Day 2 Float
Chad Johnson met Mike and I at the shop a little later than the day prior. The idea was to start our day a little lower in the system, wait for the push of water from the release to reach us and target some water which would hopefully have a larger population of post spawn browns who were hopefully geared up to eat. The generation schedule called for another short push of water lasting roughly 3 hours but the amount of water exiting the impoundment was going to be greater than what we had experienced the day prior.
Emotions were high as we were all exicted to see bigger water than the day before, but we were also keeping it real as the weather for the day was going to be slightly different. Chad really knows his stuff, literally minutes after he dropped his boat in the water, the front of the tidal wave caught up to us and passed in front of our very own eyes as Mike and I readied our gear for the day’s activities. Everything seemed to be falling into place, but as you and I both know, perception isn’t always 100% accurate.
After Chad motored us across river to attack our first bank, I paused for a moment and realized that the days weather conditions were a stark contrast from what we had experienced a mere 24 hours prior. We were dealing with blue bird skies and bright sun with a much stiffer breeze, in fact a nice ripple of chop was periodically forming on the waters surface which reminded me of many past excursions on my home waters of the New England coast chasing Striped Bass. The wind, although manageable, was going to be a factor all day and from what the forecast predicted, was going to increase as the day progressed to stiff 25-30's.
To be honest, the wind didn’t concern us, we both deal with wind a majority of the time we fish, but the high sun is always a crapshoot with brown trout, especially larger specimens. More often than not, its a 50-50 proposition with limited windows of opportunity, but Mike, Chad and I were gonna keep our hopes high and give it our best shot.
Things looked promising from the on set, we ended up boating a couple of quality browns literally in our first couple of drifts down our first or second bank. To be honest I can’t quite recall, but at any rate we were feeling pretty confident our game plan was going to work to our advantage. We weren’t met with dinosaurs, instead we tangled with a few clean, colored up browns in the 16 inch range that were hell bent on a big meal.
Our morning was a ritual of persistence, casting, working our flies back to the boat, repeat. This went on for several hours with the occasional fish in the net, but nothing eclipsing the magic twenty inch mark. It was not for a lack of sexy water I might say, our flies had gone through some serious lies just without any true tanks wanting to show themselves. We seemed to be picking up our fish on similar flies from the day prior, just slightly larger and brighter. Ice picks and Masked Avengers in two tone combos of olive/white, chartreuse/white and olive/yellow were getting relatively consistent attention as we traversed the river.
What made it a little harder was Steve had hit us up in the first hour of our float as their boat had landed a 27 inch kyped up gator in the first 100 yards of their day. When you catch wind of that early on it sets the bar rather high for the day no matter how you wanna slice it, so I’m sure Mike and I subconsciously were working harder (not quite as hard as Chad on the oars mind you, carting our big asses around) to try and at least put a respectable fish in the net.
A little past midday we decided to lick our wounds a bit and recharge, meeting up with Steve and his crew for the day, Chris Franzen and Alan Broyhil for a shore lunch. After exchanging experiences over a solid lunch of hot soup and sandwiches we noticed that the theme was pretty much similar in our partners boat aside from the gator; relatively slow action courtesy of a bright sun and short push of water.
After our midday gluttony we shoved off and motored to a stretch of water that we hadn’t thrown our flies through which was flanked by a series of islands and long braids with some exceptional bank structure. When we slid into position and I first caught glimpse of our target water I was immediately getting that feeling that something good was gonna happen here shortly. For the next hour we were casting to some very sexy streamer water. The soft edges created by bank depressions that jut out into the current, with a plethora of deeper drop offs adjacent immediately off the river bank are the type of water any serious streamer nut longs for. These are all some of my favorite lies when the water is up and typically will hold a fish or two from my experiences.
After we stuck a couple smaller fish, we made our way down a long riffle with some of the same aforementioned bank structure, only this time the edges were deep enough to hold some rather large boulders that were completely submerged. As I cast my fly behind one of these oversized potatoes and let it sink in the water column, on my first or second strip I felt an abrupt stop in my line and what appeared to be either a head shake or that dreaded submerged branch wavering in the current. I strip set rather poorly, as I was in mid retrieve when this had happened and Chad saw my rod tip bent and bouncing and screamed out stick it!
In my half assed attempt to clear my line I somehow managed to keep a tight grip on the line and strip set a second time although my confidence on the hook finding its mark wasn’t super high as I was taken a bit by surprise. Within a second after my doing so, a bright buttery shape ghosted up from the river bottom directly behind that boulder and was beginning to shake its head in anger, and the mood in our boat had completely changed, not to mention my sixth sense was spot on and a grin came across my face.
