river experienced very successful spawns a number of years in a row. Those year classes of fish are now in the 16-20" range, and there are a lot of them. We caught 3 fish smaller than 16" on our trip. I've fished here with Gregg in the summer as well and, while the areas and patterns are different, the average size of the bass found here is, to me, amazing. I've fished a lot of rivers for smallmouth in my life, and the best average size I've ever found has come from these waters. In addition to the great bass fishing, we saw an osprey and 6 bald eagles. The leaves were changing, a stiff NW wind was cutting down the river, and it was a perfect fall day to be chasing smallmouth!

One final thing about the river - I consider my self to be an excellent reader of water on a river - any river. I can usually be put a river I have never seen and figure out where the fish should be. Not here though. Without the direction from a person with a lifelong history of the fish and their patterns, I would flounder desperately on these waters. The winter holding areass are small and very subtle - most of the time not showing any indication on the surfac that this is where you want to fish. Local knowledge rules on these waters, and I love going with Gregg!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pond Fish in October

This past weekend had temperatures climbing over 60 degrees in Illinois. I decided to take a walk across the street and give the development ponds a shot on Sunday afternoon.

While there are some legitimate fishing opportunities in urban northern Illinois (Fox River, Kankakee River, Forest Preserve ponds), the fishing opportunities have increasingly been related to ponds in housing developments. These are either accidental fisheries, or designed to be fisheries for the residents. The 3 acre ponds on my development are primarily for stormwater retention, but they have a very good population of bluegills, largemouth, crappies, and other occasional entrants. I've seen honest 11" gills come from these waters, and a fair amount of 3-4 pound largemouth. There is a lot of algae and aquatic weed growth in these ponds. When I fish these ponds, and just want to hook something, I put a few Cubby Mini-Mites in my pocket along with some 1/16 oz. jigheads and 2" Munchie grubs. Armed with an old Fenwick HMG ultralite, I went for a walk around the ponds.

Nothing spectacular happened, but the action was pretty steady. a few small LM, 3 gills (largest was 7"), and 3 nice crappies. Then, ... I got a hit on a pumpkinseed grub. Another gill, decent size. It was on for a second or 2, and then my drag started peeling off the reel. A second or 2 later, a very large head poked through some weeds, and the bluegill popped out of its mouth!! A largemouth had eaten my 'gill. It was certainly the largest bass I've ever seen in these little ponds - I'd say it was a solid 6 pounds, maybe a little larger. Of course I didn't land it, and don't really care, but it proves a point I like to make very well.

Nothing neat will happen to you unless you make the effort to get out on the water!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Iowa trout - number 39 on my list It's never as easy as it should be

On 10-7, I caught 3 trout on N. Bear Ck. in Iowa on a drizzly. overcast morning. It was perfect for fly fishing, and the fish were active. So, catching a few fish shouldn't have been a big deal. Except - I forgot my fly reel.

I had packed hurriedly the day before. I was on a business trip to western WI and had a morning that I thought I might be able to sneak out and try an Iowa water and , hopefully, mark it off my list of "catching a fish in all 50 states". I had never wet a line in Iowa before Tuesday. After a long drive on a lot of unmarked dirt roads (thank God for the DeLorme Gazetteer!!), I found my stream. I had an hour and a half to fish. When I got my gear together, I panicked - no reel. Well, its impossible to flyfish without flyline. So, I put everything away and walked to the creek to at least see what I was missing.

The creek was clear and beautiful, running at a perfect level. As I stood next to the creek, I saw 3 separate fish working in a pool, 2 taking dries and one emergers. Below this pool was a 45' long, 2' - 3' deep fairly fast run. I felt certain there were multiple fish in the faster water. I REALLY wanted to catch something to knock Iowa off my list. So, I dreamed up the following: I cut off a 12' length of 4x tippet, and tied it on the tiptop of the 8-1/2', 4 wt.rod. I tied on a BH Prince #16, and tied a dropper below that of a BH soft hackle Hare's Ear #14. It wouldn't be pretty, but I could flop the mess into the fast run, high stick it downstream about 8', and swing the flies at the end of the drift. It was ugly, but I HAD to try something. On the second "cast", I saw a swipe behind the flies as they were swinging. Over the next 45 minutes, I worked every inch of the fast water, got 5 hits, and hooked and landed 3 trout - 2 on the Prince and one on the soft hackle.

