Tag Archives: largemouth bass

Olive Marabou meets NASCAR

In the past, I was the fellow scrambling away from the approaching bow wave, shaking fist at V-8 wielding interlopers insistent on warbling through full Doppler enroute to some distant zip code.

Yesterday I was the portly fellow astride all that horsepower – ignoring the angry epithets and screams of our victims as our rooster tail washed the peasants off their isolated beaches and rocky points, while we belching 8 cylinders worth of carbon footprint into the drinking water supply of California’s wine country.

Knowing we’d decimated any chance of  the 2015 Chardonnay winning medals, and with all the ecological carnage in our wake, what was needed was to stomp life out of a few fish to feel complete.

I got lucky and was invited to fish with a professional angler, a competitor in both local tournaments as well as the B.A.S.S. (Bass Angler’s Sportsman’s Society) circuit, who knew more about largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass than anyone I’d met, and more importantly – was willing to share that knowledge with a fly wielding sissy.

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Note the solitary fly rod in the above 45MPH dash across open water, contrasting sharply with the 10 pre-strung rods on either side of the Captain’s chair in the bow. As I snapped the shot I’m thinking of Michael Douglas’s “Gordon Gecko” speech and modifying his quote to be, “enough tackle so’s not to waste time.”

… and the first pearl of wisdom dispensed dashed any hopes I had of jettisoning job and spouse, as I found out how “rich” never describes the tournament fisherman, “optimistic” or “lucky” might be better suited, and “broke” a quick second.

Any fly fisherman with the nerve to wander through a bass tackle catalog can’t help but recognize the hard core bass angler is a kindred spirit. Only degenerate gamblers, fly fishermen, and ardent Bass anglers are capable of dropping an entire paycheck on things they can’t explain to “normal” humans – and not think anything amiss in so doing.

Tackle boxes filled with things that rattle or squirm, colors like  Raspberry Red, Lemon Yellow, and Orange Orange, acres of jellified gummy animals, and Pork rind in Frog, Begonia, and Mottled Asphalt.

Where we insist on blowing several hundred on a single rod,  they buy eight or ten of the cheaper flavor, whose total cost is about equal to our own. We change spools and they change rods, and with a mobile platform containing plenty of storage, they can make the contents of our fishing vest (and the dollars squandered on its contents) seem puny in the comparison.

But of all the wondrous arsenal of tools demonstrated, it was mobility that was most foreign to my terrestrial fishing, and likely the most tempting to misuse. I wondered how many fruitless casts would it take before a V-8 wielding angler launched himself on a high speed intercept for somewhere else … and at 4 miles per gallon, how long could he do so before his spouse questioned his financial acumen.

With all these questions bubbling to the surface, and each angler seated within talking distance of one another, I was pleased to find bass anglers are prone to conversation and are far more sociable and well adjusted then fly fishermen.

Fly fishermen race each other out of the parking lot and only snarl a greeting if forced into eye contact – especially if two fellows choose to fish in the same direction. Bass anglers offer you cold drinks and a sandwich and cast to the best lie when you’ve got both hands full. The end result is similar, but the game is friendlier and you’re more tolerant of your fellow Man.

I liked that. The light banter of anglers coupled with the conversational tone due to the short distance separating us made any lull in fishing less burdensome.

I enjoyed both the similarities and differences of our two cultures, and threw flies when the water was friendly – and plugs when it wasn’t, and soaked up as much knowledge of my quarry and its habits as I could.

Economy of motion was the most apparent – as the professional angler’s focus is on the seconds they shave from a cast, from playing fish, netting them, and storage in the live well. More casts in an eight hour period means more opportunity for catching fish – with a single fish often being the difference between placing in the money and not.

“Single fly Theory”, wherein the angler has the utmost confidence in his offering and uses it to the exclusion of all else has a parallel in bass fishing, as we threw only three different baits for the entire day.

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Nor could you argue with the end result, as this Berryessa Largemouth proves most handily. The angler is Leroy Bertelero, a big fellow, over six feet – making this huge bass smaller in the comparison.

While the similarities between the two groups outnumber the differences, the nature of professional fishing can’t help but intrude on the pleasure aspects of our craft.

