18 July, 2011

Not a fishing trip...but still catching fish?

I don't really recall how the rod, the flies, and all of the other gear made it into the car, but it all ended up in my hands with a free two hours, a backpack, Holly, and a mountain lake. 

And there were denizens of the centrarchid kind willing to eat all manner of things presented. Some larger than you might expect; and most were my favorite kind of "bluegill"

Lepomis auritus
Here's to fishing...when you're not supposed to be of course.

15 July, 2011

Still alive...

I'm not dead, just busy. Haven't fished much lately since I started teaching a summer session course (genetics, BIO 274) at the local university. Spending some time this weekend with friends and family in the Catskills...not a fishing trip.

24 June, 2011

Summer time

It's summer time and warmwater fishing on the North Shore of Boston has been fantastic. Visited a local trout pond and discovered an abundant and healthy resident centrarchid population; the angling was outstanding too. And all of it in a beautiful place only ~15 minutes from Ichthyographic central. Supposedly holdover and stocked trout in the fall; its on baby.

Rotund L. macrochirus

Average M. slamoides, from "trout pond"

L gibbosus ready for a date
Using Google Earth, I found a series of 2 ponds 1.3 miles from my living room; Holly (my one year old and local fishing guide) and I took a little stroll (literally) and found another fantastic spot to catch all manner of finned quarry. Bank access and fly casting room in abundance too. 

L. macrochirus from secret neighborhood pond

I love summer, how about you?

14 June, 2011

In them thar hills

I have lived in Massachusetts for ~4 years and have landed a single salmonid in that time. This year, in particular, I have been fishing more regularly. And I have done well finding and catching centrachids and cyprininds, but I have yet to find "quality" trout water. 

Earlier this season, I spent my birthday on what was supposed to be a fine trout stream. My intel indicated that the stream was loaded with wild Salmo trutta and Salvelinus fontinalis. However, and try as I might, I was unable to fool any of the salmonid denizens of this pretty little blue line stream. I simply wrote it off as too early and vowed to return in warmer times. 

So, as you can see, my quest for trout--up to this point--in my new home state has been pretty underwhelming. To remedy this, I gathered all of my best google research skills and hunkered down with my copy of An Anglers Guide to Trout Fishing in Massachusetts and began the process of ranking and (hopefully) finding the streams within 1.5 hours of home base that provide good trout fishing. My algorithm, to be revealed at a later date, concluded that I must return too the Quinapoxet and that the Millers River near Athol, MA should provide quality trout fishing opportunities. 

During my recent (and first) trip to the Millers I arrived early, around 8 A.M, and at first glance I noticed a very thick cloud of brown caddis hovering over the bridge near the parking lot. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. And the river itself was...big; much bigger than this Southern Appalachian fly fisher is used to. Full of pocket water, deep pools, boulders, slicks, glides...damn straight....at this point I thought that I had made a good decision.

I suited up and started hiking downstream to one of the catch and release sections of the river. Almost immediately I passed a near picture perfect run; over 50 feet long with the perfect water velocity. I couldn't resist, this piece of water just had to hold a few nice trout. Waded in and began working my way up to the head of the run where a riffle emptied in. And I worked that water well, even switching flies . nada. I told myself that the fishing would be better in the C & R downstream. 

Well, it is a nice looking stream. But the trout never showed themselves. I spent the better part of 4 hours hiking and fishing the first 1.5 miles of the upper C & R section. Saw some great water but never felt so much as a bump and saw no sign of fish, trout or otherwise. I was very surprised that I didn't see any Micropterus dolomieu; the water temperature and habitat were perfect.

A beautiful run on the Millers River
Yeah, the water temperature was a little high for what I would consider quality trout water. And this early in the summer too (Last week of May); I may have some doubts about the potential of this river. My research revealed that many consider the Millers to be "Blue Ribbon" trout water. Habitat-wise I would agree, but the temperatures I saw could limit survival over the summer. For now I will forgo conclusion on this river's potential and revisit this stream in the future before passing final judgement.

