Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our Wyoming, Do it All, Bighorn Bonanza - August 2011

Following up on my last real blog (ie - not including the Amish yak fisherman pic or fishing tidbits), we were headed to Wyoming.  My sister and her family had a different 1st flight, but were supposed to be on the same flight as us from Denver to Gilette.  Unfortunatley, they got derailed in Cleveland and didn’t make it to Gilette Wednesday night.  They would get in the next morning and head home.  Mary May and I were headed for something a little different.  We were met at the airport by her Aunt Betty and Uncle Martin who own a house about an hour west of Gilette in Buffalo and a cabin about 10 miles from town on the middle fork of Clear Creek.  Martin’s family has been in that region for generations – Basque immigrants who raised and herded sheep in the rough terrain.  They were eager to show us around and share their immense knowledge of the area.

The first day we got to check out the Bighorn Mountains, which made a lasting impression on Mary May and I.  They were gorgeous and filled with all types of terrain, vegetation, and rock formations.  The creeks that snaked down canyons and through the foothills were a fly fishers dream.  After all, I am more of a wilderness area kind of guy than a "Miracle Mile" type.  Over the next couple of days we would get fishing licenses, take some scenery shots, hike, and just generally absorb it all.  We also got an amazing tour of the gorgeous property owned by The Falxa Land Company provided by local outfitter Daylen Carrell who leases the property.  He was an amazing guide and host.  If you are looking for a big time hunting trip to Wyoming, check him out at D&D Outfitters.  We saw plenty of deer while we were with him and got to see a bunch of elk as darkness fell.

Riding around with Daylen doing some scouting

On the lookout!

The next day, we were headed to the creek, but not before stopping for a casting lesson at a meadow pond first.  Mary May had never been flying fishing before, but it was certainly in her blood as her grandfather was an avid fly flinger.  She was an extremely quick learner and picked up on the nuances of casting a fly rod almost immediately.  Like any beginning fly fisher, she went through some growing pains, but she battled through them and kept her chin up.  By the afternoon, she was really getting the hang of it.  It didn't take long before she caught her first ever fish on the fly.....and I was one proud boyfriend!

Beautiful first fish on the fly for Mary May

During the morning I also caught my first ever Wyoming trout, a pretty cuttbow - among many others.  We mainly fished with dry flies, but I caught a few on nymphs and streamers as well.  I also learned that 6x and 7x tippet was not necessary and upgraded to 5x and 4x after losing a couple solid fish.  We caught a BUNCH of fish that day ranging from 6"-13" and it had us exicted to do more fishing later in the week. 

My first WY cuttbow

We caught a bunch of 10"-12" fish from the meadow pond (and lost a few bigger fish)

The following day we went to Crazy Woman Canyon - a long canyon filled with gorgeous rock formations and a beautiful creek.  So beautiful in fact, that we decided we wanted to come back the next day with our fly rods.  We did a bit of hiking, creek hopping, and photo taking for the rest of the afternoon.  That evening we went to the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo - a historic hotel and saloon filled with stories of the old west.  Mary May (via Johanna) treated us to an amazing meal.  I had escargo for the first time ever.  That was one tasty mollusk!

Mary May in Crazy Woman Canyon

The Bighorns

As the next day rolled around, we wanted to treat Betty and Martin to dinner.  So we headed to the stream with the intent of keeping a few for dinner.  Things started off a little rocky.  The pools in Crazy Woman Creek definitely get some fishing pressure and we couldn't seem to hook up with better size fish.  Mary May, Betty, and I were casting like crazy and getting quite a few strikes from smaller fish.  Finally, we got to a large pool where Mary May had a few bites.  I had seen a good trout moving in and out of the shallows feeding.  I had on a small Adams fly and was waiting for him to show himself.  After a few minutes I saw him move into an eddy.  As I cast he started to move again.  Before I could adjust, my line hit the water right above him - sending him quickly back to the depths.  Determined, I waited another 15 minutes or so before he showed himself again.  He had snuck up into the shallows on the far bank looking for terrestrials.  It took me 7 or 8 casts before I got the fly exactly where I wanted it due to the whipping wind and current seams.  Before the cast even hit the water I knew that was it - even exclaiming it to Mary May.  Within seconds the fish had slurped my fly.  I set the hook and....SNAP.  My 6x leader was not up to the task.  I was mad at myself and the leader, but hey, at least it was lunch time. 

