Friday, January 25, 2008

"Does Montana Know about This.......?

When its cold outside, its hard to imagine if spring will come soon enough. Cold is a relative term, and we certainly are fortunate to live where we can fish most of the year with no problem. But as cold as it has been lately, it makes one dream of the spring that is to come. And with it the planning of some special trips, perhaps near and far, but planning them for sure!

This begins our eighth season of fishing at Escatawba Farms. Of all the places we do trips to, it is always a favorite of our customers- - - and with good reason. We like it because seldom is the day when we don't finish with good numbers of above average trout, like fish from 14-20", and consistently. Catch a good day like we had last March, when I and one of my fellow anglers Tom Jackson had five anglers into a good number of fish, like over 200 of them to be exact.

If you've never given this trip a look, it is worthy of some consideration. Owner and Riverkeeper Derrick Barr and his wife Karen have one of the most attractively arranged and cared for properties you will find anywhere. Just pulling in the front gate past the majestic Escatawba Farms sign, down the long tree lined road to the house and the check in barn/building, you get the feeling of having driven onto a place right out of Southern Living magazine. And that's not even the saying anything about the fishing......Almost two miles of gin clear water home and three ponds are home to thousands of rainbow and brown trout from 14 to over 20 inches that will both delight you and challenge your fly fishing skills at the same time.

To top it off, I must say that Derrick and Karen get an A plus plus for the hospitality they give as well. Truly indeed when you fish there you definitely feel like the red carpet has been rolled out for you.....and they serve everyone that way. They definitely set a standard that is hard to beat.
You can check them out online at .

We will have a couple of trips coming up in the next six months here that we'd love to get you in on. This year I will be doing a first, a trip/seminar specifically geared toward one of my favorite types of fishing , Terrestrials. And when these fish are on them, its an incredible sight to see a large fish lift its head two inches out of the water to swallow a beetle or a hopper.....and they sometimes will take size 8 and 10 dry flies!

We'll keep you posted on the dates and details of these trips, maybe you can join us for one.....or both for that matter!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Winter Weather....How sweet it I crazy?

I remember before a few inches of snow and some really bitter, yes bitter cold temperatures saying something like that. Am I crazy....? I guess that would depend on who you ask, maybe my wife for one. Maybe me too sometimes. Anyone who would get up at 5:00am to pack lunches and gear, meet my client(s), and then drive for an hour and a half for more to get in a river that is hovering at around freezing and has so much ice in it that just pondering where you where you might even be able to make a cast ........well, maybe the word crazy is appropriate. But you know, we'll have probably all been there a time or two. You soon realize the itch that keeps me going is the same itch that is inside the person I am guiding, they and I just want to get out. And lastly, I think maybe its just another way to show our manhood, even if we freeze in the process.
We live in a place that we can pretty much fish most any day of the year. Sometimes that means going in less than perfect, even lousy conditions.....but there have been times that maybe we got into an unexpected hatch, or caught a really large fish....that we keep hoping that the day will be "one of those days." Like when Mark Stauffer and I fished an outright deluge this fall on the South Holston, only to catch a great BWO hatch and catch about 75 or 80 fish. And this summer, when a two day trip with Brian Fitzgerald, his wife Linda, and Linda's parents forced us to fish a section of river that we weren't planning on fishing. That particular trip Linda's dad Tom Wright caught a brown trout over 12lbs, a VA citation fish and the second largest documented brown caught in the state of VA in 2007. And then there was the bitter cold day with Mac Cheek in Ashe County last fall, when the river had pretty much frozen except for a few pools, and we ended up with a double digit day- - -something I'd not expected but that both of us were glad for. And then finally, when I met customers Jeff Terrell, Ken Whitescarver, and their friend Mel Harley up in Ashe Co. last year. It was Mel's "bachelor get away" before his big day and the guys had planned a trip in advance only to have a major cold front blow in. The temp when I arrived on the morning we were supposed to fish was 9F in the sun, the New River looked like something in the Artic circle, an ice cold flow complete with large chunks of ice bobbing as they made their way downstream. Our solution: enjoy the fire in the cabin, rig our gear inside, eat plenty of food, put on our waders, and in the meantime hope the temperature rose enough to get a cast or two off without the line freezing to the guides. The result? The temp warmed up to a balmy 20F, the line still froze to the guides, but a 15-20 fish afternoon from about noon til 4pm, with a couple of 18-20 rainbows and several nice brookies.....all on a day that seemed impossible at the start. Go figure. Sometimes in this thing called fishing you have to play the hand you are dealt. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. Somedays you count the fish you catch, other days you count strikes. And sometimes just the fact that you can catch a fish on a day like this is pretty amazing. And, all of it leads you back to that same question.....are we crazy? I know I am pretty often, how about you?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winter Weather.....How Sweet it is.....

