Monday, May 6, 2013

If That ain't Country...

  Last week a hot tip came in from a friend of mine that the hybrid striped bass were chasing shad in the evenings down at one of my favorite fishing holes.  After several texts and one phone call I felt a bit of responsibility to go down and try to catch a few so I could report back to him.  Fly fishing being my method of choice, I found myself without a suitable shad pattern with which to fish that evening.  I consulted several fellow fly fishers and decided I needed to tie some Lefty's Deceivers, a tried and true salt water pattern that has been used from coast to coast to catch all types of gamefish.  This simple pattern requires only a few materials to tie, including bucktail and most importantly saddle hackle which comes from a rooster.  After locating my tying materials I possessed everything but the hackle.  The closest fly shop with the hackle I needed is located about and hour away so I had to come up with another plan for obtaining the white hackle I needed to tie this pattern.  Fortunately we had a white rooster running around that was wearing the feathers I needed to complete my fly.  Since the camping season is upon us we needed to get rid of our loud roosters anyway, and Little Jerry would have to be the first to go.  After hunting down (not difficult) and dispatching Little Jerry I now had the feathers I needed for my flies, and some meat for the pot. 


  The next step was to turn Little Jerry, some bucktail, and a little flash into a suitable baitfish pattern that would hopefully fool a careless Hybrid into thinking it was just another shad.  Thirty minutes at the bench and I had several flies that I thought would do the trick.
    As I loaded a kayak and my rods into the truck I hoped that my work would soon pay off with the pull of a large fish on the end of my line.  I quickly arrived at my destination and was unloading my gear when a buddy of mine pulled up in his jet boat to see what I was up to.  After a quick conversation I threw my kayak in his boat and he delivered me upstream to a spot where he had seen some fish earlier in the day.  As I threw boat and gear out I noticed fish rising constantly in a shallow area just up from where I was delivered, with my curiosity being peaked I grabbed my flyrod and went to investigate.  As I quietly approached I soon realized there were hundreds of gar sitting over a shallow rocky area and they were constantly coming to the surface for a reason I could not yet understand.  As I watched the fish I realized that there was a huge mayfly hatch going on and I believe these fish were eating mayflies as they were swimming to the surface.  It is possible I am totally crazy, but this was the only explanation I could think of for this activity.   I tried in vain for 20 minutes to convince one of these gar to take my streamer, but think they really wanted a small mayfly imitation of which I had none. 
     I decided it was time to jump in the kayak and pursue my main quarry so I picked up my spinning rod with a swimming minnow and went searching for hybrids.  Fly fishing from a kayak in moving water is an activity that is somewhat difficult, so when I fish for the temperate basses, which typically school, I like to use a spinning reel to find the fish, and then switch to my fly rod once I have them dialed in.  This day I quickly hooked in to a medium sized hybrid and after fighting it for a few minutes it came off leaving me nothing but a straightened hook on my jig head.  Sadly I had just straightened the hook back up, and while I knew I would be better served to put on a new jig, laziness won out and I ultimately got what I deserved.  I drifted back through this spot with the fly rod to no avail and then grabbed the spinning rod again, this time replacing the old straightened jig.  I drifted on down and picked up a white bass on the swimmin' minnow, and re-drifted this section several more times to no avail.  The reports I had received told me that as I continued down I should start seeing some hybrids busting shad on the surface as the evening wore on.  I continued to drift and cast with my spinning gear, picking up a couple more white bass and one small hybrid, but I wasn't encountering the type of fishing I needed to totally commit to the fly rod.  As I continued to drift through the cold drizzle I had high hopes that the area I was now in was going to give me the action I was looking for.  Just as I was beginning to wonder if any fish would reveal their whereabouts the surface erupted with a shower of shad, followed by the splashes of their larger pursuers.  I quickly paddled to where I had last seen the activity grabbed my flyrod and made a long cast to this area.  My first few casts were retrieved much to fast to allow the fly to get down to the fish, so after taking a deep breath and settling down a bit I placed a cast back into the water and let my sink tip do its job for a few seconds.  Slow steady strips were suddenly interrupted by a violent yank at the end of my line.  I quickly set the hook and worked feverishly to get the fish on the reel so I could take advantage of the smooth drag of my Redington Delta reel.  As soon as I had my slack reeled up this fish let me know it was no run of the mill White Bass.  Line began singing out from the reel as the Hybrid began peeling off line in typical fashion.  The thump, thump headshake fight of a healthy hybrid is unmistakable as they dig for the depths and then run circles around the boat.  A five minute fight ensued as I was pulled around the lake in my kayak working to keep the fish from getting into the rocks, and then keeping it out from under the boat.  Eventually the fish tired and I was able to bring it to the boat.  I let out a victorious holler as my largest hybrid on fly was brought to hand.  A fat 21" hybrid was my reward for the effort I had put forth throughout the day, but the night was still young.   
    I continued to drift through the area this hybrid had been caught, but it appeared as though the school had moved on.  As I began to wonder if my luck had run out another surface eruption occurred not 30 yards from my position.  A quick cast in this direction and I was once again hooked up to a fish.  Line cleared and slack reeled up I soon realized this fish was not of the same caliber as the last one so I quickly horsed in what was a small white bass.  Disappointed I quickly released the fish, repositioned myself, and placed a cast back in the area where the school of fish was last seen.  Luckily the school had not yet moved on and my next cast was met with another vicious strike that I immediately knew was another nice fish.  This fish seemed stronger than the first big one, and I struggled to control the boat and keep the fish off the rocks while I attempted to take some video of the fight.  I soon abandoned the video idea as I knew this might be a new personal best hybrid on fly.  This fish made run after run, and while I kept him close to the boat I could not get the fish to the surface.  Several times I was able to get the start of my 4 foot leader out of the water but still could not see the fish.  After a fight which probably tired me out more than the fish I was finally able to lay eyes on what would be measured as a 23" hybrid which I would guess weighed somewhere in the 7 pound range.  