Cold, clear tributary of the Millers

Still, I did happen to get a good look at, and briefly fish, a fantastic little tributary stream of the Millers. I spooked at least 2 Salmoniform fishes and was very impressed with the overall quality of this little feeder stream. Cold and clear with gravel substrate and plenty of stream-side cover. I only wish that it was not the height of black fly and mosquito season. I think I might have lost a quart or more of blood before running full speed, hands and arms flailing wildly, through the forest and into the middle of Millers to escape those little vampires. Perhaps the full potential of the Millers depends upon these tributaries; definitely encouraging to find this one in such great shape.

So no fish in the Millers; plan B was then enacted. I decided to revisit the Quinapoxet and pointed the Element east into the noon-day sun. I had lunch on the way and arrived in the little town of Oakdale around 1 P.M. Now, the only trout that I have ever landed in MA came from the Stillwater River; this stream and the Quinapoxet are both direct tributaries to the Wachuset Reservoir in Oakdale. Having been previously skunked on the Quinapoxet and batting a thousand on the Stillwater, I naturally decided to have a quick look at the Stillwater.

The Swift didn't disappoint, but I also didn't catch any trout either. I managed to land Lepomis macrochirus and Ambloplites rupestris. The latter species was a big and welcome surprise; I was unaware that the species existed in Eastern Massachusetts. Anyway, I love catching this species and now know of at least one stream that holds them. However, the presence and abundance of either species, combined with elevated water temperatures, does not bode well for trout existence (wild or otherwise) in the main stem. Perhaps that wild Salmo trutta that I caught (in late fall here) hang out in small(er) cooler tributaries or retreat to the depths of the reservoir in the summer. I know that there is a resident and self-sustaining  population of Salmo salar in this system; I'll be back for them this fall!

Ambloplites rupestris from the Stillwater River, Sterling MA

No trout in the Stillwater either; plan C was then enacted. Its now about 3 P.M. and I wanted to get home before diner time; this has to be hard and fast. I parked at the lower end of the Quinapoxet and hiked upstream, entering the water almost exactly where I started in early April. After only a few casts in likely looking spots, a flash and a solid bump indicated that I had fooled something. Images of Semotilus or Ambloplites immediately appeared in my mind. I set the hook; not a large fish for sure and as I lead the fish to my hand I noticed the characteristic markings of S. fontinallis. Yes, finally, wild trout actually exist in Massachusetts. That I had only been fishing for ~10 minutes was encouraging and had me internally kicking myself; I should have spent the day right here.

Salvelinus, in the flesh

The section that I fished was all pocket water, probably my favorite type of trout water. After landing that first fish, and knowing there were wild fish present, I mentally entered that state; you know, kind of like a trance. I would take a few steps and scan the water, imagining the fish-eyed perspective of the substrate and currents. Find that cushion, the place where a feeding fish makes a living. A quick flick to place the fly in the seam; raise the rod tip high, let it sink, make it drift natural, ever vigilant for that subtle pause--the briefest of moments where a fish takes the offering and before the realization that its fake.

A respectable pocket water S. fontinallis

I was in the zone, working my way up through all of the best holding water. Like a heron I moved and fished, plucking wild S. trutta and S. fontinallis from the currents. Each as brilliantly colored and feisty as the last. A few spunky, hold-over Oncorhynchus were there too. 

A hold-over Oncorhynchus, regaining color a spunk

It was all over after about 1.5 hours. I had gone far enough and had landed a dozen or so salmonids; a respectable grand slam by landing at least one of each species.  It was time to head home. As I packed the Element and headed east, I summed up the day mentally, my conclusion..."there are trout in them thar hills".

Pocket water on the Quinapoxet

06 June, 2011

A stranger in a strange land...

I've been out a few times over the last few weeks. Most of time has been spent trying to find good local waters; streams and/or ponds that I can visit when I have a free hour or two.