Her first cuttbow...she was getting the hang of it

So we ate a quick lunch sitting on a big goose egg of keeper fish.  Now, technically we could have kept the smaller trout, but I just don't like to fillet anything under 10 inches.  We pressed on to a lower section of canyon.  I was helping Betty get set-up to fish when I see Mary May emerge from the streamside brush with a fish...and a solid fish at that.  Like a pro, she drifted her fly (nicknamed the bumble bee for its color pattern) in front of a downed tree and it got snagged by a solid cuttbow.  Into the cooler it went!  Not long after, the two of us crept into a long hole below a riffle.  The spot was extremely cramped with vegetation, making even role casting difficult.  I began to set-up when I heard Mary May let out a yell.  She had accidentally sat on a bush with small thorns.  I gave my fly a quick cast to the top of the hole, let some line out, and went down to help her.  I picked a few thorns out when I suddenly I felt the line go tight.  My immediate reaction was that I was snagged, but then I felt a head shake....I had a fish!  Not only did I have a fish, but it was a good size fish for that flow.  After a nice little fight we landed him - another cuttbow (although he looked a lot more like a cutthroat) and into the cooler he went.

I landed a couple more fish in the canyon, as did Betty.  But it was Mary May who got us on the board with the next keeper.  I directed her to a fine looking hole.  It was very tought access and fish, but she managed to get her fly floating through the pool on a nice drift line.  After a number of casts she had a nice strike and fought another nice trout to the bank.  It was our third keeper and things were looking up!

Aunt Betty scores a solid trout


Fishing next to some big old moose tracks

At that point everyone was getting tired so we headed back to the cabin.  We asked Betty to drop us off at the meadow pond on the way to try for a couple more dinner fish.  After all, we were plenty hungry!  Casting at the pond was tough.  The wind was whipping and the fish seemed to be further from the bank then before - requiring casts out to 65-75 ft.  This was no small feat for me, an experienced caster, let along a beginner.  I landed a solid keeper on a black wooly bugger then a small fish on the same pattern.  Mary May had a nice strike on her dry fly, but couldn't hook up.  We were about to give up when I cast her dry over toward a grass mat.  I popped the fly, then popped it again...nothing.  But as I began to drag it I saw a wake come out of nowhere and the fly got sucked under.  A healthy trout nailed it and proceeded to run across the pond, slash through weeds, and acrobatically before coming to hand.  He was the last fish to be put on the stringer.  We took a couple of photos and then hiked back to the cabin to fillet the fish and start dinner.

Mmmmmm - trout dinner!

We feasted on trout cooked in garlic butter, mashed potatoes from scratch, and fresh veggies.  After a bottle of wine and another of port, we drifted into dreamland.  As usual, I was dreaming of our next adventure...and giant trout.  After having a great first few days in Wyoming, we didn't think it could have been topped.  But for us, our last day in the Bighorns trumped them all.  That is where I will pick up tomorrow!  Tight lines!

This good luck dragon fly landed on Mary May for a very long time

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Fishing Tidbit Blog....

Well, I have all sorts of blogging to catch up on now.  The next two will be about the Wyoming trip, then one about the NC RiverBassin.com Rodeo, and finally about a great local trip yesterday where I hooked a piglet of a river bass.

But first, we got to talking the other day about where we have fished and where we want to someday fish.  I realized I have fished rivers in the following states: PA, MA, NC, NY, VA, GA, CA, NM, CO, CA, WA, OR, TN, WY, ID, and Ontario, Canada.  Not a bad count...and adding by the year!  What's at the top of my list for river fishing?  My top three states would probably be Alaska, Maine, and Florida (for Peacock bass).  My top three countries are tought to pick, but would be probably include Argentina, Chile, and the Amazon basin in Brazil.  I suspect there will be many other countries I get to before those though....too much of the world to see and enjoy!  What are your top choices?

I also wanted to say thanks to everyone who reads my blog.  Over the past few months, I have had a lot of people tell me how much they enjoy reading.  I have even had a few people recognize me around Durham....and it's kind of weird.  I also get a lot of questions about the Coosa via YouTube, including a few that have said my videos and blog were the reason they bought one....super humbling.  So again, thank you for everyone who takes the time to read this.  I love to fish and share the amazing experiences I have, so please keep reading!

