Catch & Release damages the “Delicate Flowers” of the watershed

anxietyI’m thinking the Brits may have been right all along  – and us liberal eco-friendly colonials have been gleefully abusing trout for several generations.

New fish farming research suggests that “dropout fish”, that small percentage of fish that become listless and unresponsive when wadded into pens and fed dry pellets made of horse manure and ground walnut shells, may be “overstimulated” fish – incapable of handling new external stimuli.

“Overstimulated” being the definition of vaccination, excessive handling, predation of really mean Gangsta fish, and having really small gonads (therefore being the laughingstock of gym class). All this unwanted external attention causing a percentage of pen raised fish to withdraw from their sheltered concrete lined lifestyle, suffer chronic depression and essentially will themselves to die.

The researchers suggest that the “drop out” fish came to their condition due to stresses they encountered that were not in their natural environment (overcrowding, aggressiveness from other fish, handling by humans, vaccinations, etc.) Stresses that all of the fish in the fish farm were forced to endure—it was only those that were not able to cope with the highly stressful environment that were overwhelmed and succumbed to depressive-like symptoms. The team further suggests that losses due to “drop out” fish could be reduced by reducing or eliminating the stress inducers that exist as a normal part of aquaculture processes.

Not surprisingly, human psychologists are keen to note the similarities between farmed fish and humans, the difference being our “dropouts” spend the bulk of the day in their phone, ignore parental begging to secure gainful employment, and choose to live with us until they’re forty .. instead.

“Overstimulated” may  be the selfsame reason our progeny are ignoring traditional blood sports and opting for the genteel hobbies consistent with concrete lined lifestyles popularized by our major urban epicenters.

This theory dovetails into fly fishing lore, given how fishing is always worse now than the decade prior, and how the popular “hot spots” on our rivers inevitably turn cool.  An explanation that the gleeful manner by which we repeatedly slam steel into innocent mouths suggests that fish duped many times over may develop feeding anxieties  and lowered self esteem once caught, handled and released.  After numerous encounters with sharp hooks and boorish humans they withdraw from the prime lies, leading to lowered reproduction rates, and eventually extincting the Powerhouse #2 riffle

(that’s a California joke …)

A DICHOTOMOUS KEY TO THE FISHERS OF THE WHITE RIVER

My theory is fly fishing humor is a victim of the thousand dollar fly rod, as the witty good-natured fellows, the kind welcome in any camp, aren’t drawn to rarified technological marvels, rather they’ve fled the sport to husband cash for mortgages and orthodonture for their offspring.

The below humorist work was submitted by a kindred spirit, who for obvious reasons, insists on remaining anonymous. Aimed at his home waters of Arkansas’s White River, the author has struck a rare chord that resonates for every river anywhere.

Yes. I wish I wrote it.

Kbarton10

WhiteRiverArk

Early Sociology of the Region

The Upper White River in northern Arkansas is a distinct socio-ecological region that is more than 100 miles from anywhere else, yet equidistant, or nearly so, from most other places. The original non-indigenous Homo spp. fauna consisted mainly of descendants of 19th century settlers derived from a degenerate branch of upland southern Anglo-Saxon stock originating in western North Carolina and Virginia. The intelligent components of this diaspora traveled only so far as West Virginia, where they settled in various coves and “hollers,” and were later known primarily for seeking psychic fulfillment by inhaling gasoline fumes from Mason jars. But that’s another story altogether.

As the early migration continued west through north Arkansas, some of the remaining westward-trekking pioneers, in a profound state of mental and physical fatigue, gave up and said, “Screw it, this is hard, I can’t go any further, I’m stopping here.” In remarkable irony, the worst example of “pioneer spirit” in American history thus settled on the worst farming land east of Death Valley—an area with topsoil so thin “you can read a Bible through it,” as they say.

Given this combination of socio-psychological deficiency and geo-agronomic limitation, it should come as no surprise to even the most careless student of the human condition that the original settlers in the area survived not by farming, but by developing a meager but satisfying lifestyle consisting of the closed-loop, patho-economic activity known as “subsistence-level population self-abuse”—manifest first by selling one another the worst fermented-corn distillate in the southeast and later by selling one another the worst homemade methamphetamine in the United States. (It should be noted, possibly for the safety of visiting flyfishers, that Ozarkian meth “cookers” were not impacted to a significant degree by laws limiting over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine-containing cold medicines; local cookers, being what they are, labor on under the impression that all cold medicines are created equal when it comes to meth precursors and have freely substituted other, non-regulated formulations—most commonly Vicks VapoRub, which gives Ozark meth a characteristic mentholated aroma, a physiological non-effect due only to a non-pharmaceutical “contact-high,” as well as the not-so-odd sequala of suppressing coughs associated with the 3-packs-a-day of Marlboro reds consumed by the average Ozarkian meth-chef.)

The unsustainable “perpetual motion” economic model associated with selling mid-altering substances to one another was slowly modified and made thermodynamically plausible first by an influx of retirees from Mississippi seeking asylum from mosquitos and other lowland plagues and, second, by the economic engine colloquially known as “trout fishing.” Trout fishers cut across a wide swath of socio-economic type-species, and may be armed with anything from $900 flyrods to $6.96 K-Mart combo-spincasters, but they have one important characteristic in common: a propensity to spend money as if the Russians were just across the ridge in Harrison.

Salmonid Fisheries of the Region

Species of the family Salmonidae (the trouts, salmon, whitefishes, and relatives) are not native to Arkansas due to lack of suitable thermal refugia after Pleistocene Epoch glaciation. Trout fishing in the White River drainage basin was made possible by construction of a series of dams, starting with Norfolk Dam, on the North Fork of the White River, in 1944. Dam-building was initiated by “New Deal” visionaries to provide gainful employment to Ozarkian society, whose previous experience with applied hydrology consisted of trying to put a cork stopper back in a whiskey jug. The resulting reservoirs, now numbering five, provided year-around cold water that randomly ranges from a trickle to Noahichian flood—in other words, the perfect resource for dangerous southern trout fishing.

The combination of tailwater trout fishing, deceptive remoteness, and the presence of one “wet” county located in the geographic center of a virtual barricade of bible-belt-cum-meth-lab counties attracted fishermen from throughout the midsouth and midwest. There is only one commonality among the millions of potential trout fishers in that extensive circumscribed area: they’ll all be on the river the same day you are, no matter where you fish and no matter what day it is.

The Fishers

Trout fishers are heterogeneous and many classification schemes have been proposed, in both the scientific literature and on the walls of truck-stop restrooms. Here we discuss the most familiar hierarchical grouping, which is based not on supertype-subtype relations for prescribed biological traits, but rather by a simple subtype-subtype grouping that assumes, on the face of it, no hierarchy at all. This classification is based on the type of fishing equipment that is used to capture trout.

A relatively circumscribed subclass uses fly rods, and, with apologies to no one, this subclass will be the main, but not exclusive, focus of this treatise. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the highly inflated importance that flyfishers often ascribe to themselves, the largest subclass of White River fishers (by total number and average body weight) uses spinning tackle and bait. Fly fishers often identify members of this subclass using the common names “longcods” or “jaggoffs.” Of course, flyfishers, being what they are, mutter these epithets sotto voce, only after the risk of a serious physical beating by three or four drunken baitfishers has drifted a safe distance downstream. The favored baits in the region are artificially formulated plastic-like balls called PowerBait—a generic term, eponymously named after the most popular commercial version of the yellow, greasy material soaked in powerful fish attractants. It is widely rumored, with as yet no scientific evidence, that the Berkeley Company originally formulated PowerBait to mimic both the size and consistency (but not color) of the average bait fisherman’s testicles. This intentional marketing decision was based, it is said, on the theory that copying this anatomical feature would subconsciously induce fishermen to “handle” the bait more often, perhaps leading to greater product usage and higher sales. Also of note, social statisticians have yet to prove, one way or another, whether Ozark guides’ near-universal use of canned corn as chum was the basis for the most popular PowerBait color or whether guides started using corn as chum to mimic yellow-colored PowerBait. This is widely known within the fishing tackle industry as the “Berkeley chicken-or-egg paradox” and serious attempts to discern cause-and-effect have led to madness among at least three doctorate-level sociologists.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the “spinning and bait fisher” subclass is the fact that these sportspeople will never be seen in their natural setting more than two feet away from an ice chest—universally known in the region, and not without just cause, as a “beer cooler.” The spatial (and special) relationship between human being and beer cooler has been described by some social scientists as the animate-inanimate equivalent of biological symbiosis, although the benefit derived by the beer cooler from association with humans has never adequately been explained, other than the theory that the beer cooler (often a beaten-down version constructed of white styrofoam with a yellow polypropylene rope serving as the “handle”) derives benefit from the relationship by being able to “see the world” while attached to a spin fisherman. This superb example of attaching an anthropomorphic reward system to an inanimate object was recently discredited when it was discovered that Yeti-brand coolers provided greater benefits to the human than that derived by the cooler from the human.