Catching fish for money is a noble concept – akin to all other money sports like tennis and bicycling, but the tournament aspect makes fish doubly precious, and where we curse when we lose a fish – the tour angler takes additional steps never to do so.

Most of the reels were loaded with 50lb Dyneema braid, with short monofilament leaders of similar pound test. Considering your average bass to be somewhere within 3 – 5 lbs., you’d think that overkill.

In comparison, our pleasure fishing and notion of selectivity almost always results in our lightening our tackle – and counting coup for landing fish that weigh more than our tippet. Tournament anglers need the opposite, the ability to hoist the bass out of a tule thicket – laden with grass – without fear of repercussion.

It’s something I puzzled over briefly before winching my quarry over the gunwale. There is a certain luxury in horsing your fish into a live well with minimal effort, likely making it easier on the bass in the long run. A bit less excitement than we’re used to given how a big fish cartwheeling on a light tippet makes us so religious, and our prayers so fervent.

Awesome experience, good company … by next weekend I’ll be back among the peasants (if they’ll still have me), and just as eager to extend digit when hit with the chill of boat swell.

My struggle with diaphanous

While much of the struggle involves spelling the damn word correctly, the remainder of my frustration is having to refine the fly tying equivalent of , “less is more.”

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Fly tying being the art of “taming cowlicks”, wherein us tiers deploy spittle, cement, and thread to lash as much as possible onto the hook, and anything we can’t dominate with finger pressure or more thread gets trimmed away…

… yet, I’m on the converse of that road, attempting to invent transparent by adding materials versus subtracting them, and it’s an unmistakable sign the idea was sound but the execution is likely flawed.

Much of what the local bass are eating are minnows. Observation of what few I could see near shore suggest there is a mixture of opaque and diaphanous qualities to the fish. As most of my traditional minnow styles are not working, despite my best attempts at matching colors and sizes, suggests something else might be the issue.

I’ve been fiddling with colors and visibility, but to date that has been fruitless. A few fish follow the imitations, but none have taken the fly. Contrasting the gaudy strumpet I am towing through the water with the natural suggests I need tone down both glitter and bulk.

Bulk is not easy to remove, given how water tends to flatten and streamline dry materials, and lightening bulk typically results in diminishing the profile of the fly – making it more like a pencil In the water than the traditional “pumpkinseed” minnow shape.

While struggling with a lot of other issues I did manage to come up with an elegant solution allowing me to remove bulk without sacrificing the fly shape.

Using a #4 kirbed (point offset) streamer hook, I built a small bulwark of chenille halfway down the shank, after first sliding on a small brass cone.

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After whip finishing and adding a drop of cement behind the cone, I retied the thread onto the front of the shank to add a bit of ribbon yarn. I picked a light pink to correspond to gill coloration, and took a couple wraps of the material in front of the cone.  The brass cone flared the material further adding a more pronounced 3-D cone shape to the fly.

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This “spread” effect of the underbody will cause any material added onto the fly to spread further, giving the proper silhouette without relying on bulky materials for form.

Taking about 35-40 strands of white marabou – I spread them out along a “dubbed loop” – with about 3/4” of the butts on one side of the loop, and the remaining tapered tips on the other. When spun, the butts (with their thicker stem) add bulk to the area containing the pink ribbon yarn, and the less numerous tips add a bit of color behind the fly, without adding opaqueness.

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Add three strands of original holographic green flashabou to the top of the “marabou hackle”, and then add about 20 strands of gray marabou in a clump onto the top of the fly.  The gray marabou should be about 1/2” longer than the white, and the flashabou should be the longest of all, just peeking out from the other mats to make an enticing flash behind the fly.

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Add five strands of a Montana Fly barred Ostrich plume (sexy looking but nosebleed expensive @ $9.00), to the top of the fly to add a bit of coloration.

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The result is an amorphous lump of materials that will lose opacity when dampened. The bulky area around the bead will retain its mass and color akin to the real baitfish – but the nether underbelly will vanish as the grey marabou, tinsel, and ostrich is longer than the white, making it appear diaphanous and transparent.

