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