Another, smaller, fisher subclass frequently seen on White River trout fisheries uses spinning tackle and large artificial lures. The most popular lure used by Ozarkian trout fishers is the “Countdown Rapala,” a lure that looks like a gang of boat anchors attached to a small, colorful baseball bat. Anglers in this subclass typically stand, rather than sit, in boats while drifting downstream, casting great distances in hopes of either snagging the waders of flyfishers or, possibly, catching spawning brown trout. Either outcome is considered equally rewarding. Rapala fishermen are an important ecological “forcing factor” shaping fish community structure. Brown trout comprise a naturally self-sustaining fishery in these rivers and if adult brown trout were unharvested, these food-rich rivers would sustain perhaps the greatest population of brown trout in the world. This notoriety would, of course, attract untold numbers of fishers to the area, which would seriously disrupt the local social structure and service-based economy by inducing development of an increased number of liquor stores, as well as attracting additional females and males engaged in prostitution. Rapala fishermen thus serve as a significant influence on stream ecology (and, by extension, local socio-economics) by removing spawning adult brown trout (when spawning, brown trout are easier to catch than the flu in an elementary school restroom). Continuous and persistent removal of spawning fish assures that the ecosystem will be populated with many very small fish—primarily recently-stocked, hatchery-grown rainbow trout—that are considered “best eating” by longcods and related fisher-types, and also assures that the fishery will not attract undesirables interested in a truly quality fishing experience, as well as other associated diversions.

It is perhaps worth noting, or maybe not, that no study has yet been conducted to determine the genetic relationship between White River longcods and tournament bass fishermen, despite the appeal of connecting what appears to be two divergent lineages with a probable common ancestor. The near-sexual affection shown by both subclasses for large, overpowered watercraft is possible evidence of this genetic linkage. Additional similarities include failed attempts to hide obesity-related double chins under goatees and lack of social remorse when wearing vented shirts to their mother’s funeral. The lone behavioral disconnection is the apparent requirement for glittery watercraft by bassfishers and the non-requirement of highly ornate watercraft by longcods. This disconnection hints at either a lack of genetic similarity or, more likely, genetic divergence from a common ancestor. One theory posits that both subclasses derive from sexual liaisons between humanoid New-World mammals and Spanish Conquistadores, who, it has recently been discovered, came to the New World in search of gold, not for personal enrichment, but rather to be ground into a fine powder and sprinkled liberally over their lateen-rigged caravels in an attempt to impress Cadiz prostitutes when returning from long voyages. This is thought to be the first example of what eventually evolved into the bass fishing “glitterboat.” Careful examination of a recently discovered oil painting of Christopher Columbus lends credence to the theory of an Italian/Spanish ancestry for bass fishermen (if not longcods), as it was revealed that the shirtwaist worn by Columbus while sailing across the Atlantic was adorned with many cloth “badges” and “patches” with embroidered writings such as “I Heart Isabella” and “Dee Colombo Cheese Shop” (the latter an open admission that his voyage was partially subsidized by proceeds from the cheese shop owned by his father, Dominico, in Savona). Modern-day bass fishermen have retained this mode of dress, and fishing jerseys are now adorned, much in the manner of Columbus, with logos for various tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, and internet porn sites, as well as sporting clever phrases such as “Bass Fishing—Size Does Matter.” Another common badge worn by bass fishers—with no sense of cynicism, hypocrisy, or irony—reads “Take a Child Fishing.”

Arkansas Fly Shop Personnel

The propensity of flyfishers to spend vast, obscene sums of money on arcane and relatively useless paraphernalia provided economic-development opportunities based on the capitalist conditional model of “never let a dollar be left unspent” and, as such, fly shops have exploded in number in the Mountain Home metroplex, much like mushroom rings around manure piles in poor pasture soils after a rain. Fly shops are, of course, small specialty stores that sell cheap fingernail clippers (re-labeled “line nippers”) for $8.50, little round pieces of styrofoam (re-labeled as “strike indicators”) for $5, and plastic fishing rods that cost several times more than your first car. Despite an attractive business plan based on retail markups of several thousand percent on all items (a practice specifically banned in the Old Testament book of Leviticus), the half-life of the average north Arkansas fly shop is something less than 11 months. The short half-life is not, however, due to the lack of wallets attached to flyfishermen or the willingness of those wallets to regurgitate for overpriced merchandise. Rather, the continuous wax and wane of shops is due to the retail dilution effect caused by the region having more flyshops per capita than anywhere east of West Yellowstone, Montana. The other factor influencing flyshop profits and the high turnover rate is persistent customer dissatisfaction with the way they are “serviced” at each new shop. Here we use the word “service” in much the same way that ranchers use the word when they take a bull to another ranch to “service” a heifer. So, in this section, we will discuss the providers of fly shop service; that is, the typical fly shop worker. This subclass of troutfishing fauna is so unique that it deserves further discussion before proceeding with a more complete description of faunal subclasses not formally engaged in the “service” sector of flyfishing commerce (that is, those being “serviced”). In particular, we will show that fly shop workers in Arkansas form a distinct group that science has recently proven to be psychologically, and perhaps genetically, distinct from fly shop owners in other regions. Of interest is the effect, or non-effect, of customer place-of-origin on fly shop worker behavior.

(Note that “customers” are never known by that name in the flyfishing retail business, but rather they are universally referred to as “sh*t-heels” among fly shop workers whenever they discuss business among themselves. Here, however, we will use the less profane epithet “customer” to describe people who wander, intentionally or accidentally, into fly shops. Further note that purchasing flyfishing equipment is one of only two retail transactions known to man where the items purchased weigh less than the paper money used to make the purchase. The other retail transaction where this occurs is when you buy helium balloons for your kid’s birthday party)

To the uninitiated, fly shop workers in Arkansas appear to be cut from the same cloth as fly shop workers everywhere, as if all are trained in one central location, perhaps in France. That is, they possess a rudeness that seems borne of clinical-grade constipation, and a small smile breaks free only when the customer exceeds some pre-defined spending limit—which ranges from $250 to more than $1,000 at the more upscale shops (easily identified by the ‘Sage’ and ‘Simms’ signs lining the storefront). These are, by the way, the same people who will let you ride in their boat for $500 a day while they smoke the vilest cigar south of Cleveland, Ohio, and piss on your boot when you do not tip an extra 25% for the ham sandwich and warm Yoo-Hoo provided at lunch. (With respect to flyfishing guides’ seemingly universal and insatiable appetite for oversized, foul-smelling cigars, remember what Sigmund Freud’s secretary—Krystal Friedrickson—often said when returning gingerly from her boss’s office: “Sometimes a cigar is NOT just a cigar.”)

For many years, it was believed that fly shop worker behavior was due to loss of eyesight and/or loss of hearing, perhaps related to constant exposure to solvents in fly-tying head cement or, possibly, silicone in fly floatants. Blindness, either partial or complete, coupled with partial hearing loss would, in fact, account for at least one aspect of the behavior of fly shop workers, wherein the customer is completely ignored until repeated verbal requests for help are finally acknowledged with phases such as “Huh?” or “ Whaddya want?” Blindness alone would not, however, account for one odd aspect of typical behavior, wherein the customer’s request for information on “What fly are they hitting?” is always—always—answered by “Olive Wooly Buggers,” spoken in the same curt, dismissive tone of voice normally used to answer a leper’s request for directions to the nearest water fountain. Often, the fly shop worker’s reply is accompanied by a particular facial expression that is, in fact, described as part of the “Universality Hypothesis” first proposed by Charles Darwin in his work “The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals.” This facial expression was added to so-called “universal” expressions of happiness, anger, fear, and sadness, and was given the now-accepted descriptor, “I smell dogsh*t.” Further, the quality of information on effective fly patterns changes dramatically when the same question is asked while the customer is placing a large amount of merchandise on the check-out counter. Suddenly, and especially as the ongoing purchase exceeds several Franklins, exquisite details begin to flow from the previously mute salesperson: “Go two hundred and twenty yards below the new Cotter Bridge; fish are crazy for a size 18 Ruby Midge fished 27 inches below a pink strike indicator between 3:30 and 5:00 on days containing the letter ‘u’.” If the purchase exceeds $1,000, behavior becomes even more radical—rapidly changing from forthcoming to positively syruppy: “I’ll even take you there if you want, and carry your rods. Do you need any drugs? Women?” Such anomalies in response-quality rule out blindness or hearing loss as a basis for boorish behavior.

