31 August 2010

North, to Alaska, North for Coho Fishing

Alaska, beautiful, majestic, immense, and home of many fish species.  I love going to Alaska--driving, flying, boating, it doesn't matter the method of transportation; I just love going to Alaska!  As always, like the majority of our trips, our purpose was to catch fish, and Coho was the target, Coho coming from the Pacific Ocean and Norton Sound headed home to the Unalakleet and North Rivers, and for one week, we called the Unalakleet River Lodge our camp home.  We needed one hotel, two planes, and a boat to arrive at the URL, but every leg of the trip was worth the journey, except we missed breakfast at Gwennie's in Anchorage, which was a brothel back in the 1920s.  We left Dallas on Saturday, arrived at Anchorage and the Millennium Hotel Saturday evening, and yes, the sun still shone as we finished supper at 10pm.  We left Anchorage on Sunday, arriving at Unalakleet that afternoon, boated up the Unalakleet River to the lodge, took the tour and became acquainted with the staff and our guide, dined on a fine meal, and rigged our rods for five days of glorious fishing.

For Cody, this trip was about adding to the freezer; for me, it was about adding to my species list.  Missions accomplished with lots of flare and fun.  Like most places this spring, the Unalakleet was blown out, so we only fished a few spots before trekking to the North River.  Lowell, our guide, put us on salmon early; however, on Day 1, I brought the 6# and 4#, accidentally leaving the 8# in the room--mistake, but not devastating.  On his fourth cast, Cody caught a pretty male who still had sea lice on his body.  My 6#, newly completed, hooked up with many salmon, but it was about an hour-and-a-half before I landed my first salmon on a pretty pink and purple fly I had tied.  Now, up until this trip, I only practiced catch-and-release fishing.  I knew the salmon were going to die, but catch-and-keep fishing was new to me.  No, I didn't listen as Lowell knocked the bucks senseless, nor did I watch as he sliced their gill plate to bleed them.  Lowell was very efficient and humane, but this fishing was a guilty pleasure.  The goal for everyone was to catch their limits early in the week, so the fish could be processed and packed for the flight home.  While we were at Unalakleet, the limit was four Cohos per person per day. 

We continued to fish for Coho as we worked our way up the North to a nice little cove.  There we fished for Chum.  Those fish are ones Picasso would have appreciated.  Lowell told us about a guest who was holding the fish, posing for a picture, when the Chum turned its head towards his bicep and clamped down.  While the guy had on layered clothing, the fish took a piece out of his arm.  Needless to say, I did not hold any of the Chum I caught.  I let the boys hold them. 

Moving farther up the cove, I fell in love.  The Coho and Chum were great fighters, but the Grayling and Dolly Varden captured my attention.  I loved watching Cody fishing mouse patterns.  The fly would hit the water, and 15 yards away, the Grayling would react, stealthily swimming along the bottom, and then, darting quickly to the fly.  Several were just hit and runs, but then, after about the fourth or fifth hit, it was GraylingOn!  What a fish--colors, fins, fight on a 4# rod with a dry fly.  For the day, I only caught one Grayling on a size 12 Elk Hair Caddis, but it was great fun!  While Cody fished for Grayling, I fished upstream for Dolly Vardens.  If I ever go back to Unalakleet, forget the Coho and Chum, I want large Dollies on the end of my line!  Overall, both Cody and I had a four species first day!

With the exception of Thursday, the weather was menacingly cold, high of 40 degrees, and constantly overcast.  At the dinner table, other guests shared how each day they layer dressed more than the previous day's clothing.  Tuesday, we were one Coho shy of our limit before lunch, so Lowell brought us back to the lodge for lunch so he could clean and process our fish for traveling, and it was really nice to warm up in front of the fire while having lunch.  I almost boycotted going back out, but I didn't.  The Dollies and Grayling awaited.  We fished the mouths of several small creeks, whose colors were bright red due to the spawning salmon packing the creeks.  The salmon aren't feeding; in fact, once the salmon hit fresh water, they never eat again, and apoptosis, cell death, begins to occur.  The salmon are returning to spawn, and bite the fly because they feel it is a predator who will eat their eggs.  Fishing the mouths of the creeks took lots of patience and several days, but Cody finally caught a brilliant red spawning buck.  I chose to fish the faster water for Dollies and was not disappointed.

