Life and Death on the Flats of Sandy Point

A dark gray, nearly black, torpedo appeared without warning in the shallow water near the edge of the flat. As if dispatched by some unseen submarine lurking in the deeper water, it tracked unerringly toward the bonefish. It was not just any  bonefish, it was MY bonefish, struggling to free itself from the sharp steely sickle now fast to its jaw. Deceived by the array of hair and sparkle which had been affixed to the fly, the bonefish now faced double jeopardy. Death dealing teeth attached to one end of a highly efficient killing machine were moments away, while a behemoth wielding a graphite stick terminating in twelve pound flourocarbon applied as much force as he dared in an effort to extract the fish from the path of the onrushing annihilation.

The massive wave created by the impact of my wading shoes as I hurried to rescue my imperiled bonefish resulted in a mini-tsunami, much to the chagrin of my guide and my fishing companion Steve, some two hundred yards distant, engaged in the pursuit of a fish of their own. For my part, I remained laser focused on saving my bonefish from its demise at the hands, or more correctly, the teeth, of the famished shark. I shouted in vain at the shark, now setting about its deadly business of bisecting my bonefish for its mid-day meal.

sharks tries to eat my bonefish 2018

“no!No! NO!” I admonished the shark, its mouth now engulfing the fish up to its dorsal fin. I reached the scene at the last possible moment and vigorously slapped the shark with the tip of my rod in an effort to discourage it. This shark, however, was not so easily frightened off, so I quickly exchanged ends of the rod, expecting eminently to see the water turn to blood. Suddenly, the shark turned tail, having had enough of being beaten severely about its head and shoulders. To my amazement, the bonefish swam lazily away, sans a blood trail. I felt no remorse about having intervened in a natural predator/prey interaction, as it was I who precipitated the entire affair.

As I watched the bonefish mill about, the realization that the fish was still attached to my fly, tippet, and fly line gradually solidified in my somewhat shaken head. Just then, the exhausted bone swam towards me, coming to rest between my neoprene shod feet, as a puppy might do. I could almost hear it say “I have had a tough day.’ “How about a break?” I bent over and gingerly removed the fly, taking care not to remove the fish from the water. I watched it make its way to safety and noticed the scrapes on the after part of its body. “Lucky fish” I thought. “Neptune has his eyes on you today.”

bonefish shark attack between my feet

bonefish and reel sandy point southside 2018 edited

bonefish shark attack scar

This had been the second bonefish versus shark encounter I had witnessed that morning. Earlier, as I roamed the same expansive flat, I encountered several schools of bones nervously picking at crustaceans and worms on the sandy tan bottom. I even managed to persuade several to pay me a brief visit after inhaling what they perceived as easy to catch shrimp, or whatever it is a bonefish thinks my fly may be. Between releases I looked around me and whispered a prayer of thanksgiving to The Creator. How magnificent He must be, able to bring into existence such an incredible place and its complex systems of interrelated  creatures, all with just a thought. I count myself fortunate to experience His handiwork firsthand, up close and in all its splendor. As I pondered God’s infiniteness and my inability to grasp His unseen presence across the universe, I saw a bonefish swimming for its very life. The bone raced across the flat, a shark as desperate to catch it as the bonefish was to escape. The bone veered right, now making a perfect circle across the sandy sea bottom.A second shark joined in the chase. It was over in a nano-second. The water, now crimson with bone blood, was flung violently into the warm air as the sharks enjoyed bonefish sashimi. It was quite a ruckus to behold. As quickly as it began, the entire scene returned to normal and the sharks resumed their patrol. As I considered the event I just observed, it occurred to me that I was standing on the saltwater version of the Serengeti Plain. The lemon sharks, much like lions, occupy the role as the apex predator in this environment. The bonefish, similar to the gazelles, serve their role as prey, relying on their speed to escape predation and propagate their species. Cruel though it may appear, predation serves to further evolution, selecting those creatures possessing the greatest speed and fitness to pass their genetic material to the next generation. I am not certain if this was The Circle of Life, but it was clearly The Circle of Death for this particular fish. I find comfort in taking the long view that what I saw was indeed evolution in action, enhancing the quality of the species living on the Saltwater Serengeti.