Two recent studies of cognitive behavior therapy sought to understand the neuro-biological basis for the acute interpersonal-relationship dysfunction almost universally seen in fly shop personnel. To elaborate a point, the behavior was described above as “rude” but it goes far past that simple classification. In the at-large population, some manifestations of rudeness are inadvertently, and sadly, borne of lack of cultural interaction, lack of education, or surgical removal of certain brain parts. However, the rudeness we speak of here is plainly a matter of intentional churlishness or insolence, almost as if social-class dysfunction were at the base of the behavior. The first indication that social-class status was not, however, involved in fly shop rudeness was the study of Dr. Simon Crabbwalk, retired professor of post-modern paleoanthology at the University of California, Coalinga, who showed that the mean income level for parents of fly shop workers was within one standard deviation of average for the population at large, although average educational achievement did fall slightly below one standard deviation of average for the at-large population. The conclusion of this study is straightforward: it is doubtful if real or perceived social or educational superiority is the basis for antisocial behavior among fly shop workers.

Further research by Professor E. Tathawhy at the University of East Texas at Amarillo traced employment outcomes of a large set of individuals with common upbringing. His work showed that people with certain traits naturally and systematically gravitate towards specific employments opportunities. Oddly, fly shop workers formed perhaps one of the tightest clusters of personality trait-types in the study. In his webinar presentation at the 3rd Annual Virtual Meeting of the National Associations of Rational Emotive Therapists and Professional Fly Casting Instructors, Dr. Tathawhy summarized his findings thusly:

“Fly shop workers do not, in fact, come from a random population, but rather from a well-defined subclass of people who, from childhood, can be scientifically classified as “assholes.” Further, they do not randomly move into certain employment opportunities, but rather, they actively seek employment in settings that allow their behavior to be fully expressed. In other words, fly shop workers are “born into it” based on a genetic predisposition for assholedness. In fact, my work showed that given lack of opportunity for employment in fly shops, this population subclass would be compelled to find employment in other sectors that tolerated, and even rewarded, their behavior, such as working for TSA at major airport hubs or for the DMV at driver’s license-renewal stations”

Two years later, an undergraduate student—Felix Hundschiessen-Jones—at the University of Arkansas satellite campus at Mountain Home, noted that Dr. Tathawhy’s work involved samples only from the western United States (primarily northern California and the circum-Yellowstone area of Montana, Idaho, and Montana). Mr. Hundschiessen-Jones’ senior-class thesis therefore focused on fly shop workers in the north Arkansas area and his conclusions are diametrically opposed to those of Professor Tathawhy. North Arkansas fly shop owners do, in fact, come from a random population with respect to parental income, educational achievement, and even the so-called AQR (Asshole Quotient Rating) developed by Dr. Tathawhy. The startling conclusion of the work by Mr. Hundschiessen-Jones was that the rude, boorish, and discourteous behavior seen in Arkansas fly shop workers is developed over time—a sort of on-the-job-training in insolence. Several retired fly shop workers in the Cotter area who were interviewed for the study indicated that the slow downward spiral from normalcy to churlishness could be blamed on anglers from Mississippi, who shop for long periods, fondling $1500 bamboo fly rods and $500 Ross fly reels that they clearly could not afford, and then ask to use the store’s restroom, an activity followed by outbursts of “bathroom sounds” clearly related to a recent meal containing either refried beans from Letties in Gassville or crab rangoon from the all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant in Mountain Home. After non-productive browsing and productive physical relief, the angler, often wearing waders and wet, muddy boots, would approach the checkout counter with two, size-16 Chuck’s Emergers in a plastic semen-sample cup and ask if he can pay for the two flies with an out-of-town check. “How,” one former fly shop worker asked, “can sanity be maintained when the customer base consists of so many Mississippi ‘flyfishermen’?” This question has, of course, no answer based on rational thought, but the point was this: Rather than engaging Mississippi flyfishermen in unproductive and inane discourse, it is best to pretend they do not exist at all, except as part of a bad dream that would hopefully all go away when morning comes. But it never does.

The “Generation Schedule”

When people from outside the region fish in the White River area, they naturally expect the nose-in-the-air, neo-bourgeois attitude that has come to define trout flyfishers throughout the United States. This behavior originated in males who were constantly bullied in high school and then discovered one thing they could do better than actual athletes—wave a long, thin piece of plastic back and forth and catch an animal with a brain no bigger than a black-eyed pea. Good examples of this sort of psycho-sexual rod-length overcompensation are, in fact, easy to find on the White River system. And the behavior seems universally manifest in travelers from Dallas, Memphis, and Kansas City. In an odd coincidence that has not gone unnoticed by social statisticians, these cities are also home to large concentrations of people who make delusionary claims that their city has “the best barbeque in the country.” Only one parsimonious theory has been offered for this correlation: being a snob is not confined to either fishing or food. By the way, the terms “good barbeque” and “Dallas” seldom appear in the same sentence, for the same reason that the terms “Nobel Laureate” and “Arkansas” are usually separated by at least several book covers.

But, all that is one thing. The behavior we speak of here is something quite different: an edgy, nervous demeanor that seems unique to White River flyfishers. The behavior is manifest only when Ozark flyfishers are on the river, especially when alone, and is superimposed on the snot-nosed attitude common to all flyfishers when they are in the company of other human beings, or dogs. Clinical signs are obvious, distinctive, and nearly universal: semi-continuous to continuous head and eye movement looking upstream, downstream, and across stream, accompanied with sudden darts towards the bank when changes in wind direction cause river sounds to wax and wane. Psychologists have compared this erratic behavior to that seen in men who expect the husband of the woman they’re screwing to pull up in the driveway at any moment.

The basis for this human behavior is the random and spectacular change in water flow experienced on these tailwater rivers as either more, or less, or even much more, water is released from the damsite through turbines used for generation of electricity, or something. Hydrographs of the Bull Shoal and Norfolk tailwaters resemble an EKG recording of someone in the midst of acute ventricular fibrillation—spikes of wild magnitude with irregular flatline periods that, for hydrographs, correspond to periods of safe, wadeable water followed at random intervals by sudden releases of torrents that raise the river levels by several feet in a matter of minutes.

When north Arkansas flyfishers meet in morning, no one says “Hello” or “Good morning” but rather the common greeting is some version of “What’s the generation schedule?” The deeper, unspoken question is “Will I drown today?” The only truthful answer to either question is a reciprocal, rhetorical question: “Who in hell knows?” And perhaps someone in hell does know, because no one else does.

Attempts to interpret the scientific basis for the seemingly random rise and fall of the river usually take into account sound scientific factors such as the regional need for electricity generation, reservoir water levels, downstream flood control, astrological signs, bird migration behavior, and nut storage by squirrels. The best current theory is that the generation schedule is set by a Corps of Engineers technician who caught his wife red-handed (or perhaps some other body part) during a physical liaison with a flyfisherman. Instead of blaming his wife for bad taste in men, he took his revenge by managing water flows in these streams to minimize flyfishing opportunities while maximizing the probability of drowning as many flyfishers as possible.

In an attempt to avoid litigation, while simultaneously engaging in relatively intense schaden freude, the agency charged with managing water flows has established websites and telephone “hotlines” that offer, on the face of it, hydropower generation schedules for the tailwaters. These information portals also have links to Las Vegas “tout” services for betting on NFL football games as well as advice on paramutual wagering for horse racing and cock fighting. Many people, especially newcomers to the area, actually rely on hydropower generation predictions to determine where and when they can safely fish, despite the fact that recent statistical studies have shown that predictions against the point spread for NFL football are 2.7 times more accurate than agency estimations of hydropower activity. The agency has, so far, avoided criminal and civil litigation by prefacing their voice-activated telephone reports with the message, “Estimated generation schedules should NOT be relied upon to predict safe water levels” spoken in a computer-generated voice, complete with laughing sounds in the background. Most experienced flyfishers now use more accurate methods of determining safe wading conditions, the most common and reliable being Tarot cards or coin flips.

So, over time—and despite denial by Baptist ministers—evolution based on a sort of brutal Darwinism caused all north-Arkansas flyfishers who are currently alive to develop erratic, nervous behavior patterns. Despite previous studies of flyfisher neurophysiology indicating that this behavior was physiologically related to functioning of the well-known hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the resulting “fight-or-flight” response, recent studies using advanced brain-imaging techniques have shown conclusively that there is no “fight-or-flight” response in most flyfishers but rather, simply “or-flight.” That is to say, and in layman terms, the basis for the widespread development of this set of traits is not behavioral modification over time, wherein repeated exposures to stressful stimuli (unexpected, rapidly rising water levels leading to repeated near-death experiences as waders fill with water) cause ever-increasing cortisol or blood glucose production, but rather it is based upon the simple genetics of “individual selection”—a breeding program often used to produce commercially useful changes in cattle or swine. Fundamentally, if you are not watchful, you die. And if you die, you cannot procreate. This straightforward example of “non-survival of the non-fittest” typically ends when a redneck teenager finishing his fifteenth Keystone Light finds your body hanging from the low-water dam 50 miles downstream in Batesville.