Finally, I short reflection on Hurrican Irene.  Floods always have me torn.  I love studying water and seeing its immense power.  I just flat out find it fascinating.  But on the other hand I hate to see its devastation, especially when it puts people in danger.  I know there was a lot of loss along the east coast and the clean-up and rebuilding process will take some time.  I hope everyone out there made it through safely and suffered minimal loss. 

As summer winds down I hope many of you are out there enjoying the warm weather.  It will be fall before we know it....and the big boys will be super aggressive again.  Tomorrow - my WY trip.  Tight lines!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Most Peculiar Kayak Fisherman...

I have posted this picture a few places online, but I wanted to share it here as well.  Sometimes you hit the water and see unexpected things.  And as a yak fisherman you sometimes get to see more than most.  This picture, taken by my family last week in central PA , can only be described with one word....AWESOME!  Now who thinks kayak fishing isn't the fasting growing sport in the United States - even the Amish are doing it!

Even the Amish love yak fishing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to My Roots - Susquehanna River, PA - 8/16/2011

After weeks of frivolous work, I submitted a thesis draft and was off to Pennsylvania for a short visit with my parents as well as my sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews.  Mary May and I had been stressed out for so long that we really needed the break.  After her last final of the summer semester, we packed up and made the pilgrimage north to Woodward, stopping for dinner in Baltimore with a few of her good friends from college.

Originally we were supposed to fish Sunday afternoon with my good friend Travis and then again on Monday with my father and brother-in-law.  Travis knows the tributaries to the Susquehanna as well as anyone and has a few lights out techniques for big smallies.  He and I grew up fishing together and lately we haven’t been able to spend much time with each other on the water.  However, the weather was not cooperating.  We got rain and thunderstorms nearly every day and the trip with Travis was cancelled.  Mary May and I were both pretty bummed about that, but it did give us more time with family. 

The Monday trip was also a special one for me.  Josh, my brother-in-law, is a hunter at heart, but is getting into fishing with my sister and nephews.  He is also ex-Army and had his truck blown up by a road side bomb during his last stint in Iraq.  Hailing from Wyoming, he really wanted to do some bass fishing and I really wanted to put him on some fish.  My dad is an avid fisherman and has spent many a Saturday on the Susquehanna River in central PA.  However, the river has gone through a few down years recently.  It is slowly starting to bounce back, but can be tough fishing and tough wading at times.  I also reached out to two friends in fishing to help get as much info as possible on where to take Josh.  Thomas Boyd of ‘Fishing with Dad’ gave me a great contact for the lower Susquehanna River and Wilderness Systems pro-staffer Juan Veruete of ‘Central PA Kayak Fishing gave me some general info about wading the Juniata and Susquehanna Rivers.  My dad and I went through a few plans before finally deciding on wading the Susquehanna below Sunbury.

Tuesday afternoon we loaded up, bought a few baits, and hit the river.  The water was a little high and stained due to the prior rains.  I don’t love fishing the Susquehanna when it is stained, but we were determined to give it our best shot.  Dad and Josh waded out below a rock ledge and Mary May and I fished a mixed flat above them.  I gave Mary May all of the river fishing tips I could think of and set her up with a spinnerbait.  I decided to start with a Lucky Craft SKT MR crankbait that has been amazing for me over the past two years.  Fifteen minutes into the day my dad hooked into a big fish.  It wasn’t jumping and we suspected it was not the acrobatic smallmouth.  Indeed, after a great fight dad landed a brute of a catfish.

About five minutes later Mary May was slow rolling her spinnerbait over a rock ledge when she turns to me and says “I think I am stuck again.”  I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was unsure what had happened.  I told her to shake the rod a little and suddenly drag started pulling.  It stopped again quickly and we were both curious as to what was going on.  I told her to lift the rod again.  This time I saw her rod tip shake from side to side, a sign I have come to recognize over the years as the head shake of a big fish.  We carefully waded over to the rock ledge and got Mary May set-up.  I coached her on how to fight the fish as it ran through the chutes and eddies. 

