Tag Archives: bass

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Calico Bass: Reel Action Near Hollywood

Family Fishing OutingCALICO BASS – REEL STARS NEAR HOLLYWOOD

(Being the ultimate fly fishing tourist in southern California…)

One of my best fishing memories is from a family trip to southern California as a 13 year-old. In between Disneyland and Universal Studios, my dad took me on an overnight party boat to Catalina Island. I caught calico bass like crazy with my spincast rod. (Side note #1: I spent the remainder of the vacation unsuccessfully pestering my parents about sending me on a 3 day long range boat to Mexico.)

Calico bass are the size of freshwater smallmouths – about 14 pounds is the all-tackle world record. They love structure like rocks and kelp. I’ve never been able to get them out of brain; “fly fishing for calico bass” has been a popular Google search with me for quite awhile.

The weird thing is that calicos garner minimal web exposure. (Side note #2: Surf perch seem to have a fair bit of web notoriety.) Nevertheless, there are pockets of enthusiasts giving calico bass the attention they deserve. One such enthusiast is Captain Vaughn Podmore – a guide from Huntington Beach, California. So when my daughter and I started planning a trip to Los Angeles, I immediately booked a charter with Vaughn.

We actually stayed in Santa Monica, which has great beaches and teenager-friendly shops. Our calico bass adventure was sandwiched between a day of exploring Hollywood and day of surfing lessons. (Side note #3: Got pummeled by several waves during the latter.)

We were supposed to meet Vaughn in total darkness at 5:30 AM but a freeway snafu delayed us. What trip to Southern California doesn’t include at least one freeway snafu? Regardless, we pulled up to the desigated boat ramp south of LA around 6 AM.

Rocky BreakwaterIn short order, Vaughn had us along a rocky breakwater that ran for miles along the outer harbor. Directly in front of us, stands of kelp grew close to freezer-sized boulders. Beyond the breakwater was the open Pacific. Behind us, across the harbour’s expanse, we could make out massive cranes and container ships. But the kelp and the rocks held the most intrigue; they screamed the calico bass of my past.

Vaughn set my daughter up with a spinning rod and a plastic grub. I was using an 8 weight with a type 6 shooting head. To about 4 feet of fluorocarbon leader, Vaughn attached one of his custom flies. It looked incredibly fishy, with big lead eyes and a rabbit strip tail poking out from a collar of spun deer hair and Silli legs. It was predominantly orange and tan and my first thought was how good it would look in my largemouth box.

The fly’s real magic, however, lay in its twin weed guards of 40 pound Mason mono. “Throw it right up against the rocks,” said Vaughn. ” Give it a couple quick strips and then let it sink. The weed guards will take care of the kelp. If you can get it into the lanes between strands, that’s great… But don’t stress over it.”

Calico Fly SelectionThe fly worked exactly as advertised. But only after my daughter stung a couple quick fish. I felt fatherly pride with the first but a tinge of “daughter outfishing me” panic with the second. (Side note #4: As she gets older, I find the panic replacing the pride at an alarming rate…)

Being early March, the water was fairly cool and the calicos would often seductively nibble at the fly. But more often than not, it was a solid and decisive grab. Then the rod would double over…

And it stayed doubled over. There was no getting these fish on the reel. If they got 6 inches of line, they would be wrapped around a rock or some kelp. A typical fish was between 12 and 15 inches but they consistently pulled the rod tip down to the water. Calico bass are definitely tug-of-war champs.

The fishing was very steady and we made our way to the ocean side of the breakwater. Vaughn used an electric trolling motor to keep his 28′ center console in a rock-solid casting position. The Pacific swell was widely spaced and hardly noticeable. My daughter and I were slightly shocked to see the swell almost cresting over the breakwater. The bite continued and a whale even blew close-by…

Around 11 AM, the wind came up and Vaughn ran to the sheltered, “business” side of the harbor. On the way, we stopped for a look at some resident seals – plump and lazy and not concerned with us at all.