By this time I was worn out, but still wanting more.  The surface action had stopped and a few more drifts through the hot spots were left unrewarded.  By this time the dark skies were going black and I decided to paddle back up to the truck and call it a day.  I have had many rewarding fishing trips over the years, but I think this one will always stick out as one of my favorites.  I feel blessed to be able to go out and collect my own materials, put them on a hook and turn them into a fish that I will remember as a trophy.  Many people mistakenly think of fly fishing as kind of a snobby, city man's sport, but if this day's activities ain't country you can kiss my ass.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

One to Remember

For the last few days I have been pressure washing the back deck at the Landing.  It has been a slow process since there have been football games to watch, floaters to return to Sunburst, intermittent rain showers, and a tempermental pressure washer that tends to die for no reason.  Yesterday after fighting the pressure washer for an hour or so I decided to quit and try a little fly fishing in the riffle just above our take-out.  The riffles on the lower end of the river are quite different from those in the blue ribbon section.  Down here many riffles consist of a limestone ledge running across the river with a series of runs from bank to bank.  Right now many of these runs can be fished because the river is low enough to wade through some of them to get to the next one.  This must be done with caution and more often than not I end up on my keister at least once during the day.  I waded up the riffle yesterday throwing a streamer/popper from feathercraft given to me by Brian Wise (I believe it is called a femme fatale).  Anyway, I had a few small fish hit it on the surface but switched to a nymph when I reached the best runs.  Looking at my boxes I decided on Brandon's Turkey Tail Nymph, which he insists is one of his best creations.  I typically don't fish other people's flies since I too enjoy creating my own, but for some reason the Turkey Tail was calling to me.

This fly will not win any beauty contests, but after less than an hour of fishing it yesterday I can attest to it's effectiveness.  My best fish was a fat 15" rainbow in addition to another small bow, and 3 browns that were probably last year's stockers.  Nothing to write home about, but not too bad for less than an hour of fishing.

