Life is short, but it's chock-full of opportunities for those willing to seize them. Life isn't going to just hand them over, you have to seek them out and take them.
Tucker and I took the morning off from work and school this week, and went on a field trip to see if we could get him on his first redfish. I knew where a few hundred willing fish were hanging out, and knew he had a really good shot at getting one. Even though I knew that, I almost passed up on taking him and went about with the daily grind. I chose not to pass on it though, and we had an amazing morning because we stepped out of the normal routine. At one point we had over a hundred redfish circling just ahead of the boat, and I had the best seat in the house, atop the poling platform watching Tucker cast to those fish.
Looking back on it, I am so glad I chose to break the pattern and take a chance. To some, it may have just been a morning fishing trip, but to Tucker and I, it will be a day that we will hold close to our hearts and remember for years to come.
Every person has a choice, you can float down the river of life and go where the current takes you. Or you can look around and realize you have a set of oars, and you can paddle your butt off in the direction you want to go. Sure, it’s easier to just go where the river takes you, but all the adventures are going to be on the side creeks that you passed while you were floating downstream.
I think most anglers, at least in the beginning, keep track of the different types of fish they've caught. My first stint at fly fishing during my adolescence consisted of bass and bream for the most part, so it wasn't too hard to keep track of.
When I picked up the fly rod for the second time in my twenties I, like most people, just wanted to catch something. After a few weeks of less than stellar casting (okay it was pretty horrible, but that's another story), I caught my first saltwater fish. A buddy had invited me out on his father's boat to troll the weedlines off the beach, and I brought my new 8wt along not expecting much. A little later that day, a Mahi Mahi became my first fish on fly since the bass and sunfish of my childhood.
I can distinctly remember that fish and the few of his buddies that followed after. They weren't huge but they were hungry, lit up and did backflips when they were hooked. What a cool first fish on fly. I honestly couldn't tell you what my next species on fly was, but that first one is etched in my mind.
For the first year or two, I kept a mental list of what I had caught and what I wanted to catch. Eventually, I sat down and wrote everything out and was pretty happy with the twenty or so species I had caught. I never kept track of it past that.
Recently I was chatting with some PHWFF members about what they had caught and what they wanted to try for, and I left the converstation with the thought to write out my species list again.
Below is what I've been able to pull out of my memory banks, although I may have missed an odd one or two. Fifty-two species of fish, twenty-two from the sweet and thirty from the salt. When I look through this list, I don't just see fish, but beautiful locations, awesome adventures, and lot's of memories made with great friends. I'm looking forward to the next forty-eight!
Dace (species unknown)
Black Sea Bass
The new Cape Lookout Albacore Festival just finished up it's 3rd annual get together this past weekend, and we were blessed with an amazing amount of success. The 3 day festival/tournament started off with two days of fantastic weather and finished up with a not so pleasant final tournament day. The weather for the last day did not stop anglers from coming out and supporting the festival. We are still tallying the totals from all of the fundraising, but so far it looks like we will have a nice check to write to Project Healing Waters.
The Albacore Festival always kicks off day one with a Healing Waters Day for the Veterans. We were able to assemble around 25 Captains and 35 Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing participants for the first day of the festival.
Day one started off with a sunrise casting clinic hosted by Capt Rob Fordyce, Bob Clouser and Linda Heller. The Vets that we host at the festival come to us with varying degrees of experience with fly casting. The majority of them have spent most of their time casting small fly rods to trout, bass and bream, in inland waterways. Rob, Bob and Linda worked with them to give them a little bit of an advantage since most of them were going to be saltwater fly fishing for the first time. Not only were most of them new to saltwater fly fishing, very few of them had ever fought something with as much determination as a False Albacore.
I had the pleasure of hosting Gabe Jeter and Devin O'Loughlin on the water for the day. My sister-in-flyfishing Capt Kim Smith was kind enough to let me use her 23' CC Maycraft for the festival. Gabe had attended the last three festivals and was an Albacore Veteran.
Devin had not cast a fly rod until earlier that morning at the clinic. I had high hopes that what he had learned while working with Bob Clouser would have him casting well enough to catch an Albie. Devin exceeded my hopes and kicked some Albacore butt that day.
