Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tubes, Tubes & Tubes

Jim Byler only fishes a tube the first 12 months of the year. In truth he throws a tube less during mid-summer, but that's because he gives bass fishing a bit of a break during that time, when most of the best action occurs at night in the Ozarks. If Byler is bass fishing, he probably has a tube tied on, and there's a very good chance it's the bait he is throwing.

Nathaniel and I spent this afternoon fishing Norfork Lake with Byler, who lives in Mountain Home and grew up in the Ozarks and spends a lot of time on Norfork and Bull Shoals with a fishing rod in his hand.  We mad a few casts with jerkbaits, but the 40 or so bass we caught all bit tubes, cast toward the bank and worked down rocky slopes with pulls or small hops.

Specifically, Byler likes a 4-inch green pumpkin/black fleck tube, and he rigs it with a 3/8-ounce jighead on the inside. He pours his own heads to get the specific 4/O hook, round head and weedguard he prefers. He spools spinning tackle with 20-pound braid and attaches 7 or 8 feet of 8-pound fluorocarbon leader to the end with a double uni knot. He typically works the bait with quick, slight hops that don't pull the bait more than a couple of inches off the bottom.

Byler doesn't stray from his tube plan or vary his presentations for clear or stained water, for different black bass species or based on weather conditions. He simply alters the kinds of banks he fishes. No matter where he starts a day, he always watches for common denominators in the places the fish are hitting and focuses his efforts accordingly. Today, main-lake points absolutely were the deal. We started the afternoon fishing many types of areas, but by day's end we were running from point to
point because that was where almost all our fish were coming from.

I learned a lot about tube fishing today, and had a big time catching a bunch of bass, including some nice smallmouths.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Arkansas Welcome

We left home might early this morning (about 3:30) so that we'd have a little play time before gathering for dinner at Mockingbird Bay Resort on the banks of Norfork Lake in Arkansas' Ozark Region. I'm happy we left when we did. Nathaniel got to fish a little while on Dry Run Creek and managed to land a beautiful brown trout. A mighty fine lead in for three days of fishing on the lake, which begin tomorrow morning.

I suspect we'll slip back down to try run at least one more time while we're in the area -- maybe Saturday morning. This trip is almost certainly Nathaniel's last chance to fish Dry Run because he turns 16 in a little more than a month.

Tomorrow morning we'll fish for bass with pro angler John Murray. Before the week is over, we may also fish for walleyes, crappie and stripers. I suppose I'd better rest a while. It doesn't really seem like it was even today when we left Clarkesville!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ugly Bugs Improving a Bit

No one would accuse my Ugly Bugs of being pretty, and I know my tying techniques don't follow the book. I do think I'm gaining better form overall, and I know the jigs I'm tying now have better durability than those from even a few months ago.

The bulk of my jigs are natural sorts, either minnow patterns like those pictured above, crawfish imitations or black attractors that look a little bit like a lot of things that trout and other fish commonly eat. I also tie some extra ugly ones with a lot of flash and a good dose of pink, because the trout seem pretty fond of those.

I'm not sure how my Ugly Bugs will fit into this week's fishing plans on Norfork Lake -- or whether they will fit in at all. Still, it's a safe bet that my bug box will be in the truck when Nathaniel and I pull out tomorrow morning and within reach when I'm on the water. I might even toss in the vice and a few materials. Just in case!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Norfork Lake Beckons

Trey Anderson shows off a chunky Norfork
Lake largemouth.
I can't imagine how much time I'd spend fishing in the Arkansas Ozarks were it not for the 650 miles between here and there. As is, the region's beautiful lakes, trout-filled tailwaters and tumbling smallmouth streams lure me a few times every year, and somehow that 12-hour drive doesn't seem that long when I'm Arkansas bound.

Early Tuesday morning, when Nathaniel and I hop in the truck to head for Norfork Lake, it'll already be our second Ozarks excursion of 2014. Last month we enjoyed a wonderful visit at Gaston's White River Resort, and we actually spent one day in the shadows of Norfork Dam so Nathaniel could spent a little time fishing Dry Run Creek.

I'm looking forward to spending a few days at Mockingbird Bay Resort, getting better acquainted with Norfork Lake. It appears opportunities striped bass, largemouths, spots, smallmouths, walleyes and crappie could all be on tap. A classic Ozarks lake -- clear, rocky and spectacularly scenic -- Norfork also serves up outstanding fishing, especially during the spring, when the fish tend to be shallow and active. I've only been out on Norfork a couple of times, so I'm eager to spend more time out there.

Of course, if time allows before or after our Norfork adventure, Nathaniel and I might have to slide just a few miles down the road so he can make a few casts into Dry Run Creek. He turns 16 in a month and a half, so next week likely marks his final opportunity to fish this fabulous youth-only trout stream.

After we leave Norfork we'll slip down to Mountain View for a day, and Nathaniel will trade his fishing rod for an instrument and will compete in the Southern Regional Mountain Dulcimer Championship at the Ozark Folk Center. Then we'll cap off our Ozark Adventure with a bit of floating and wading in the Spring River for smallmouths, trout and more before beginning our journey toward home.