By this time, I had boated about 15 calicos. My daughter had actually quit after 7 or 8. She said she just wanted to enjoy the sun but maybe the idea was not to make me panic anymore?

Urban Fishing Results“Welcome to the Southern California back country,” announced Vaughn as we pulled up beside some concrete pilings. There was a parking lot just off our bow and a container ship about 400 yards off our stern. I like pristine wilderness, but – truth be told – urban fishing has its own charm. Maybe it’s the idea that I’m getting away with something that I shouldn’t be doing?

After several casts and a couple grabs inside this industrial fishing haven, it was time to head back to the ramp. By 1 PM, my daughter and I were on the freeway headed toward the next tourist item on our agenda – downtown LA.

Calico bass are definitely a low profile fish in a high profile place. But they are worthy targets. Vaughn also mentioned something about a top water bonito bite in the summer… Rats, the bucket list never seems to get shorter.

Maybe when I go back I’ll hop on a Mexican long range boat as well? And maybe I’ll get up close to the surf WITHOUT a surf board; I’ll bring a pair of waders and chase surf perch instead? For sure, I’ll chase after those bonito.

Sage One 890-4

Accuracy Redefined: Sage One 890-4 Review

With each passing year, fly rod manufacturers, continue to push the boundaries of manufacturing fine fly rods. The status quo is constantly evolving and hype is generated with each new release.  Andros Rod Rack (Sage One's All Around)The team up at Sage has hit a home run with one of their latest releases .“The One” is definitely lives up to the expectations and all the hype that was generated by this highly anticipated release. I have had a chance to fish this rod over the last two seasons and I would love to share my thoughts.

In this article I will be focusing on the Sage One 890-4. I just recently returned from a trip down on the island of South Andros with the folks over at Deneki Outdoors at their great lodge on Kemp’s Bay so my article will mainly focus on the usefulness of this rod in bonefishing situations.

First off let me start by saying that a fly rod can only do so much for an angler in tropical saltwater conditions. Bonefishing itself is NOT easy at all , don’t let anyone tell you differently. Practicing a double haul and dialing in a solid casting stroke  is the best thing you can do for yourself when throwing bigger flies, especially in situations like you find in South Andros. Practice does make perfect.

Sage One 890-4Andros Bonefishing Setup:

Rod: Sage One 890-4

Reel: Hatch 7 Plus Mid Arbor

Line:  Scientific Anglers Sharkwave Saltwater OR SA Mastery Textured Saltwater Taper

The first thing you will notice about this rod is that it is very light. This rod tips the scales at a scant 3 ½ ounces which means that you will be able to throw casts all day without too much in the way of fatigue.  This rod is the perfect mixture of a nice crisp fast action and lightweight feel which means that as an angler you can feel this rod load up in no time and be ready to cast. This came in handy because a vast majority of the shots that we were presented, with out on the flats, came in at anywhere from 20 to 40 feet from the boat itself. That is not to take away from the fact that you can go “operation launch” on this rod and send casts anywhere from 60+ feet when paired with the right line.  We had a few days of extremely high wind gusts of 20+ and I never once lost confidence casting into the wind with this rod. Let’s just say the rod did its job when delivering the line into the wind and any blown shots could be attributed to my bad casts.

This rod is NOT a true saltwater rod and for that reason the rod isn’t designed to muscle fish around whereas if you had the Sage Xi3 for instance which has a much larger blank diameter and more powerful butt section it would not pose as much of a problem.  So when hooked up with the larger bones I found that you have to be much more patient with them and be very mindful of surrounding mangrove clusters.Dodum Creek Tailer

To top it all off the black blanks paired with the metallic tread wraps give this rod a very unique and great look. In short this rod a lightweight and accurate rod that performs well in pretty much all situations in both freshwater and saltwater applications.  My “One” 8wt has seen everything from bonefish, bass, carp, pike, tiger musky, and trout. The possibilities are endless. This rod is truly “accuracy redefined”.  I would urge you to get out and give this one a cast or two to see if it is the ONE for you. You can check out the rod by clicking HERE