In short notice the buttery slab was in the net and we were making our way towards the bank to snap some pictures. Steve and his crew were on the opposite side of the river after dropping out of a side channel and returning a fish to the river themselves, so they slid over to see what all the ruckus was. Every brown trout over twenty inches is memorable to me, but this fish had a little more to write home about. Out of all my years chasing these beautiful creatures, I can say with a very high degree of certainty, this was by far one of the most spectacular looking browns that I had ever laid eyes on, even though it wasn't the largest i've tangled with by any means.
The coloration and spotting patterns that nature had painted this fish with were something I will never forget, and I am elated we captured the creature on camera so that I could share them with you. Although pictures can capture the beauty of a fish, they often do not capture the feeling they give the angler who is overcome by what they have in hand at that very moment, and I am certain many of you reading this can relate to what I am speaking of. Words cannot describe the feeling you get when you hold a fish of this nature, although not a giant by any means, what this guy may have lacked in size , it sure as hell made up for it all in beauty.
After releasing our fish back to the river, we spent the rest of the day methodically picking apart the river with not a whole lot to show for it. We managed to put a few more smaller specimens in the net, but after several fly changes and some sore arms our day ended at dark with just that one memorable fish to show for it. At days end, Steve mentioned that he would be coming by the cabin with dinner shortly after getting off the river.
Within an hours time from our river departure, we were enjoying some pulled pork, rice and beans and a few cold beers with Steve and his wife reflecting on our day. Although we were all battered from the days fishing, we had some great stories to tell and another great day sharing some water together. Dave Hossler and crew joined us for chow and we all hung out for a few hours of storytelling before we turned in for the night. Mike and I both had classes to teach the next day before the main event, and wanted to catch up on our rest. Mike was kicking the day off in class first while I was meeting up with Brian Wise for a short morning float and interview for his Streamer Chronicles series. Day break was gonna come up fast so we decided to call it a night.
TO BE CONTINUED.....
Streamer Love-fest 2017 Part 1
Often, the first go at something never quite seems to go smoothly. It’s kinda like that first time your dad let go of the bike when you went for that first unassisted ride. Im not gonna lie, I crashed hard my first time on the bike, but eventually I figured it out and the rest is history. Fishing trips can sometimes go the same way, even though a great deal of planning often goes into the mix. Plans can fall flat on their face, or let me rephrase that, expectations can fall flat on their face.
I learned a long time ago to never put expectations on a fishing trip, simply expect the worse and hope for the best but always have an open mind and be willing to adapt to whatever mother nature throws at you. This has been my mantra of sorts for the better part of two decades now, and more often than not, I head home with a smile on my face with the results no matter how many fish I tangle with.
First thing first however, I have to settle you into my trip before the trip. See, I flew into Florida on Tuesday, and was picked up at the airport by my brother from another mother Mike Schmidt. This was my first time visiting him in his new digs, so it was standard procedure for him to show me around briefly; hit the best deli locale, suck down a solid beer and then go fishing (go figure).
After we grabbed our food for the day and charged our batteries on a nice ale, we ventured over to meet a guide buddy of his who was awaiting our arrival at the dock to go pole around some flats in search of Redfish (tough life I know). After choking down our lunch at the dock, we set off and were quickly poling around a nice long flat in the inter coastal waterway.
Never having fished for Reds, I had no idea of what I was up against, but in short order we managed to locate some Redfish tailing, some cruising and I had some shots at some quality fish. By days end I had been blown up by own good red, and got a solid eat from another that gave me a solid 20-30 second fight before straightening out the hook. Despite equipment failure, I was more than happy with what I got to experience on a “bonus day” in some new water to me.
That night we had a great dinner at a very fine Italian restaurant, then capped our night off with a solid four fingers of Bourbon with Mike’s neighbor before we settled in for the night to prepare for our sixteen hour trek to Arkansas. 4 AM was gonna come up quick and we needed our rest.
I must be getting wiser with age, as I am fairly certain my head hit the pillow at 9:30 that night and the dreaded alarm wasn't as bad as anticipated. We splashed our faces with water, grabbed our gear and mustered into the Schmidt-mobile for our trek to the land of the unicorn brown. Every 200 miles we made a rest stop for gas, some food and a stretch. By the time we pulled into Cotter the interior of Mike’s ride was nothing short of a cornucopia of odors, the ones that stuck were cigars and ass and when we greeted our host, Steve Dally of Dally’s Ozark Flyfisher that night, he chuckled at my recollection. After throwing down some beers at our hosts place, we headed to our riverside cabin for the night and called it a day. A 6:45 AM pickup was gonna come early, so we decided to rack out and save the early morning wake up to gather our gear and hit the water with Steve.