The Ipswich River is very close to my home and it receives a fair amount of press--both good and bad--from locals. Recent scouting trips have been underwhelming. The stream just doesn't seem to hold very high densities of fishes (at least in the upper sections). Now, I am not expecting ~500 trout/mile--in fact I am not really looking for trout per se--but I would like to find a wadeable stream/pond that holds decent numbers of centrarchids, esocids, and/or maybe a few sizable cyprinids (e.g., Semotilus and Cyprinus). I've landed a single Lepomis macrochirus and from the looks of things, the stream should hold Micropterus in abundance; where the latter are hiding is a mystery. And the lack of pickerel and minnows is a little more than disturbing...perhaps there are larger water quality issues here than I suspect.

The local pond in Breakheart Reservation is fishing well but has been invaded by weekend warriors. That latter is fine by me, but they set-up camp--with rod, bait bucket, and cooler--in most of the places where casting a fly rod is easy. And every time someone sees me fly fishing, I get that look like..."are you lost? you do know that trout aren't stocked here, right?" Really, I don't mind company while fishing, but two's company and three's a crowd...you know how the saying goes.

The carp flat in Lake Quannopowitt is also devoid of life. Holly and I spent the better part of an hour looking for Cyprinus carpio; we didn't see any. The lake used to have a reputation for holding large Esox niger, so I brought my 7 weight and a few trusty bait-fish patterns and made a few hundred casts in a very "pikey" looking cove...nada. We didn't see any centrarchids spawning in the shallows either; more of mysteries to consider.

Finally, I chose a overcast and windy day to head out to the Parker River. I launched the canoe at Thurlow street and paddled downstream to Crane Pond. I had heard stories of large pickerel and good populations of centrachids. That the stream is also stocked with trout, and might also have holdovers, was a plus.  Long story short, I managed to hook my first pickerel with fly rod, but lost the bugger at the gunnel. I managed to also catch a decent Perca flavescens and explored much of the pond and downs stream reaches (Hemlocks section) of the Parker. The fishing was really slow (no big surprise there, right?); the marsh and surrounding area reminded me of southern Louisiana.

Being in a new place should be exciting. A sense of adventure every time I head out to wet a line. I don't know what it is exactly, but I think I am a growing a little frustrated with the "newness". The poor quality of fishing near home and over crowding of decent spots is probably correlated with urbanization in Eastern Massachusetts. However, I lived smack-dab in the middle of New Orleans and had great freshwater and saltwater fishing 5 minutes from the house; go figure. My time is more limited now; my family is growing and I value spending time at home with my girls. I cant' and won't spend 2-3 days a week fishing, looking for those sweet spots. A lack of patience coupled with limited time makes for a unhappy me.

I am seriously considering heading to the coast and chasing Morone and Pomotamus on the fly; sound like a good idea? After all, the North Shore of Massachusetts has world-class fishing for these species. Gah, learning a new fishery can be a bitch... I see more "newness" in my future...

15 May, 2011

The fairest of them all...

Lepomis auritus--the black-sheep of the Lepomis lineage, shunning still-waters and preferring the rough and tumble expanses of rivers and streams. They are the 2.0 version of "bluegill" standing toe-to-toe with Micropterus dolmieu in pocket water and along riffle edges.

Many (if not all) Lepomis are are endowed with striking regalia--especially during the romantic seasons--but L. auritus might just be the fairest of them all. A mixture of iridescent indigo-blue and flame-red highlights reminds one of an evening sunset.  

The first "bluegill" species that I remember catching and the species that taught me the finer points of upstream drag-free drift presentations. I search for them wherever warm waters flow and always spend a little too much time admiring their beauty. 

This is a photo-tribute to L. auritus, Enjoy! 

Eye of the tiger.

A color palette on steroids

From the Amazon? No, right in your own back yard!

A stretch of the Rockaway River along I-287; typical L. auritus habitat

Time on the water, recently.