The coldest day was Wednesday, and we started the day at Butch's Cove.  The Dollies I love so much decided they liked my flies, and I caught the biggest Dolly of our trip.  The day was pretty rough, though, and I refused to wade at times.  I just could not warm up or feel my feet.  Cody waded and caught Coho and Chum, while I stayed with the boat, catching Grayling and Dollies.

Two days, Lowell took us up the North several miles.  Thursday, the sun shone and temps warmed, so we fished for Coho, not to keep, just to catch and release.  These bucks and hens were nearing their spawning grounds, and Cody and I had several Coho doubles.  That day, the sun's light added a brilliance to the landscape.  Matt even stayed up past midnight to capture one of the most beautiful sunsets of his life.

Friday was our last day of fishing, and we wanted to end the week like we began it--catching four species for the day.  Lowell had taken us to another creek, which we waded.  Grayling thrived there.  We fished it earlier in the week, but when we returned, Friday afternoon, we saw a King Salmon.  He was rather red, but still had plenty of fight left in him.  I asked Cody if he would fish for the King, but Cody said Lowell would probably despise it.  Lowell told Cody to cast for him, but the King was really chummy.  (King Salmon make their runs back to the freshwater in late, late May and June; Pink Salmon runs happen in July, and August is the Coho Salmon run.)  The Grayling gave the King a wide berth, but would encroach upon his space.  For a while, I had been casting to a Grayling upstream of the King.  I finally got that Grayling to take my fly, and as I am bringing him in, the King honed in on the Grayling's splashing and targeted the Grayling.  I began fervently fussing at the Grayling to not fight, but Cody and Lowell kept trying to talk me in to letting the King get the Grayling.  I refused, though, and landed the Grayling, snapped his photo, and let him go, unharmed.  We motored down to Butch's Cove so Cody could catch a Dolly.  Ultimately, we caught Chum and Dolly, so it was--another four species day.

Even though we fished all day, wading a good part of the day and fought the cold, because the meals were divine, we could have gained weight.  At Unalakleet River Lodge, the last dinner is always Norton Sound crab.  It was the best crab I had ever eaten, and it was all we could eat, too.  Before heading home on Saturday, we had New Orleans style beignets, and they were to die for.  We learned how to make a maple glaze for our salmon.  We bid our good-byes, enjoyed the boat ride down river to Unalakleet and the airport.  We left a cold Anchorage, Alaska on a Saturday (snow would be falling within two weeks) and arrived home Sunday morning to temps in the upper 80s.  We brought home three boxes of salmon, collectively weighing over 50 pounds and can't wait to eat and share our fish.

In 1805, the Corps of Discovery grew tired of the salmon when they camped at the mouth of the Columbia and resorted to eating horses just so they could eat red meat.  I don't think I could ever tire of salmon, and I guess we have 50 pounds to answer the question. 

14 August 2010

Port O'Connor, TX

The first saltwater fish I ever caught was a Redfish, albeit, an approximate 5" length Redfish, but a caught Redfish, nonetheless.  I caught it wade fishing with my friend Jack in the Lower Laguna Madre.  I think Redfish are pretty.  Not truly red like a Red Snapper, the Redfish possesses beautiful colors--the obvious black "eye," orange body with 24K gold flecks near its belly, it is a beautiful fish, but what I think is the most beautiful about a Redfish's hue is the shimmery, light turquoise color edging its fins, particularly the tailfin.   So, when I was asked to join Jason, Malcolm, and Cody for an extended weekend Redfishing trip at Port O'Connor, I could not resist.  However, it took me forever to pack and decide what I wanted to take, so Cody did not get to meet up with Jason and Malcolm for the Shiner Beer Factory tour.  Sad Cody.

Mullet drive me nuts!  I know people in Florida eat them and even serve them on the menu, but mullet are annoying.  They jump out of the water and sound like Bass, so the head turning is a natural reaction--for nothing; they spook and scare other fish near them; they move in on a Redfish's feeding ground; they just make a nuisance of themselves.  Saturday we fished with a guide who pointed out places for Cody and I to go, and took Jason and Malcolm to another spot.  We fished diligently all morning, but with the plethora of mullet, all other fish remained elusive.  I did get a good hit from probably a speckled sea trout, but that was it.  We moved to the area where tarpon exist, but saw beautiful porpoises rolling, instead and no fish.  We waded and some other boat encroached in to our area.  Basically, outstanding desire + excellent effort yielded NO FISH, argh!