The Gunnison River Gorge

My Fishing Roots

When I was about 9 years old, my family moved to the outer edge of Alexandria, Louisiana. The area was unique in that it was built just before the sub-division era, yet the area was not a part of the old town either. Luckily, for me and my older brother Chuck, there was a nice sized lake just behind our house. All we had to do was cut through the neighbor’s backyard, cross one street, go through another neighbor’s yard and bingo, we were at the lake.

When we moved into our new home, dad forbid us to go to the lake.  We were sternly told, if we were caught at the lake, we would be dealt a serious whipping. Keep in mind, this was in the day of liberal use of a belt or other disciplinarian  instruments. Being typical boys, we couldn’t wait for Dad to go to work so we could check out our new digs at the lake.

From the moment we laid eyes on her clear water and huge bass cruising the shorelines, we were hooked. I lost count of the “ass-whippings” we received as a result of our hard headed defiance. Our love for the lake and fishing was so powerful we could not pull ourselves away, even knowing a serious whipping was a certainty.

Most days, we would fish with the best intentions of being home before dooms hour, that being Dad’s punctual arrival home at 5:30.  By 5:00 our casting became frantic….”gotta catch one more bass.”  At 5:30 sharp, Dads whistle rang through the air with the dread of an air-raid siren.  I would look at Chuck, he would look at me, and we both would say, “Oh crap.”  We quickly gathered our gear and headed home with much trepidation.

Each time, we took our licks like men, knowing full well, tomorrow we would go back. Dad should have seen the light. Hell, there was a clear path beaten through the yards heading off toward the lake.

I can’t remember exactly when dad surrendered.  I think we were about thirteen or fourteen. After one particularly serious “ass-whooping,” I stood tall before my dad and said, “You might as well give us permission to go because we are going anyway.” By then it was obvious I could take the best of what he could dish out and would gladly do so for a good fishing trip….He finally saw the light. He had two incurable anglers for sons ….he relented.

From that day on we fished without worry. We even managed to persuade him to let us night fish and frog hunt on the lake. He quickly became keen on the frog legs as well as an abundant supply of large bream and bass fillets.

We “generally” respected his request to be home before dark. We weren’t disobedient children, we simply could not help ourselves.  We had to fish….it was in our blood and some sixty some odd years later, it still is.

I’ll see you on the water Chuck….I love you brother!

 

Desert Trout Oasis

The Plight of a Desert Fly Fisherman

Nothing short of “ironic” describes the situation that I find myself in. I am a fly fisherman and I live in the desert. I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, home to the heritage brook trout and the fabled waters of the Ausable River that were haunted by the likes of Fran Betters. Although I spin fished the lakes for pike and bass, I curse myself now for the years I wasted not fly fishing, while living in that East Coast trout-Mecca. After bumping around the States for a year or two after college, I settled in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, married, and put down roots…then I discovered fly fishing.

Finding myself in this predicament, just means that I have to get creative. Arizona is a large state and despite popular opinion, is not just a giant sandbox with saguaro cacti and rattlesnakes. Here are a couple of fly fishing options that feed the insatiable hunger that most fly fisherman are afflicted with.

Urban Water – The greater Phoenix area is spotted with scores of golf courses and housing developments that have urban ponds full of warm water species of fish from bass, bluegill, tilapia, and even some roughfish for those interested in brownlining. The Arizona Game and Fish stocks their urban ponds with trout in the wintertime, which offers a great opportunity to introduce a young angler to the joys of fishing.

The Warm Water Lakes – Several rivers have been dammed up in a couple areas to create reseviors of water to keep Phoenix hydrated during the long hot summers.  These lakes include Lake Pleasant, Roosevelt Lake, Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Lake Mead, and Lake Havasu just to name a few. These lakes are pretty amazing ecosystems with a plethora of warm water fish most notably the big strippers that often grace the pages of the Arizona Game and Fish website.