What a great thing it was to wake up to a fresh fallen snow this morning. As I poured a cup of coffee and returned to my place in front of the crackling fire I said to my wife....."what a day it would be to be on the water somewhere...." I know sometimes she must think I am crazy. That anyone would want to put on waders in freezing weather, walk through several inches of white stuff to stand in 35F water, and to do that for several hours on end - - -well maybe there's something to the crazy part.
And indeed there is. To me anyway, any time is a great time to fish. Winter, just like any season, has its fishing moments. No, fish do not go into hibernation as animals do, nor do they quit feeding. And catch them on the right day, and well--you can just have a ball.
Every year and almost without fail our winter guided trips produce some of the largest fish of the year. It just seems to work out that way. Whether its ripping a big streamer through a deep hole or bottom bouncing/dead drifting a large nymph or wooly bugger (you know dead drifting a wooly bugger is deadly if you have never given it a try....), or fishing a spawn or egg fly, whatever the case, fish just seem willing to take a bite of something big. Maybe its they feed less and want a lot of calories when they do, I am not sure that I know. I know tailwaters are often the opposite, and places like East Tennessee's South Holston River are like that. Thousands (like 5000-6000 trout per mile) of trout feeding on midge pupa and blackflies and where if you are fishing a #20 or 22 you are way out of line......
Wherever the place, and whatever the circumstance, I'd have to say winter is one of my favorite times of all. Give it a try.......maybe you'll discover the same.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Does the size of the fly matter?.........You bet it does.

Just recently when tying a custom order of flies for my longtime friend and customer Larry Pritchett of High Point this very question came up. Larry and I go way back, both as friends and as a customer of mine when I worked in my first official flyfishing job in the late 1980's. And when Larry called me and we started to talk about the fly he wanted, I was very familiar with the pattern but then asked......what size is that fly you are wanting?

Such questions always come up, in fact that is the #1 question that should come up. When Larry said, "I'll email you a picture of it", what I got was the picture to the left and I thought to my self.....that's brilliant. Just as I measure mayflies when trying to match a particular hatch, this fly was pictured next to a ruler in mm. Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi in their excellent books "Hatches" and "Hatches II" also measured the bugs they captured onstream the same way. Measuring bugs you are trying to imitate is a foolproof yes foolproof way of making sure your fly is as close to being the correct size it can be.
How can that be? For one, hooks differ slightly in shank length depending upon which manufacturer's hooks you are using. ORVIS and Daichii (my personal favorite) are standard length hooks, while two popular hooks - - the Tiemco 100 (wide gap hook) has a slightly longer hook shank and the Mustad 94840 has a slightly shorter hook shank. Thus, measuring the body size of an insect and then tying it in millimeters is one way to have the correct size no matter which hook you are using. This can be critical in cases where you fish regular hatches on local tailwaters like Virginia's Smith River and East Tennessee's South Holston and Watauga Rivers.
A small metal, wood, or plastic ruler with a mm scale on it is all you need. In fact, if you are trying to match a hatch or a particular insect or food item you don't even have to carry a ruler with you. Simply carry a paper index card and a waterproof Sharpie type marker, lay the insect on the card, and mark the exact length of the body. Under it write the type of fly you suspect it to be, time of day, and where you found it (riffle, run, pool, bushes, etc.) Such information can be very valuable both now and in the future.
So , is size that important? You bet. Normally, in our fly fishing classes we stress the importance of size, shape, then color and in that order. By far my experience has been that size is the most important factor in any case. In fact, even if you are on the water and don't have a fly that looks just right in terms of appearance, but can match the size of it to what's hatching, you at least have credibility to the fish in one respect. And that, as my time onstream has shown me, can sometimes mean the difference between at least a fish or two rather than nothing. And that always beats getting a "platinum bagel" ( '0')!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Tie Flies?..........