Day 1 Float
Steve picked us up bright and early and we made our trek to the launch. They were slated to run a small window of water for the day starting right at 7 AM for roughly 3 hours and then drop things back to minimum flow. The idea was to ride the wave and hopefully fool some fish into chasing down our streamers. Things started off relatively slow but Mike and I managed to get a few chasers before I boated the first fish of the day. Nothing crazy in size, but a very respectable handful of buttery brown that smashed a 7 inch Masked Avenger.
The float continued with some smaller sized fish coming to hand before things started to wane a bit. The people controlling the dam only ran a good push of water for about an hour before they cut the flow in half and then backed it entirely down by the third hour. Steve took a look in one of my boxes that I had opened at the time I decided to make a switch and hinted that one of those Ice Picks in some shade of olive might be a wise choice. I never turn my head up at anyone with local knowledge of a fishery that I am not familiar with and kindly put on an olive over white articulated Ice pick that taped out at just shy of the six inch mark.
As we rounded a corner and switched our casting position from the banks to a mid river gravel bar and tail out I felt a thump. I stopped my retrieve abruptly and as soon as I stripped again I was freight trained by a solid fish that immediately went into a gator roll. It was a very solid fish, and it appeared rather girthy. A sideways turn and a couple more rolls and it was apparent this was a solid fish. Within fifteen seconds time or less, the fish was in the net and our first fish in the range we were after was in the bag.
After a series of photos and high fives we sent the brute home and let her go, and we still had ample time left in our day to hopefully duplicate the same but this time on Mikes line. We pushed on and hit some likely lies, a few turns and a couple of smaller fish later we found ourselves in another tail out in a respectable amount of water. As Steve positioned the boat in a likely line, I threw my first cast and let the line split the water column.
On the very first strip I was stopped dead in my tracks by another good fish which immediately started to dig for the bottom and head shake like I just ruined its day. In short order the brown was in the bag and although not as girthy as the last good fish, it was a little bit longer.
I’m not gonna lie, although I was psyched to have landed those two browns, I was feeling my fishing partners pain as he was still looking to connect with a fish over twenty inches. You see, the suspense was even harder to take as Mike was on his fourth trip to the White still waiting to eclipse that magic mark and here I am, first time on the water stuffing two fish north of that number. I know we've all been on either side of that story with friends and can totally relate to the situation at hand; needless to say, I was pulling hard for Mike as our trip was coming to an end very shortly.
We continued to work our line and came up to a very target rich environment. What I am referring to is an area of water that had a plethora of structure that would serve as a great ambush point for a solid brown. As we crested the top of riffle and made our way into a field of boulders some of which were larger than a small sedan it happened. Next thing I hear as I look into the water was a serious splash, and a toilet flush around Mikes fly as he came tight to a solid fish.
Mike landed the fish in short order and the mood quickly changed to elation and relief as we all celebrated that fish. After several pictures and laughs were shared, Mike released the fish back into the drink and we gave our last crack at the roughly 300 yards of bank we had left before our day ended.
Steve got the boat back in a nice line and we began to start back at our craft, casting and working our flies through likely lies until it happened again. Within a hundred feet of Mikes fish, Mike was tight to another solid fish. YESSS!!! We quickly netted Mikes fish, headed to the shore and repeated our job of shooting pictures and exchanging high fives. Once we released that fish, we hit a little more water before calling it a day.
We capped off the first day with a great gathering at Co-owner Jim Dugan’s house where many of the weekends attendees gathered for a few hours of fine food, drink and socializing together. While at the gathering, we spoke with Chad Johnson about the following days game plan. Chad felt we needed to switch up our game plan and opted for a slightly later start on a section of water a little lower in the system. So as the gathering wound down, we headed for the cabin and got a good nights rest to prepare for the second round of fun on the white...
To be continued.........
Tomorrow I head out to meet up with my good friend Mike Schmidt of Anglers Choice Flies for roughly a week away on the White River and Dallys Streamer Love Fest. Not gonna lie, I am very excited to say the least to finally step into that river and see what all the fuss is about. Zero expectations, well on the fishing that is, I thoroughly plan on having a great time with some familiar faces both on and off the water throughout the duration of our stay. So that being said, I figured I had better get my act together before I leave and take care of an old promise I had for many of you a while back; better late than never right?
I finally managed to shoot the tying sequence for the Masked Avenger 2.0, and you can watch it below. I plan on fishing a few of these down there this week if the conditions dictate accordingly. As always, enjoy the video and I will update you on my trip when I return. Happy tying!