Monday, October 5, 2015

Sun Shining this Morning

The rain began a little after 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24. I remember because Asher and I were at the Little League fields, anticipating his 7:15 game and hoping he'd get to play. It started as a drizzle about the time the early game started and got gradually heavier as that one progressed. By 7:00, it was apparent that there would be no 7:15 game (first of five consecutive rainouts).

The rain ended with a drizzle this morning, and the sun is shining beautifully now. It didn't rain constantly all 10 days, but it fell the better part of most of them, with some seriously heavy rain in the mix. It began with the edge of a low-pressure system over the Atlantic and another that dragged moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico. A cold front crashed into that low just before the outer edge of the hurricane hit. Finally, high pressure has taken charge.

I like rain. I like rain a lot, in fact. I can't deny, though, that a week and a half of rain got a little wearisome, and it kept us from getting out and playing as much as we prefer. Early rain and plentiful dark skies made me excited about prospects of good brown trout fishing. Time didn't line up during that window, though, and next thing I knew it, streams were blown out. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Division even delayed stocking Delayed Harvest streams so that the newly stocked trout wouldn't all get washed downstream.

All that rain to kick off autumn is actually really good for our waterways, and I'm glad for it now that it is gone. It provides a nice charge for trout streams, which can run mighty low this time of year, and for the reservoirs they eventually feed.

Now I just need to find a fresh window to get out there and go fishing!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dad's Yosemite

"I used to always wonder if I'd ever get back to Yosemite," my dad told me a few months ago. "I'm pretty sure now that I won't."

Dad was right.

I told him goodbye Thursday night, having arrived at the hospital an hour after he died of complications from pneumonia following a long battle with an ever-growing list of medical problems.

Dad didn't make it back to Yosemite, but he left me with a love for the valley and the remarkable
natural features that tower over it. This summer I got to share some of those wonders with Asher, my 10-year-old son, when we traveled west to fish for trout. Dad anticipated Asher and me traveling west to see so many grand places, including Yosemite, and I think he liked knowing about it when we were in the park. I spoke to him by phone from an overview of Mount Shasta the day before we visited Yosemite, and my sister Laura shared pictures I had sent her or had posted online when she visited him a couple of days later. I also got to share pictures from the whole western trip after I got home.

Dad and I actually first entered Yosemite Valley together on a family vacation when I was somewhere around Asher's age. Dad had studied the park's cliffs and waterfalls so thoroughly, though, that he was able to introduce me and the rest of the family to El Capitan, Half Dome, and Vernal, Nevada, Bridal Veil and Yosemite Falls is if they were old friends. He also knew exactly where we needed to drive to and where to hike in order to get the best views of each and how to make the most out of our first visit to the park.

Yosemite immediately became Dad's favorite place to visit and he returned many times over the years. He even took me there for a week as a college graduation gift. Each day of that trip brought a different and well planned adventure: hiking the 4-Mile Trail (Dad's favorite), ascending the back of half dome on a guided mule-back trip, seeing the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, hiking from the top of Nevada Falls to the base of Vernal Falls, exploring the high Sierras. Laura said that when she visited after Asher and I were in the park, Dad talked a lot about the trip he and I had taken together.

I like thinking about Yosemite travels because they remind me of my dad's awe over natural wonders, which he passed along to me at Boy Scout campouts, family trips and walks to our front yard to look into the night skies at constellations, the moon and the planets. Dad was quite the astronomer and always could tell me what I was looking at as I peered upward.

Dad seemed to find the greatest wonder in extra big things, like heavenly bodies, sequoia trees, high mountains and waterfalls. Even his favorite animals were elephants. I suppose my special area of wonder is over anything that relates to a stream. I'm fascinated by all things related to God's creation, though, and it's my privilege now to pass along those things to my children.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Welcome Delay

I'm no more fond of delays than the next guy, but when you're talking about delaying the harvest of trout for half a year, I'm all in favor. The catch-and-release season on North Carolina's 30-plus delayed harvest trout streams opens this morning. In Georgia and South Carolina, the delayed-harvest opportunity begins next month. These waters, which are ever expanding in number, provide an outstanding cool-season opportunity for anglers who don't mind releasing their fish and fishing only single-hook artificial lures.

I'm a big fan of the delayed harvest concept because it makes great use of resources. Most waters that are managed this way offer outstanding cool-season trout habitat, but conditions deteriorate dramatically when the whether warms during the summer. Most cannot hold high densities of trout through the warm months, so it is only because of the harvest season that fisheries crews can stock these waters so heavily for the catch-and-release season. Two distinctive user groups of trout fishermen are very well served on waters that mostly received only early-season stockings or very light summer stockings prior to the development of this program.

