Political Angling

I happen to live in a slice of the country where we get local TV political ads from four states. It has not been easy viewing. The Illinoisans seem to be the hardest knuckled bunch but none are people I’d care to share a duck blind with. IMG_1182

In my home state of Kentucky we have a creel full of local, state and national races. The big one, of course, is for U. S. Senate, where Candidate R apparently thinks President Obama is his opponent and Candidate D can’t seem to do much more than talk about the past evils, failings and shortcomings of Candidate R.

I, for one, would like to have heard some fresh ideas, or at least some general thoughts on how any of the candidates, but especially Kentucky senate Candidate D and Candidate R, plan to deal with any of the long list of challenges facing the country: the economy, environment, ISIS, health care, immigration, crime, minimum wage, education, crumbling bridges and highways, poverty, Ebola . . . as everyone knows, it’s a long list.

The political ads have ranged from befuddled to ridiculous. I can only assume they hit the same lowest common denominator across the country. The price tag: $4 billion.

Please vote Tuesday, even if you have to hold your nose to do so.

Turkey Time . . . Almost

Turkey season opens Saturday. I was doing some windshield scouting this afternoon.

Road follows a small creek to a low head dam. I know this place. The water spilling over the dam funnels off a little rock ledge onto a gravel spit then flattens into a pool that fills a sharp bend. The spot is about the size of a two-car garage. Usually fluctuates from torrent to trickle. Not today. Just about right. Fishy. IMG_2976

Had a 7-foot 4 weight fly rod in the truck. Weather was sunny and breezy. Cool enough for a jacket. The water temp was barely touching 50 but . . .

Pulled on knee boots and waded onto the tongue of the gravel spit. Two casts. Two bass. Not large but feisty.

Pretty good afternoon of scouting.

Arkansas Notes: Wading the mighty White

Big rivers have no regard for fishermen and will kill them given the opportunity. They should be approached with a heavy dose of respect.

Even when it is in a passive state; when the Corps of Engineers have quieted Bull Shoals Dam to a trickle, the White River remains formidable, powerful and restless.

That was the White’s condition Wednesday; accessible to wading, but barely so.IMG_2919

At the downstream end of the Gaston’s www.gastons.com property the White at low flow splinters and swirls and sluices into a football size patch of nervous water. The two guys down stream from where I was working a piece of promising water with a fly rod  were plucking trout from the river with regularity. When I recognized my fellow anglers – Jeff Samsel www.jeffsamesl.blogspot.com and his son Nathaniel (pictured) – I became a bit dismayed.  Not because I was sharing the river with the Samsels; I treasure fishing with Jeff and Nathaniel any time, any place. But Jeff is an excellent angler and Nathaniel is quickly becoming one. Fishing behind the Samsel men is not a good idea.

Still, I waded carefully, caught a few, missed as many and only suffered a minor sunburn. A pretty good afternoon.

Arkansas Notes: Gaston’s on the White

Gaston’s White River Resort has been in business since 1958. The White River has been in business as a trout fishery since 1952. That’s when President Truman arrived by train, stayed four hours, and gave his dedication blessings to Bull Shoals and nearby Norfork dams, thus forever changing the local landscape.

Truman’s place in history is secure. The White River’s place as one of the most productive tailwater trout fisheries in the country is also secure. Gaston’s reputation as one of the best resorts and fishing outposts on the river is well established, as well.

I fished Tuesday with my mentor and long time friend Larry Rea, who spent more than three decades with The Commercial Appeal, the bulk of which as that newspaper’s outdoor editor. He retired a few years ago then got into the radio business. You’ll find more about that at www.lroutdoors.com.IMG_2870

Gaston’s has everything you need; from bare bones to full service. Fishing guides, food, lodging, service, tackle, information . . . even the current “hot fly.” Check them out at www.gastons.com.

Larry and I fished Tuesday with veteran guide Ron Armagost (pictured), who has caught more fish than he can remember and guided more fishermen than need remembering. Ron has a life changing  story of his own, which he was gracious enough to share. More about that soon.

We caught about three dozen trout, which everyone except me considered a good but not great day of fishing (I thought it was terrific). The weather was perfect, the company was excellent and the folks at Gaston’s do their best to make guests feel at home.

I’m here at the invitation of Larry Rea and host Jim Gaston as part of an annual media gathering hosted by Gaston’s. There are about 20 writers and broadcasters here this week, all of whom are colleagues and many of which are friends, including Bryan Hendricks.

Following Tuesday night’s Gaston’s hosted cookout Bryan asked if I wanted to try some nighttime fly fishing. Fishing in the dark does something evil to my casting. Still, I managed to catch a fat nighttime rainbow. Luck again trumped talent.

The weatherman is promising cold and wind on Wednesday. I don’t think the trout will mind.

The Neighbor’s Farm Pond

I strung up my battered but still serviceable Orvis www.orvis.com Silver Label 3 weight and walked to my neighbor’s house the other evening and knocked on the back door. He appeared with his customary, friendly greeting.

IMG_2556“Is the invitation to fish still open?” I asked.

“Of course. Help yourself.”

I know this place well. It’s a small pond but like the rest of my neighbor’s property it is neatly kept and well maintained. Manicured, comes to mind.

IMG_2575It’s also loaded with fish – bluegill and catfish, mostly – although some evenings you’d swear there isn’t a fish in it. That wasn’t the case the other day. It wasn’t a fish each cast but close to it. I lost count but I wasn’t really there to keep count anyway.

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On the Dix

Fishing the Dix River tailwater below Herrington Lake tomorrow with friends Bill Ellis, Lee McClellan and Jeff Crosby.