Holly and I have been out a few times in the last few weeks perfecting our new fly fishing/baby sitting method. To start, we upgraded from the BABYBJÖRN Comfort Carrier to a Kelty TC 2.0. The Kelty is much more comfortable and allows me more movement; I can now stoop over and pick pick up fish if needed. Casting is improved too, Holly is now behind me so her hands and feet no longer get "tangled" in the fly line. Overall, we are becoming quite the team and she routinely offers up an over-the-shoulder-high-five during our fishing sessions.

Kind of like Yoda on Luke's back?

We have spent most of our time chasing Micropterus and Lepomis on the local reservation pond (Breakheart Reservation). The banks are heavily wooded and I will admit that my roll-casts have gotten so much better. In addition to all of the centrarchids that we have managed to fool, I have seen two decent sized pickerel. I personally have never caught a pickerel by conventional means, this is definitely a species that I want to add my fly fishing list.

Pre-spawn Micropterus salmoides

Last week the Micropterus began spawning and the bite slowed considerably, however the larger Lepomis macrochirus invaded the shallows. We have had a blast with these pre-spawn Lepomis and have brought many to hand using flip-flop foam poppers and Jitterbees.

This nice male Lepomis machrochirus fell for a popper

Another male Lepomis machrochirus taken with a Jitterbee

Finally, Holly and I took the show on the road and did a little recon. The Ipswich River flows fairly close to home and it is stocked with trout in the spring and has a reputation for providing decent trout fishing through the summer. We found a park in North Reading, using Google Earth, that looked like it provided decent bank side fishing.

Micropterus dolomieu from the Ipswisch River
We didn't catch any trout but we did find a few small M. dolomieu and L. macrochirus willing to eat a small woolly bugger. These fish were found in a small backwater off the main channel along with a few Erimyzon and Notemigonus crysoleucas. 

Can't beat fishing (and catching) while also spending some quality time with my daughter. I am a lucky man!

29 April, 2011

Something old is something new

I am a newly minted father and my daughter, Holly, is now ten months old. She can't (really) walk yet and since I am mostly unemployed and provide most of the daycare, I've devised a method to baby-sit while fishing (brilliant, I know). 

It is a simple method really; she rides in the BABYBJÖRN Comfort Carrier and together we stalk the banks of local ponds and lakes looking for fish and fishy spots to cast. I get a lot of, "oooh that's so cute", and "is that your bait" from bystanders. I just grin, usually mumble an insult, and keep walking.

On our maiden voyage, we took a noon-day stroll around the local town lake which I had never fished before. The weather was (finally) nice and we were hoping to tempt a few early season centrarchids to bite.

Initially, we didn't see any sign of panfish, or much of anything really. This lake is fairly turbid, apparently due to a proliferation of suspended algae (Lake Quannapowitt). Since the lake is so shallow (e.g., avg. depth ~ 10') and it surrounded by so many, nicely groomed lawns (i.e., lots of fertilizer and  thus Nitrogen), moderate eutrophication is not surprising. 

Lake Quannapowitt looking North along the Carp flat

Anyway, we continued to walk and stalk, casting to fishy looking spots until up ahead, under the tree shown in the picture above, we saw a disturbance and what appeared to be a "fin" sticking out of the water...

...and this is where things started to get exciting.

Now, I lived in Louisiana for ~6 years and I spent a fair share of my time stalking benthic-oriented drum and sheepshead on mud bottomed flats. Disturbed water and fins sticking out of the water always indicated hungry and actively feeding fish.

This is, of course, a freshwater lake, so there a only a few freshwater species that might exhibit this behavior; I immediately thought carp and huddled down a bit so that I could get a closer to confirm my initial identification.

As I slowly approached my target, the broad, golden flank of Cyprinus carpio materialized in the murky water. Actually there were two carp feeding very close together and my heart beat a little faster.

I asked Holly, "you think they'll take a wooly bugger?"