The Mogollon Rim – One of my favorite places to run to on a weekend is the Mogollon Rim. Not only are the cold water lakes, like Woods Canyon Lake and Willow Springs Lake, growing big trout, but the Game and Fish stocks several small streams that can offer the small stream nut some remarkable views and fishing.

Oak Creek – This little creek that flows cold and clear through the Red Rock country of Sedona is full of willing stocked rainbows, but has an impressive population of brown trout that are as spooky and smart as any trout you are likely to find. As long as you wait till the summer crowds are gone, a day on Oak Creek will offer an amazing day of fly fishing in one of the most unique settings in the United States.

The White Mountains – The White Mountains of Arizona are home to some of the most beautiful and magnificent waters in the Southwest. A mixture of tribal and public land, the White Mountains suffered from one of the worst fires the state of  Arizona has ever seen. Although the Wallow Fire ravaged a good chunk of this area and priceless timber and ecosystems were destroyed, there is still hope for this area and many of the streams and lakes were spared. When you hear of big trout being caught in Arizona, 9 times out of 10, they were caught somewhere in the White Mountains. Apache, Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Cutthroat trout along with Grayling are present in different waters in the White Mountains and gives the angler a wide range of fish to present flies to.

Although being stuck in the desert is most likely a fly fisherman’s worst nightmare, all hope is not lost. If you know where to look and are willing to put some miles on your boots, fish, even trout are findable in Arizona.

Geofish

Get Your Popcorn Ready: Geofish Volume 1 Mexico Review

Authors Note: I am going to do my best impression of the late Roger Ebert here but by no means am I a film critic. After many years anticipating this movie release, here are my thoughts:

This is the type of adventure that I could find myself contemplating doing with my buddies. Going beyond the contemplation stage is probably out of the question for me at this point. The movie follows four friends, Jay Johnson, Chris Owens, Thad Robinson and Brian Jill (Formerly of AEG Media) as they attempt an 8,000 mile journey from the friendly confines of the Pacific Northwest to the tip of South America. Leg one sees the crew venture off into mainland Mexico.

The trip itself starts off as an adventure with the acquisition of a 1996 Ford F250 off of good ole reliable Craigslist.  They picked up this truck from a Utah dairy farmer who delivered it to them on a trailer. Red flag? Not for these guys, just a minor speed bump.  Running off of a limited budget these guys needed a more economical way of traveling. Knowing that gas prices would be the biggest determent the film budget these guys decided to convert their glorious F250 into a veggie oil powered home away from home. With the extreme generosity of Joel Woolf of Veg Powered systems who helped to do a complete overhaul of their F250 they were finally able to start their adventure.

Overcoming obstacles is a reoccurring theme throughout the movie. From spewing vegetable oil on the streets of Mexico to getting robbed at knifepoint at a Wal-Mart, these guys become good “amigos” with the Policia during their travels. The best part is that even after all these events they still soldier on, and with good reason.

The fishing sequences within this movie can be accurately described in one word. EPIC! First off is Marlin fishing 101. This isn’t your fancy marlin fishing that you see with a giant deep sea yacht and a full crew teasing in fish. The reality is that these guys are motoring around off the coast in a tiny panga with an outboard motor with a “guide” that doesn’t speak a lick of English searching for these leviathan creatures. The fishing starts off slow, but when they finally figure out how to do it the fishing pays off. That day Marlin fishing has to be one of those days that those guys will never ever forget.

It doesn’t end there. From lakes in central Mexico that are the homes goliath Bass to the baby Tarpon and Snook of the Yucatan. These fishing outings are the foundation of stories that become fishing legend and lore. Without giving too much away some of these locations and fish give a new fresh perspective to being “Off the Grid”.