We started the day off catching a few albies that were busting silversides along the Western Beaches out of Beaufort Inlet. After a run-in with a Humpback Whale, we made our way over to some shrimp trawlers working further down the beach. From then on, the action was non stop. We hooked a high number of albies in the vicinity of the trawlers, unfortunately most were eaten by big sharks before we could get them to the boat for a release. It was pretty much insanity the entire day, and although the guys had a great time, they had sworn revenge on the sharks by the end of the day.
Revenge would come the following day...
Visit http://www.capelookoutalbacorefestival.com/photo-gallery.html to view all of the photos from day one of the Cape Lookout Albacore Festival.
These fish are flat out amazing and if you haven’t been fly fishing for them, you're missing out!
This fall marks the tenth year I’ve engaged in the madness known as fly fishing for false albacore.
I remember my first few trips chasing albies up and down Shackleford and Cape Lookout in North Carolina, all which ended in frustration, not due to a lack of opportunities, but mainly because I had not yet paid my dues and learned the ins and outs of catching these fish.
Somewhere around my third trip, I hooked into my first Albacore on fly. That 20-pound fish took every bit of my backing, and the event is still etched in my mind to this day.
10 years down the road and a ton of albies later, I’m hoping these tips will make your first few outings a little more successful than mine.
There’s a time and a place.
There’s a time and a place.There’s a time and a place.The false albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus) goes by many names and is found up and down the East Coast of the United States.
Common names include “little tunny,” “fat albert,” “bonita” (not to be confused with “bonito”), and our local favorite: “albie."
Albies can be caught from New England all the way down to Florida, but if you ask a fly fisherman in Coastal North Carolina, they’ll argue that they have the best fishery of all.
False albacore can be found offshore in North Carolina most of the year, with a nearshore run along the coast each spring and fall.
The spring run usually occurs in April and May and these fish will be mixed in with Atlantic Bonito and the first Spanish Mackerel of the year. They'll show up along the nearshore wrecks and hard bottom areas and are only around for a few weeks. Since it can be hit or miss, the spring season isn’t as heavily promoted, but the local fly fishermen will put in some time chasing them when they show.
Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, I spent my childhood roaming through fields and forests looking for the next critter to put in a jar and bring home. Besides lizards and small snakes, I remember a lot of cool insects that would show up during the months of May through June...Mayflies, June-Bugs and Cicadas. The Cicadas I caught as a child were the green annually emerging type, that would show up each June calling for a mate, and then dissapear by the following month.
It wasn't until later in life that I learned about the periodical species, know as Magicicada. These red-eyed, black and orange Cicadas come in 13 year and 17 year varieties. Their larvae hatch from eggs laid in tree branches, and as they fall to the ground, they burrow into the dirt and spend almost their entire life underground. Depending on the species, they will spend 13 or 17 years underground, and on their final year will come to the surface when the soil temps hit 64 deg F. When they finally emerge, they climb up the nearest tree or other vertical surface and shed their exoskeleton and wait for their shell to harden and wings to dry. At this point they have a small window of opportunity to find a mate and deposit their eggs before their short life above ground ends. When the periodical cicadas emerge, birds, squirrels and many types of fish gorge themselves on these protein packed bugs.
There are multiple broods of Magicicada that hatch on different years in the US. This year Brood V of the 17 year Cicadas hatched in Ohio, West Virginia and a few other areas. My buddy Jason started talking to me 6 months ago about the coming emergence. The Cicadas were predicted to hatch in the area where he grew up and he was confident that the lakes and rivers would be full of hungry fish looking for bugs dying on the water's surface. We discussed a few different bodies of water and species of fish. After a while we settled on Stonewall Jackson Lake in West Virginia with Common Carp as our main target. If you have fished for carp on fly before, then you know that they are a very worthy adversary on fly. Most of the time they are found working mudflats along the edges of lakes and rivers, looking for nymphs, crawfish and whatever else they can wrestle out of the mud. Casting to and hooking a carp in this situation is very similar to fishing for bonefish on the flats down south....tough.