Holly responded, "dahhh, doo, doo, bah, bah!"

"Yeah", I said, "I probably should switch to the Jitterbee, that water is pretty murky"

"Gah, Gah, yah, yah, hrmph" was the reply from Holly.

Based on the advice from my young gillie, I switched flies and checked my knots. Those fish were pushing 5 lbs.

"Dahh, dahh, dud, doo" Holly whispered.

"Yeah, yeah...I know, keep a low profile and put the fly about 2' in front of the closest fish", I replied quietly.

Sure enough, I put my first cast right in the sweet spot and the closest fish suddenly perked up and glided slowly over to the fly.

A very subtle twitch of the leader was all that was needed before I set the hook...

...exhilaration, now I'm solidly hooked to a surprised, and now very pissed-off, torpedo. Zing right, then left, accelerate straight out, and back. It was a good fight and after a few minutes, the beast allowed me to slide it near my feet on the bank. And this is the point at which my new method of baby sitting got a little complicated...

I could not bend over far enough to get a two-handed purchase on the fish; I had 18 lbs of "fishing guide" strapped to my chest. I also cursed myself for using 4X tippet, as the lip of the bank was to tall to slide the fish up on to the grass without breaking the line.

"So, what do you think Holly?"

"Gah, gah, daah, dahh, doo"

"Yeah, I should make a desperate, one-handed grab for the tail or maybe the operculum."

SNAP! the line broke as the fish surged away from my meaty paw, splashing both of us with murky water in indignation.

"Yahh, heee, heee, heee!!" screamed Holly in joy

"Twah, pftttt" I spat trying to get most of the algae stained water from my mouth.

"Well, that was fun...lets see if we can find any more "torpedos", I told my guide.

"Yah, Yah, Yah, Yah, hrmph" she replied excitedly.

South facing view of the Carp flat

We continued stalking and found a few more feeding carp. I hooked another nice fish of ~6 lbs, but lost it in similar fashion right at the bank; I think I might need to bring a long handled net.

The area that we were fishing is perfect for stalking carp. It is a shallow, broad, soft-to-hard bottomed flat that extends for several yards out into the lake. The area along the bank is a well groomed, flat lawn with safe and easy walking with your "guide". There are very few obstacles, besides joggers and dog walkers, to snag your backcast.

Even better, the carp population seems healthy and I saw few fish under 3 lbs. A return trip a few days later revealed even more carp but no takes since they were more interested in propagating the species than eating my imitations.

I love catching carp on the fly. I used to catch them with flies when I was a young child. When I lived in the Roanoke Valley (VA) I used to frequent a few urban ponds that were full of carp. When I was a guide, I would occasionally bring my clients, after a long day of trout fishing, to these ponds to hook and play 5+ lbs carp on 4 weight rods. It sometimes doubled my tip.

Besides discovering that my new method of baby sitting works (for the most part) I am super, duper excited about having a healthy population of unmolested carp (I have never see anyone fishing here) within 5 minutes of my door.

See, something old is something new....

20 April, 2011

Fur, feathers, and steel...

I really love tying flies, sometimes I wonder if its the fishin' or the tyin' that keeps me interested. No doubt, the jolt of piscine aggression on light line is exciting enough, but knowing that an artificial concoction of my own design can penetrate defenses that have been honed by a million or more years of evolution is...well...amazing.

With my triumphant return to a near-normal fishing schedule, I dusted off the fly tying bench and started to restock essential patterns. All fine and dandy, but I realized after digging through my entire selection of dubbing, that I just didn't have the "right" color to match a particular pattern that has been drifting through the riffles of my imagination. 

Wouldn't you know that I recently purchased a dubbing mixer (aka--coffee grinder) so that I could start making my own dubbing (my inspiration comes from this guy). I was going to wait until I could purchase a few skeins of yarn and appropriate hydrophillic mammal skins to start my adventure into dubbing manufacturing. But in my digging, I noticed that I had a few packages of Angora goat and some left over beaver fur, just a few of the components that I need to break in my new mixer.