If you fly fish, or have done so for very long, that very question has probably come to mind. For some it is a momentary, fleeing, thought. But for some, it is a repetitive question in the mind that eventually leads into another facet of this great sport we call fly fishing - - -tying your own bugs.
Then there's always the best excuse......I'll save lots of money tying my own flies. For all of you who tie, I know, I have lied to myself in that way too. I guess if you don't figure your investment of time you might save a few nickels and dimes. But it won't be much. As a tyer of 20 years I can tell you I wouldn't consider my own pursuit to be a money saving adventure. Sometimes it is quite the contrary. Indeed, one can have the same affinity for procuring the best materials just as they can the best rods, reels, and more. But we still haven't arrived at the real answer to the question. Okay then, why should I tie my own flies?
One of the primary reasons I'd say is the same reasons people get into flyfishing. It is fun. For me that is reason enough, I guess. Second, I can create my own designs, and folks who do this know the immense satisfaction you get from discovering the fish are quite fond of a fly you have "original" if you will. Third, I can put myself in a position of being able to put in my box a particular fly in a particular size that I cannot buy. Anyone who fishes tailwaters or spring creeks and their hatches knows just what I am talking about. I can create what I need and not rely on what is commercially available. Finally, I almost always learn more about and become more of a part of the environment that fish live in ..........because tying a good imitation of a food item that I have observed the fish feeding on leads me to learning more about that food item or prey and what materials and techniques might best imitate them. So, if you are a fly tyer do you agree with any of that? And if you don't tie, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What a Great day........

A great day in many respects.....I say that mostly because of my oldest son Ben. I put the photo in of a bass Ben caught in 2007, the largest bass I personally have seen in person. It weighed over 10lbs. Some of my customers know him, and some know of his fishing prowess. Indeed, I am blessed for having two boys, Ben and Josh who love the outdoors and fishing and hunting too. Not only do they love it, but they are really into it and are good at it. Today, January 9th, is a special day for Ben for he got a front center photo of him wrestling on the front page of the Greensboro News & Record Sports Section. Its really neat because he is a 10th grader who is part of the new transitional Northern Guilford High School. Really neat because he regularly has to wrestle juniors and seniors and not only takes them to the limit but often beats them. We are so proud of him and applaud his courage and his desire to win! Under the excellent coaching of Jody Bullard (former Olympic wrestling qualifier who is the Northern Guilford Nighthawks coach) our hope is that he will get a wrestling scholarship. Coach Bullard has said that he's been coaching for 17 years and he thinks Ben is a natural and has all the tools and skills to do it. Ben's professional fishing career, also an aspiration of his, will have to wait a while.........and we think that's great! Congratulations Ben, we are proud of you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fishing with WXII NewsChannel 12's Austin Caviness....

Over the past couple of months I have gotten lots of questions about the fishing trip with WXII NewsChannel 12's Austin Caviness. Its really interesting that the only thing it took is an email and a phone call to get the ball rolling. Actually I was here one afternoon just tying flies and the thought had crossed my mind about his show and contacting him about possibly doing a segment. One email to him and a phone conversation and it was on the calendar.

I have done segments before with other folks from the local news stations, all of them lots of fun and the people very interesting and fun to be around. In that way, Austin was topnotch. If there's a nicer guy out there doing what he does I do not know of him. He's the same guy you see on the News doing the weather, and let me tell you - - - - the guy is a serious hunter and fisherman. It didn't take too many casts to see that he could fish, and was obviously no stranger to the fly rod. It only took minutes for him to hook up. Our original plan was to fish a few holes, enough for some footage and get him into a fish or two for the camera.

With a frontal system moving in, and clouds very thick, the fish were on, maybe wide open would be the right way to put it. In two pools we'd caught some really good fish, maybe a dozen or more, and plenty of footage for sure. Austin's camera man said,"Boy we usually don't have this problem....too much footage." It sure was good.