Foots guide at SAndy Point 2018 edited

“Foots”, out guide, directed Steve and I to reboard the Hewes and whisked us away to the next flat. Here the water was so deeply turquoise in color that it was nearly blinding. Beneath its blue topaz surface lay legions of bonefish, barracuda, as well as the omnipresent sharks. Goodly numbers of bonefish were located in short order and we brought a few to hand for inspection. They were quickly released to add to their gene pool. We spied an especially large cuda and I tossed my Woodchopper lure in its direction. This menacing looking lure is used primarily in the jungle rivers of South America for large peacock bass. It comes armed with three sets of six-aught treble hooks and sports noise generating propellers on each end. I began having some success with this lure after the cudas started systematically rejecting the old standbys such as tube lures.I made my presentation hopefully. The fish, in a most un-predator like fashion, shrank from the lure. I made a number of casts at the beast, hoping to entice this fine specimen of some four feet. No such luck!

woodchopper

The cuda repeatedly avoided the lure, so I wound it in, attached one of its manifold hooks to a guide foot ( No, not Foots’ foot!) and very carefully returned to its place in the rod holder. The Mercury fired up after a slight groan and we steamed to yet another slice of tropical paradise in search of Mr. Bonefish.

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By now, the tide had reached its zenith, pushed even higher by persistent westerly winds. In this particular location, winds out of the west tend to not only increase tidal movement, but to prolong its duration as well. When the water covers the inner complex of mangroves, the bones scurry deep within the maze of tangled roots and assorted plant life, seeking shelter from those who would aim to do them harm. For those of us whose quest is a momentary encounter and connection with the power and grace of these mirror sided speedsters, the day is then done. Foots silently poled off the flat and pointed the bow towards Sandy Point.

Southside flat from boat 2018

The return voyage included passing through a very deep pocket of blue water that exceeds three hundred and fifty feet in depth. This piece of water extends to within a few hundred yards of the shoreline. We were astonished to see flying fish sailing alongside out eighteen foot flats boat, a phenomenon I have observed only far out at sea in large sportfishing vessels. Foots said that local fishermen had been catching dolphin, tuna, wahoo, and other species considered pelagic at that very spot.

As we returned to the shallows, Foots veered into a small creek. The creek made a hard turn to port near its mouth. As we rounded the curve, we faced a very shallow sand bar blocking further access to the creek’s deeper reaches. As I peered across it, I made out one of my favorite sights- small schools of bonefish tailing vigorously on the other side. These fish were unable to cross the bar, though several made the attempt. Testing the skinny water, they swam up onto the bar, whereupon I cast my offerings of fur and tinsel. I caught several in this manner. There is nothing more satisfying in all of fishing than to find tailling fish, then at their wariest, and successfully making the precise yet delicate presentation required to catch them. Soon, I climbed clumsily back into the boat and we once more set a course for home.

As we ran, I glanced down at my exposed arms, wishing that I had worn a long sleeved shirt. I saw no sun damage, but I was suddenly struck by how wrinkled and age spotted my skin has become. I thought to myself “Boy, I am getting OLD! I am a grandfather now! I have no concept what plan God has for me, but I must somehow live long enough to share this experience with my grandchildren.”  After some twenty five years of travelling to Sandy Point, I realized that the sands were relentlessly pouring through hourglass of my life. I am not sure how many more years I have left to enjoy my favorite activity, but I am more determined than ever to ensure that I will be there to see my progeny experience this amazing place.

Once back at the lodge, Foots expertly slowed the boat as the bow gently kissed the beach. Steve and I exited the boat, removing our gear and presenting Foots with the customary tip. As this was our last fishing day, we exchanged our farewells. Foots departed for his home and family while Steve and I trudged up to the water hose to clean our equipment in preparation for packing. After showers, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner of cracked conch, then retiring to the rooftop “lounge” where we took in another Sandy point sunset.

Steve and I took a prolonged breakfast the morning of our departure, each enjoying an extra cup of coffee. As the grits and bacon settled in our bellies, Steve walked up the outside steps to finalize his packing. I decided to take a last long look at the waters I knew I would dram about until I managed to get back to Abaco Island. I traced the short distance to the beach, perhaps thirty yards away. As I glanced left, I noticed something. A few people quickly gathered about fifty yards away. I made my way to the spot and was totally shocked by what I saw. A lifeless body lay washed up on the beach. Rigor had made it clear that this man had been floating face down. When it was turned upright, the body’s arms were fixed outstretched from the chest, as if it were initiating a sit up. Thankfully, the sharks and cudas had not found the corpse, as it showed no evidence of attack. The constable was called and arrived soon thereafter. It turns out that a visiting fishing boat had left Sandy Point some twenty or so hours earlier, The leading theory at the time was a fisherman had simply fallen overboard and was not missed. Personally, I fear some darker workings resulted in this man’s demise.

