Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fish Stories

With most folks gone from offices and the other end of emails, and no pressing deadlines of my own, I got a little restless at the keyboard yesterday. Plus, it was dark outside, and I felt like the trout would bite. It didn't take too much pondering of such things before I decided to grab Asher, gather a bit of junk and head for a creek.

The trout indeed cooperated and we caught them pretty well for a fairly short afternoon outing, but that might be a different blog.

What strikes me on this Thanksgiving morning is how grateful I am that I can turn off the computer and head for the creek in the middle of the day and legitimately still be doing my job. We got photos and content that I will use in stories.

I was probably Asher's age or a bit younger when started thinking about the fact that someone had to write those articles in the fishing magazines and decided I wanted to do that when I grew up. The idea that God allows me to earn a living by "writing fish stories" astounds me and makes me very thankful.

It's not just about fishing either -- although I certainly am thankful to get to fish in so many places and call it work. I'm also thankful to be able to work from home with flexible hours, to share my work and at times my travel with my family and to be creative in my work through writing and photography.

My work is ever changing, and over the past couple of decades my major workload has shifted from the magazine features I originally envisioned, to shorter magazine work, to internet stories, to social media post and other content projects. It's still writing fish stories, though, and for that I give thanks this morning.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fishing with a Longtime Friend

Terry Madewell just held tight when I scurried to get the first catfish bite of the morning. Same as he did when he first introduced me to Santee Cooper catfishing 25 years ago. Same as he always does. Terry will tell you it's a business move. He wants photos. And in truth it never takes long for his camera to start clicking. I contend, though, that bigger factors are Terry's natural graciousness and his desire to see other people catch fish.

Terry and I spent yesterday with Linwood Thornhill, a legendary Santee Cooper guide who has guided on these lakes 15 years longer than I have been alive, and we had an outstanding day. We caught about a dozen cats up to 25 pounds in the morning, and then spent the afternoon catching about 50 stripers from schools. As good as the fishing was, though, I'd have to say that my favorite part of the day was just spending it with Terry, who is a friend and a mentor in this industry.

When I was just out of college and working for the South Carolina Waterfowl Association, Terry took me bass fishing on Lake Marion and answered questions about outdoor writing all day long. I still remember many conversations from that day. Terry also introduced me to several Santee Cooper catfish guides, and set up trips with some of them so we could fish together. It had been too many years since we fished together, though.

Terry's notepad and pen are never far from him, and he's always asking questions of guides, pros and other anglers, and taking notes for stories. He's also an avid fisherman himself, and he lived in Manning for many years, and I'd guess that with the exception of a few veteran local anglers like Linwood, Terry knows about as much about fishing these lakes for all species as anyone out there. He doesn't boast his knowledge, though. He just sits back and listens, has fun catching some fish and seemingly has even more fun watching everyone else catch fish.

For information about the Santee Cooper Lakes, check out Santee Cooper Country.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Confidence Backed

"Ready to catch 'em?" David Hilton asked as I stepped onto his pontoon boat this morning. "I'm going to wear you boys out!"

Most guides I fish with start the day with at least a few qualifiers, saying the fish "should" bite, or "they bit well yesterday, so we'll see"  Many quickly point out the wind, a high pressure system, a giant tournament that was just on the lake or some or the reason that catching fish might present problems. They like to keep expectations at least a little low so any measure of success seems extra good.

Not David Hilton. At least not today.

He was certain we'd catch a bunch. In fact, he was sufficiently confident in his approach that he was certain we'd start catching fish almost immediately.

The captain was right. We started catching Santee Cooper striped bass almost as soon as we started fishing, and by 10:30, we had caught and released 58 stripers. We tried some catfishing for a while and the wind kicked up in a big way, so we didn't sustain the same torrid pace, but by our best tally we ended up catching 75 stripers and a couple of blue cats.

I learned a lot today and got a bunch of good material for stories, and just as was promised, I'm worn out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Frist Santee Cooper Cast

With plans to travel to Black's Camp on Lake Moultrie today, I can't help but think about the first cast I ever made into the Santee Cooper Lakes. It was more than a quarter century, but I remember it almost as if it was yesterday.