I watched as Austin fished every rig I handed him, nymph, dry , dry /dropper, emerger. He really put it to those Helton Creek fish. Our plan was to fish maybe an hour /hour and a half or so, but it was good enough that Austin didn't want to stop. It was good enough too that his camera man even got in on the action, catching maybe half a dozen fish of his own. Needless to say, what was going to be fish for an hour or so and get some footage and be back on the road by noon turned into fishing until 4pm and then quickly taking the waders and other stuff off and blasting off for home. It was a great day, we caught maybe 30 or more fish all together, a good day anywhere. Our plan is to do another segment this winter, on fly tying and I will be looking forward to that.

As I said earlier, Austin is one of the nicest folks I have ever met. Only a few minutes with him and you felt like you were with a long lost buddy from high school. He 's great......literally, at about 6'6" or 6'7" he really is. To see the clip from our onstream segment you can click here .

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Start of a New Year....

Now that the Christmas and New Year's holidays are past, we can get down to business.........You know there's only so much eating and loafing you can stand. If you are like us, there's only so much of Xbox 360 and a house full of kids that you can take. Although I must admit I have, with the help of my two boys, developed somewhat of an addiction to Guitar Hero. I guess it just gives me an opportunity to pretend I am a star doing another passion I used to have....and that is playing the guitar. Anyway, you know something's up when you find yourself playing with the kids toys as much as they do.
I always reflect on last year, years past, and to the year ahead, knowing that this year will hold some great things. We'll visit some of the same favorite holes or haunts, battle with a few fish I now know by name, develop some hot new "gotta have it" fly, and more. In all seriousness, and I won't disclose the location, but there was a 19" rainbow we named 'Junior' that allowed me the pleasure of photographing him on five different occasions, every time with a different customer. I know some folks thought I must have had a blow up fish to use as a photo prop.
Well, we are just past a bitter cold spell, its 60F outside today, and looks like I better get back to tying some of those fly orders.......

Friday, January 4, 2008

Remembrance of Winters Past.........

It happens every winter with the first shot of real cold weather. As I sit at my tying table, which happens a great deal this time of the year, I reflect on winters past as I tie flies and fill boxes that will quite soon be seeing some fishing action.

Lows in the low teens and single digits in the high country bring to mind the days of fishing the epic black fly hatches below Gathright Dam on Virginia's Jackson River tailwater. It was a sight to behold. As soon as 10:00 would come around, one fish rose, then two, then three, then a whole river would come alive with rising fish. I think the coldest I have ever fished was on that river it was 10F, and we were catching fish on #24 dry flies on 8x......... I also remember one of the funniest things I have ever done as well. My good friend Malcolm Robertson and I came up with some extended body cream midge pattern that was kind of off the wall, only to find out that the fish loved it. We were at the Super 8 in Covington trying to figure out where we might find some more material or what might work as a substitute. I can remember thinking to myself, ".....if we could just find some rubbery, skinny, stretchy material....." then it came to us. Underwear!!!! White briefs have a rubber leg material type wasteband inside and guess worked! We ruined a new pair of briefs but filled the box with a handful of flies the fish were crazy over. I will never forget that trip.

And then there's the desperate trip to Stone Mtn. It was the winter of 1997, and my friend Jim Sellers, a customer, and I all headed up to Stone Mtn in hopes of finding at least some fishable water. We had had weeks of cold weather and most places were frozen. All the water at the park was frozen sans a little strip about 3 feet wide right down the middle. We found a large pool, and could see some brookies cruising in it. We walked out onto the ice, and we crunched our way out toward the middle of the pool. There Jim and I like beached whales flipped, flopped, and bounced up and down, fracturing the ice and opening up an area where we could fish. As ice would break loose, we'd push it into the 3ft wide stream of water and send it on its way. In no time we had opened up an area large enough to fish. The fish were spooked of course, but we let the water rest for an hour or so and then came back to fish. We all ended up catching fish, Jim even caught one on a dry fly. Sometimes you just have to make the most of what is in front of you, and we did!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year ......Resolutions?