Death is part of life, even more certain than the morning sunrise. Sand continues to run through the hourglasses of our lives, though we are unable to see how many grains remain. I have heard it said that the most cruel curse of all is to know the hour of your own death. Perhaps this is true. Thankfully, I have no knowledge of my day of death, only that it is inevitable. However, I do know this- I hold bonefish and the places they live close to my heart, but I hold my family much closer. As i consider exactly how to best utilize the time I have left to fullest advantage, my guiding principle will always be my family and sharing with them the things which bring me joy. I’ll return to Sandy Point and can hardly wait to witness my family’s reaction to the things God has brought into being in my favorite places.

When I leave this world behind me

to another I will go

If there are no bonefish in heaven

I’ll be going down below

( apologies to Mark Knopfler)

 

 

 

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The First of Many

Liam first fish

Like any grandfather who is also a fisherman, I fervently hope my grandson Liam develops an interest in angling. Though I harbor the same wish for my two granddaughters, my experience has demonstrated that granddaughters seem less interested in fishy pursuits than grandsons, an observation borne out by many of my friends and fellow grandfathers. One buddy in particular, who is happens to be the best fisherman I have ever met (and that is saying something), has yearned for a grandson with whom he can share his passion and his lifetime’s accumulation of hard won knowledge. He is currently the grandfather of some half dozen granddaughters. He enjoys each one, but thus far, not a single girl has expressed any interest in anything remotely outdoors oriented. When we discuss my aspirations for young Liam, he often asks, with a wry smile, if he might borrow him as a surrogate grandson. I have no sons but am blessed to have one of my daughters become an outdoors person. She is an enthusiastic fisherman (or is fisherperson more correct?) in addition to being a Huntress of deer and the occasional upland bird.

Liam’s dad has a strong love of fishing, particularly the offshore style. Since Liam has first been able to hold a fishing rod, his father has encouraged the fishing bug to bite Liam by casting a small rod into the pond behind their house, in hopes of connecting to a bass or bluegill that he could land. To this point, these efforts have been fruitless. For his part, Liam remains fascinated by the rod and reel. He continues his efforts to master casting and is making some progress. Each time he visits me, he asks to go sit in the boat with me. Once he is ensconced in the captain’s seat, he gives the wheel a few turns, then looks at me and proclaims “We go fishing now, Pa!”  I think my dreams may well become reality soon.

Recently, Liam had a fishing opportunity on a local creek dock with his dad and his other grandfather. Using the old standby Zebco, Dad baited up the hook and dropped it into the muddy water of the creek.  After a brief waiting period, the rod quivered slightly. A small pinfish had taken the bait and now struggled to regain its freedom. Dad handed the rod to Liam and he pulled the fish in. Upon seeing his first catch, he seemed to deem it unworthy of being his landmark first fish, and in a demonstration of all he had learned about casting, Liam brought his rod back overhead and cast the hapless pinfish back into the creek, presumably to use his prize as bait for a proper fish! Mom and Dad quickly stepped in and retrieved the pinfish for the mandatory photo op. As Dad held the fish, Liam did his best Jimmie Houston impression by planting a big kiss on the fish’s lips! I am just glad he did not land a barracuda!

liam fish kiss

We will be taking Liam to Disney World very soon, and I am greatly anticipating seeing him react to the wonders awaiting him in the Land of the Mouse, but not nearly so much as the sweet anticipation of watching as he casts perfect loops to a tailing redfish on the flats at McClellanville. Maybe I should start building his fly rod now….

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A Dickens of a Day

redfish multiple tails

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a time of multitudes of fish; it was a time of no fish. It was a time of hope; it was a time of despair. It was a time of satisfaction; it was a time of frustration.

Ecclesiastes tells us that for everything under heaven there is a season. There is a time to for all our human activities and existence. This seems to be true even in fly fishing. There is a time for fishing and there is a time for catching. My recent trip to McClellanville brought the words of both Solomon and Dickens to living reality for me and my steadfast old friend Mike.

The day began, as most fishing days, filled with anticipation and optimism. In stark contrast, my recent trips had been filled with frustration. I seem to have been afflicted with what I refer to as “Fisherman’s Block.” It is the sporting equivalent of another of my maladies- writer’s block. Sometimes even the best writers sit for hours staring blankly into a computer screen, unable to coherently connect even two words, much less a plot. My theory is that fishermen have similar episodes when they suddenly seem incapable of connecting fly to a fish’s mouth. Today seemed such a day.

The weather was as good as it gets, unlike me. Mike, selfless friend that he is, pushed the boat over the flat with an eighteen foot long graphite rod as I stood scanning the water for redfish sign- a tail, a push of water, the fin of a cruising fish, even a ripple, or the subtle movement of spartina grass as a redfish pushes past it.