Overall the greatest single thing about this adventure has to be that these guys got to do it together. Friendship and camaraderie is an important aspect of the sport of Fly Fishing. This movie is the ultimate example of that. Four buddies traveling thousands of miles while enjoying a sport that they love along the way. Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so. So get your popcorn ready! If you are interested in this Geofish or other fly fishing films and media please check out the Books & Media  section at Fishwest enjoy!

Dragon Fly

The One that Got Away

What would fishing be without “the one that got away?” Much better! I hear you – but there’s something good about losing a nice fish, too. Actually, there are a few good things about losing the big one, right?

For starters, we know he’s still in there. Somewhere in that big bend or deep cove, that fish still swims – or at least one or two like him. We know we had him on the line, and now he’s a little smarter than before maybe, but he’s still out there. If we fish long and hard enough, we may run into him again.

Secondly, the next time we see him, he might be even larger. Not everything in fly fishing is about bigger, faster, stronger – but you can’t deny that most of us would rather catch big fish than little ones, right? If you do run into that lunker from your past again, maybe he’s put on a couple of inches or a few pounds. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

Hang on a minute! Is this just going to be a list of reasons we should be happy about losing a nice fish?

Why no. This is going to be a story about losing a nice fish and why, ever since the day I lost him, I try to look on the bright side of things when it comes to “the one that got away.

I was 16 years old and sitting in a borrowed boat with my very pretty new girlfriend. We were having a wonderful day fishing and I’d already landed several small bass and a few bluegills. She was getting the hang of it, but was enjoying the sun and water more than the fishing.

I cast a #6 black wooly bugger alongside a floating dock that had some brush sticking up just off to one side. Something struck! I struck back! The fish headed for open water and I got all cocky and said “I’ve got a big one this time, baby!” The fish zigged and I zagged, he went deep and I held on. He pulled my drag – I palmed the spool. (This was before the days of affordable, quality drags in freshwater fly reels)

Then, Mr. Bigmouth jumped into the air. All roughly 9 pounds of him! Airborne. Thrashing. Shaking. Mouth as big as a basketball. I yelled out “Nooooooooo!” but it was too late.

The wooly bugger landed two feet in front of the boat with a pitiful ker-splat and it was at that moment that I heard crying. I’d let the big one get away. There was despair, anger and an immediate depression over the loss. It was the biggest bass that either of us had ever had on the fly. There was some whimpering and some kind of guttural sobbing sound. This wasn’t just the one that got away, it was a monster that got away. The whimpering continued and… I suddenly realized that it was ME! You can only begin to imagine the ridicule I faced back at school. Crying over a bass. The very idea. How stupid.

So, if you can…don’t let the one that got away worry you too much. There will be others – or maybe even that same fish, if you put in the effort to try and find him again. Try to remember that fishing isn’t always about the catching and that there’s no crying in fly fishing or bass fishing …there’s just no crying in fishing at all, OK?

At least, not when you’re bigmouth girlfriend is in the boat.

One Beautiful Day

There’s something special about Spring. It’s so special in fact, that I frequently capitalize the word out of sheer joy. Dogwood trees in bloom, bass falling in love, and carpenter bees trying to duke it out for who knows what.

On a small dirt path that was once a road for jeeps and the like, I carry a fly rod, a small pack and a bottle of water. A few Canadian geese, who obviously missed the signs that spring was back, honk in the distance. As I turn the corner and the little pond comes into view, a Great Blue Heron takes flight. As he skims the surface, barely gaining altitude for a dozen yards or so, several bass are startled from the shallow grass flat.

“Hey now…just what I was hoping for…”

As I approach the edge of the shallow flat, two more “rolls” of water leave the bank to my left and I fire a quick cast in that direction. A small 4 inch worm on an equally small #4 hook sails across the sky, cartwheeling it’s way towards it’s own imminent doom. It’s almost as if the worm is in slow motion with the 6 pound test line trailing along behind it in ever widening coils.