                                              Teaching Mary May how to pump her rod
We suspected it was another big cat as it bent her rod.  Sure enough, the fish came to the surface and flashed its giant grey side.  She fought the fish and fought him like a champ.  Finally, the beast began to tire and we got him to an eddy.  I got into the water and after some wrangling was able to control the fish.  I lifted the channel cat from the water, unveiling a massive body.  Mary May was all smiles – she had just landed her biggest fish ever.  We estimated the fish to be about 28” and at least 10 lbs.  After snapping a few pictures we sent him on his way, back to the depths of the river.  She had caught him on a War Eagle spinnerbait with a chartreuse shad skirt – a bait I had picked out earlier that day and she had deemed a “lucky bait”…I guess she was right.


The fishing was off and on the rest of the day.  My dad landed a few short smallies before landing a chunk that looked to be as fat as he was long.

I landed a 14”-15” smallie on a Berkley Gulp hellgrammite rigged on a shakey head to get the skunk off.  I followed suit with a few short fish before switching to topwater shortly before we called it a day.  The Lucky Craft Gunfish 95 did the trick.  A huge fish blasted the bait as it came across a shallow rock pile, but he threw the hook almost instantly.  A few casts later I saw a fish come up behind the bait…and simply smash it.  He ran down river making acrobatic jumps.  The 18+” fish came to hand and made my day a little sweeter.  Unfortunately, Mary May and Josh weren’t able to hook up with any smallies during a very tough day of fishing.

On Wednesday morning we were headed to the airport.  The next leg of our trip was to Wyoming.  Armed with two of my favorite fly rods, we weren’t sure what the next few days would have in store.  It turns out they would be spent flinging flies in the shadows of the Bighorn Mountains.  That is where I will start my next blog.  Until then, tight lines.

                                       A gorgeous way to end the day with some great company!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Jackson Coosa....a River Fisherman's Dream - August 7, 2011

I have been incredibly lucky to have owned a Jackson Coosa Elite kayak since December 2010. I was one of a select few invited to their factory in Tennessee to pick up our boats before they were officially released to the public. From day one I have been been throughly impressed with the Jackson operation - particularly their first ever fishing kayak, designed with the help of Drew Gregory. I have used it a ton on the rivers and lakes of central North Carolina and every trip I fall a little more in love with it. It isn't a speed demon or the lightest boat, but it is a fish catching machine. My most recent trip is a prime example of that....

Like most weekends (and weekdays come to think of it), fishing flooded my mind. Mary May agreed that we should hit the river for a couple of hours and try for a few bass and catfish. I couldn't say no, so we rounded up our gear and were off. The river was particularly busy with bank fishermen and people catching bait. We loaded the yaks and slid into the water near some fishermen (and women) who had about a 5-6 lb channel cat on their stringer.

Now, when I say "load the yaks" I am not kidding around. I pack heavy! Yesterday I carried 5 rods, 5 tackle boxes, a camera pole, a backpack loaded with soft plastics, and numerous other items to make fishing a little more easy & enjoyable. It all easily fits in the Coosa and still gives me plenty of room to stand, move around, and fish.

We crept up the river and landed a fish not too long into the day, but the high pressure system had the fish a little on the lazy side. Finally we got to an area where I thought there would be some good fish. I set-up to let Mary May fish the area I thought would be holding them and cast to a shallow flat. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, my line shot sideways and I felt the head shake of a good fish. As he left the water, I could see his impressive head and shoulders and my blood was pumping. I was trying, frantically, to not let him cruise through the prime area that Mary May was fishing as he spun my kayak. I stood with a paddle in one hand, rod in the other, trying to force the fish toward the bank. Finally I got him where I wanted him and was able to land the brute. The river bass was in the high 4 lb to low 5 lb class and 20+ gorgeous inches.

For the next 40 minutes I stood and sight fished. I stand and fish regularly from the Coosa and love it. On this trip, I was able to see underwater structure, deep areas, and tons of fish - including a giant bass in the 7 lb class. I couldn't get the big gal to eat, but I did land a few more solid fish. Mary May caught her first fish sight fishing as well.

We bass fished a while longer with only a couple more to show. Eventually, we switched to our catfish gear and hauled in about a half dozens cats in the last 30 minutes of our day. They were perfect eating size, so we kept a couple to fillet. As we headed for home we had landed about a dozen bass with the biggest being the one pictured above and a couple more around 3 lbs. We caught fish on plastics, crankbaits, and topwater. My new Lucky Craft SKT MR crank in ghost bluegill was particularly productive.