I was rewarded in short order by one of my favorite sights- a redfish tail swaying in the salty air. Mike expertly poled the boat into easy casting range without disturbing the merrily dining redfish. I took careful aim and discharged a cast towards the fish. It fell much too far to the left of the fish. I reloaded and shot once more. This effort dropped too far right of target. The line was retrieved and I readied yet a third cast, but too late as the fish had now disappeared, moving on to locate another crustacean lunch special. I was disappointed by my poor performance, but as we moved along, I had numerous shots at redemption. Each presentation seemed worse than the preceding one. We saw somewhere around fifteen tailing redfish in short order, but I now seemed to have never even cast a fly rod, so inept were my offerings. I implored Mike to come down off the platform and demonstrate his always impressive skills, so as not to allow these manifold opportunities to go for naught. He declined, insisting I continue until the spell had been broken.

I failed to connect the dots that day in every conceivable way, maybe some inconceivable ways. The one fish that haunts me even now was a smallish redfish, slowly swimming parallel to the boat’s path, stopping occasionally to go head down and tail up in pursuit of its quarry. It was uncomfortably close to the boat.  I feared the smallest shift of my feet would send the fish bolting away. Yet, I managed three casts without spooking it before the redfish turned its head towards my fly and the boat, not more than twelve feet away. I stripped the fly and saw the fish’s mouth open around the fly. Like a rank novice, I over reacted and pulled the fly out of its mouth in an effort to insure a firm hook set. I hung my head and expected Mike to make me walk the plank, abandoned to my fate on the flats while he sped off to another spot to catch a few reds himself. But, he did no such thing, instead encouraging me to continue my quest.

It does seem to be true that such drubbings may be key to preventing fishing from becoming boring. Days such as these force me to become a better and more patient fisherman. It keeps me returning to the flats, determined to enhance my skills and demonstrate my improvement, mainly to myself.  Despite my deep disappointment in myself, I felt even more ashamed of letting my friend Mike down. I am indeed fortunate to have a friend who is willing to overlook my failings.

Now when is the next high tide??

 

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The Old Man and the Creek

redfish driftwood 2 James Sept 2012

Just getting out of bed wasn’t going to be easy. Every last joint in his aged body ached with the first rays of the October sun. Butter colored shafts of light  were sliding through his eastern facing window and across his age spotted face, now covered with three days of whitish face-hair. Each uncombed wisp of his silver hair seemed to value its independence and had sought its own direction, making him look a little like Einstein, he thought, as his countenance reflected blurrily into his as yet un-spectacled eyes.

“You might as well stay home and watch the History Channel,” remarked his wife, now gathering herself over the old gas stove to cook up some coffee for them both. The Old Man raised the thick ceramic mug to his dry lips. The liquid it contained was the color of coal- and tasted just like he imagined coal powder dissolved in water might. “Good brew today, dear,” he slyly said, the tiny curl of a smile forming at one corner of his mouth as he thought that “brew” had been a clever word selection.  “You know you’ll catch nothing except maybe a cold out there today,” his wife said. “Well, I need to be in The Maker’s world today. I’m not getting any younger sitting in front of the tube.” “Oh, all right then. Just be sure you have your cell phone with you- and don’t forget to put it in a plastic baggie!” she commanded.

He sat very still. His father’s ancestral baitcaster rested firmly in the Old Man’s right hand. Somewhere on the bottom of the creek lay a chunk of cut mullet, its aromas, like the coffee his wife had prepared earlier, spreading silently across the tide. He surveyed his surroundings. Deep green spartina grass stood in thick array in every direction, save the unruffled surface of the creek. He noticed the periwinkle snails that had scaled the slender stalks of spartina to escape the hungry blue crabs scurrying around on the mud flats below them. “Don’t worry, Mr. Snail, “he whispered to the hordes of white shelled invertebrates, “Mr. Redfish will be along soon to make a dandy snack of those pesky crustaceans.” He observed legions of fiddlers their one oddly disproportionate claw raised to a defensive position rush to and fro between piles of perfectly round previously sifted mud. They displayed their daytime colors now- dark in sunlight but light at night. It seemed counterintuitive to the Old Man. Nature remained an unending source of fascination for him and made the long periods of waiting for his line to move entirely enjoyable.