Well, the New Year is now here and thinking about January makes me think about some of my favorite fishing. Customers who know me well know it as "Icebox fishing". Hard to imagine that the past few days, particularly when the thermometer is pushing 60F and we sweat a little as we take the Christmas decorations down and stow them for another year. And maybe that new rod will come next year.....

In any case, the time of year makes me reflect on what makes winter fishing so unique. Maybe one thing about it is just that it seems that all the odds are stacked against you and to still catch fish puts some sort of imaginary and unspoken medal on your flyfishing vest. Maybe its the often total solitude that winter fishing can bring as the worse the weather conditions are the better your guarantee of some peace and quiet. Or maybe if there's snow, the kind of silence and serenity that a little of the white stuff brings. Or maybe that its just that itch to get out fishing, a passion that burns inside that maybe is willing to endure a little pain and suffering, if that's what it is, just to make one more cast and catch one more fish. I think its all of those things......if we're honest.

I reflect on some of the unusual trips I have had in the winter. I have fished along with friends before only to have one of us fall and submerge up to our necks in cold, mountain water. Yikes!!! Not one of those floundering stumbles where you catch your toe on the edge of a rock while trying to cast and still make an upstream step ( a surefire way to go down, if you haven't tried it or can't like me wait long enough to get into a good position and then cast), those types of stumbles happen often enough. You know, the kind that causes a tremendous splash and gets the attention of anyone within an earshot of your position. Those are embarassing.......but lack the grace and the completeness of a good ol' face first or complete fall that soaks one head to toe in ice cold water. These falls are not for the weak or faint of, they have an ability like nothing else to awaken one, and quite quickly. No, these are falls that would score a 9 or 10 if someone were in a tree stand on the bank and playing judge. I am not sure what hurts worse, the pain of ice cold water soaking you from head to toe on a day where its barely above freezing, or the embarrassment of having to crawl out of an stream with everyone watching only to go back to the car, strip to your underwear and blast the heat wide open for a solid hour. And as bad as that sounds, underneath all of it is an intense desire to get back out there and catch one more fish.......

When winter comes I also think of the trip when my wife Kathy and I had hiked into the Slaty Fork of the Elk River in West Virginia. When we hiked in it was around 35F or so, and drizzly, but with the feeling of impending snow. She had grabbed the wrong jacket and found herself after an hour or so pretty damp and feeling quite cold. Were we not catching fish it would have been easy to turn around and head out. But it started to snow heavily, and it was getting colder, and we had to find some way to make a fire. Looking in my vest I perused through all of the wonderful gadgetry, great as it is at doing flyfishing things..., and realized all this great stuff was of no use for what we needed. But I had one old tube of a favorite paste type floatant, it was called "Dave's Bug Flote". It is a product distributed by Umpqua, and marketed as Dave Whitlock's floatant formula. I now wonder if Dave must have found himself in our shoes at some time in the past. All I know is that I gathered some sticks and leaves and applied some Bug Flote to the rubble and with a few strikes of the lighter was able to start a fire. The flyfishing retail spirit inside wondered if I had just discovered a new , marketable use for Dave's Bug Flote.....whether I did or didn't my wife and I certainly appreciated the nice, blazing little fire that now flourished before us. So remember that, if you need to start a fire, always count on Dave's Bug Flote.

One last tidbit I remember about that West Virginia trip was that my wife's brand new SAGE LL 586 fell from a tree it was leaning against and landed right across the fire while we had walked about 20 yds down to the river. When we walked up, I shrieked as I saw it lying there, across the fire, blank burned into and a brand new ORVIS wonderline scorched in two. It was one of those moments where I felt tremendous loss and comfort almost at the same time, once I realized the rod thankfully had a warranty. To our good I sent the rod back to SAGE and they faithfully repaired and returned the rod to me in new condition. I also wondered if they asked themselves how someone managed to burn a new fly rod in half. Like everything though, the embarrassment passed with time, at least enough to be telling you now.

So there you have it, winter has had many interesting moments for me. I forgot to mention that we caught fish.......rainbows.......lots of them......with no one else a fresh fallen much better than that can it get? Til next time..........enjoy your cold weather fishing...