Human “Trout-Fishing” Fauna of the Region

Notwithstanding initial impressions of the indigenous human population, which usually makes newcomers feel that they have somehow accidentally wandered into the middle of a casting call for extras in “Deliverance II,” the human trout fishing fauna of the upper White River ecological area is, in fact, as varied as it is abundant. Although it appears, and it may be true, that there is a seemingly endless mass of humanity stretching from Red’s Landing to Red Bud on any given day, nearly 93% of the fauna fall into one of five general taxa. Presented below, for the naturalist specializing in such things, is a dichotomous key to the major faunal groups seen on the White River below Bull Shoals, and to include the North Fork of the White River below Norfolk dam.

The Key

Users of this key should be aware of the substitutability of the specific epithets; for example, “Oklahoma City Family Man” is simply one of a group of similar taxa that may include, to name a few, “Tulsa man,” Muskogee Man,” and even “Enid Man.” As such, “Oklahoma City Family Man” can be considered the type species of a species-group of related taxa. The same may be said of the type species “Fort Smith Chapter of UA Alumni Association,” which is nearly indistinguishable from many other University of Arkansas alumni groups, most of which consist predominantly of clinically obese males who have never set foot in Fayetteville except on autumn Saturday afternoons. In fact, individuals with the most pronounced features of the species in general are almost always false-species—a sociological analog of the ecological principle of mimicry, or mimetism. In ecology, mimicry describes a situation where an organism evolves over many generations to share common physical characteristics of another group. Sociological mimicry—most strongly developed in so-called University of Arkansas or University of Alabama alumni—consists not of genetic changes leading towards some common set of physical attributes, but rather a sort of false belief, or delusion, that the person actually attended the school in question. In extreme cases, the mimic may, in fact, be unaware of the false nature of the belief, even to the point of maintaining that he “lost his diploma in the flood of 1974,” despite being only 8 years old at that time.

The one exception to this so-called “cross-characterization by specific example” that is used in this key will be “Rhodes College Reunion,” which has been found to be monotypic. As such, the “type species” for this faunal grouping is also the only species yet described. Other small liberal arts colleges in the midsouth have not yet developed distinctive markings and “tells” that allow accurate, consistent diagnostic identification. As such, and perhaps luckily, this remains the only such grouping in this category.

The Key to Fishers of the White River

Instructions: Use as you would any dichotomous taxonomic key. Observe the specimen in question closely, then start at numeral one and choose the most appropriate description from among the two choices. Then go to the number indicated for that choice and repeat the process. A complete description of the particular specimen in question is then appended below the key.

1. Angler’s vehicle has copy of “Home Waters” on dashboard = go to 2

1. Angler’s vehicle without copy of “Home Waters” on dashboard = go to 3

2. Angler with goatee, gold necklace bling with “vasectomy” medallion, and speedo pantylines showing through tailored Simms neoprene waders = Memphis Slicker

2. Anglers in groups of six or more, wearing black rubber “work-boot” waders, using old Fenwick fiberglass rods = Rhodes College Reunion

3. Angler using spinning tackle, clear “fly-and-spin bobbers,” and size 8 McGinty fly patterns at old boat launch area of Rim Shoals = Oklahoma City Family Man

3. Angler not as above = go to 4

4. Anglers fishing from boat, with “hog-hats,” 96-quart cooler of Bud Light, two cans of Sam’s Club creamed corn, and ultralight spinning rods armed with size 6 Slater’s chartreuse crappie jigs = Fort Smith Chapter of UA Alumni Association

4. Angler fishing from boat with Zebco closed-face spincasting reel and nine-inch Countdown Rapala in yellow perch coloration, with female companion wearing “I F*** on the First Date” halter top = Little Rock Air Base Weekender

Annotations: Expanded Descriptions of Fauna

Memphis Slicker

Little known fact: there are more flyfishermen in Memphis than in the state of Montana. Well-known fact: there are more assholes in Memphis than in most cities twice as large. These two facts, standing alone, pose no problem to American civilization. A problem derives, however, from the following logico-algebraic phenomenon: the Venn diagrams for these populations dangerously overlap, and the blue and yellow circles representing the two populations carve out a massive green, lens-shaped area that describes a sub-population of asshole-flyfishing hybrids that seems drawn to the circum-Cotter area like a Collierville wedding ring to a magnet. The slicker is simply one representative incarnation of the overlapping Memphis populations and the following describes only the type-species for this relatively heterogeneous sub-population.

Before each fishing trip, this guy starts a week-long regimen of stomach crunches to prepare for the evening hatch of babes at either the Brass Lure in Cotter or the Elbow Room in Mountain Home. Over time, this regimen of physical training has made less and less impact on his burgeoning waistline. But he knows he looks fine and remains confident that the local “hickettes” will fall down with their legs in the air when anyone from “The City” walks in looking that good. It’ll be all catch-and-release, however, and he’ll make good use of his “latex caddis” lubricated with Gerhke’s Gink because he already has two ex-wives in Germantown and his “equipment” (which he calls his “size 8 emerger”) has a characteristic lesion that will make it a lead-pipe cinch that even a 14-year-old chick from Yellville would be able to pick him out in a Mountain Home “short-arm line-up.”

On the stream, this guy’s got it going in every way possible: eight-foot, four-weight Orvis Helios; Sage large-arbor reel with 400 yards of spun-gel backing, Scientific Anglers Sharkskin “High-Earth Orbit” fly line, twenty gross of the best, individually autographed House of Harrop flies arranged alphabetically in CF flyboxes. His waders are from the new Simms “Millionaire Line” of high-end fishing accessories. The waders were re-cut and custom tailored by “Bruce” back in Bartlett to show off his “glutes” while double-hauling his line half-way from White Hole to White Station. Yet oddly, the slicker never does better than a few stocker 9-inch rainbows per day, probably due to his habit of constantly looking into the edges of his polarized sunglasses to see if he can catch a glimpse of himself rather than paying attention to his bobicator-and-scud setup.

Rhodes College Reunion

These are the same guys who knew a cummerbun from a come-hither when they were 3 months old, yet they show up on the river looking like a road crew out of Varner. But this is not the usual bunch of unwashed covites typically seen up and down the river: There are more unfinished novels among this group than on a mile-long stretch of sand at Orange Beach in July, more degrees per capita than a box of rectal thermometers from Big Lots, and more lawyers than a Vioxx convention. Why then, do these guys “hick-down” so much when the reach the riffles? They don’t trout fish, that’s why.

One guy saw the movie “A River Runs Through It” from atop a Georgia Tech coed when he accidentally left the TV on in his “Motel 6” room after closing down the John Deere hospitality suite at an industrial development conference in Atlanta. A week later, while relating the five-minute affair to his buddies, he flashed back on bits and pieces of the movie and asked where the nearest trout stream was. One of the pals remembered a copy of “Home Waters” left by his father in the back seat of the hand-me-down Mercedes S-350 sedan he’d been driving since his birthday last March. Captured by the phrase “The holiest of waters . . . .”, a quick trip was arranged with reservations for ten in the “big room” at the Y Cabins in Salesville. A rich farmers’s son from north Mississippi “borrowed” eight pairs of black rubber work waders from his Daddy’s catfish farm crew. And the lawyer from Tupelo found a cache of old Fenwick fiberglass rods at an estate sale in Jumpertown while trolling for Baycol clients. The group then cobbled together enough Pflueger reels and level 8-weight K-Mart floaters to make a go of it. A quick mid-route stop at the Heber Springs Orvis Shop provided three spools of 4x tippet, a dozen size 6 Olive Wooly Buggers, one Orvis cap, and a half-dozen Orvis-logo wine-glass snuggies. They made room for the tippet spools in one of the SUVs by consolidating some of the half-empty booze bottles and the crew was then ready to hit the road for a pre-fishing night of collegiality at the “Y”.

The next morning, despite nursing hangovers and the horrible combination of a plugged-up toilet and at least one clinical-level case of the “Y-Grocery microwave burrito two-step,” these guys hit the water like D-day—all sound and fury. But they always stop short and fish over the yellow gravel in foot-deep water. Structure? That’s plot analysis in Lit 401, right? They like Rim Shoals because there’s something vaguely homoerotic in the name. They drink Milwaukee’s Best during the day because of a need to feel “connected” with the “common man.” But there’s always a few bottles of good chardonnay or fume blanc in the fridge back at the Y. This is a good group to hook up with late in the day. They quit early to begin marinating the pork loin and they always drink good scotch.

