Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chuck-uh-lusk-ee, Snukes and Skeets


                             Centropomus undecimalis - Common Snook - Locals say Snukes

A few years back I had the opportunity to fish in the 10,000 Islands (Everglades National Park) area out of Chokoloskee (CHUCK-UH-LUSK-EE), Florida.  Our sure fire methods always  usually, sometimes  produced some decent sized snook.  The secret:  fish all night.  

About four in the afternoon we would load the beer cooler(s), add a few sandwiches, stow away some medicinal alcohol,  and make a short run to favored mangrove points.   Until shortly before sunset, casting up under the mangrove branches would produce a few nosed out snook.  Late in the day  we would anchor up a our favorite point, one that produced the most hydraulics from changing tides. False casting would aid in memorizing  our casting lanes.  Hanging up in mangrove branches when dark, not good.  

As twilight approached suiting up became vital to comfort.  The last line of defense was light rainwear, preferably with elastic pant and sleeve cuffs  - if not, "please pass the duct tape."  A zipper front on the jacket was a must - if not,  mo' duct tape.  100% Deet was then applied to all exposed flesh for the onset of conservatively estimated, a billion misquotes - "skeets" to the locals.  The first hour after sunset was the most intense and abated to maybe half a billion for the rest of the night.  The deet kept the bites to a minimum but one remained within an air chamber of ringing skeeter wing music for the duration. Smoking cigarettes pushed 'em back a couple of inches - worth every puff.

Darkness - lucky if a full moon and very lucky if a firm frontal breeze started up.  As an incoming tide began flowing around the visualized point we would begin to hear snook feeding, "pop" then away, "pop" then closer, "pop."  We would set aside the beers, quietly stand, exclaim, "they're here," and zing a memory, measured first cast of forty feet.  A lefty's Deceiver would slide into the current from a wide mend to rise upwardly ... Pop!

As the tide ebbed, lager consumption increased, the skeets would still be with us, and it would be time for another layer of Deet. Unique to a slack tide would be the increase in sounds - loud, deep, swampy grunts, "whomp" over there, "whomp" at the point, another "whomp."  Shining a high beam light along the shorelines all around us would produce pair after pair of what digital camera users call red eye - "we're surrounded by alligators!"   It was then that I finally understood why a good flats boat costs well over forty grand. 

The outgoing tide would fish much the same, maybe two million of the billion skeets would have died, and the beer would be down to just a few cans, so we would set  the jack plate  to plane levels and head for the cabin. With the Deet removed from a sun bag(now cold) shower, a breakfast of fried snook fillets, hush puppies, cheese grits and the night topped off with a Bloody Mary sunrise all of nature's inconveniences were forgotten.

If you decide this is a trip for you, fish a few times in daylight first. Lesson one: If you land your fly into the mangroves, you'll discover where skeets go in the daytime. Learn the markers - small, bicycle sized reflectors attached to a small posts - and follow along with Park maps. Fish in pairs with at least two shallow water boats - one can pull the other off of oyster bars. Remember, all mangroves look alike.  A better plan?  Hire a guide ... and do not, I repeat do not forget the Deet.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fly Fishing With The Stars

                                                  Osborne Bridge - Last Chance, Idaho

I had turned off of Highway 20, to take a look at the Henry’s Fork. The gravel parking lot faced an old wooden bridge that still spanned the river. As I passed a few fly fisherman wiggling into their waders I spotted a lone man a third of the way across the bridge. It was about then that my over taxed hard-drive of a brain thought this must be Osborne’s Bridge, a prime location on the river. I approached the tall fellow looking out into the water. Rather than say we are daydreaming, we fly fishers say we are looking for rises. Rises are trout feeding on the surface which make those pretty circles in the water.

“Do you know if this is Osborne Bridge?”

Interrupted, he turned and replied, “I have no idea, but my friends there at the car could tell you.” 

He finished his instructions with a smile as he recognized a fraternal fly fisherman. I recognized the Oscar winning actor, William Hurt. 

“The reason I ask, some fellows down at Silver Creek told me to fish at Osborne Bridge.”

“You just came from Silver Creek?  How did it fish?”

I replied, “A humbling experience.......the trout looked and laughed at me.”

He laughed, “The same thing happened to me, but what a place, eh?”

The conversation eased into him asking where I was from, where was I going to fish and led to him extending a hand and saying, "I’m William.” 

I shook his hand, "Grant, and I of course know who you are.”

He smiled and seemed appreciative that I was not breaking out the Sharpie and paper for an autograph. 

I asked, “Are you an avid fly fisher?”

“Used to be, and I seem to be getting back into it. I am here for a new project, a movie.”

“Oh, another “A River Runs Through It?”

He seem to grimace. “I fished a with Norman McClean.”

At this time I entered into my let me entertain you with an interesting story mode. I related that I have a close friend who asked me to take a lady friend of his to lunch. She lives in Bozeman where most of the filming of “the fly fishing movie” took place and the significance of her importance to “the movie” was that when she was approached by Redford’s advance team to rent her house, where she could name her price, she said, “It is not for rent.”