A few years ago on a creek in Pennsylvania, I lucked upon an area where carp were gorging themselves on Mulberries that were falling from trees along the shoreline. Dozens of carp circled below the surface and rushed towards the sound of each berry making a splash as it fell from a tree. A black spun deer hair fly would be immediately charged when cast near the carp. The idea of hundreds of carp who had lost all inhibition, sucking foam Cicada flies off the surface was enough to drive us crazy over the 6 months building up to the trip.
Our original trip date of Memorial Day weekend was put on hold when the cold weather and rain put the Cicada emergence at a standstill. The bugs had begun to emerge, but the weather completely turned them off from flying around and breeding. When we made the call to cancel, I wasn't sure if we would be able to find time in our schedule to take another stab at them before the whole thing was over. The idea of missing this trip that we had spent 6 months counting down to was killing me. Jason and I are both in our thirties with families, lots of obligations, and little free time, but somehow we were able to muster enough piss and vinegar to pull off a last minute kamikaze trip to West Virginia this past weekend. To say the drive up was eventful would be an understatement. Just think speeding ticket, burnt out breaks going down a mountain, and a 7 hour drive turned into 11 hours and you get the picture. After a drive that seemed like it took forever, we arrived at the lake and were welcomed by the sound of hundreds of thousands of calling Cicadas.
The cast, the eat and the hookset. You can see the carp rising in the 2nd pic.
Between leaving at 5am Saturday and getting home at 3am on Monday morning, we were able to squeeze in about 20 hours of driving, two 6hr days of fishing, and maybe 5 hours of sleep. Armed with 6 and 7wt rods and a few dozen flies, we had an awesome time casting to carp cruising right under the surface. It reminded me of chasing redfish in Louisiana where there is usually always one within sight as you move along the shoreline. If you could plop down a fly within 10 feet of them, they would make a beeline towards the sound to investigate it. Some of the fish would charge the fly and then hit the brakes a few inches away, just to turn a 180 and tail slap the popper. A few would push the fly around the surface with their mouth like a little kid pushing a hot wheels car on the kitchen floor. Several would make contact with the fly and immediately bolt. Some would even come from underneath and inhale it like a bass. If you just saw one carp, it wasn't always easy to convince him to eat. If there was a group of fish, competition seemed to get the best of them and you were almost guaranteed an eat. We probably ended up hooking 1 out of every 4 fish we cast to. Luckily we had obscene numbers of carp to cast to, and were plenty slimed up by the end of each day. That was a big part of the excitement, not being guaranteed an eat, even if the fish charged the fly. Each fish approached the fly differently, so you had no idea what to expect.
After a much less eventful trip home (thankfully), I'm already thinking about carp again. We're already counting down the days until next year when Brood VI of the 17 Year Cicadas emerge in NC, SC, and GA.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to experience the Hardly Strictly Musky Tournament in McMinnville, Tennessee. As a complete newby to Musky fishing, I wasn't 100% sure what to expect. Even so, I'm rarely one to pass on great opportunities, so I jumped on board. Several close friends of mine had spent some time on the water fishing for Musky, and I even knew a few of the top Musky guides, but I'd never even stepped foot on Musky water. A team of Project Healing Waters members was formed consisting of myself, Chris Thompson, and Ryan Shea of Brookdog Fishing Co. With sponsorship and backing from the amazing people at Temple Fork Outfitters, we laid plans for the upcoming trip.
Hardly Strictly Musky was an idea born in the mind of Towee Boats Company owner Todd Gregory. In it's 5th year in 2016, the 3 day event included a Thursday night Captain's Party and an amazing Cajun dinner at the Foglight Foodhouse in Rock Island. Friday Morning started dark and early with a 5am appointment with the river. Under hotel lights we loaded Esox Rods, giant flies and a cooler packed with goodies into the Towee Skiff. A few minutes later, Ryan backed his skiff down the ramp into the low crystal clear waters of the Collins River. Again, being a first timer, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, as we floated downstream watching the colors of the approaching sunrise fill the sky. Weeks before, I was just hoping to see a Musky on the trip, as I had heard plenty of stories about the "Fish of Ten Thousand Casts". A few days before the trip, I started to conceive the possibilities of someone in the boat actually landing one. The thought was exciting to say the least.