Oklahoma City Family Man

Fed up with the demands and formalized social structure of the tenth grade, this young man pursued the American Dream at the Muffler Man shop off of Central Avenue, in El Reno. The shop had the privileged location next to the only Taco Bell between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, and, as such, the future seemed as boundless as the Oklahoma plains. Despite being underage, or perhaps because of it, he met his future wife in Bobbie’s Country Kicking Bar and Bait Shop on Route 281 in the northern suburbs of Binger OK, on the banks of the Canadian River. Although he was curious about the close resemblance between this young lady and an aunt on his father’s side, he was thoroughly smitten—in part because her mullet was so much prettier than his. Courting slowly, the first son was born nine months later, coinciding as it did with the four month anniversary of the wedding and reception at the Calumet Civic Center. The next child was delivered eleven months later, after a session of genetic counseling at “Mother Maxine’s Palm Reading and Family Life Center.”

Suddenly faced with a wife and two kids, life had closed in rapidly and his dreams of moving from manifold work to tailpipes seemed trashed at a tender age. Desperate for a break in the cutthroat world of muffler repair, he moved the family east on I-40 to Del City—the economic hub of the Oklahoma City megalopolis—and took a career-starter job with Midas. Nevertheless, he could not shake the ennui of the plains. Boredom, and frustration from not being able to grow a moustache at the age of 19, smoldered deep in his soul, until the only way out seemed to be to get away from the hurry-up world of Del City and take a weekend family vacation.

Fighting the Okie’s genetic hatred of the Razorback Nation, he felt drawn to the cool woods and clear water of northwestern Arkansas after Bill “Eight Fingers” Whiteagle—the shop’s half-Cherokee welder—described a halcyonic weekend involving a home-made porn DVD starring himself and a Waffle House waitress filmed at the Mountain Home Holiday Inn. Although our young man had never fished before, the vague recollection of meeting his wife in a bait shop planted the seed of a notion to go trout fishing. The long weekend over Memorial Day was set as breakout time and, late on Friday afternoon, with greasy soot still under his fingernails from last minute work under a 1983 Cadillac Seville, the family of four (total age = 37 years, which, in a coincident worthy of Guinness, matched the family total for number of toes as well as teeth) boarded the pit bull with the Roto-Rooter guy in the trailer next door and laid skid marks in back of the Z-71. A brief stop at the Piggly Wiggly near the front gate of Tinker Air Force Base afforded time to pick up the vacation essentials: four cartons of Kools, a 48-can suitcase of Bud Light, three packs of disposable diapers, and a case of Hormel canned chili (half of which was “mild,” without beans, for the babies).

Coming up short, still eight miles from Mountain Home, the family stopped in mid-highway and stared at the leaping rainbow trout painted on the blue-background of the Cotter water tower—a vision never seen on the plains. Blaring horns forced a quick turn towards downtown. Although initially struck dumb by the vision of a skyborn leaping trout, he was also fascinated by the name “Cotter”—a word that was reminiscent of some eroticism he has heard in the past, possibly from his wife’s gynecologist at the El Reno drive-in family clinic. Or maybe it was just a remembrance of something to do with the guy in “Urban Cowboy”—his favorite movie from the classic era of Hollywood. The boat dock at Cotter Springs was full of young teenagers swimming in the spring hole, and he was embarrassed about being the same age as the kids, but toting around two kids and a wife, who suddenly looked like a girl from Binger, which in fact she was. Moving on, a short ride down the road delivered him to Rim Shoals, and then back up the road when he was told this was “fly-only” water. After asking around town what “fly-only” meant, he was directed to the Gassville Grocery where the check-out line provided a couple of “spin-and-fly” bubbles, a six-pack of size 8 McGinty’s, and a copy of the National Enquirer for his wife. The McGinty’s looked just like the hornets swarming around the port-a-potty at Rim, so he knew they would be just his ticket to a “limit,” not knowing at the time that Rim Shoals is the center of the Arkansas catch-and-release universe. Some social scientists interpret his choice of fly pattern as evidence that the drive to “match-the-hatch” is an instinctive, rather than learned, behavior.

Among the human fauna inhabiting the White River ecological area, the family man is easily recognized from his habit of constantly trying to maintain a deniable distance between himself and his family, just in case a local halter top walks down the boat ramp. After all, he is only 19—the peak of his sexual prowess, as science has proven. However, the babies and wife always try to follow, so the family man covers a lot of water while fishing. The day always ends as frustrating as it begins: teenagers are having boy-and-girl fun just upstream and here he is, sunburned and hung over, taking grief from his wife who insists on standing on his “casting side” while bitching about going back to the motel. One nice thing: all the used diapers scattered along the bank—well screw ‘em. That’s why they run water from the dam every night—to flush all the accumulated debris from a day of fishing down to Baton Rouge. This is the fondest memory our family man takes home, and why he comes back every year—each morning on the White River starts anew, with a stream bank washed free of family obligations.

Fort Smith University of Arkansas Alumni Association

This six-pack of 18 ACT scores and general business BA’s makes the trip to the White at least once a year—in the fall when the hogs plays Mississippi State in football (“A lock! Who cares?”). Armed with their best crappie rigs, they surreptitiously follow the guides down river every morning and attempt to discover “secret holes” that they are convinced are known only by the local teenagers hired as guides by the resort that begs for a class-action lawsuit for the motto, “It costs no more to go first class.” These guides represent the best example of north Arkansas’ economic-recovery plan, which consists of wholesale transfer of money from the pockets of out-of-state fishermen into the Cotter-Mountain Home twin cities enterprise zone. White River guides have, in fact, been a model for research by Dr. George Butsavitch, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who team-teaches “Factors Associated with Social Upward Mobility of Ozarkian Lower Classes”— a crip course taught during summer semester to basketball recruits trying to qualify academically. Typically, Ozark guides defy existing models of professional development and upward mobility by jumping straight from a destiny of keeping flies off a bar stool in Gassville to the open-ended existence of sitting in the back of a boat sipping a Mountain Dew and earning $75 per hour by now and again yelling “cast over yonder by the corn.” Notwithstanding initial impressions when first meeting an Ozarkian guide, visiting flyfishers should perhaps be aware, or perhaps not, that the requirements for becoming a guide on the White River system are, in fact, quite demanding: 1) ownership, or at least possession of, a johnboat whose leaks do not pose an immediate threat of sinking; 2) ownership, or at least possession of, a deafeningly loud and oversized outboard motor; 3) a 24-pack of shear pins; 4) a pint of white paint and a small brush for painting “Red’s Expert Flyfishing Guide Service” on the boat’s side (nearly all Ozark guides are nicknamed Red, for various reasons, and all guides consider themselves “expert”); 5) ownership of a can opener for accessing cans of chumming corn; and 6) the ability to pronounce “Wooly Bugger” correctly (much like pulling the string on a baby’s doll and having it say “Mama,” all Ozarkian flyfishing guides—as also described above for flyshop personnel—respond “Olive Wooly Bugger” when their string is pulled by asking “What are they hitting?”—so they may as well be able to pronounce the fly’s name).

However, and resuming our descriptive narrative, even when our alumni group makes their best effort to emulate resort guides’ tried and true methods of “packing and chumming,” it does not produce the desired result of three limits per day per person—a common feat among the better White River guides who buy metric tons of “chum-grade” corn “short” on the Chicago mercantile. In fact, so much canned corn has been purchased by White River guides that airplane compasses are now equipped with a computer program to compensate for the magnetic deviation produced by tons of empty steel corn cans buried in the Baxter County landfill, which is now considered to be the most iron-rich mineral deposit south of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota. Also interesting, at least to students of aquatic ecology, thousands of acres of bankside “johnson grass” seen along the lower White River during low-water years are now known to consist of immature corn plants derived from kernels tossed into the river by guides a hundred miles upstream. Research by Arkansas Tech scientists has shown that most of the corn kernels shoveled into the river by White River guides would eventually be consumed by trout or other fish, and not reach the lower stretches of the river, if it were not for the widespread practice of “packing.” The technique of packing was initially discovered by one of the original Gaston’s guides—Billy “Five Limits” Bohannon—who found that corn chumming alone did not guarantee the 100 fish-per-day-per-boat that Gaston’s clients expected from top-rung guides. Packing consists not of what you may expect, but rather a guide tossing a half pound of Jolly Green into a hole upstream of some sort of structure and then idling his boat slowly downstream to pack the trout against the barrier before yelling, “Cast quick, dammit.” Not only does this practice concentrate fish into a shockingly small area, making the fishing experience akin to angling in the Atlanta Aquarium, but it also seems that prop turbulence induced by the guide’s 100-hp Merc disturbs great quantities of benthic corn, initiating the downstream niblet drift and subsequent bankside growth of enough volunteer corn to feed a small African country.