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The final effect when wet is light and airy with the bulk up front. Note that instead of slimming down to nothing the fly retains the all-important  minnow shape.

The local fish inhaled it with great gusto this weekend, but the unsavory brutes that haunt the local creek would have been just as eager to inhale the twist-off cap from a Budweiser … so additional research is needed.

The problem of the few is how they keep getting fewer

There’s enough latitude in “fishless fishing” to blame lack of success on a plethora of unsavory possibilities. Water too cold, fish too lethargic, too warm, too bright, drunken revelers heaving glassware, boaters heaving breakfast, or simply the flies you knew were going to work don’t … and won’t ever.

With my constant dickering with patterns my fly box differs from one week to the next. Having the right fly at the right time is the hope – but more often it’s having the right fly with the wrong action, poor sink rate, or wrong color.

The lake fish have been giggling at my expense, so I opted to sooth my battered ego on shorter water, where some of my fly tying misdeeds could be observed along with the quarry.

The culprit was easy to spot. The new Flashabou Mirage I’d added to the sides of the pattern were so gawd-awful bright as to make me blush. My minnow imitations looked stiff and the Mirage made them so blindingly apparent that everything scattered away from the flies like they’d been scalded.

The local reception was likely a mirror of what I’d been getting at the lake, but with a Type VI shooting head and extra weight, all that frantic fish scatter had been invisible to me.

There’s nothing wrong with the Flashabou Mirage material, it simply announces itself like a New Orleans harlot, something well suited for salt water or depth, but inappropriate for lake fish not yet on the prod.

Knowing the creek was entirely “thin water” and will dry up this year, I took Meat on a scout trip to see where the Winter scour had left the deep water. The Siphon hole had a new tree laying halfway through the run – and a second tree had dropped into the run below that. This would be welcome in any normal year, but instinct suggests with a drought this intense, it will shade only the occasional rattlesnake.

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I trimmed off most of the gaudiness from my test flies and was rewarded with the occasional fish. “Winter” conditions are always sparse on fish due to the flooding that occurs, and while our last quality rain was a few months ago, what fish remain are few, scattered, and small.

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Fine for us fellows intent on testing flies. Hungry visible fish are always the best option to refine experimental patterns for general use – or find out that some brilliant idea is less so, and only fish on the brink of starvation are vulnerable to your latest efforts.

Exploring what little damp remains

Tracking down “little blue lines” on a map hasn’t proved fruitful of late, given that which was once blue … is now overly warm or dried up completely.

Having come over the hill from Santa Rosa last week and skirting the edge of Lake Berryessa, I noted a lot more bank was visible, yet Putah Creek still had ample flow despite scarring from the Monticello Fire of early June.

Olives, Pomegranates, and walnuts are compelling, but I’d played the  “Domestic Goddess” for most of the last month – it was high time aprons and fruit Pectin played second fiddle to a wisp of fiberglass waved in anger.

Last year I had fished Putah Creek from above, through the UC Davis campus and south of Interstate 80, and while access was plentiful due to sprawling campus, the water was sheathed in oak woodland which alternated with brambles, thickets, plowed fields, and blackberry bushes. So parking nearby was easy – yet achieving the water without injury proved much less so …

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Wading being a mirror of the terrestrial experience – given the perils of interlocking wader-killing underwater limbs, slick clay patches, and rotting vegetation that appears firm until it isn’t.

Opaque olive water may be off-putting to the trout crowd, but it’s a welcome sight to us “frog water” aficionados that recognize a combination of tough access, obvious bouquet, and discolored water, are hallmarks of the “new Wilderness” … ignored by fishermen, scorned by dog walkers and joggers, and home to unknown fisheries and homeless encampments.

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… and while everyone else roars past oblivious to the dark line of trees hiding the creek from traffic, it’s not without its moments ..

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… and even if the bulk of its inhabitants were of the five-inch class, there were indications that an occasional resident reached larger dimensions. Naturally, they would only make an appearance when sliding across the slick clay yielded a tree branch through a wader leg – as only outright suffering makes wary fish less so.

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A point debated by my fishing buddy, whose obvious delight at basking in the sun while monopolizing the only real estate permitting a free and unfettered back cast, overcame his lust for larger fish.