The ancient rod tip quivered, then made a series of bounces. The Old Man redirected his gaze from the marsh’s inhabitants to the now rapidly disappearing line. “See, Old Woman! The magic still works!” He raised the rod to the cloudless azure sky now. Feeling the increased resistance, the redfish hit his turbocharger and accelerated rapidly down the narrow creek towards the bay.  “I better slow this big boy down a little before he spools me,” the Old Man thought to himself. He lowered the rod tip, then, as if turning a tarpon, pulled it to his right. Just then, the fish surged, forcing the rod to strike the gunwale of his battered aluminum boat. POW! The rod snapped, and as it did, the spool overran, creating a monstrous knot of twenty pound monofilament. The fish pressed on, now switching on full afterburners. The Old Man watched in horror, helpless to prevent the knot from its inevitable collision with the tip top of the rod. Suddenly, the top section of the rod parted company with the lower section as the knot snapped the line and ripped the upper rod half into the water. The Old Man watched as the rod tip trailed along the surface of the muddy water, now in tow by the redfish, or whatever it was. “Could have been a shark.” He thought as he fired up the tired Johnson outboard. It took five pulls, but at last it came to life, sputtering in protest. He put all five horsepower to work as he followed the rod tip. He hoped to retrieve both rod tip and fish once he caught up.

The tip section, along with the fish, slowed now and finally came to a halt. The fish rested as the Old Man contemplated an appropriate course of action. The rod, with its bird nested line and missing section, was essentially useless. He looked quickly around the johnboat and his eyes came to rest on a spool of fifty pound mono. It was wound around one of those larger spools that has a large central opening. An idea materialized from the ether. He rummaged around and located a box of weights. With one eye on the still floating, and still stationary rod tip, he tied four of these in a non slip mono knots. Now he had a new fishing rig- what Cubans call a Yo-Yo. The theory was simple- toss the Yo-Yo line around the rod tip, then pul it to him, and bring the fish to his hand.

The practice was not so simple however. By now whatever creature was fast to the other end began to make slow movement to and fro, as though it might have returned to seeking its next meal. The Old Man was worried that misses might spook the fish into bolting, but he hoisted the weights, swinging them vertically, like a South American cowboy might throw a bolas. After three or four misses, he found this was not so. Finally, after multiple attempts, the line fell across the rod and even managed to encircle it twice. A wide grin now filled his face and he slowly pulled the line towards himself and his boat.

Inch by inch, the Old Man worked the fish back. The redfish , realizing it was restrained once more, began to resist harder. It bulldogged and even shook its head in an unredfish-like manner. This made the Old Man think maybe it really was something other than the redfish he sought. The water was fairly clear in late October, most of the algae killed off by the recent cold snap. As he forced the fish to his will, the Old Man could now see that it was indeed a redfish. And what a redfish. He was treated to a closeup inspection when he had the fish boat side and was astounded by the size of this specimen. He estimated it to be over thirty five inches- a giant of unusual mass this far up a creek. With the heavyweight at the gunwale, the Old Man reached for a tape measure. He thought he would measure it alongside the boat since this one was significantly over the slot limit. He suddenly recalled that he had left his phone, and its camera, in his pickup at the ramp, neatly enclosed in a double plastic baggie. “That all right. At least I can measure it.” He comforted himself.

Someone else had noticed all the commotion caused by the fight. It was the Man in the Brown Suit- a bull shark of about six feet. His sensitive nares tracked the distress pheromones released by the redfish and the shark was now coming, torpedo-like straight at the redfish lying alongside the boat. The Old Man saw only a huge splash of water and blood as the hungry shark devoured the redfish in a single great flash of teeth and fury. The Old Man was grateful he had not yet put his hands and the tape measure in the water.

“I told you wouldn’t catch anything,” said the Old Woman as she stirred the pots containing dinner for the couple. “You could have saved yourself all that trouble, not mention the gas, and stayed here. Maybe made yourself useful by cutting the grass today!”

“Wonder what’s on the history channel tonight?” asked the Old Man. A small smile formed at one corner of his mouth.

 

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No See Gar!

wee tee lake

The day’s quest seemed simple enough. First, we determined to catch a few largemouth from a very remote oxbow lake Mike had fished a few times in the remote past. The location of this particular lake is, in fact, so remote as to necessitate the use of a GPS. Mike’s internal GPS, typically amazingly reliable, seemed to uncharacteristically fade in and out, like an old television with rabbit ears. We struggled to force the GPS unit in his new vehicle into submission, and ultimately were rewarded by the sight of this hidden, fish filled angling nirvana. At least that is what we had anticipated.