On one hand, I felt pretty good on the ingenuity scale, for devising a way to catch a trout with a fly rod and no fly line. On the other hand, the stream looked awesome and I think I could have had a truly memorable day if I wasn't so stupid as to forget the reel. I'd love to get back there , because it really is a pretty stream, but I did get my Iowa fish! Sorry no pics - camera didn't make it , either.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Presidential Amendment maintains fishing rights in Federal waters

This didn't get much press recently - everyone was too busy watching the rollercoaster that is the stock market. As I understand it, President Bush signed an amendment to an Executive Order that ensures access and the right to fish on all Federal Marine waters. While the number of people this directly affects may be minimal, the precedent can't be overstated. Anytime the government is doing something to maintain access and fishing rights, it's a WIN for the sportsmen.


From: ASA Communications [] Sent: Friday, September 26, 2008 8:14 PMTo: ASA CommunicationsCc: ASA CommunicationsSubject: Presidential Action Ensures Recreational Fishing in Federal Waters

For Immediate Release Mary Jane Williamson, Communications director,, 703-519-9691, x227,

Presidential Action Ensures Recreational Fishing in Federal Waters
President Bush’s historic amendment maintains fishing in marine protected areas

Alexandria, VA – September 26, 2008 – On September 26, President George W. Bush signed an amendment to the 1995 Executive Order on recreational fishing. This historic amendment ensures that federal agencies must maintain recreational fishing on federal lands and waters, including marine protected areas. Once implemented, this policy will provide access to places where men, women and children can enjoy fishing now and in the future. The Executive Order revises Executive Order 12962 signed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton.

Over the past two years, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), the Center for Coastal Conservation and its members, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Shimano American Corporation worked together to secure recreational fishing and boating access. President Bush’s amendment recognizes the marine and freshwater conservation impact of recreational anglers by allowing responsible recreational fishing and boating in marine protected areas and federal lands.

“We applaud the President for taking this unprecedented step which recognizes that anglers and boaters play a significant and critical role in this country’s successful conservation model which is the envy of the world,” said ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman. “As a recreational angler and boater himself, the President clearly understands that sportsmen and women are conservationists first and foremost and that recreational fishing is an essential component of the nation’s heritage.”

“The President’s action established a legacy for recreational fishing by securing access to fishing and boating, the lifeblood of the American model of fisheries management and conservation,” said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. “Every time American anglers buy fishing licenses or sportfishing equipment, an investment is made in fishing’s future. This highly successful user-pay system for fishery management depends on access to the resource.”

An August 25 Executive Memo signed by President Bush set the stage for today’s Executive Order. The memo directed the Secretaries of Defense, Interior and Commerce and the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality to sustain access to recreational fishing as part of their study of potential marine protected areas (MPA) in the central Pacific Ocean. ASA supported the president’s directive and his decision not to include the Gulf of Mexico and marine areas of the southeast United States as part of that MPA study.

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association, committed to looking out for the interests of the entire sportfishing community. We give the industry a unified voice, speaking out on behalf of sportfishing and boating industries, state and federal natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, angler advocacy groups and outdoor journalists when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect sportfishing business or sportfishing itself. We invest in long-term ventures to ensure the industry will remain strong and prosperous as well as safeguard and promote the enduring economic and conservation values of sportfishing in America. ASA also represents the interests of America’s 40 million anglers who generate over $45 billion in retail sales with a $125 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for over one million people.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

TOTAL Fishing blog

I've discovered something interested while surfing around the web, looking at fishing Blogs. I guess it's something I always knew, but it really hit home recently. There is a complete and total separation between fly fishermen, and what I call conventional fishermen - baitcasters, spinning guys, ice fishermen. There are scads of blogs pertaining to fly fishing, many of them helping to keep alive the myth that they (fly fishermen), and they alone, occupy the point on the top of the fishing food chain. There are a lot of bass blogs, with most of the ones I've read centering on Bass tournament fishing. There are saltwater blogs, and all the specialty areas as well. But I have not read a single blog that successfully combines and meshes all the various fishing techniques, lifestyles, and theories into a neat little package called FISHING.

Am I the only person out there who likes to FISH, and it doesn't really matter how I'm doing it? Yes, I fly fish for trout. It's been over 15 years since I caught a stream trout on anything but a fly. That doesn't mean worm fishing or fishing with salted minnows is wrong - it's just my choice. I've caught bass on a fly, but not many, because I'd rather throw spinning or baitcasting gear for them. And, I've caught stripers on flies, and WILL NEVER do it again. Way too much work. If all you do is flyfish, you never get to try to land a 9' sturgeon on the Columbia River. And if you refuse to use live bait, your success ice fishing success will plummet. Your catch rate on flathead cats will suffer as well. No complete walleye fisherman abstains from using live bait, either.

Trying to bring everything together into a place where the focus is about fishing, and fish, and streams, appears to be a daunting task. If I can do it effectively, it will be the end result of this adventure - the whole body of work. And maybe I can't do it.

But I can try!