After clawing my way through alders, clinging underbrush, and gingerly negotiating a homeless bunker complex, the idea of resting without peril next to the babbling brook was most attractive.

Part 3: I got your frog right here (next to this big foam cup of Earthworms)

Anyone that’s fished for any length of time can channel unflinching optimism, but “too good to be true” is a bubble burst upon us many times. On the outside we’re cocksure and tough, on the inside all that optimism is tempered with reality.

… and now, moments away from losing my first fly in Bass Paradise, having listened to the story of its birth and resurrection, that same inner demon is tugging at my sleeve suggesting, “ … it’s hot out, maybe you should have been here last week.”

Schooled by adversity, I’m not used to flinching in the face of awesomeness.

And it was plenty hot already. As a guest I didn’t set departure and arrival times, and midday temps were scheduled for triple digits, so I eschewed the float tube for the breathable waist-highs (review coming later), and marched out on the first earthen finger …

Bass and Bluegill were visible all around me, and starkness of my pear shaped frame sky-lined against blue sky sent everything living into a panic of flight. Big wakes peeled away into the tules or buried themselves into the neighboring weedy growth, and all I could do was note my “dried tule” camouflage might be hell on geese, but wasn’t fooling fish at all.

With visions of sugarplums dancing in my frontal lobe, I added one of my Massive Protein flies onto the leader. Assuming the fish were measured in yards and therefore only flies representing stray dogs or unattended children would be worthwhile.

Nothing.

I removed the Massive Black Hole of Tungsten off of the leader and opted for the more sedate Eye Searing Crayfish of Rubber-legged Death and flung that at them …

Nothing.

I’m conscious of the retired bass pro snickering to himself as he ties another willow sapling onto a bamboo stake. “ I’ve got to get these up high so the deer don’t eat them,” he says, “You probably want to throw a frog at them.”

He opens the back of his vehicle and on top of the pile of muddy boots, shovels, picks, and rusty chainsaw, are about nine pre-strung spinning rods each rigged with 30lb braid and a variety of baits. Freeing one of them he shows me what “frog” means.

I nod sagely, and produce my Letters of Marque, a fly box stuffed with spun deer hair poppers in a dizzying array of colors. I grab the biggest untrimmed Yellow and Olive, rubber-legged monstrosity and heave that at the fish.

Gurgle … Burble … Bloop. Nothing.

By this time my buddy is in his float tube in mid pond and finning around expectantly, and having similar luck.

The top water bait fails to motivate the fish, so I return to the Crayfish pattern. I’m cinching up the knot when I see a big shadow detach itself form the Tule clump next to me and sidle into a weed channel nearby. I figured Mister Fatty was lying in wait, and flipped the Crayfish out past him and gave it a tug …

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Apparently “Fatty” had the same weakness for hot orange and rubbery as did his cousins up at Lake Berryessa.

I spent the morning touring the lake and trying each of the areas defined by the earthen piers, but fishing was very slow, and I was thinking the drought had upended the feeding timetable a bit, and earlier would have been more appropriate.

As I made a full circle and stopped to compare notes with the proprietor, he offered up a rod and a big Styrofoam cup of earthworms. He motions to me, “let’s go catch some of these big Bluegill” he remarks, “I had a nine year old girl out here yesterday with her folks, and she caught fifty-seven without having to move.”

I grabbed the proffered rod and cowboy’d up. My host was unfamiliar with fly tackle and its efficacy and was doing his best to ensure I had a good time. I dropped that weightless earthworm in amongst the tules and quickly pulled a half dozen panfish out of their den. I handed the rod back and reached for the fly rod and downsized the bait to a trout sized bug and then proceeded to lay waste to the surroundings.

I cracked open the fly box and showed him our variants on panfish delicacies, and how each could be applied with great accuracy – so long as you donated a double-fistful to overhanging branches.

“Them brightly colored ones are a nice accent to your poppies, aren’t they?” I was a little reluctant to tug on his tules for fear of wrenching up all those painstakingly planted stalks. Apparently they are sunk in one pound coffee cans, and spread from that source into a traditional gaggle of plants.

