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.