Bass w/ baitcaster

Tiny wild brook trout on a fly

My favorite?? The one I'm doing at the time!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stock market tanks, but do the fish care?

Market dropped 777 points today. Unbelievable. Know who doesn't care? Fish.

I've added my list of states I need to catch a fish in to complete my "Fish per state" goal - might be able to knock off Iowa next week. I'll update that list in red as I progress.

Just a quick note about the blog - all the pictures posted were taken by me, or are pictures of fish I've caught. As the blog goes on, you'll see some trophies, and some that might have you wondering "Huh?" They're all good memories for me. I've caught a lot of pretty big fish - some very big, in fact. But I've never really considered myself a trophy fisherman. I'd rather catch a bunch of small brookies, for example, that 1 or 2 trophy fish. I've always leaned that way - don't really know why. I also prefer smaller streams to big, roiling waters. I think I feel like I have a better chance to catch the proverbial big fish in the small pond, and the guy at the top of the food chain always presents a challenge, no matter how small the water.

I have a few fishing opportunities coming up in the coming weeks - trout in Iowa, smallmouth on the upper Mississippi, smallmouth on Lake Oneida in NY, smallmouth on the Connecticut River. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I'll be able to share some pics . If not, you can commiserate though the words.

Tight lines!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Naming names, protecting small streams

You may have noticed that teh high mountain stream mentioned yesterday, and shown in the photo, went unnamed. that was not an oversight. When I write about fishing a famous river, or a popular, well-known spot (like the Colorado River or Big Thompson River, also from yesterday) I will freely talk about them in as much detail as the situation warrants. But small trout streams, especially those located in a heavily traveled National Park, are different. They can't tolerate the heavy use that can occur with publicity. (I realize it is presumptuous of me to assume anyone will ever read these words, but what the hell - I can dream!) For me, and many other small trout stream enthusiasts, a big part of the joy of small streams lies in discovery of them. Get yourself a map, look for blue lines noting creeks, and take off. Sometimes you find great spots to be treasured, sometimes not - if the worst thing that happens is that you spent a day walking in the moutains, seeing beautiful scenery, you still had a great day. Take pictures.

A brook trout from the unnamed stream. Pretty clear water!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fly fishing the Rockies 9-15-08

I LOVE to fly fish for trout in the Rockies. The problem is, I don't get there very often anymore, and my fly fishing for trout has been limited to once or twice a year for the past 7 or 8 years. There was a period in my life when I worked in the fly fishing industry - 1996 to 2000 - and for those 5 years, I fished with nothing but a fly rod. Most of my fishing was for trout, but I managed to get in some saltwater adventrues, too. Since my current situation has me living outside of Chicago - in an absolute wasteland as far as trout are concerned - I try to make the most of my occasional trout opportunities. Ideally, these opportunites involve trout, bugling bull elk, and the Rockies - specifically, Rocky Mountain National Park. This year, the stars aligned, and I made it out to Colorado on the 14th.

Rocky Mtn. National Park (RMNP) is one of the most beautiful places in the US, and never moreso than in Sept., when the bull elk start the rut, and begin bugling and fighting for cows. It's also time for the brook and brown trout to get serious about spawning, and preparing for the coming winter months.

I've fished throughout the park on and off for the past 20 years. It contains miles and miles of my favorite kind of trout water - small streams. the kind that are never more than 4 or 5 steps across, the trout aren't too selective, and 3 wts. are perfect. These streams are found in some of the most visually stunning areas in the country. I simply love the area.

Sunday afternoon found us on the Colorado River headwaters catching small, but beautiful, brook trout. Elk were bugling and herding cows - so close we could smell them at one point. On the way back to our rooms that eveninig, we saw 2 small-ish bull moose pushing each other around along a stand of willows. The next day was spent on a high mountain meadow, where our brook trout filled stream meandered through a mile long meadow ringeded by snow capped peaks. Its hard to concenttrate on fishing when you are surrounded by such magnificent sights. our trip ended up on the Big Thompson River on the lower part of the canyon, where we were faced with larger fish and more technical applications on a slick bottomed river. We saw a half dozen of the resident bighorn sheep that make their home on the vertical walls of the canyon.

We caught fish - a lot of them on the mountain meadow. Some larger fish, too, on the Thompson. Pictures tell the story betterthan my words can, so I'll leave it to them. If you ever get teh cahnce, get out to RMNP between 9/15 - 10/5, enoy the spectacle of t ehelk and the beauty of the mountains, and catch a few wild trout. It's a terrific way to spend a few days.

Colorado River headwaters

High meadow stream filled w/ brookies (elev. - 10,500')

Brook trout from the meadow

Clear waters of the Big thompson River in the lower canyon