As Ryan rowed down river, Chris hurled a huge popper towards the bank. I chose to play it safe with the some of the more Plain Jane Musky flies we had in the box. 20 minutes down stream, Chris calls out "Musky" as we both look over and see a barred torpedo charge towards his popper and then make a run straight towards us, turning off just shy of the boat. Excited with meeting goal number one, I was ready for goal number two, getting one to eat the fly.
The thing about Musky fishing is that the follows and eats are few and far enough between, that it is pretty easy to let your guard down. The fish are always going to come out of nowhere and eat when you least expect it, so try to always expect it. Sometime between 10 and 11am, as we were floating down a shallow shady section of the river, he showed up. As Ryan called out "Musky" I saw him appear behind the fly, only six or so feet from the boat. One, two, three hard strips and he T-Boned the big fly right on the pause. The fish immediately bolted upstream, under Ryan's oar and then launched his entire body out of the water. The fly line made a V shape from the rod tip, down to the oar, and back up to the fish...luckily everything held tight. I decided not to bask in the glory of the tug for too long, and wrenched down on him to get him to the net as quick as I could. We measured him out at 35 1/2 inches, not huge by Musky standards, but still a pretty respectable fish. A few pics were snapped and the fish was revived and he swam off no worse for wear. We grounded to boat against the bank and took a quick few minutes to celebrate with some fried chicken, before getting back to work. We spotted somewhere around ten Musky that day, including a few follows, but no other fish were landed. We were privileged to see some really cool sights throughout the day, including beavers, minks and turkeys along the banks, and a big musky that ran a half dozen sucker fish out of the water and onto the bank. After 13 hours blind casting 10wt rods and 400 grain lines, we loaded the skiff on the trailer just in time to make it to the check in and dinner.
We had a great time at the Friday night dinner party at the Towee Boats Shop. Great food and music along with some killer giveaways from Patagonia, Flymen, Monic Lines, Flood Tide Co., Costa Del Mar and Southern Culture on the Fly. After Day 1, three Musky had been landed, and our fish put Team TFO/PHWFF in the lead. The next morning came early and with a major drop in temps, we traded our shorts and flip flops for vests and long pants. We made the call to float the same stretch of river as the day before since we had spotted a decent amount of fish the day before. By 6am, we already had one follow and were feeling pretty good about the possibilities. Over the next 13 hours, we fished hard and covered about 5 miles of water. A few fish were spotted but we weren't able to get anything to commit. Seven Musky were caught during Saturday's fishing, leaving our fish in 6th for overall size, and Team TFO/PHWFF in 4th place for overall points. Some really nice fish were caught on day 2. Congratulations to Katie Blizzard for landing the biggest fish of the tournament, just shy of 43". Also, a big congratulations to Blane Chocklett, Mike Schultz and Chris Willen for winning the overall championship and taking home the Paul Puckett Fender Telecaster with 3 really nice fish on day 2. The end of tournament day 2 wound down with an awards banquet at the Park Theater in downtown McMinnville. Team rankings aside, it's a week later and I am still stoked that I caught my first Musky. The whole experience was better than I could have expected.
Looking back, the whole thing was a blast and I really hope Chris, Ryan and myself can make it back again next year. Thanks again to Temple Fork Outfitters, the trip wouldn't have been possible without them. Thanks to Todd Gregory and Towee Boats for putting on such a cool event. Thank you to Patagonia, Flood Tide Co., Costa Del Mar, Flymen, Hatch, Monic, Regal, TFO, Southern Culture on the Fly and Schultz Outfitters for sponsoring the event. Next years event is scheduled for May 11-13, 2017 so mark your calendars...I'll see you there!
This post was originally written 1 year ago today, after returning from my first trip to the Bahamas. With another trip coming up this summer, it's hard to shake the thoughts of "dem bones". I wanted to re-share my initial impressions of a low budget DIY trip to the Bahamas.