1 part sheared beaver fur...

...2 parts olive Angora goat...

...mix well...

...allow to cool for 30 seconds and serve.

Overall, I am pretty happy with the result. The Angora was always a bitch to use and required a dubbing loop since it is so very slippery. I was never really satisfied with the dubbing loop application  of Angora and the flies I tied with it always lacked a certain je ne sais quoi

Application of my first custom dubbing, It'll catch fish I think

The photograph above shows the new stuff in action, a earth-toned dubbing with a hint of olive (exactly the color I wanted) that actually sticks to the thread and has enough "spike". Not bad for my first try, I can't wait to start experimenting with colors and textures in the apothecarium. I think it looks better than the commercial stuff that, by weight, costs more than saffron (see below).

Commercial dubbing, it just looks so uniform and blah in comparison

19 April, 2011

...until you actually do some catchin'

Its been a while since I felt the pull of a fish; nearly 1.5 years if my calculations are correct. This year I have been hell-bent on returning to some normalcy of fishing, throwing caution to the wind for the first time since moving to New England and purchasing a fishing license prior to the (almost annual) trip to Maine.

Showing off my roll-casting skills to my wife and daughter

There's a pond not far from the house, located in a local reservation. We walk with the dogs and kid there year round. Its been ice-free for about a month now and while I was on a routine dog walk last week, I saw a pod or two fish swimming in a shallow, dark bottomed cove. I returned this week to see midges galore and dimples across the surface. And wouldn't you know, Micropterus can get all excited when teensy-weensy's are popping off! 

Mr Bucket-mouth in the flesh, objects may appear smaller...

I'd like to go into detail about how they were sipping crippled emerges and required near perfect 30' roll-casts....but I'd be telling a story. But hey, it beats fishin' and not catchin'. In addition to that fish breaking my fish-less slump, it also suggested that something "more toothy" might inhabit my local pond. The battle scars along its flank a pretty good sign that something Esox might be in my future...

11 April, 2011

That's why they call it fishin'...

This weekend was my birthday, so I shelved the guilt over submitting the next manuscript or preparing the weeks genetics lecture and went fishing. I am new to New England (~3 years) and since I have only fished 2 streams prior to this weekend, anywhere I decided to go would be an adventure. Based on some research, and the indication that there were wild brook and brown trout to be found, I decided to head to the Quinapoxet River.

One of the great birthday presents from my wife and daughter

After about an hours drive west of my home, I arrived stream-side and casually walked down the nearest path to view the stream. I was pleasantly surprised to find what appeared to be a very nice looking, wild trout stream.

The Lower Quinapoxet, just above Wachuset Reservoir

I rigged up, donned my waders, and set forth with the greatest of enthusiasm. I chose a section to start the days fishing not far from the car. It was a beautiful run with good depth and numerous large cobble and small boulder to provided small pockets that, I was sure, would hold some really hungry (its been a long winter) brook trout. I began with the usual dark-bodied, non-specific nymph and added some split shot to help get the fly down close to the bottom. The stream looked to be bank-full and was flowing well and it was very clear. 

Fantastic trout habitat on the Quinapoxet
A few hundred drifts later through that run, and the next few heading upstream, plying every available nook and cranny produced no takes. No big deal really, I noticed a few folks parked back at the gate and figure somebody had already fished through and given these fish lock-jaw. So I moved on, hiking a mile or so away from the parking lot.

Another great run on the Quinapoxet
Lets just say that I probably walked and fished ~85% of the stream over the day and never even saw a fish other than a few blacknose dace in backwaters. I did however witness a fairly impressive hatch of little black stoneflies (probably Taeniopterx) and I did see female stoneflies laying eggs in runs and the tail-outs of pools. There appeared to be enough flies on the water that I thought I might just see a few fish rising, but it never happened.