 

We quickly let the small electric boat slip into the dark water and boarded, arranging our gear in anticipation of achieving our secondary goal for the day- catching one of the lake’s numerous gar. Regarded as undesirable, most anglers do not pursue these exceedingly common fish. The species is considered ancient, with fossils dating from the Cretaceous period. They, like tarpon, sport swim bladders that are able to function as primitive lungs, causing them to frequently rise to the surface and gulp air, especially in poorly oxygenated waters. They can grow to amazing size, with some sub-species reaching nearly ten feet and one hundred pounds.  They are said to be strong fighters, sometimes leaping into the air while battling the angler. I hoped to see for myself and to add gar to my life list of species captured on a fly. My minnow imitation was affixed to the business end of a six weight fly rod lying at the ready in the bow of the boat. In my right hand was a light spinning rod armed with a plastic worm for unsuspecting bass.

gar fossil

Gar Fossil

Leaden skies seemed to inch slowly toward out little boat as we cast repeatedly around blowdowns and tree bases populating the lake’s edges. Bites were hard to get, so we made frequent lure changes. In the center of the lake, we observed many gar breaking the surface and submerging, creating telltale splashes and ringlets. “This overcast sky makes spotting the gar in time for a cast an almost impossibility” remarked Mike. “I had hoped that we would have good sun, and detect them from enough distance to be to make a cast with the fly rod.”  As we worked along, searching out the occasional bass, I was startled by the simultaneous appearance and disappearance, of several gar right by my station on the bow.  There was not enough time to grab the fly rod, much less to make a cast. I was tantalized by the large spotted tails as the fish thrust themselves towards the deeper water.  Our fishing day was complicated by the occasional errant cast, resulting in a lure stuck in a tree branch. After successful retrieval of my lure on one such occasion, my baseball cap was suddenly snatched from my head by a limb. We scanned the area for it, knowing it would be floating, making recapture a simple task. To our surprise, it not on the water, or in the boat. Puzzled, we backed away from the bank, and then we saw it, suspended on a tree limb, just like my lure!

wee tee hat in tree_edited-1

Hat Trick!

A freshening breeze and darkening skies prompted me to comment that I thought rain was inbound. Looking skyward, Mike agreed and within minutes we were being pelted by heavy raindrops. As neither of us had brought a raincoat, instead trusting the Weather Channel forecast, we made for a relatively protected spot under some low trees whose branches reached out over the water. This proved futile and we soon returned to our journey, now being forced to bail rainwater from our little craft. Our enthusiasm, unlike our clothing and skin, remained undampened and we slowly moved to the next spot, continuing to hold out hope for a fly caught gar, despite that now being extremely unlikely.

fishing tee wee with Mike_edited-1

Angling Dedication on Display!

Though bass fishing remained unusually slow and gar fishing now impossible, we were treated to the sight of a number of nature’s creatures. Among the branches of a blown over tree, Mike spotted a Prothonotary Warbler, its bright yellow feathers resembling something straight out of a tropical rainforest. Dozens of medium sized alligators prowled the surface of the lake, eyes barley above the waterline.  We continued to see quite a few gar, but poor light prevented me from presenting a fly to one of these swimming dinosaurs.

pro warbler_edited-1

A tropical bird in the swamp?

Darkness was rapidly covering the lake and we made flank speed for the landing as the sun’s last rays petered out against the irregular treeline to our west.  We will not require a GPS when next we visit this lake, neither will we neglect to bring raincoats!

 

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Kings of the River

DSCN1077

Years ago, when I was a child, there was a daytime television show directed at the average American housewife called “Queen for a Day”. It aired each afternoon just as I was arriving home from school. My Mom usually had the TV tuned in to that station, though she was busily ironing, cleaning, or carrying out some other domestic duty. Hosted by Jack Bailey, the program introduced Americans to the concept of the big money giveaway show. The winner was decided by the volume of audience applause after each contestant had spun her particular tale of woe to the drama loving crowd. Prizes were often extravagant and the object of every woman’s desire. It was so successful that advertising cost $4000 per minute in the fifties!

My friend George and I recently ventured north to Virginia to spend a day fishing the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia. Under the expert tutelage of our guide Matt, we became Kings for a Day on the James River- King George and King James, as it were. Our quest that day was the smallmouth bass, though the James is replete with other gamefish, notably the carp and the Mighty Musky. Yes, the Fish of Ten Thousand casts resides in these waters and Matt frequently seeks these fish exclusively for anglers with endless patience and equally tireless casting arms. King George and I however, were more easily satisfied. We had come to the Colonies in search of the more easily fooled smallmouth.