I spent a few years messing around with the fly rod when I was younger, mainly casting Betts poppers at bass and bream in the lily pads…nothing too serious. My real addiction to the fly rod came about 10 years ago when my wife purchased an 8wt TFO fly rod for me. I doubt she knew what she was getting into…because I’ve been ruined ever since. Being completely enthralled with my new past time, I would soak up as much information as possible, much of it fueled by saltwater fly fishing magazines. Although our local Carolina species got some love in those magazines, most of the articles were dedicated to the magnificent three: Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish. They were the glamour species, and they were etched in at the top of my bucket list. I’ve was lucky enough to scratch the Silver King off the list a few years ago. Permit, well…I’ve seen them, cast to a few, and I’m sure I will eventually catch one and it will probably be complete dumb luck. Bonefish, on the other hand, seemed like more of an attainable goal - I just needed to get to them. There are still bonefish in the Florida Keys, but any honest guide will tell you that their numbers dropped significantly a few years ago. There are lots of differing opinions on what caused this drop. Luckily, I’m hearing better reports of bonefish in the Keys lately, so hopefully we’ll see them make a big comeback in the near future. I realized that to really have a great bonefish experience, I needed to get to the Bonefish Capital of the World…the Bahamas.
Fast forward several years and I finally decided that there were no more excuses, it was time to scratch the Bonefish/Bahamas goal off the list. I spent a lot of time researching a DIY vacation for my wife and I in the Bahamas. I looked at several of the islands and read reviews of each. After a lot of thought, I settled on doing a trip to Grand Bahama Island. My goal was to get the best experience possible for the lowest price…two things that don’t often go hand in hand. I started pricing flights to the Bahamas from North Carolina and looked into driving to Ft Lauderdale and taking a hopper flight over. Ultimately, I came across a ferry service that runs people from Ft Lauderdale to Freeport Grand Bahama at a really good price. We rented an apartment off of VRBO and reserved a rental car on the Island. Once everything was set, I jumped into researching DIY bonefishing opportunities and looked into fishing with a local guide for a day. Grand Bahama Island has a few really nice lodges and independent guides. I had almost settled on an independent guide outfit when I ran into Robert Neher, the co-owner of East End Lodge, at the Winston Salem Fly Fishing Show. Robert spent some time with me talking about bonefish, Bahamian food, and other adventures to be had on the Islands. He happened to have an opening on one of his boats during the week of our vacation, so I reserved a spot to fish with his operation.
Last week, my wife and I had a fantastic time on Grand Bahama Island. Friendly people, killer food, amazing views, fantastic snorkeling, and the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. What about the fishing? It was amazing. Grand Bahama Island isn’t known for having a lot of wadeable flats (most of it is boat fishing) but I was able to find some wadeable beaches with lots of bonefish working in with the rising tide. The best part of the trip, though, was our day on the water with East End Lodge. These guys run a fantastic operation. Co-owners Robert and Cecil met my wife and I at our car as we pulled up at the lodge. We spend a little time catching up and then made our way to the docks. The guides fired up the Dolphin Super Skiffs that were tied up to the dock and we jumped in with Cecil and took off.
We navigated through a creek taking us from the south side of Grand Bahama to the North Side and then we ran several miles across crystal clear water over turtle grass until we reached our destination. Over the next eight hours I had the pleasure of standing on the nose of the skiff as Cecil push-poled over grass, sand, and coral, and through mazes of mangroves as we spotted and cast to bonefish after bonefish.
I never attempted to count, but we must have seen hundreds of bones that day. Some I spooked, some I missed, some I never saw, but there were several occasions when all the stars aligned and a bonefish would come to hand. If you’ve never had the experience of gliding across a Bahamian flat, watching giant barracuda, sea turtles, sharks and tons of bonefish swim around the boat, then you are missing out. It’s an amazing thing to watch a bonefish break away from the school, rush your fly, inspect it, tip its tail up, inhale the fly and then make a 75 yard dash across a flat in about 5 seconds. I highly recommend it! I’ll be back next year, there’s no question about it. I’m already dreaming about fresh conch salad and those supercharged bonefish. If you are thinking about giving it a try, feel free to contact me and I’ll be glad to pass along some information.