Little black stoneflies (probably Taeniopterx) were hatching all day

I am not easily deterred, so I kept at it and continued to hike higher and higher into the watershed.  I did notice along the way a few small feeder streams that I am sure keep this stream very cool during the warmer months.  I explored a few and dapped a fly or two into some of the deeper pools, still no luck there either.
A small, tannin-stained feeder stream

And there was lots of beaver activity in and around the stream. I actually saw the remains of one beaver pond that looked like it had been recently destroyed, perhaps by high water after all of the snow melted this year.

There are some fierce beavers up here in New England
Overall it was a good day. It has been a long time since I last fished all day and my right arm and wrist were pretty tired by the end of the day. Even though I didn't see any trout all day, it was nice to get to know a new stream. I didn't bring my thermometer and I suspect that the water was still a bit cool, there was still a good bit of snow pack left in the woods. I'll have to come back once things really get going later in the spring and during early summer. Apparently, a few other New England anglers had the same luck. But hey, that is why the call it fishing and not catching!

04 April, 2011

As if Lake Victoria didn't have enough problems...

Overfishing due to increased demand for and increased export of Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) to EU countries, Australia, and the Middle East has forced President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to halt "...all fishing activities on the Tanzania side of Lake Victoria for the next three months."
 "Speaking to the Ministry officials in Dar es Salaam during his working tour, last week, Kikwete said the order is meant to give a room for the fish species to increase after over fishing. He said fish had disappeared from the lake.
Victoria is the large. round-ish lake in the center

Nile Perch (Lates niloticus)
Well ain't that a bitch. Nile Perch are exotic and invasive in Lake Victoria, introduced in the 1950s to supplement native, sustenance fisheries (which didn't need it). This introduction lead to the decimation of the very diverse cichlid fauna (>500 of species) that evolved there over the last few million years.

When teaching ichthyology and/or evolutionary biology, I often cite the radiation of Haplochromin cichlids in Lake Victoria (and other East African rift lakes) as one of the few examples of sympatric speciation...

...and the introduction of Lates and subsequent extinction of cichlids as one of the worst environmental disasters to have occurred on the planet, of which there are (sadly) too many examples.
"fish biomass of the lake has decreased from 80% to less than 1% since the introduction of the Nile perch, and that some 65% of the Haplochromis species were driven to extinction in the process, an event which may well represent the largest extinction event amongst vertebrates in the 20th century (link)"
So, not only did we destroy one of the most amazing, real-world evolutionary/ecological experiments on the planet but now that damn plague-of-a-fish is going extinct too! (I'm ignoring the economic impacts to the $250 million East African fishing industry). 

I am going to have to agree with (and severely paraphrase from memory) something that one of my very good fishing buddies (and former college advisor) said...
"Those with intentions of "improving" should never be allowed within 1000 feet of an aquatic ecosystem..."
 Lake Victoria is and continues to be a very large and obvious example of this statement.

28 March, 2011

A Postmodern Age of Fly Fishing?

Are we entering a postmodern age fly fishing? Has modern-day fly fishing become too complicated and caused some disillusioned anglers to embrace a "...pure, effective and simpler method of fly-fishing." Now, I have to admit that I have been under a veritable rock when it comes to keeping my finger on the pulse, progress, and trends that have emerged in fly fishing over the last few years. However, this postmodern approach to fly fishing, this simpler approach called Tenkara,  has caught my attention (even if I am several years late in recognizing it).

So how does Tenkara attempt to make angling with small, artificial lures comprised of metal, feathers, and string more simple? First and foremost, Tenkara fly fishing rods do not have reels or ferrules. You got that? To purify, simplify, and rid yourself of modern fly fishing baggage you must forsake and give up reels and ferrules! And to think that I was half way to fly fishing enlightenment; my reel is just a fancy line holder. For me, and the diminutive fish that I pursue, the reel just does not serve any useful purpose (note to self, don't buy anymore fancy disc-drag models). And ferrules, oh those damn ferrules! They are many and have confused me for so long! Good thing I don't use one of those packable rods!