I did have the luxury of catching a few while I had a willing cameraman, and as it’s not often my countenance graces these pages, so this one’s for Ma …

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Note the emphasis on grooming and cutting edge angling fashion.

Wading this pond was out of the question. Earthworks lack the integrity of natural substrate, and stepping off the path area meant sinking into mud. The kind of cloying greasy mass that requires you to hold onto your waders for fear of climbing out of them.

By afternoon the temperature was getting to be an issue, and a welcome breeze started blowing that caused everything to get stupid for about two hours.

Screams from the center of the lake suggested my fishing buddy was doing passably well …

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These being some of the largest bass he’d ever caught. Note the skinny abdomen on this slug, it’s a post-spawn bass that likely will weigh considerably more once filled out again.

Most of the fish we caught were recent spawners, given April and May is their traditional spawn time for this part of the foothills, which we confirmed with our host.

Big bluegill dominated most of the afternoon. Once the breeze put a riffle on the water the fish were much more aggressive. Most of these were about the size of your hand, which is prime size for putting a strain into a seven weight.

I did manage to catch one rarity. One of the breed stock of Black Crappy ate my Olive Leech, and while the fish is not rare in California, the builder mentioned he’d only planted a few breeders to see if they’d take root, and they had not been overly successful to date.

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I have always adored these fish – given their swarming numbers and aggression. They are fine table fare and likely will do quite well in all that overly warm, newly empty trout water.

I’d describe the outing as nothing short of fabulous. If we’d gotten there a couple of weeks earlier the weeds would have been a bit less pervasive, and the daytime temperatures more friendly, the bass fatter and more susceptible to being caught due to nesting behavior.

Any water managed for excellence is likely to draw an eager and appreciative crowd. It’s therefore heartening to know that despite inevitable changes to our environment and our quarry, from fragile salmonids to warm water cockroach, we’ll be undaunted … as opinionated and gear oriented as ever.

Part 1: Trophy Water Gentility, all the fart bars, sardines, and fly rods you can stuff into a Tacoma

When I’d first heard of it, I wondered whether it was a preview of what the future holds.

Our scientists grow ever insistent that in the coming decades Global Warming will reduce salmonids to 50% of their current range, and in that overly warm future, anything “at-risk” now will be lethal to our cold water bluebloods.

… and while we’re enamored of trophy trout and spare no expense to introduce them in even marginal conditions, at some point will the environment force us to shift from inbred salmonids to a Trophy “Cockroach” fishery, and might we ever hold them in similar regard?

I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the future this weekend. A local rumor of a city planner, turned bass pro, former tomato farmer, whose passion it is to create trophy bass ponds for private land owners.

Access being limited to a couple of local schools and their charity auction, which is about as exclusive as any rarified millionaire’s retreat. One of the fellows from work had stumbled upon the trip last year, and with my urging managed to snap up both of the trips offered this year, and I whined and moaned until he tired of my protruding lower lip and agreed to split the adventure.

boysuit… then, after weeks of enduring his vile torments, “ … my wife wants me to take the kids, instead …’, he relented. I would supply the flies, tie all his knots, and if the landowner questioned my schoolboy’s outfit (and matching bowtie) I would claim to be his son.

… the half wit version, naturally.

Proving that any fisherman worthy of the name would endure any indignity, or humiliation, for a crack at the Holy Water.

Honoring my part of the bargain was simple, only Bass Pro’s and fly fishermen lack a common language. When asked what the fish were biting on, the response was “frogs.”

Live ones? Top water deer hair flavor? Green, Yellow … what?

I was to find that my “dad” was a half wit as well, and “frogs” was to be the only intel to be had.

Wharhol.frogDutifully I spent the next week piling mounds of olive and yellow deer hair around the vise, possessed by every bit of top water fancy imaginable. I did normal, fanciful, exacting, and literal. I did frogs by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Monet, and Jackson Pollock.

When I tired of imitation I would mumble like Bubba of Forest Gump fame, “ … frog leg, frog sandwich, frog soufflé, frog sushi, frog eye salad, caramelized frog …”

With fly boxes bulging with rubber legs and trimmed Olive deer hair, and house freshly cleaned of hair via rented leaf blower, I was beginning to feel that “well heeled” feeling, the invulnerability that comes with knowing that even if I stumbled and fell in head first, I would float to the surface in an oil slick of silicon and yellow dye.