Should be quite a week of fishing. Watch for reports and photos here, on my facebook fishing page, on Twitter and now on Instagram.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Like Fishing with an Old Friend

My most recent day astream reminded me a lot of fishing with old friend -- a friend I hadn't seen for a quite some time. You see, in November I broke my favorite trout rod, and I finally replaced it with a new one just like it.

As much as I'd like to tell some grand story of a giant fish or dramatically adverse conditions, the stupid truth is that I stubbed my old one on the ground because I was looking at my phone while walking across a field after fishing. I'd owned the rod, a 5 1/2-foot ultralight Fenwick EliteTech River Runner for a few years, and it had been my absolute go-to for smaller trout streams (and for most bluegill fishing) since Day 1. Even after I had broken off the first eye, it was the ultralight I always reached for when I was headed to a creek.

After breaking the favored Fenwick, I had put the reel on another rod I owned that was the same length and action, and I can't say that it didn't work fine. It did. It wasn't as light, though, and didn't give me the same casting control. Mostly, it just didn't feel right.

I'm pretty sure my trout reel grinned at least a little when I put it on the replacement Fenwick, and I did my best to make both rod and reel happy by taking them to a seriously pretty stream for their inaugural outing together. The rod did it's part, too, pulling a colorful rainbow trout from the first river run I used it to cast to that morning.

I'm happy to have my favorite trout rod back, and you can bet I'll be pretty careful with it, whether I'm climbing out of a river gorges or simply walking across field. Stuff on the phone can wait!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fishy Days Ahead

Eli Moscul hoists a beautiful Niagara River brown trout caught
with Capt. Frank Campbell a couple of days ago. Photo courtesy
of Niagara Region Charter Service.
I caught myself daydreaming about fishy days ahead, so I figured I might as well blog about upcoming fishing travel and make the daydreaming at least sort of productive.

Capt. Frank Campbell is largely to blame for my straying thoughts. He sent a note about an upcoming trip to the Niagara River and included the photo at the top of this page. One of his clients caught that brown trout only a couple of days ago. I'll be up there in early May, fishing Lake Erie out of Buffalo for giant smallmouth bass and the Lower Niagara River for brown trout, steelhead, lake trout and whatever else wants to bite. It is one of my absolute favorite places to visit.

I'd better not get too far ahead of myself with a New York state of mind, though, because before I get to the Niagara, I'll be fishing on Norfork Lake in Arkansas for stripers, largemouths, crappie and whatever else wants to bite, floating Arkansas' Spring River for smallmouths, rainbows, browns, rock bass and more and then flying to Green Bay to fish the legendary waters of Door County (Sturgeon Bay area) for jumbo smallmouth bass, jumbo smallmouth bass and jumbo smallmouth bass.

As if that weren't enough to distract me sufficiently, spring and early summer travels will also take me to Deadwood, South Dakota to fish Black Hills rivers and lakes, mostly for trout; back to Green Bay for a big-water mix of smallmouths, walleyes and salmon; and finally South of the Border to Anglers Inn on Lake El Salto, where I hope to lock horns with some seriously big largemouths.

What all that tells me -- beyond the notion that I should enjoy some wonderful days fishing over the next few months -- is that I'd better quit daydreaming and get back to the business of writing fish stories so I'm ahead of the game when I point the truck toward Arkansas next week!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rainbow & Falling Waters

We'd mostly stopped at the pull-off to get a better view of Cullasaja Falls, which crashes dramatically just to the side of U.S. Highway 64 in western North Carolina but well down in a gorge.  Then we noticed the path that obviously led to the base of the falls. It wasn't truly a trail, and parts looked more like drops than slopes. Still, we were curious what it looked like at the base of the falls and whether any trout lived down there and we were ready for some exploration.

Turned out the vantage from the bottom more than justified the steep hike in and even the climb out and that at least one trout does indeed live in one of the first deep runs below the waterfall. Based on its small size and brilliant markings, I'm fairly certain the fish I caught was a wild rainbow. We were fishing in Hatchery Supported waters, but many of North Carolina's stocked streams also support some wild fish, and the mot likely places to catch them are well away from where hatchery trucks can venture.

After exploring the base of the falls a while and climbing back out of the hole, we started up the gorge, by truck, pulled into pretty much any vacant pullout and looked to see if the river looked worth visiting at that point Usually it did. A couple of times we parked nearly at river level beside a flat section of the Cullasaja. More often, we were well above the river and had to descend a steep pig path. We only caught a handful of trout (all rainbows), but exploring the Cullasaja would have been big fun even without a fishing rod.

We capped the day of fishing with a couple of short waterfall hikes. One was to Dry Falls, also on the Cullasaja, which pours over a big overhang that a trail cuts beneath. Seeing a waterfall from the inside is pretty cool. The other was to Glen Falls, a tall series of falls on a small stream in the upper watershed of the West Fork of the Chattooga River. That creek contains native brook trout, from my understanding, but you couldn't have fished in the section we saw. Inches of water racing over steep