Now that's a lot of ferrules!

And really, what makes Tenkara more pure? Well, one of the literal translations of Tenakara is "from heaven" and it is hard to argue with heavenly things being impure. (however, I prefer this translation). The suggestion that Tenkara is "Like meditation or martial arts..." certainly conjures images in my mind of a fly fishing sensei, in his mountaintop Dojo, teaching his followers to look within and clear the mind, body, and soul of Western fly fishing practices. As a bonus, by practicing Tenkara, we might be able to give up meditative exercises like yoga (yay! more time to fish) and hopefully obtain the equivalent of a black belt in fly fishing (who needs that FFF fly casting certification now). Awesome, I always wanted to be a ninja!

Now any good movement in America must have appropriate marketing, right? What better way to support the air of simplicity attributed to Tenkara and attract would be followers than to offer a wonderfully simple website? In my opinion, and kudos to the designers, the whole place exudes simplicity, from the slimmed down, two-toned-ish color scheme to the one and two word phrases that describe gear and technical resources (of which there are very few; simple). Honestly, there is almost nothing confusing about that site; it might just be the essence of simple.

In the same vein, the promotional videos are well done and go a long way in adding to the simplicity vibe of Tenkara (kudos, again, to developers/producers). I personally favor the one where the Tenkara USA developer is siting on a rock having a conversation with the audience while casting gently over a riffle and professing the simplicity of it all. The whole thing struck me as sublime and almost perfectly simple.

Ok, Ok sometimes the the fly fishing industry can overly complicate things and can go too far. But have we really come to the point where fly fishing, as a hobby, sport, or past time, really deserves a reactionary, "pull back and find our roots movement"? Has it become necessary to shed the mortal coil of Western fly fishing and elevate our angling experience? Is Tenkara a postmodern reaction? Maybe it is...

All poking, prodding, and sarcasm aside, I freely admit that Tenkara is probably a very effective mountain stream technique. In fact, I am sure that it is deadly effective in those environments. After all, the approach was developed by Japanese commercial fisherman and if there is one thing that I know, anything that was developed by someone trying to make money or feed themselves will perform with maximum efficiency.

I just don't think that fly fishing, Eastern or Western, should be promoted as some kind of existential experience. Fly fishing is just another approach to angling. It is an attempt to trick, control,  and capture, even for the briefest of moments, another living creature. I am convinced that angling fills some basic human instinct for hunting and gathering. As fisherman, I guess we are lucky that we can practice catch and release to fulfill this basic human urge (hunters can too!) without having to clean and cook all the fish we catch.

Maybe I am just a little jealous and a bit too jaded. Truly, I wish I would have though of it first. Cashing in on the disillusioned is good capitalism, am I right? Anyway, I know I will be looked down upon by the enlightened few because I cling to my rod with a reel and ferules. I think I'll just stick to my complicated, Western approach and keep on fishing in low-top converse sneakers, carrying my fly box in my back pocket, and using my plastic fly line that is brand new except for the last 10 or so feet.

21 March, 2011

Extra Terrestrials

Some of my top, go-to fly patterns imitate terrestrial insects. Trout, and other fishes, often can't resist these chunky morsels of protein. In terms of the amount energy that a fish receives from consuming a mayfly compared to a Japanese beetle is the equivalent of comparing a soy bean to a T-bone steak. Fishes have evolved to maximize the cost-benefit relationship between energy used to consume prey vs. the energy benefit of consuming that prey. This evolutionary inertia can be so strong that it is possible to catch trout in the dead of winter using terrestrials patterns even when the insects they imitate are not active or available. Here are a few of my favorite floating patterns (tied by yours truly). 

Steeves' Firefly

Furled-body Cricket (can be used wet or dry)

Disc-ant (can be made high-vis by adding drop of fluorescent paint to rear disc)