Trophy water and private enclaves are typically a genteel sport, and despite the warm water quarry this would be no different.

The luxury of stuffing a vehicle full of every imaginable fishing necessity is foreign to us hardscrabble public water types. Wicker picnic baskets and exotic livery just get in the way of the bloodshed, yet I found myself delighting in adding every possible amenity; a float tube, chest waders, hip waders, and waist breathables. A car within a stone’s throw of the water meant four rods, four reels, a couple of room temperature hydration packs, apples, oranges, sardines, and fart bars, everything necessary to survive hostile environments, ravenous meat eating trophy bass, and with the sketchiest of intel …

Part II Tomorrow, We use worms …

My Carbon footprint is more a muddy boot track

After spending the morning listening to the throaty bellow of twin Evinrudes echo off canyon walls, and admiring the resultant rooster tail that accompanied each watercraft’s emergence from the launch area, I’m thinking the average boat wielding Bass fiend may be a victim of his own mobility.

I’m perched precariously on a 30% slope carefully fan-casting to anything I can reach, and the flotilla of corvettes and beer barges pause just long enough for a couple of casts before mashing gas pedal and disappearing to greener pastures.

I can’t blame them for enjoying the adrenalin rush, nor the wind in their hair, I just think them a bit giddy knowing all that watery real estate has neither crosswalks nor stoplights, and there’s nothing quite like announcing your presence with authority.

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Lake Berryessa is only a scant twenty minutes distant, allowing me to swing by periodically to see whether the Bass are on their beds and burble some poppers to see if the top water bite has started.

While the pitch of the exposed bank can be hell on ankles, the lake was is excellent shape given the drought, with only 30 feet of bank above the waterline. You can walk around the margin pitching flies into the shallows pretty effectively, so long as you walk in the direction that keeps your casting shoulder pointed towards the water. That keeps leader and flies out over the water instead of bouncing off bankside rocks and brush.

All the little coves and depressions along the shore line give you ample opportunity to fish, with one side invariably shaded and others featuring weeds or the occasional downed tree. I wear a pair of lug-soled hip waders to give me a bit more range of motion, as I can stand in the water where it’s flat, and provides a bit of separation from the bank ensuring you keep the fly over fish, instead of scrambling around unhooking it from accumulated brush and rocks.

The Bass are most certainly on their beds, but appear more intent on mating than eating, so it appears a trifle early yet.

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The above shot shows a smallish (2 lb) fish and her beau hovering just off the bank on the bed. I trundled a crawdad imitation past the pair without them acknowledging me or the fly. The larger fish is around six pounds, and was worthy of nervous lip chewing on my part. (I am unable to determine sex reliably, but I marked them with a best guess based on observation of behavior.)

As today is the start of a general warming trend, I’d suspect the coming weeks hold potential for some spectacular fishing.

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I did manage to find a few fish early, before the boats starting rocketing about and while shade dominated the coves …

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All of the fish had a weakness for my ribbon yarn Crayfish (#2), built with a fistful of long fiber iridescent cactus chenille that I dyed for shad flies, married up with a generous dollop of ribbon yarn and rubber legs.

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A pair of large black bead chain eyes mounted in the tail position ensure the fly sinks dramatically, which is useful when fishing the deep water that a canyon lake presents. A simple pattern that take about the same amount of time to lose as to tie, ensuring the handful lost in fish and brush are not overly missed.

Great Expectations of the Florida Strain

havishamIt was like the lady said, “the only people able to fish mid-week are college students and millionaires.”

I lacked the nerve to tell her that a third option existed. One that ensured her lake was fished by more pedestrian types, but as she’d afforded me a glimpse of the doings of “one-percenters,” and while my social position was closer to “wait-staff on holiday”, I couldn’t help but aspire to the manor-borne.

… and as she grilled me on whose boat it was I was in, its lack of CF number and absence of parcel markings, how my orange “guest” ribbon was smothered by the fishing vest I wore, I wasn’t so sure the manor was something to be desired … now that “Mrs. Havisham” had given me a glimpse of the lake and her daily inquisition.