With temps falling below freezing tonight the boat ride up the Dix should be chilly. Hopefully the fishing (rainbow and brown trout) will be hot. Access is by boat via the Kentucky River. I glad I brought my woolens.

Fish photos tomorrow, hopefully.

An Evening on the Au Sable

The Au Sable River flows roughly west to east for about 140 miles across the northern section of Michigan’s lower peninsula before spilling into Lake Huron. One of the towns the river intersects is Grayling, original home of Fred Bear Archery.

I’ve visited Michigan several times and have always wanted to fish the Au Sable but for various reasons never had. That changed last week. I was in the Wolverine State for other editorial business but was determined to get on the legendary fishery, which I was able to do one evening in the company of my friend Alan Clemons and local guide Joe Bartha.

Joe supplied the tackle, boat and expertise. Clemons and I embraced the roles of the clueless out-of-towners.

The free-flowing Au Sable has been designated a blue ribbon trout stream by the Michigan DNR. The brown trout fishery is reputed to be the best east of the Rockies. Rainbows live here too. But brook trout are the bread and butter fish. The river is loaded with them.

We climbed into Joe’s Au Sable boat – a stable, sturdy rig that reminded me of scaled down, streamlined version of an Arkansas/White River john boat. Joe said this particular boat had been built by a local craftsman sometime in the 1980s (probably about the time the guide was born). We pushed off a little after 6 p.m. local time armed with loaner Orvis Clearwater rods, generic white-winged dry flies and soaring optimism.

Clemons (that’s him in the photo with an Au Sable brook trout) is an Alabama native and bassman to the bone. He freely admitted to be more comfortable with a flipping stick and 1/2 ounce jig that a 5-weight fly rod and fingernail size dry fly. I wasn’t fooled by this poor mouthing. Alan is an expert angler in any venue. Naturally, he had the first strike.

The Au Sable (which, in French, means “sand”, “in the sand,” or “with sand,” depending on the translation) was everything I expected and more. Clean, clear, cold, breathtakingly beautiful . . . a well cared for resource.

We saw none of the river’s legendary brown trout but the brookies were friendly, rising often to our flies, which were not always presented with a delicate, deft touch. Joe offered gentle suggestions but didn’t complain, criticise or ridicule, any of which would have been justified.

When darkness fell the complexion of the river changed to a sort of netherworld of shadowy splashes. Accurate casts and drag-free floats became best guess propositions.

The dark surrounding didn’t bother Joe, who started floating and fishing the Au Sable when he was a teenager. He handled the boat as though he was operating with built-in radar. I hope to visit again. Soon.

Bruised Knees and Other GSMNP Adventures

Fishing a high country Smoky Mountain stream in August is akin to fishing in a string of bathtubs scattered across a boulder field, only with more pleasing aesthetics.

While my wife took a seat on a stream side boulder, knitting and novel in hand, I scrambled upstream from the falls with the hope of plucking a brook trout or two from the pools that swirled around the rocks, most of which were baked a chalky white from the summer-long drought.

It was difficult but satisfying fishing and by the time I’d worked my way upstream then down to below the falls I caught a few fish, missed several and not seen another fisherman.

The creek sluiced down and around a dining room table size boulder then flatten into a large pool. The best way to fish the pool would have been to exit the stream and follow the trail. But the light was fading and it has always been my habit to overreach and fishing is no exception. I headed across the rocks, fly rod in hand.

The fall didn’t fracture my knee but for a moment I thought it had.

I had moved beyond my wife’s line of sight but when I hobbled back to the bridge she was waiting for me, unconcerned, being well familiar with my habit of milking the last sliver of casting light from the day.

“Are you okay?”
“Yes.”

By the time we reached the parking lot my knee resembled an overripe grapefruit, the result of a silly and foolish mistake. I felt silly and foolish for having made it but knew it wasn’t the first time and probably wouldn’t be the last. Guys never learn.

“Sure you’re okay?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Need something for your knee?”

“Not now. I’ll wait until we get back to the motel.”

By the time I got out of my waders and broke down my gear the park was bathed in full darkness. We started down the mountain.

“Do you still enjoy it?” my wife asked.

“Enjoy what,” I said, trying to ignore my aching knee.

“Scrambling up and down a stream like that?”

It was a good question, not simply answered. We drove through the darkness.

“Well?”

“I do,” I said. “But even if I didn’t I’m not sure that I could stop.”

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GSMNP Consolation Prize: Bear Sighting

Each day that Daniel mans the counter at Little River Outfitters Fly Shop http://www.littleriveroutfitters.com in Townsend, Tenn. (which serves as one of the doorways into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) he answers various forms of the same question dozens of time.

“Where’s the best place to fish?”

I don’t know what he tell everyone else. My question was fairly specific and he kindly give a fairly specific answer, including a rough, hand drawn map and a request in the form of a suggestion that it might be better if the name of the stream didn’t appear in “the newspaper” or anywhere else. No promises were made.

I never reached the creek in question. A midday thunderstorm lasted long enough to muddy the waters. The rain was badly needed so I didn’t complain.

However, during the drive out from the washed out fishing trip we rounded a curve and met a black bear. A big one; shoulder high when standing next to a mailbox. It stepped onto the road and brought traffic to a halt. A bear sighting becomes the instant highlight to any GSMNP visit. This critter ambled across the road and up the driveway of a house with a park ranger’s car in the driveway. The photo is from the bear in the driveway. The bruin sniffed around the trash can then continued through the backyard and into the woods.

As for the undisclosed creek . . . it isn’t going anywhere. I’ll be back.

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