Today I awoke to a warm, yet drizzly day.  After getting the kids ready for school Amy dropped them off on her way north to pick up some sheep.  Finding myself alone with the weather too poor for any outdoor work related activities, I decided to head back to the Landing and explore the riffles below the take-out.  I had never fished these riffles and really didn't remember how they were set up.  The first set afforded several nice runs and I quickly caught a small brown on the Turkey Tail.  This fish (and those caught yesterday) hit when the sun was out.  Once the sun was hidden behind the clouds it seemed as if this nymph lost it's effectiveness.  After struggling for a while with the Turkey tail I switched to a yellow beadhead princelike nymph that I enjoy tying.

  By this time I had worked my way to the end of this series of runs where I found a nice ledge.  A well placed cast presented the fly along this ledge and I was rewarded with a swift take on the first drift.  I could immediately tell this was a better fish seeing a large flash as the brown headed for deeper water.  After getting the fish on the reel a short battle of give and take resulted in the landing of a somewhat skinny 17" male brown trout.

Several more casts and the fly was lost so I decided to move on in search of the next riffle which I could hear just around the bend.  While walking downstream I found a large root wad blocking my way along the side of the river.  The current had dug out the gravel around this root wad leaving some nice exposed boulders below the surface.  I quickly tied on a Pat's rubberlegs and small dropper and tossed it in amongst the boulders.  I could immediately see several fish come out to investigate, and a small twitch resulted in the first of 2 green sunfish.

After quickly releasing this fish I caught another and then hooked a small bluegill on the dropper, which would be a fly that would produce a number of brown trout in the next run.

Walking toward the next riffle I continued casting a rubberlegs with the dropper as the water was relatively deep and had some large rocks here and there.  One rock looked particularly inviting and a cast just above it produced a nice spotted bass that had several friends with it as I brought it to hand.

Up to this point despite catching a few dinks around the root wad and adding a spotted bass to my creel, the trout fishing had been relatively slow.  Little did I know that the last riffle of the day would change my outlook on the trip.  With the current ripping through small seams across a slippery limestone bottom I had my eye on the main channel located on the opposite side of the river.  Several casts to smaller seams produced nothing as I carefully picked my way across the rocky bottom toward my destination.  I set up on a side channel and began working my rig along submerged rocks and channel edges.  The current here is fast with some of the water being quite deep, large rocks split the current in several places and getting a good drift can be a challenge.  For the hour or so that I fished this 30 yards of stream it seemed as if I could predict which casts were going to catch fish.  I first had to make sure I was in a secure position so as not to fall, I would then determine where I thought the fish would be.  It would then usually take me a cast or two to figure out how I needed to mend to get the proper drift through the area.  Many times a downstream mend was required on half of the fly line and an upstream mend on the other as some of the casts were longer than one would like to make.  More often than not a good drift resulted in a willing brown trout grabbing my fly and putting up a valiant fight in this strong current.  After catching several 12 inchers on the rubberlegs I considered taking off the dropper since they didn't seem to want it.  I had however missed several fish which I assumed had taken the smaller dropper so I decided to leave it on.  Fish after fish continued to eat up and down this riffle and soon I was catching them on both the rubberlegs and the dropper.  Eventually the fishing slowed so I added some weight to see if I was missing a few fish that were sitting deeper.  Sure enough I began picking up fish again, although the added weight soon cost me my dropper.  Fishing on with only the rubberlegs I returned to a boulder where I had seen a larger fish flash a time or two.  Hoping the added weight would change my luck with this fish I laid a cast into some slower water between two runs.  A few mends and my indicator dove for the bottom.  A quick lift of the rod and a nice brown was airborn for a split second before heading downstream.  I knew this was a nice fish after seeing it jump, but after getting her on the reel I began to wonder if it was bigger than I thought.  One big run downstream with the drag screaming and I eventually stopped her bringing her to hand after a few minutes.  I did not measure this fish, but it was a nice fat 17-18" sow brown that I failed to get a picture of due to the difficulty of the wading in the spot where she was caught.  After unhooking her I gently revived her for a minute or so and as I lifted my rod to cast I was surprised to find a nice 12" largemouth chewing on my rubberlegs.  A few more 12-13" browns and I was worn out and ready to head back to the Landing for some lunch.