“But, you don’t understand, this is Robert Redford, he wants this house while he is here, name your price and terms.”

She said politely, “No you don’t understand, my house is not for rent - The End.”

I laughed as I concluded the story with, “Not many women would turn down Robert Redford.”

Hurt pumped his fist and said, “Good for her.”

The slight grimace returned, “ I had the rights to Norman’s book, but could not raise the money at the time. Redford out bid me, so good for her, good for her.”

I was just about to turn into a fan and quiz him about “Body Heat” when his movie people called ready for him, and it was time for me to go look for those circles in the water. 

With smiles we shook hands once again and exchanged the fisherman’s parting, “tight lines.”

Epilogue: Three nights later at Boodles in Bozeman, I had dinner with the lady who turned down Redford. When I told her the Hurt story, she quipped, “Think we can get an invitation to the premier.” 

The movie project, Hollywood's version of Duncan's The River Why.  As much as the fly shops hoped for a blockbuster, "this movie" went directly to cable.  Hurt performed in his Academy Award winning style as H2O, but his cast did have a noticeable open loop. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

You Want Escargot With That?

The Turnip Truck is facing the White River in Cotter, Arkansas, but it could really be any river.  My good friends and neighbors have a bird seed feeder stationed between our two rigs.  This is a bird watching paradise and the volume of birds feeding has forced me to learn the difference between a finch and a crow.

Just across the river high up in an old oak tree is the nest or aerie for other fishing buddies, two beautiful bald eagles. The large nest is isolated high above a cattle farm, and too far from view to determine the exact count of eaglets.   The mother's milk for these young eaglets is a varied selection of trout and from the number of observed flights and taloned dives, there are some hungry beaks in their river front home.

Curious, I decided to study up on eagles. Eagles mate for life.  However if left alone the surviving eagle is said to quickly find another mate.  Kind of like humans, this same lifestyle trait  manifests itself in the same way in Florida's assisted living communities and mobile home parks.  You know the scene, the widow from four double wides away,  "I'm so sorry to hear of your wife's passing, we all loved her so much. Would you like some pie?"

Male eagles reach maturity around the age of four or five, where human males struggle with maybe never reaching maturity at all.   Eagles do not mate every year which does confirm that female eagles get headaches, too.  Male and female eagles look alike.  The guideline for determining the gender of an eagle is measuring the distance between the top of the beak to the chin. Females display a greater distance in the height of their beaks.  Males are said to become fixated upon big beaks. Beak envy is a important big fee generator in the practice of psychiatric medicine with eagles.

The eagle's grocery store of choice is obvious here, it is the river.  Trout fishermen and eagles love to see a bug hatch take place.  During an emergence, rather than remaining hunkered down on the bottom, the trout begin a process of coming up, first for the emergers just below the surface,  and then feeding upon the meniscus trapped insects as the bug's birthdays are determined.

For trout fishers, hatches present opportunities that are truly satisfying.  Laying out a fifty foot cast with a self-fashioned fly attached to a perfectly extended tippet  that lands lightly upon the water's surface four inches in front of a rising trout is a checkmate type move. Seeing the multicolored trout's bone white mouth open to inhale the tiny concoction of hairs and feathers is a tingling bonus. The senses ignite with the first splash of the take.  A bit melodramatic, yes, but far better than watching the semi-finals of American Idol.

Even greater than a fly fisher's own catch is being in the water and observing the take of a soaring eagle.

"Darlin'  the trout are talon deep, and I think I'll go to the store - need anything?"

The eagle begins a predator drone like circle high above the river, suddenly a few strong wing flaps propel him into a shadowless power glide until the target is achieved, wings turn up, talons extend and a brown trout is purchased at the river delicatessen.

"You want escargot with that?"

Just recently, I received one of those internet links with a live web camera poised above a Mr. and Mrs. Eagles nest containing triplets.  Below the live screen the typical comment was posted,  "Awww, they're so cute."  Muir like, I sent it along to my  list of naturalist buddies, err, make that cynical friends.  I received a lot of  "gee, thanks," and the same, "Awww, they're so cute."  One friend was quick to respond, "Yeah, we had one of those live cams around here a year or so ago, thousands watched it, even got T.V. coverage, until one day the screen went blank. The live cam was turned off the day hundreds of mothers called in  screaming, "Oh the humanity!"   Mr. Eagle decided enough fish for awhile … today it'll be Tex-Mex,  and he proceeded to deliver a rhinestone collared  chihuahua to his hungry eaglets.

 " You want salsa or guacamole with that?"

Fly Fishing From A Motorhome

 Turnip Truck II

The setup here is in Cotter, Arkansas on the banks of the White River, my home waters. Jackson, the Chocolate Lab pictured is the blog editor - expect poor grammar.

Turnip Truck I

Snook (R.I.P.), a beloved Black Lab loved the Ozarks, and thought silly the move from Turnip hauler One to Two.