Jackson just announced the addition of two more kayaks to their fishing line - the Cuda and Big Tuna. Check out the walk-through video: "Drew Gregory Models the Cuda and Big Tuna". I am already drooling over the Cuda, which looks like a great boat for lakes and bigger water. It will also be a platform from which you can easily stand and fish. And if it is anywhere near as good as the Coosa, I will probably be in love with it too.

I also finalized a job and sign the paperwork in the next couple of days. I don't want to say much until I do, but it will keep me in the area for at least a few more years. Hopefully I can get out on the water late this week and then I have an awesome trip planned, which is going to be a real curve ball from the ordinary bassin' blogs. Tight lines!

Monday, August 1, 2011

When Mother Nature Strikes Back...Literally - July 30, 2011

Sometimes things happen that you just can't explain. This past week was a prime example - one I will not soon forget. It started with a couple of job interviews for me and a lot of work and studying for Mary May. We both had impending deadlines at Duke and were working hard to meet them. So when Gary "froggy waters" Ribet gave me a call to do some night catfishing from the yaks I could not refuse. It was a more than welcome break from a long, anxiety filled week. And on top of that, I knew some big cats roamed the stretch of river we were going to be fishing.

We met up with Gary and fellow angler Rob at the launch site. The sky was beginning to rumble, with sections of blue and sections of dark grey. Thunder could be heard in the distance and ocassionally we spotted a distant lightning strike. Because of this we decided to stay close to the launch, but even the looming storm couldn't keep us off the river.

Our target was going to start as bass on topwater, shifting to gar on cut bait, and catfish on carolina rigged bait. Within the first 10 minutes Rob had a small blow-up on his swimming frog and Gary had a gar chomp his cut shad. Unfortunately, neither fish stayed on the hook. The front was moving closer and we could see storm pods up river. At that point the wind was blowing it away from us, so we were hoping we would luck out.

Mary May positioned her Coosa along a bank and made a perfect cast with her Storm Chug Bug below some vines. A fish blew up on it and missed it. She kept her cool, kept working it, and the fish came back to hit again. She landed a solid river largemouth and would get us on the board! Shortly after I stood in my Coosa throwing my R&S Baits Chatterbuzz buzzbait along some timber when it got inhaled. A chunky river bass nailed it and somehow I got the 3.5 lber out of some heavy cover without falling in. Gary and Rob had a couple more short strikes, but couldn't get one to hold on.

At this point we decided to head toward our main catfishing area. But the wind was changing and the front had stalled. Storms could be seen and heard in all directions as darkness fell and I started getting nervous about paddling away from the vehicles. Mary May and I decided to turn back and Gary and Rob agreed with our plan. Within minutes the skies overhead were filled with thunder and we knew we made the right choice. A hard rain started before we could even get the gear unloaded and yaks on the car. Thankfully, we got loaded up pretty fast and hit the road. Although the trip wasn't what we had hoped for, at least we hadn't gone skunked!

We traveled home via the winding backroads of central NC. After about 15 minutes we had driven out of the heaviest rain and things appeared to be letting up. Suddenly a white light lit up the vehicle like I had never seen before. It was so bright I had to close my eyes. A split second later there was a deafening boom. Within moments it was gone and I sat in silence trying to process what had just happened. Finally Mary May said what we were both thinking - "did we just get hit by lightning?" I honestly wasn't thinking clear enough to remember if anything else had happened, but the jolt had caused her phone to light up for no reason. It was an intense experience to say the least. Thankfully, we were both OK and the car seemed OK. But the rest of the drive home was a bit nerve wracking.

The next morning I checked out the Escape and the yaks. I could see no visible damage, which was a relief. I guess Coosa's aren't just tough river boats - they are lightning proof! The whole trip just goes to show that saftey doesn't just pertain to time on the water - it should be taken seriously from start to finish.

However, maybe the lightning was a bit of a turning point in my job search. Within the following 72 hours I had fantastic job offers from two top ranked organizations. It was a welcome relief for me as I have wanted nothing more than to end my job search. Mary May also submitted her application for the Duke Masters of Nursing-Nurse Practitioner Program, so hopefully the lightning brings her equally good luck! Until next time, I hope everyone stays safe out there and catches some big fish...Tight lines!