When we five met up again, Jason was the only one with a bite and landed Redfish.  Malcolm thought he snapped the photo, but it wasn't present on the iPhone when we broke for lunch.  Jason said he had it stored in his memory and that was all that counted.

Cody and I headed out again, mainly sightseeing and attempting to go beyond the breaks, but the waves rolled too high, so we headed back into the bay, all the while the black Matagorda Island Lighthouse peered above the southeastern horizon.

Hitting the water at 6 a.m. again Sunday, Malcolm and Jason rode in Malcolm's Mowdy and Cody and I in the Mitzi.  We headed to the Saluria Bayou area, and though it took a while, Malcolm motored Jason over to a school.  Jason made about 15 false casts, landed his fly in the middle of at least 10 schooling Redfish, and immediately, Jason's 8# rod bent and bent hard.  Meanwhile, Cody and I hung back watching the rest of that spooky school make a V wake toward us.  I casted to a tail about 30 feet away, and what should happen, an interfering mullet scared the school to hither and yon.  Meanwhile, Cody and I watched Jason work that Redfish who peeled line off that Lamson, and then Jason reeled it in, all against a gorgeous sunrise.  I was glad to see Jason land that fish, because two days, amongst four people, a total of three Redfish were caught.  Jason had two, and Malcolm would catch one later that morning.  They genuinely are easily spooked fish!

Not long after Jason caught his fish, I casted to two tailing Reds, but one only nipped my spoon fly, and then there were none.  Since we were in an outgoing tide, we should have paid more attention to our grass flat, that would eventually become dry at low tide.  Malcolm's boat maneuvers like a mini-airboat, skims over water shallow or deep.  The Mitzi is a flats boat, but the flats became too dry, and Jason and Cody had to push the Mitzi out of the flat--not an easy task in the sandy, more muddy, areas. 

Eventually pushed out in to the channel, we knew Malcolm's boat could go places the Mitzi could not, so he headed off to a favorite fishing spot, and Jason, Cody, and I took the long trip back to Clark's.  What was supposed to be a long weekend, quickly became a regular weekend, and even though we enjoyed one another's company, this bad fishing trip, yes, I said bad, and that is a first for me, ended, and we headed home, with a side stop in Lulling, TX to buy a wonderfully sweet Black Diamond watermelon.

I know Robert guides the Port O'Connor area, and his clients land fish, but I have a negative impression of the area.  The best thing about POC, besides fishing with friends and seeing a healthy Brown Pelican population, was the lighthouse.  A black sentinel that served as a beacon, even in the daytime, and proved that while the fishing skills might have been lost, we would never be.

11 August 2010

Rod Building with Norm

Fly fishing is an art--in four dimensions and is both modern and classical, as well. 

Many have seen the movie A River Runs Through It, where Jason Borger is Brad Pitt's stand-in for the casting scenes.  Watching Jason's casting, hearing Jason's casting demonstrates one aspect of this unique art. 

Making a good cast or a mediocre one and hooking and landing a fish, most of the times a beautiful fish with gorgeous colors, stripes, spots, and shine, offers another artistic aspect.

However, what prompts people to continue fly fishing when casting is an innate habit and landing fish is a frequent occurrence?  Fly tying and rod building are the answers.  You know, someone had to tie the flies seen in fly shops, because there is not a machine that ties them.  Save some money and perfect fly-tying skills, so that fish are biting flies you tied.  It really is an added bonus, not to mention a third facet of this beautiful art.

True, pure fly fishing art form is presenting the perfect cast with a rod you built and a fly you tied and landing a fish.  Taking a blank and creating a unique design, which sets your rod apart from the store-bought rod, creates an added addiction to fly fishing.  I guess that is why Norm and Brother Mike suggested I name my first rod AA, because it is addicting (and due to work's interference, it took me from August to April to build that first rod).  Catching fish on a rod you built does nothing but encourage the building of another rod.  Just ask our friend Jason, who built 14 rods under Norm's tutelage.

Many of us in the Dallas Fly Fishers had a wonderful teacher, Norm Goheen, who on Wednesday nights taught us the meticulous, rewarding art of rod-building, well, building graphite rods.  (If anyone wants to learn to build a bamboo rod, Colonel J.A. Bradford is the man to see.)  Norm fought a courageous battle against several cancers but succumbed to the disease at the end of November 2009.  I love TFO rods, and with the exception of my Casting for Recovery 5# rod, I built every one of them under Norm's guidance. 