After the rain we had last night the river is now rising and the runs where I caught these fish should be unreachable to the wade fisherman by morning.  All we can hope is that the higher water will move them out of the main channel and into some of those side seams where another angler can have the kind of success that made this day one to remember.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Great Summer at SBR

     Well it's official, we have survived another busy summer at Sunburst Ranch.  This, our ninth summer, was by far the driest, hottest summer we have endured yet.  Thanks to our loyal patrons it was successful despite less than ideal conditions.  The river dropped to levels that had seldom been seen since the fifties, and even so getting out and walking could be avoided by careful paddling, and packing coolers that weren't too full of beer (some had to walk a litttle). 

     Those of you who did the shorter float are aware that we now have our own private takeout downstream and no longer have to put up with the zoo that is Dawt Mill.  Located halfway between James Bridge and Dawt, floaters only miss one small riffle, and then the dead water that is the mill pond.  This spring's small flood (or a landowners chainsaw) put an end to the rope swing just above Dawt so our takeout does not affect that once popular stopping point.  With a large gravel bar and covered pavillion, Sunburst Landing proved to be a big hit with floaters who enjoyed swimming or relaxing in the shade while waiting to be picked up for the short ride back to Sunburst. 

  Amy and I always enjoy seeing many of our favorite campers each summer, as well as those new campers that will hopefully be back.  I was surprised by several of my high school buddies this year, and Amy and I both had other friends and family come visit which we enjoy very much.  Hope you all had a chance to make it down this year, and if not we still have a few months of good weather before things get too cold.  Hopefully the rain will keep coming and the fishing will be good again this fall and winter.

Next year will be our tenth summer so stay tuned as we hope to have a customer appreciation weekend with a band and good food.  Big Smith is no longer together so it looks like we will have to find someone new this time around.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Eli's First Deer

Some may think that 8 years old is too young for a child to become a deer hunter. Most who live in the rural Ozarks would argue that 8 years old is getting a late start. Either way, this year Eli finally talked me into letting him pursue his quarry armed with more than just a BB gun. Being somewhat skittish of loud noises from a young age I had my doubts about Eli actually enjoying the firing of a high powered rifle. Being rather frugal I decided to borrow a rifle from a friend this year to make sure Eli would take to the sport. Friend and fellow campground owner Craig Pettit offered up his .221 fireball (which his son had used the previous 2 years) for Eli to use this year. A week before youth season Eli and I met Craig in his campground for a little target practice, and to see how Eli took to the shooting. After getting set up with a rest and using several cushions and a block of wood to get him up to the proper height the young prospective hunter was ready for his first shot. Ear muffs secured upon his tiny head, crosshairs were centered on the target. "Gently squeeze the trigger when you are right on the red dot" we instructed. The shot rang out along the river valley, and Eli was up quickly. Turning away from us, Craig and I feared he was going to take to the hills running after his first shot. As he turned toward us we were relieved to see and smile on his face as he was ready to examine the target. Half and inch to the right of the bulls eye at 50 yards was his reward, and the groundwork was now set for what would turn out to be the demise of a careless doe. Throughout the week leading up to youth season we spent time target practicing and talking about shot placement. A ground blind was placed in the woods for our hunt, and Eli was even able to watch several deer in his scope one evening on the shooting range.