We set forth from a downtown ramp, to my dismay. I imagined spending our day drifting past factories, courthouses, and high end retail shops, but was very soon delighted to see all vestiges of civilization fade into the rearview mirror as we rounded the first bend in the broad expanse of the James. The James is a couple hundred yards wide. It’s clear waters are often quite shallow and peppered with boulders and rock outcroppings that keep most watercraft safely on its banks. Our polypropylene drift boat was impervious to these dangers and had been designed for use on the wild and bumpy waters of western trout rivers. No other boats incroached upon our watery kingdom that day.  Matt’s intimate knowledge of the river coupled with his impressive boat handling skills quickly put us on the most fish dense areas of the river, without wasting time in search mode.

The morning saw King James manning the bow, six weight in hand. King George took the after station, ready to pick off all the fish missed by the bow man. George drew first blood, landing a nice smallie on a surface fly. In fact, he brought several nice smallmouth to the boat, while I dredged the deeper waters with a larger minnow imitation. After some frustration, Matt switched my fly to highly impressionistic subsurface fly called a Tequeely. This copper colored flashy fly with three pairs of seductive undulating legs proved irresistible to the smallie. Soon, I had landed several lovely fish. I was particularly pleased as I had encountered but a single specimen of this gamefish prior to this outing. That one was accidentally caught while steelheading the Snake River in Idaho.

DSCN1062

One of my captures had taken the fly unusually deeply, resulting in significant bleeding. To my shock, Matt demanded I relinquish the Coca Cola I was imbibing. He held the hemorrhaging fish by the lip and quickly poured the Coke down its open gullet. Naturally, I was quite amazed at this type of resuscitation. Matt informed me that pouring Coke over the gills and throat both aid in stopping the bleeding and also raises the fish’s oxygen level. I had no idea. Perhaps Coke’s 1906 slogan was accurate- “Coca Cola revives and sustains”.

smallmouth likes coke

George and I continued to work the overhangs and downed trees along the river, periodically switching to the opposite side as Matt’s experience dictated. We caught goodly numbers of smallmouth and a couple of larger ones. In Virginia, the angler who lands a 20 inch smallmouth gets a plaque and commendation letter from the Virginia DNR. George and I each came close to award size, but fell slightly short. George’s fish was 18 inches. Matt measured mine at 19 inches, but in the King James Version, it was really 20 ½ inches!

Soon, the day was ready to come to a close. As we approached the take out ramp, Matt commented that we could be lucky enough to catch one last smallmouth right at the ramp. As we neared the concrete pad, George threw his fly 2 or 3 feet short of it. Bam! He was rewarded with the final fish of the trip- a solid smallie of some 15 inches. As Matt loaded the boat for the trip back to town, George and I joined in a royal handshake and congratulated ourselves on our crowning achievement on the James- more smallmouth than either of us had ever caught.

( To enjoy a regal day of your own fishing for smallmouth or musky on the James, contact Matt Miles at http://www.mattmilesflyfishing.com. Matt is an Orvis endorsed guide)

 

 

 

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Two Gentlemen of Murrell’s Inlet

redfish double

Credit- Shallowsouth.com Used with permission.

Adam and Val grew up fishing the Inlet together. They were nearly the same age and both had been born to families who had lived in the Murrell’s Inlet area for many generations. Using a spinning rod had come naturally to each boy and they reveled in the bounty to be found in the marshes and around the jetties . On the occasion of their graduation from the local high school, each was gifted a fifteen foot aluminum johnboat and an accompanying outboard motor. Of course, being teenage boys heavily under the influence of a burgeoning supply of testosterone, competition was unavoidable. Each relished making the bigger catch, giving him the right to unmercifully lord it over the other until the next trip.

“Val,” began Adam. “Let’s work the rocks along the south side of the jetty today. I just know the big reds will be there today.” “No, I think they will be over on the north side, so I’ll fish there. You try the south side and we’ll see who has better fish sense,” replied Val. The two buddies departed the ramp and snaked their way through the marsh, bound for the jetties. Val’s faithful Boykin Spaniel, Bluecrab, sat up front, her brown curly ears flapping against the passing air. The warm June sun had no clouds to hide behind that day, and the winds which had kept the pair shore bound last week had disappeared. Conditions were perfect.

In a few minutes, each young man had set up on his preferred spot. Each selected a live mud minnow from a bucket and dropped the baits to the bottom. An hour and a half passed. Val dialed his friend’s cell phone. “Adam, you having any luck?’ “Who need luck when you got skill?” his buddy replied with a laugh. “We both do today. It’s slower than molasses out here today.” They persisted for some three hours and tried every artificial bait they had in addition to the usually dependable minnows. Adam’s phone rang. “Looks like they beat us both today, man” admitted Val. Even Bluecrab seemed despondent, hanging her frizzy head down in doggie despair.