I did not have a four-piece 6# rod, so I began one under Norm's instruction in August 2009, but I did not finish it before Norm passed away.  I had the vision of the rod in my mind and shared it with Norm, who thought it would be an interesting rod, but I put it aside with Norm's passing.  Seeing as it is now needed, I picked it up again to work on it.  I have tried to look at it as Norm would, critiquing its craftsmanship like Norm.  I think it would pass his muster.  I have unwrapped and rewrapped some guides that I did not feel Norm would approve. 

Most handles are designed with a man's hand in mind, which means the handles are bulky and chunky.  Therefore, Cody started designing the handles for my rods, my 2#, my 4#, and my current 6#.  Cork is delicate, at times, and boring out the cork on the end for the reel seat to slide into is not an easy process.  Tonight, Dad, Cody, and I used Dad's drill press, not to mention the presence of six hands, to create a perfect handle.  I know Norm would be impressed with our precision and Cody's beautiful craftsmanship. 

I miss Norm.  I miss his lessons on Wednesday nights.  I miss his advice.  This is the last of my rods that he touched and offered construction advice.  It has taken 9 months to really decide if I wanted to continue rod building.  I knew I wanted to finish this 6#, just because Norm had a hand in it, but what about future rods?  Do I want to build a new rod without Norm's influence?  I have been thinking about a 7# rod and have a design scheme in mind.  All that we learned from Norm is in our minds, and we collectively share with one another what we remember Norm teaching us, so while I have five rods built under Norm's direct supervision, all of my rods will have Norm's guidance and passion in them.  My goal is to have a collection of rods from 2# to 10# that I built, with the exception of my 5#.  I need a 3#, 7#, and 9# to complete my goal, and while I wish my teacher and friend was here to help with those, Norm will be present in each rod.   

01 August 2010

Sylamore Creek Access

Our last day found us about 35 miles south of Mountain Home, fishing for trout at the Sylamore Creek Access.  We forewent Crooked Creek and Smallmouth Bass for more trout.  30 December 2008, we fished Sylamore Creek with guide Jamie Rouse when the White River was blown out.  I had never nymphed before Sylamore Creek, and it was a learning experience.  I did catch two fish my first try out with Jamie, and so when Cody mentioned he really wanted to fish Sylamore again, I told him I was game.  Cody fished Sylamore several times in the past, including the charity event Hooked on a Cure (benefiting St. Jude's Hospital) where Cody was paired with celebrity Flip Pallot.  Knowing that it is a trophy area and has produced the many times he has fished there, Cody wanted to give Sylamore a try.  Besides, we treat our fish so well, they are dying to jump in to our nets!

Last night, Cody tied several olive Wooly Buggers for fishing, today, and olive was the color to fish.  Three casts in, FishOn! for Cody Bell.  I decided to give the Wooly Bugger a try to, and on our second pass in the trophy, catch-and-release area, I caught an nice-sized trout, but could not get it in at the boat.  I was actually watching this dark, squirrel-like animal along the bank, because I knew I had never seen this animal.  So, while I was asking Cody what it was, I had hooked up, but I did not set the hook.  Cody told me that the animal was a mink and asked was I going to blog it.  I smart-alecily reply, "Yes, I'll blog it just after I land this fish and you take my picture."  Two seconds later, FishOff!  After talking with Larry at Blue Ribbon, I figured out what was wrong with my nymphing set-up, so I took the time to rig up a San Juan Worm with a Scud dropper.  Meanwhile, Cody ate his Deluxe Meat Lunchable and caught two fish (which I graciously helped net).  One was a long, skinny, baby Rainbow, but Cody landed a pretty 13" Rainbow on his second fish.  Finally, I threw my rig into the water, and about the third mend, FishOn! for me, and on the hot pink San Juan Worm.  I nymphed three trout, all taking the SJW, thank you Larry Babin, and Cody caught 10 fish for the day on his Olive Wooly Bugger. 

We made many passes in the trophy section, but when the water levels receded, we caught logs and rocks and sacrificed our flies to the river god.  After not catching fish for an hour and losing flies, we decided we had fished our fill.  We trailered the boat and got it ready for the return trip to Texas, tomorrow.  We'll have to get the Zoom ready in the morning, but we'll be leaving Denton Ferry RV park and Mountain Home, Arkansas for home.  We have had a great week being with friends, fishing for trout, and seeing the Ozark Mountains.
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