The Alumni Association’s failure to emulate the fishing success of young White River guides probably results from the fact that, even after five years of annual pilgrimages, they haven’t learned that guides use “whole-kernel” corn, and that the creamed corn they use has only three recognizable pieces of corn per can and that chartreuse crappie jigs only loosely “match the hatch” of the dull yellow, yogurt-like substance they toss out over the river. Floating dangerously low at four clinically obese alumni per boat, the guys often resort to chumming with bits of the pimento cheese sandwiches packed by their wives; the thought being that chartreuse jigs sweetened with fluorescent yellow Power Bait look more like grated cheddar cheese than creamed corn. The last half of the day is spent in a Bud-fueled stupor, drifting aimlessly downstream with empty Power Bait jars floating in bilge water taken over the low freeboard, along with puke, re-fermenting beer, and empty Ding-Dong packages. However, it’s all in good fun. Until, that is, the boombox batteries begin to give out and “Freebird” slowly grinds to a stop. The boys know, deep inside, that human beings have been known to live for weeks without eating, days without water, and even minutes with oxygen. But all those human limitations pale when compared to life without Skynard.

Little Rock Air Base Weekender

Among all the dudes, mullets, covites, and ‘necks that inhabit the White River biome, this is the easiest species to identify. Crew-cut with a distinct but almost unnoticeable rat-tail, aviator shades, cheesy half-assed moustache, pressed Levi’s, and a black “wife-beater” undershirt emblazoned with the “North Little Rock Harley Shop” logo. What else could it be but Airman, Second Class, from LRAFB? The classy chick with the “Yield” sign” tattoo on the inside of her left thigh and the tattoo of Woody the Woodpecker pushing a lawn mower on the inside of her right thigh is not an Air Force wife, but rather the top half of a barstool from “Beaver Liquors and Lounge” in Beebe. He met her last Tuesday on “Ladies Night,” woke up with her on Wednesday in the Gilhharja Motel on Highway 67 in Jacksonville, and instead of buying her breakfast, promised a trip to Mountain Home. This is not a fishing trip, by the way, except in the loosest meaning of the word.

Exciting New Ways to Extinct Fish

While some had a premonition and some knew, the fact that it’s here suggests a great deal of magazine fodder will be spent gnashing teeth over what constitutes angling privacy, what’s the radius around the angler considered acceptable “air rights”, and whether “low holing” the SOB next to you with a drone carries the same censure as doing it in person.

dronetuna

… I’m not even going to mention whether it’s polite to zoom in on the fly he’s using, or whether you’ll simply make a fast pass to snip his fly line in mid-air …

Drones used to scout for visible fish – humming up and downstream, colliding with your cast – and whose owner operator is faceless and distant, and only appears if you disable his “pet” with a rock.

Learn about the IoT, the Internet of Things, and ask yourself would a small solar camera and IP address ever get cheap enough to mount over all the best holes ? Why wouldn’t the “Wall Of Rising Fish” at your fly shop be a source of wonderment? Instead of asking the fellow behind the counter whether there’s any action on the Creek, why wouldn’t you just check the camera at the Powerhouse?

Bold New World, and if you don’t the Warden will – as budget cuts means he’s driving less , and likely orbiting in an agency Predator instead … and the first sumbitch over limit gets a Hellfire up his tail pipe …

Roger Blue Leader, it’s Fox One on the Red Honda in the Parking Lot.”

How Misery surely Loves company

With the exception of male models in carefully creased fishing vests hawking angling gear in magazines, I’ve been reluctant to piss on fellow members of the angling brotherhood. Ditto for television and radio personalities, as I’ve assumed them to be reasonably honest versus an avaricious SOB, whose focus is to promote their guide service. Most sins of exaggeration or inaccuracy chalked up to the notion that  angling media are akin to weather people; they mean well, but rarely get the forecast correct.

That’s a nicety I’ll no longer observe.

After six or seven weeks scrimmaging with Lake Berryessa in hopes the “top water bite” would materialize, I’m convinced we won’t have one this year – compliments of the California drought.

This being in sharp contrast to the pundits on the Bob Simm’s radio hour, which insists that anything with fins is climbing the bank begging to be hooked – on dry land even.

Personal observation and discussions with fellow fishermen suggests no one can figure out where the fish are – and that extends to the Kokanee Salmon and anything else plying the waters of that drainage.

Us fly fishermen, ever mindful of Science, have always insisted on the plausible explanation and Latin-tinged theorem, rather than relying on the more mystical,  “… use the Big Red Sumbitch – Let God Sort Them Out” approach popular with bass fishermen everywhere.

While much is known about river dynamics and flowing water, lakes have always proven a bit of enigma for fly fisherman. We look for the same things we see on rivers; bugs, differing currents, weather, and cover, but we’re ill at ease given that lake fishing exposes the soft underbelly of fly fishing – how poorly our tackle sinks and how deep water is our absolute undoing.

2015 Drought

I took the above picture of Berryessa’s banks in June of last year, just before the blast furnace of summer hit the area.

The Grass Belt is the historic fill level of the lake. If the lake is full, that water will rise to that region, about 10-30 feet from the tree line. The Brush Belt is the area exposed during the 2014 drought year. It has had seeds drift into that area from both wind and receding waters, and the growth has been buttressed by what little moisture fell during the 2014 Winter and Spring of 2015. The Just Exposed Belt is the area that has receded during the meager 2015 Spring, and will dry further as the 2015 Summer bakes the area.

By the end of Summer 2015, the loss of water had exposed nearly 200 feet of bank on the steeper canyon areas – which translated into half a mile or more of shallows exposed in the wider portions of the lake.

This Spring we had one superb storm that lifted the lake level at least 30 feet from its 2015 low point. On the shallow ends of the lake those flats exposed were reclaimed by the waters, leaving shore anglers the ability to cast only to the recently reclaimed area, now thinly covered with water.

Clue 1: Those ain’t weeds, those are Stems

In the bays formed by the undulating shoreline, the sudden glut of water had covered the exposed soil in wooden debris and  terrestrial plant stems. No leaves or greenery suggesting they were of recent vintage, rather they were sodden and waterlogged, with enough woody material to lift them to the surface, where the wavelets formed by the boat traffic piled them in heaps at water’s edge.

Looking at the above picture, and remembering the sequence of events – suggested this was the remnants of the Brush Belt. Once lush and green during Spring, now dried and dead from Summer, and forced underwater by the rising lake.

The idle currents near the shore break the stems into pieces, and they have enough pithy material to float ashore. These stems represent the only cover remaining underwater, leaving a featureless dirt embankment with no cover for hiding or ambush.

Clue 2: Where’s the forage?

Any self respecting minnow knows immersion in water teeming with hungry and voracious predators, requires both cover  and shade, things that you can hide among or behind, anything that allows the minnow school to pursue insects and forage suitable for their survival

These schools of bait were visible all of last year. Weed beds and plant growth would die once the water receded and exposed them to the harsh daytime temps, but the schools of forage fish would recede with the water – as the weeds blanketed the lake floor.

Add thirty feet of water delivered over a single week of runoff, and you have many hundreds of feet of dead soil now covered with water, but lack weeds, shade, or cover of any kind.

No cover means no bait, and that means no fish other than the occasional cruising bass.

Clue 3: Where are the beds?

Bass spawn in shallow water, leaving scarred whitish areas that the female sweeps clean with her tail. Often she stays on the bed, which is part of the allure of the Spring top water bite … big fish, shallow water, and the desire to kill anything approaching the nest.

Bass anglers have always taken advantage of this phenomenon with great glee, as there’s nothing more exciting then the visual element associated with casting at visible fish. The notion of “cradle robbing” apparently is suspended for the duration of the festivities …

This year I have seen only a single bed – covered by a solitary fish. It was in a back bay whose bottom had lots of algae and cover, suggesting bass also look for cover and shade to offer protection from predators.

The clean dirt areas are devoid of life. No beds visible, almost no foliage or weed growth, and few fish prowling for food.

deadZone

The above photo shows a “dead zone” bank. All dirt, no foliage of any kind as it was dried and desiccated by 2015’s summer sun. Note the pithy debris at water’s edge – mostly dried stems and dried thistle clumps (also shown in the water).

This lack of foliage means the dust in the soil leeches into the water as soon as boat wakes bathe the area. This thick band of dirty water provides the only cover for many hundreds of feet, and I always keep a weather eye out for signs of baitfish. So far, nothing.

Conclusion: Boat fishermen are better off

With no cover available to harbor baitfish, and with the water depth denying us that area of the lake that still has cover, my dismal conclusion is that the fish, their beds, and the minnow forage, are all too far from shore for bank fishermen to take part.

Six trips, in as many weeks, has yielded no fish activity of any kind.

I’ve not seen a boat angler catch a fish either – as many are fishing in close to the bank – consistent with a traditional wet year. I’m thinking that deeper water still retaining weeds and cover are where the fish are and the typical mobile bass angler is motoring  past them enroute to joining me in the Dead Zone.

Like Misery I surely loves the company, but I wish they would heed my “wave off.”

50 Shades of Tepid Reflexes

With fishermen as superstitious as sailors and baseball players, I recognize my poor showing this year is manifesting itself as a burgeoning streak of good Karma. While never sure whether it’ll take the form of hundreds of fish caught, a single hundred pound fish, or simply finding a Ben Franklin crumpled next to the curb, the only absolute is my knowledge it’s coming …

PurpleBerryEssa

That’s because all of the hiking along the lake, all of the careful monitoring of wildflowers, bass and spawning beds, the sneaking over hummocks hoping for top water action befitting fly gear, have been pipe dreams.