The little black and purple worm lands with a splat and suddenly there’s a small, suspicious bulge in the water near it. I hold my breath and give it a twitch. Then another. Then a third. Nothing happens so instead of another twitch, I wiggle the rod slightly. Suddenly there is a bigger bulge and a whirlpool erupts where the line enters the water. The eager large-mouth rather miraculously hooks itself and high-tails it for a nearby stump. The line “tings” as it strains against the rod. I raise it high and begin a battle which, to the fish, is a life and death struggle.

Just one minute later I’m looking at the hungry bass eye to eye, face to face, man to fish. He put up a short but inspired fight, but ultimately I hold his fate between my fist and thumb. I removed the hook, admire him for just a few seconds and then slip him back beneath the glassy surface. He promptly thanks me with a flip of his tail, spraying water on my legs and, for whatever reason – making me smile in the process.

No doubt about it. It was one beautiful day.




Goodbye Winter, Hello Bass

For nearly 20 years I’ve chased the bass of Marben Farms. Of course, almost no one calls it that anymore, since the State of Georgia purchased the land 21 or 22 years ago. But at one time, one family owned everything for miles around. The Marben family named each pond – Dairy, Stump, Otter – and each dirt road that criss-crossed their land. There’s an old cemetery there, near the road between two of the larger ponds. It’s so old that many of the graves are marked with concrete boxes that sit above ground – a tradition I’ve not seen very often in the Deep South. But the cemetery is posted now, like so much land in so many other places these days.

Yes, Marben Farms and I go way back. I caught my first bass there in 1992, and my largest – an 8 pound female full of eggs, in ’95. In those days, there weren’t many people fishing the ponds because word hadn’t gotten out yet. With the city of Atlanta a short hour drive away, that would all change in the late 90′s, though. By the mid-90′s there were more and more folks coming to Marben. They were mostly after catfish and bream and crappie – but for a bank angler, it made working around them a bit tough sometimes. A friendly “How ya doin?” or “Catchin’ any?” made it easier to share the water with people. I’ve yet to meet anyone there who was unfriendly and that alone could make a place pretty special these days.

Crowded or not, each winter as spring approached I’d check the TV at least twice a day, counting the days between cold fronts on The Weather Channel.(It’s funny to me today, with the internet in full force and weather at your fingertips, to think about all the time I spent waiting to see my local forecast.) Two day warming trend? Not quite enough – but the next week there might be three warm days together and I would plan a trip to Marben. That first trip was usually full of muddy tires, dirty boots and disappointment – but my daydreaming of spring and hungry bass would usually get the best of me and I’d make that first trip every year way too early. I still do it to this day, truth be told.

However, on the second or third trip I’d often hit it just right, and have one of those days you dream about your whole life. I once caught over 60 bass in a day there, and three of them were over 5 pounds. It’s not uncommon in the South to catch a bass that weighs 5 pounds but it was very uncommon for me to catch one, much less three in the same day! Marben offered up catfish too, and crappie and several types of sunfish – bluegills, redbreast, shellcrackers and “warmouth bream” whose mouths are so large they chase down 4 inch bass plugs with reckless abandon. Marben Farms still offers all that and alot more as “Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center” but to me it will always be “Marben”,… the place where my winter blues got washed away each year.

So that brings us to this winter; this spring and this year’s bass fishing season. And for whatever reason, I’ve decided that this year for the first time ever, I’ll fish the lakes and ponds of Marben Farms with only the long rod and fly. I have no doubt that the fish will be willing, because they see few flies among what must be thousands and thousands of offerings each year – but I do have a little doubt in my ability to entice them with “just flies.” But that’s part of the fun isn’t it? The challenge of something you haven’t tried before! A new species of fish, a new place to catch them, or a new way to do it! The making of a totally new tradition, perhaps? There’s almost nothing sweeter than the hurried goodbye to another winter, and the warm embrace of a long, beautiful spring.

Goodbye winter…….. Hello bass!