It was an early spring morning, my second semester in college at the University of South Carolina, and I was with James Helms, a friend from South Carolina who had been building the Santee Cooper legend in my mind since the previous fall, when we met. James had a boat at school, so we'd fished Lake Murray together several times, but this was our the first opportunity we'd found to take a whole Saturday and fish Santee Cooper.

It was right at daybreak, and James had just launched the boat about halfway up Lake Marion (I believe at Santee State Park). While he parked the truck, I cast a Texas-rigged plastic worm into the fabled waters from the riprap bank. About two lifts into my presentation, I felt that telltale "thump, thump," paused a moment and set the hook solidly. A few minutes later I was unhooking a thick-bodied, 2 1/2-pound Santee Cooper largemouth.

If you fish much, you probably can guess the rest of the story. We fished from dark to dark on a perfect spring day, hitting some of the most beautiful bass waters you'll ever see, and didn't get another bite!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ice Ready

It's official: I'm ice equipped. With the recent purchase of an auger, a few accessories like a scoop and bait pucks, and even a sled to drag stuff onto the lake, I now own the basic stuff needed to point the car north and go ice fishing on my own. I still don't own loads of gear or possess years of experience, but I have enough and know just enough to go and am excited about that idea.
I haven't set any ice plans in stone yet for this winter, but I have a couple of likely plans going. I'm certain I'll make it north at least a couple of times, and I'll likely do so by driving and try out my own gear at least once.
I'm actually debating traveling to the St. Paul Ice Show the first weekend in December to meet folks and learn much more, so if the ice is well in place by then I might add a couple of hard-water play days at that time. I've never been to that show, but it's the biggest one out there, and from what I can tell, the whole US ice community pretty well gathers on one place that weekend. It's a long drive to Minnesota, though, so we'll see.
First things first. The catfish are biting on the Santee Cooper lakes, and I'm headed that way tomorrow!

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I'm riding to the Tulsa airport after a media event, with Jacob Wheeler and Mark Daniels Jr. in the row in front of me in the vehicle, and am enjoying just listening.
As they talk about soft plastic colors for various situations, new fishing techniques, home waters, tournament strategies and much more, there's just so much I can learn.
It makes me think about the general value of listening to other anglers - around boat ramps, in bait shops, at dinner... I think it's easy to get caught up wanting to tell my own fish stories instead of listening and learning. Everybody knows a little different stuff and I can learn so much by simply shutting up and paying attention.
I'm not suggesting keeping everything I know a secret. I'm always glad to answer questions or share something that might help someone else catch a fish. I just don't want to get caught up wanting to boast about what I caught or what I think I know and miss the opportunity to do some good learning.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Banking on the Buffalo

I had only floated Arkansas' Buffalo National River in the past, but given low water that would have dictated a lot of canoe dragging, Glenn Wheeler suggested a wading approach for our day on the Buffalo last week. I'm glad he did, and I'm intrigued by the notion of a multi-day trip with a similar approach some time in the future. The many National Parks Service access points provide a tremendous amount of river access, and I think it would be really fun to hop from access to access, working down the river, for a three or four days, camping by the river each evening.

The Buffalo is ever-winding, with gravel bars on long inside bends and bluffs across the river. Access points naturally are on the inside bends, so from just about any one, you can cover a lot of territory without any kind of boat. And when the water is low, like it is now, before you reach a point where the river changes directions, it's easy to wade across to stay on the shallow side.

In truth, for our trip, with limited time and a desire to hit a few different access points, we didn't even have to wade. An enormous amount of really good water could be reached from the bank. I ended up wading some, mostly because I like getting in the river, but two of our in our group stayed dry, and I didn't catch any more fish then they did. Together, I'd guess we caught a bout 40 fish (mostly smallmouths) in half a day of hopping from one access point to the next.

Just as it has when I've floated it in the past, the beautiful Buffalo River left me longing for more and I'm already mentally planning "next time." When exactly that next time will happen, I don't know, but I know I'm looking forward to it!