Four trips up to the lake were too cold, too blustery, or too off color to even see fish activity in the shallows, so I kept thinking next week, or the week following. Now it’s the week following that – and I’ve returned fishless yet again, but things are starting to stir – a few spawning bass are visible, a few scoured spots suggesting mating activity, and a few more warms days offer a chance to cash in on that Karmic debt.

I’m learning as much about lake ecology as I’ve learned about streams so there is a silver lining. Drought really muck things up for years, both due to their arid nature – and what it does to terraform exposed bank that challenges fishing once the lakes refill.

All that weed growth evaporates as the lake lowers and each bed is extincted once it reaches the surface. Foot and animal traffic powders the newly exposed rubble and dead weed bloom, and fine dust replaces the aggregate washed clean while submerged. When the lake refills the bank is akin to Mars, completely dead and featureless. Weeds take months to sprout and all that windblown dust that spread itself last year leaches out into the water with the slightest surface activity.

That’s a fancy way of saying, fish early before boat traffic.

All the forage fish that used weeds for cover are absent, likely using what remaining beds that remain submerged despite last summer’s relentless baking. As the lake has come up nearly 25-30 feet, that’s a lot of dead zone that’s absent forage and therefore fish.

Which makes fly fishing, with it’s inability to sink quickly, a real disadvantage.

Fortunately Mother Nature drives bass to spawn in the shallows, so despite obvious problems from drought and rapid refill, once the fish move inshore with a vengeance, there’s plenty of sport for all manner of tackle.

But that appears to be next week … or the week after …

I did get a welcome respite from blustery and fishless bank wandering to fish the California Delta via bass boat. It’s the first time I’ve fished in the matrix of canals and waterways that feed San Francisco Bay via the Sacramento River, and as all of them were still swollen with runoff and tides – it was cold and off color.

Boat640

… some of that murk can be seen under this gleaming , carbon spewing Steed of Angling Awesomeness. While wandering lakes is invigorating  to both life and limb, I figured I’d earned the carbon credits to have my arse skipping above the waves without feeling like I’d squandered all them decayed Pterodactyls …

With a stiff North wind for competition I learned the mysteries of flinging 5/8 ounce Spinner baits to an elusive audience. Elusive, due to my hook skidded off of lips, tongues, gill plates, and anything else in the path of lure inhalation, leaving me cursing and untangling gear from the knot of tules that should have been massive hungry bass …

bertolero6pounder

.., like the beast pictured above. This is my gracious host, Leroy Bertolero, showing me how to use a sharp hook as it was intended.

With each fish giving me the Finger, and as I tuned tackle and checked hooks for sharpness, I was still content. That reservoir of Karma that I’d built with all those fishless miles of lake, I knew was growing ever deeper.

DeltaStriper

I did manage to land one of my tormentors. Apparently Striped Bass lack the armor of their freshwater cousins,  and the hook found purchase. It is one of the beauties of fishing the Delta’s brackish water, as both fresh and saltwater fish inhabit the same environment.

As I’d proven useless as an angler – by “unbuttoning” all my earlier fish, it was timely that the 250HP carbon guzzling beast refused to lift itself into plane on the way back. Needing BALLAST in the bow, my host looked about for any Useless Weight and by mutual agreement I perched on the nose on the way home.

BowBallast

An interesting perspective to be sure, but it was still thrilling to be so mobile when you’re used to pedestrian speeds. Then again, given my inability to stick anything solidly, it was an exercise in my finding new ways to swear – while “long lining” everything I touched.

Seduction of the Innocent

-WARNING: There are no dripping fish depicted below-

It’s every Poppa’s fervent wish, and every Significant Other’s deepest desire, to instill the love of the Out of Doors in their spouse or children.

Unfortunately, we are in such a rush to do so we tend to be heavy handed, insensitive, and miserable about instruction, as we’re so heavily invested in the outcome that we have no patience for anything less than superlatives.

I know,  as  I was asked (and often paid) by both parents and boyfriends to assist in training their latest “squeeze” or grandchild to shrug off mosquitoes, ignore thousand pound bovines blocking trail, sharp hooks, balky loops and unforgiving breezes, and how to bask in the afterglow of a harsh sunburn … All those Badges of Courage that mature the initiate into the hardened angler.

For me, it was akin to curing Cancer,  the Impossible Task, yet the lure of certain defeat was always a goad to try different approaches with each new candidate, hoping to find that singular lure that would draw them into the sport just as we had been.

The “Father-Son Bonding Trip” was always the easiest, as any gathering of Maleness begat competition. Once the kid had six or seven more fish than Dad, they were pliable and giggling … as, “I whipped Poppa” tales were great things to relate to Ma upon their return.

Gals – on the other hand – have always been a tough sale. Bug repellant smells like hydraulic fluid (and stains clothing), and the lack of a bathroom (with all necessary locks,  shutters, and blinds) never truly warmed the participants to the outdoorsy venue.

Girls are sturdy and can put up with all manner of hardships, but most don’t care for suffering like guys do. Steel wadded through fish lips as well as their own discomfort (icy cold, blistering heat, blood sucking insects, etc.) does not motivate them to relay these tales with pounding of chest – something male members of the species relish as proof of courage.

The “Red Breasted Warbling Splatterer” option always resonated. Where the guide takes the client’s minds off their own misery and points out Mother Nature’s finest visual spectacles. Flowers and songbirds are as big a hit as air conditioning and white wine – and I never missed an opportunity to trot out all four … often simultaneously.

… and in all those outings I realized that one day it would be my slack-jawed offspring that I’d be instructing – or my gal that I’d have to introduce to the Woods – and how would I do so differently?

I call it “Seduction of the Innocent”  – named after the great Comic Book trial of the 1950’s, wherein the angler introduces his hobby in a non-threatening manner, hopefully linked with something known and friendly …

Actual gripping a rod or fishing comes many trips later – once they’ve been lured close to the rocks by the Siren’s sweet song …

Bassflower1

In this case the subject has a consuming passion for wildflowers and breakfast – that she doesn’t have to cook herself.

Note that she is warmly dressed and waterproofed (with my new Columbia rain jacket), shows no signs of suffering whatsoever, and the vehicle is within spitting distance should she need rescue …

Bassflower2

Now the panorama expands to show the fishing angle. There are no rods or tackle visible, as she’s being treated to flowers and food absent any agenda on my part  … (blush). This hour of absolute awesomeness is solely for her, as her pleasure is the main event and the proximity to water is merely chance.

There is no mud on her clothing, no ice chests spilling ice and beer, no overly loud Rap music to compete with the calls of Quail, Goose, or Pheasant … nothing to interrupt the Majesty of Nature.

… and yes, for a few short moments I have to duck into the brush and bite on my forefinger – knowing that I am missing out on some spectacular fishing – all for the promise of future blessings and possible companionship …

bassflower3

While I understand the flowers look stunning, yet so would a massive swirl engulfing my deer hair popper. In this careful rehersal I recognize it is our impatience that is our undoing, and this brief gesture will go a long way to many more hours afield.

Impatience is the Enemy.

Us guys are always in such a hurry to hook our quarry within a single weekend that we lose sight of the endgame. Keep her fed, dry, and within shower distance … admire a few posies and gasp in admiration at the perennials – promising to till the backyard accordingly, and then lie in wait in the center of the web until she suggests, “it wasn’t so bad…”

Phishers of Men

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As fishing involves pals, pals bring beer, and beer feeds bravado, there’s always a wager about which fellow will return home as the Outdoorsman Supreme, the fellow who retains bragging rights until he risks his crown on the next trip …

There are plenty that take part in the “first, biggest, and most-est” ritual; some with little intention to follow up on the boast, yet just as many take this pledge all too seriously, rising early and fishing late to take advantage of every opportunity.

Living at the apex of the food chain imparts a certain arrogance in all this,  and were we plucked from  our campsites by a hotdogs with hidden treble hooks, like fish, we might be a bit less boastful of our intentions – or a bit quieter while in the woods.

It turns out that’s exactly what’s transpired.

While we’ve not had fishermen disappear from their beds or fellows drag themselves back to the campsite mumbling about plasticine Big Macs tempting them on the trail ( each fitted with a 3/0 stainless), it appears we’ve been predated upon without our knowledge.

As the nature of the conversation I had with an agency representative implied litigation was forthcoming, and as I’d just as soon avoid same, allow me to be a bit cagey…

It appears a fishing website purporting to sell fishing licenses for all fifty states is about to be shut down, as it was solely used to collect the credit cards and personal information of fishermen. This “Phishing” web site was seeded to rank highly with Google search, so that the unwary might query for “fishing licenses online” and think they were transacting with a vendor or agent for their various Fish & Game departments.