Before you hop in the in the car too quickly, do check the stocking schedule, which is posted on the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's website. Initial stockings are staggered over the first week of October, and it would be sort of sad to visit a delayed harvest stream for the first time any given year, with naturally high expectations, the day before they stock the fish!

I haven't made any specific plans yet, but you can trust that I'll have the car pointed toward North Carolina soon!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Green Sunfish or Black Perch

I'd like to say I added both green sunfish and black perch to my 2015 species list while in Oklahoma and Arkansas a couple of weeks ago. The fact is, though, that they are the same thing. Green sunfish is the most popular common name for this kind of sunfish, but in the area I was fishing, they are more commonly called black perch. Whatever you want to call them, these fish are scrappy fighters that attack little lures like Rebel Crawfish with gusto that defies their size. They are a lot of fun to catch, which is a good thing, because we caught a bunch of them!

Assuming I haven't forgotten to record any species or failed to identify any unique sunfish, the green sunfish was species number 25 for me for 2015.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Autumn Creeping Our Way

The first official days of autumn typically don't seem much different from the final days of summer in North Georgia. September normally ends hot, and while w all try to pretend we're turning a corner, it doesn't normally feel that way and we really know better. This year has been different. Several damp, dark cool days have made it really feel like autumn has arrived, and we're even getting hints of color change in our dogwoods and a few other trees and bushes.

It makes me antsy to do some fall fishing. Asher and I did slip out to the pond yesterday afternoon, and we caught 10 bluegills and bass, but I'm eager to do stuff that's really driven by the season -- frog fishing on a grass lake, fall run brown trout, fall flathead fishing...

The fish that have been most on my mind of late have been the salmon, brown trout and steelhead that run up out of Great Lakes into rivers throughout that region this time of year. I've been watching a few reports and doing a bit of vicarious fishing. Looking at deadlines and other travel plans, that's probably as close as I'll get to that stuff this year, but you never know. I always keep an eye on bites and watch for windows of opportunity on the calendar.

Existing fall plans do include a trip to Alabama to fish Lake Guntersville and possibly Pickwick, so I might get to tap into at least a little frog fishing fun. I'm also going to Santee Cooper in November, so if the flathead bite happens to be happening...

Of course, I always look forward to do at least a little October and November fishing in the trout streams of North Georgia and western North Carolina. The fishing tends to be good at that time, the river are beautiful, creating outstanding photo opportunities.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rebel Critter Two Step

While stream fishing in the Ouachita Mountains last week, Bruce Stanton and I mostly used two-pronged lure presentations, making the most of the functionality of Rebel Crawfish and Crickhoppers. Both lures float naturally and dive a couple of feet and wobble when you pull them through the water.

Most of the smallmouths, spots and assorted panfish in Mountain Fork and the Ouachita River were close to shoreline cover and looking up, so we would cast toward the bank, let the bait settle for just a moment and then twitch it and pause it a few times to make it dance on top. Often a fish would blast the lure on the top. If it didn't, we'd then move to step two, which involved reeling the lure back to engage it's subsurface swim.

On that particular trip, if we had only used the lures as crankbaits, by casting and immediately reeling them back, we'd have probably missed out on 80 percent of the fish we caught. Other days, the opposite would be the case. Often, strikes occur about evenly with both approaches. Experiment, and the fish will let you know.

The cool thing is that you don't have to choose. Just as we mostly did, you can incorporate topwater fishing and cranking into every cast.

Friday, September 18, 2015

New Water

Bruce Stanton of Rebel Lures has spent quite a bit of time fishing Oklahoma's Mountain Fork River and much more time fishing Arkansas' Ouachita River. Nevertheless, Stanton and I spent all day fishing those two rivers yesterday without hitting any water he had ever seen before.

Instead of going to the known spots, we took a pioneering approach, looking for access as we paralleled sections of both river and getting in to fish where we could.

The upper Mountain Fork runs through a lot of private land where we were, but we were able to gain access at an RV park/canoe outpost along the river and were able to launch our own boats to fish both upstream and downstream of the resort. The Ouachita runs extensively through National Forest Service land, so we simply watched for the brown signs, followed arrows to public access points, and started wading wherever we could get to the river.

While we didn't find the smallmouths we hope to catch, we did find some willing spotted bass, and we loaded up on various kinds of panfish, and the simple approach of finding a public place to get in and seeing what we would find was simply fun. Plus we both know a little more than we did about both rivers!