Finally opening day was upon us, and we met the morning with much anticipation. I had moved the ground blind the previous day to a place we had seen deer crossing on the previous two mornings. They had crossed about 30 minutes after sunrise so we decided to get to the blind 15 minutes before it began to get light. After watching the woods come to life as light filtered through the oaks we were startled by the warning wheeze of several deer back behind us. With the wind at our favor, and no windows on the back side of the blind, the deer must have noticed the blind and recognized it as being something out of place. I was afraid of this, but knowing the deer traveled this route I couldn't resist the temptation to try this spot. Unable to find a good spot to conceal ourselves in this area we relocated the blind to a new spot for the following hunts. Walking to the blind that evening we quietly watched as a lone doe passed in front of us unaware of our presence. Too far for a shot from the small caliber rifle, but a good sign. That evening was uneventful with the typical sightings of squirrels, and a chipmunk that nearly came in the blind with us, but no deer. Day 2 was met with renewed hope due to our new blind placement. Just as the day before we again heard the blowing of several cautious deer behind the blind, but no deer were seen. Fearing Eli was beginning to get discouraged I was happy to see the evening hunt was still a high priority, although I was starting to wonder if success would elude us. After getting settled in the blind once again, we sat quietly for a while and I could see Eli's thoughts were beginning to wander. Armed with the Ipod touch for a distraction, I encouraged Eli to play a few games while we waited. Another hour passed and then I spotted it. Coming slowly toward the opening in the woods where we were set up a doe grazed slowly along the path. I pointed out the doe to Eli and we readied the gun in case we were awarded a shot. I had placed a bench and some blocks in the blind so Eli would have a solid rest from which to shoot. As the doe slowly came into range the gun was steadied on the blocks and Eli firmly pressed it to his shoulder. At 30 yards Eli easily got the deer in his scope and I instructed him on relaxing and making a good shot. As he slipped the gun off safety I urged him to put it behind her shoulder for the shot. "What's a shoulder" he replied. My heart sank, what had our week of training done, the time spent aiming at my archery deer target, watching live deer through his scope, had he learned nothing? Slowly I talked him through this and felt he understood, I then told him to put it on her shoulder and when he was steady he could shoot. No sooner had I finished my sentence than BANG he had taken the shot and the deer was gone. I had seen the deer buckle at the shot and knew he had made a good hit, but being unfamiliar with the small caliber rifle I decided we would give the deer some extra time, just in case. We walked back to my in-laws cabin told the story to the family and watched the video I had taken. After 30 minutes we were back in the woods and while finding no blood we found the deer down not 30 yards from where it was shot. After field dressing and hanging the deer in the barn youth season had come to a successful end.

The next week was spent eating backstraps cooked on the grill (twice) as well as deer tacos, deer chili, and deer meatloaf. With each meal of venison that Amy served you could see the pride Eli took in providing for the family. I could not have been more proud, and was probably more excited than Eli when he finally achieved his goal. I spent the regular firearms season "hunting horns" with Eli in a buddy tree stand, and while we could have shot many does only a few bucks presented themselves. One decent 8 point came in behind us not offering a shot, and the bucks that did offer a shot Eli decided he would let walk since I told him they weren't big enough to put on the wall. We will have one more chance with a late youth season in January, but even if we don't get out during that time we have had a successful year in which Eli learned to become a responsible deer hunter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shocking with MDC

This week the Missouri Department of Conservation is conducting their yearly trout sampling on the North Fork River. I was fortunate enough to be asked to join them for their first day of sampling on the upper stretch of trout water. We put in at Kelly Shoals and they went upstream to Lamb Shoals where they started the sample. Hundreds of rainbows were sampled with the biggest being about 22". We also sampled smallmouth which showed up in mass with good numbers of fish between 12-17 inches. We ended the sampling just below ROLF where we got the biggest fish of the day a 26" brown. Several other browns over 20" were also sampled, as well as quite a few bows between 15-18". The young of year rainbows were few and far between, which does not surprise me considering the low water we had last winter during the rainbow trout spawn. It was a fun, yet backbreaking day, clipping fins and measuring fish. Gives me a new perspective on how many fish are in this river, and how few I catch in relation to what is there.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fishing at Sunburst (fantasy Island)

Here is some video I shot around the island here at Sunburst Ranch. I hope to do more of this on the river so you can get your river fix even in the winter!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nice Day at Dry Run Creek

The kids had last Friday off so Eli and I decided to head to Dry Run Creek for a few hours. For those who are not fishermen, Dry Run Creek is an area below the dam at Norfork Lake that is reserved for children or handicapped people. It is full of trout and has been landscaped with the best interest of the fishermen and fish in mind. This is a great place to introduce a child to fly fishing, and Quarry Park is located just across the highway so Mom or Dad can fish after the children are worn out. I am trying to include a link to video from that day, but having a little trouble. I couldn't get a direct link, but if you copy and paste this next line to your address bar it will take you right to it. Sorry I'm technically challenged.