It appears that California at minimum is on the warpath to close the site, but the damage is done already. No licenses were received, and all PII (personally identifiable information) data and credit cards entered are at risk …

No. I’ll not link to the site – nor reference it by name. These types of sites can link hostile code in an ad or a web page, and I’d be serving you all more trouble … 

I think they get bragging rights however, as the rest of us got owned.

We shake off the preseason stiffness

The nature of scouting is like pre-season exhibition games, you’re working out all the kinks from what should become a well oiled machine.

Of late we’ve received a generous amount of moisture – keeping most of us fishermen indoors and pining away, while Mother Nature rights all her drought wrongs. I manage a scout trip each week waiting to see spawning bass in the shallows, but they’re a bit like Punxsutawney Phil, and not budging from deep safety.

Like an exhibition game, I watered the left sock from the dog bit waders I’d forgot about last season. Some strolling innocent failed to leash his aggressive canine, and I got a “through and through” on my left Achilles.  I remember standing there watching him yell ineffectually at the animal, as it attempted more damage – then his stunned look when I butt-stroked his darling quadruped, who disappeared up the trail yelping in a pained frenzy.

The waders were replaced easy enough, but the next trip had a shortened lunch due to the stash of last season’s  “fart bars” being  stale and the sack of dried peach slices being gangrenous . The beauty of Spartan rations is there’s nothing to melt, nothing completely unpalatable or rancid, but if it fails to look prettier once washed in the lake, it’s likely not worth the risk.

Lake water improved the stale protein bars, but I buried the peaches – figuring to do the watershed (and those living in it) a favor.

This weekend we forgot a rod, which always has a silver lining for the forgetful SOB that grabbed the wrong one. I’m winding up my best imitation of Robert DeNiro, “No, you can’t borrow my extra rod” speech from the Deer Hunter, knowing that loaned tackle guarantees the forgetful SOB will be catching everything  while my tackle remains untouched and I protrude lower lip …

…likewise for the dog – as now that he was done crapping on everything, he realized the human that had denied him his customary “shotgun” seat, meant he’d be splitting my beef jerky with two humans, and now the both of us were pouting.

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It’s the only fish of the day – and Life has imitated art,  meaning one of the above is a smallmouth … The other is an dog owning ingrate that denied his loyal pooch precious dried beef-like substance …

… now I have to live down the gleeful pronouncement that I was blanked, and I’d had a can of “whoop-azz” unleashed on me.

Which is fair.

All that chalky blown dust that covered the banks last year is now underwater. One or two bass boat wakes later, the lake water is brown as fresh runoff.  Which means the fish can’t see flies nor lures after 10:00AM, so you get your fishing in early.

Seduced by the menu Photo

menuburgerEating the damn things has never adequately explained our zest for rising before dawn and spending the day waist deep in icy water.

I’ve always assumed that as our ability to hunt and gather is trodden upon by the more Urbane branch of Homo Metrosexualis,  whose tiny dog barks menacingly from their apartment window, whose owner is indifferent to Nature as the call of handheld electronics is twice as compelling, forces us Outdoorsmen to funnel our aggression into stomping life out of things smaller than us.

An inconvenient truth, given how we’ve attempted to make our sport politically correct with the, “we don’t eat them anymore” mantra.

A decade of reality shows celebrating People Behaving Badly and more recently, Presidential debates that are anything but, suggest Man may have reached a tipping point, his intellect on the wane and his base nature rules the day.

The research into how fish interpret and integrate sensory information, led by School of Biomedical Sciences ARC Future Fellow Dr Ethan Scott, could improve understanding of how humans combine senses like sight, touch and sound to create a complete experience.

With science now examining fish and their senses to understand Man’s interaction with his surroundings, it offers anglers a unique insight into behavior they see from our quarry yet mirrored in society at large.

Like “schooling” on freeways, “bottom feeding”  the Internet for amusement, and “rising” at anything feminine at the bar; first at the unusually well formed insects, and as the hours and drinks pass, the classic “smutting rise” for spin-sters, cripples, and anything else described as,  “… a ten at two.”

Those of us not capable of stalking and killing our own food return from the field to hunt in restaurants.  It should be no surprise that both fish and humans prefer fast food, as a mayfly spun through a riffle is as elusive as the menu picture of a savory meal – both promise much and are elusive to capture …

Turgid tomatoes, lush green lettuce, crisp onion slices, melting cheeses, and bubbling meats buttressed by soft breads; things that exist at the peak of ripeness, rich in color, damp with moisture, and  lure us like a majestically tied artificial. Proportions perfect, torso chiseled and regal, dancing on the water prior to leaping skyward,  wings taut, upright,  and drying rapidly. …

FattyAP

… and like our pellet fed surrogate, we fall for the SOB just just as hard.

Tasty awesomeness rolls over the lip to vanish in a dose of reality, as sodden paper bag borne of plastic tray delivers the congealing  lumpy turd through the driver side window.

Red tomatoes now mushy and pale, lettuce trending into the yellow-olive and drooping into the greasy unmentionable leakage from the patty of meat-like substance.

Our senses are fine, and while we recognize the lumpy thread whip finish or gleaming gold bead isn’t part of a mayfly, like the fish we’ll consume the gelatinous mass anyway. … hoping some hidden spice mixture alters “Powerbait” into a feast fit for royalty.

The rich reds, and damp greens of the menu vanish in favor of the the “well chewed” imitation – which arrives sandwiched between Clinch and Split Shot .. (or the canned peas and imitation Ice Milk.)

Assuming that pollution in streams is a rough approximation of  tomatoes grown for toughness rather than flavor, and vegetables picked green and ripened under the reefer’s fluorescent glare, there’s something fair in all this.

Learning of our willingness to suffer and explaining another’s plight in similar terms may shed light on the way we think, but the visuals aren’t so much the issue. Our willingness to settle may neatly explain both the well chewed fly and how anything made from Dog hair and Owl feathers rivals blister packed cheddar … or the attractiveness of an offshore-tied Parachute Adams.

The Notion of Blood, Angling’s Sacred Cow

imageOne of the things I find fascinating about fishing is how angling success is never a mystery, and how post-trip, prowess afield can be explained by local religion, mythology, or science.

“Science” being only of recent invention, given how religion and mythology were the sciences of angling’s antiquity.

As I young man I was fascinated by full dress Atlantic Salmon flies, how the traditional feather wings of Europe evolved into elaborate rituals of intertwined plumage from rare jungle birds.  I found them both daunting and impressive and spent many hours attempting to master their construction, as they represented the ultimate test of a tier’s skill.

Despite my fascination with their construction, I was never able to rationalize how fish that populated the Northern Hemisphere had such an unbridled lust for feathers or meat of things living South of the equator. As I pored through the hoary tomes of the period;  works by the venerable Pryce-Tannatt and Kelson, it was revealed that the Salmon, being the noblest of all fishes, dined only on Butterflies, which made these lures require such brilliant colors.

While consistent with bug lore, as described by the current angling “scientists” (Swisher and Richards, Schweibert, Caucci and Natasi, etc), none of these old books mentioned the presence of enormous swarms of butterflies necessary to sustain the many thousands of large salmon that spawn in Northern Europe and live to return to the ocean …

… which was my first brush with the mythology of our sport, as I was convinced their “science” horseshit – yet was aghast that an entire generation of anglers would swallow this fanciful explanation without complaint.

As I developed as an angler, I was to learn that despite our notion of “how things work”, popular opinion is often debunked horribly by successive generations and more current Science, and this has been the case since the dawn of time.

I was thinking of this as I read the latest bit of science-fancy on salmonids …

Of our “sacred cows” perhaps the most widely accepted is the notion the color red is irresistible to fish of all species, as it is the color of blood, something that unleashes the predatory nature of fish, making them less wise and much easier to catch.

"We’ve discovered an enzyme that switches the visual systems of some fish and amphibians and supercharges their ability to see infrared light," said senior author Joseph Corbo, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology and immunology. "For example, when salmon migrate from the ocean to inland streams, they turn on this enzyme, activating a chemical reaction that shifts the visual system, helping the fish peer more deeply into murky water."

While the research is still in its infancy, the ability to shift vision from the blue-green of saltwater to the muddy flows of Winter, may be assisted by this ability to see the shortest wave lengths of light containing  red and the infrared spectrum.

I have wondered about this same phenomenon whenever I see a stream or river turned into a muddy torrent by rainfall, how do they see – and where do they go to avoid logs and debris?

While much of that information still eludes us, the Good News is the “biohacker” community  insists that if you gorge yourself on liver and Paprika you can see in the Infrared spectrum too, the obvious downside is your breath will be reminiscent of a lion’s arse

… Likely it’s the same crowd that said we should smoke banana peels back in the Sixties.