She relented somewhat when I admitted to being a guest, and thankfully I remembered the name of my host (whom I’d just met through an intermediary), and she allowed as how I could fish the lake after-all, now that my pedigree had been established.

I now shared the same trepidation as Pip felt when he relinquished the grip of Joe Gargery and the gate of the Havisham household clanged shut behind him.

It was true, I was in the grip of Great Expectations given the history of the venture and the stories of the fish that lived there.

It had been a Christian enclave or camp sometime during the 1950’s, and as the visitors became fewer the camp had shuttered its doors, but not before stocking the lake with Florida strain Largemouth Bass imported by the Pensacola Fish Company. Back in that day the average fish size had been nearly three pounds, and the owners of the facility had kept close tabs on the health of the lake to ensure its population remained vibrant and viable.

Now that the lake had changed from private enclave to a small neighborhood of bankside parcels, each homeowner was charged with ensuring guests adhered to neighborhood regulations and the community conservation ethic.

It was a bit of refreshing change knowing the community was intent on preserving both lake and the fishery.

I was equipped with a large badge that had to remain visible at all times, I was required to release all fish caught, and made responsible for all the gear I had to portage into the area, to make sure the environment remained clean and litter free.

Naturally the badge clattering on my waistcoat drew every errant coil of fly line like a magnet, and it took me awhile before I could find a plainly visible locale that wasn’t in the path of a double-haul.

The same clipped-to-the collar locale “Mrs. Havisham” took umbrage to earlier …

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The lake was quite pretty. Banks dotted with the occasional canoe or rowboat (no powered craft allowed), a shallow impoundment whose deepest area was no more than twenty feet. Mid-August is not the best time for reconnoitering a new bass lake, as fishing is limited to a brief bite in the morning and similar in the evening. Its location in the Sierra foothills meant daytime temps were only in the mid-Nineties, versus 100° and greater in the valley below.

“Fish greater than 10 pounds are common,” is what my host told me. He mentioned his son having landed one recently whose mouth was large enough to contain both his clenched fists …

… and while I did the customary mental translation, dividing by two and subtracting a couple of pounds, that still represented a good sized fish.

I was hoping my earlier suffering had paid my way to great fortune, despite the inhospitable mid-summer temperatures and unfamiliarity of my surroundings.

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I sculled about the lake exploring while listening to the throaty growl of Mrs. Havisham’s inquisition of another boatful of anglers out of sight near the center island. One fellow having the audacity to protest he was neither student nor wealthy, but was on sabbatical from Starbucks and his pal worked the late shift at the local hardware conglomerate.

This seemed to satisfy the “Lake Police” and she returned to her deck and the company of a decaying wedding cake and a brace of mean-spirited hounds.

I couldn’t help think she was far more fearsome than the Fish & Game could ever be, and with both dogs in tow – could board and sink any interloper.

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Here’s proof of the fishing, a small specimen framed by the contents of my “large fly” box. Rubber legs and earth tones proved to be more effective than my typical cast of red crayfish with their lemon-yellow and orange-orange highlights.

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.. and something a bit bigger. Which gave a good accounting of itself wrestling me in the timber lining the bank, and I lost plenty of flies getting the cast back into those welcome shadows. August is like that, fish unwilling to chase, but willing to eat if it’s dropped on their doorstep.

Note the near-absence of the customary black marled lateral line. These fish were nearly all dark olive, with only the light belly to break up their camouflage.

Fishing private waters should always be accompanied by a small token of esteem for your host. Of late I’ve been fortunate to secure local access to a number of small impoundments, and most get a double batch of Peanut Butter Arkansas Traveller’s, and a second bag of Oatmeal Raisin, it’s a culinary one-two punch that few can resist.

Rumor has it my return visit is now assured.

… and if he was napping his wife said she’d let me fish so long as I had an armful of baked goods. I’m thinking I might be able to lure the Lake Police with a similar offering, knowing how even dogs change to a more reasonable disposition when tempted with a cookie …

I may attempt this again in mid-May … lots of cruising fish visible and the Spring top water bite looks to be something special here.