They met at the ramp and loaded their vessels onto their trailers. “You know, Adam, I was thinking.” “Oh that’s where all the smoke behind your boat came from. I thought maybe your engine was on fire!” laughed Adam. “Very funny, wiseass” was the response from Val. “Since we got totally skunked today, I am thinking of driving down to McClellanville tomorrow and giving it a whirl. You in?” “Sure, why not? Can’t do any worse there than we did here.”

Bluecrab, who had been wandering around the ramp as the guys talked, spotted a fisherman unloading his boat. Like a flash, the playful dog had seized the man’s rod by its handle and was rapidly dragging it up the ramp. “Bluecrab! Come back here and give me that rod! “commanded Val. Bluecrab slowed sufficiently to allow Val to grab the rod. After a brief, but intense struggle, Val gained possession of the rod and handed it to its rightful owner. “Sorry about that, Sir” said Val, apologizing for his dog’s boorish behavior. “I will get the cork replaced for you. My dog did put a few bite marks on it. “Naw, it’s OK. I have a lab at home and he has already gotten a hold of the rod and gnawed on it. Don’t worry about it”.  “I appreciate that,” responded Val, casting a disapproving  glare in Bluecrab’s direction.

The next morning, the boys made their way down Highway 17 to the quaint fishing village at McClellanville. Neither had ever tried the labyrinth of low lying flats that dot the landscape between the village and the Atlantic. They reached the ramp after an hour of driving and backed their boats down the dual lane facility. Adam was especially anxious, clicking on his GPS as soon as he was in the water and the little Yamaha was purring. Val, meanwhile, had starting issues with his Mercury. He tried everything from altering the choke, to squeezing the filling bulb for a second time, to just cursing at the motor.

 

Val, knowing that his friend’s motor was sometimes cantankerous, shouted “I am going on ahead. Just meet me at the GPS numbers I gave you.” He knew he should wait and help Adam, but the idea of catching the first McClellanville red overpowered him. How great it would be to get there first and land a thirty inch fish by the time Adam got there. Off he sped to the numbers the tackle store owner had given him.

 

 

Val’s GPS guided him directly to the location that was promised to be carpeted with shiny red tails on this morning’s flood tide. He quickly shut off the motor and picked up the nine foot eight weight fly rod his father has loaned him.  He stood on the back bench and scanned around him. For fifteen minutes he saw nothing but the semi-clear waters of the flooded flat. Then, a faint glint of light caught his eye. It was a smallish redfish, happily tailing while chasing a frightened crab. The rod began a much too rapid motion, arcing through some two hundred degrees of travel, far too much to be effective. Though the fish lay a mere thirty feet away, the extra wide loop formed in the fly line by the excessive motion resulted in a cast that travelled perhaps ten feet before the line suddenly stopped and crashed in a pile on the water’s surface. Dejected, Val sat down. He attempted to analyze his failure as his eyes followed the redfish swimming away. “I should go help Adam” he realized. Even if he had indeed caught the first redfish, and that one on a fly, he began to feel that it would be a hollow victory. Fifteen minutes later, he rounded the corner and the ramp came into view.

Bluecrab stood on the front of Adam’s john boat, tail wagging and barking at Val’s approach. “Hmm.. “ Val thought. “A bow wow on the bow!” as he chuckled at his own cleverness. It would definitely be more fun to fish with his friend.  Adam’s boat lay tied fast to the dock while he rummaged through his less than complete tool box in a last gasp effort to get the motor running. “Adam, let’s load your boat and just both fish from mine.” Said Val. “The redfish are there!” he added.

The tide was beginning to fall when the boys and Bluecrab returned to the flat. The forecast had predicted a big tide, nearly seven feet, for that day, so they had plenty of time to fish the tide down.  Val displaced Bluecrab from the bow, while Adam took the after position. Adam suddenly said “Whoa! Look at that! A monster tail sticking up out of the water. Check out that blue tinge on the tip!!!’

“I see another one over there!” exclaimed Val, as he excitedly pointed out to eleven o’clock. Each young man cast, Val with the fly rod and Adam with a spinner bearing a gold spoon. This time, both lure and fly gently dropped a foot from their respective targets. The water boiled around each fish and just like that they had a double. Val and Adam looked at each other, eyes wide open, and began the celebratory whoops. Val watched his buddy land a gorgeous redfish of some twenty inches and thought “New places can be great, but old friendships can be even greater.” Aroused by all the shouting, Bluecrab grabbed a spare spinning rod by the cork and swung it around as if she were casting it. Adam and Val laughed so loud, they swore they could hear the sound echoing off the old lighthouse.

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