Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Largemouths and Rainbows - Fly-Fishing Weekend - April 2018

When are you going to update your blog? -My Dad.

It's amazing how much time a baby takes up. Since my last post in (checks notes) January (holy crap that was a long time ago) I've only been fishing a handful of times. In that time since my last post, my baby has learned to crawl, and now walk, and he has completely destroyed anything and everything is his wake. Some more of my beard has turned grey and I've lost about 40 pounds. So not too bad of an 11 months, lack of fishing aside. All of that said, I actually do have a day-trip planned for Montauk in a few days, and naturally the weatherman has just predicted two to eight inches of snowfall in the area. Wonderful.(Update: It snowed a whole bunch, and is still snowing.)


Aside from a few Sunday morning visits to Maramec Spring while visiting some in-laws in Cuba, MO, my last significant fishing outing was a two-night stay at Montauk way back in April 2018. Interesting enough, it snowed that trip too. I can't seem to escape the stuff. The trip started off anything but snowy. Blue skies and warm air met me as I left St. Louis with the Ranger loaded to the gills with camping and fishing equipment.


On the way to Salem, I made a stop in Grey Summit, MO for a quick morning of bass fishing with my brother-in-law Steve and his son John. Steve and John are both incredible fishermen with their spinning rods. They were pulling huge large mouths and crappie out of the the private lake that Steve has access to.

 
I myself did not fair as well with my fly rod. Whether it's bass fishing or winter urban trout fishing, I think it comes down to the fact that I have no idea what I am doing when I fish in a lake or a pond with a fly rod. I feel like my casts are way too short and close to the bank. When I strip in the line, I usually just end of getting the fly line tangled in the weeds around my feet. I have no visibility into the fly and the presentation. It's very aggravating, especially when compared to stream fishing. There, I have eyes on the fish I'm targeting, or at least have a good sense of where a fish should be in the stream. I don't have any of that when fishing on an opaque lake surface. I need to research and practice lake fishing a lot more. And now that the lakes in STL are stocked with rainbows for the winter, no time like the present. 

After getting skunked at the lake, I headed west to Montauk. Steve and John were originally going to come along with me to Montauk and spend Friday night there camping with me, but the weather forecast spooked them and they decided to opt out. It was a shame, as the weather was absolutely gorgeous on Friday and the water was crystal clear. It turned out to be the perfect day for fishing, at least weather-wise.


I fished for a few hours in the usual spots (above the dam, below the low-water bridge, around the bend) and had some decent luck. Shamefully, it's been so long since the trip as I write this, and I failed to take enough pictures or notes, that I don't truly recall what flies I was using or how many fish I was able to land. But that's not important, is it? It shouldn't be a numbers game, or some technical accomplishment. All I remember is getting to enjoy nature, catch some fish, explore some water, and get some time away from the city and computer monitors.


I fished for most of the afternoon and helped myself to a cone of coffee ice cream from the lodge. True believes know that the ice cream at Montauk is as good as the fishing.


I headed to the campground and set up shop for the weekend. I put up my tent, hung my flags, and built a fire. Honestly, the weather was warm enough that night where I really didn't need a fire for heat, but I did need it to heat up my cast iron skillet and to cook one of the steaks I brought. I would only be staying in the tent for one night. My brother-in-law Alan, and his brother Carl, and Carl's son were scheduled to stay with me the next night, and they were bringing Carl's giant RV, and I was more than happy to crash on his couch inside. But they weren't showing up until Saturday. Friday night was spent in the tent. Even in April, tent camping can be a challenge in Missouri. It's not uncommon to wake up and find yourself shivering so bad that you can't fall back asleep. Luckily, Friday night was surprisingly warm, so warm in fact that I couldn't even see my breath in the morning when I awoke. I'll call that a success.


Saturday morning: up early for a quick breakfast on the propane stove, coffee, and stringing up the gear and putting the waders back on. The bell rang and I was above the dam, per usual. A couple of keepers there. I was trying to catch my limit that day. I had a cooler full of ice prepped and ready to go, and I needed to give some fish to my parents and in-laws as a thank you for the frequent babysitting of Willie. Eventually, I decided to try and hit some new water, and made my way up the hill toward the Montauk Spring. I hadn't fished up there a great deal in all of my visits to Montauk. The water there is shallower and faster than most of the other areas of the park, but I was in the mood for something different.

I parked my truck along the ridge that overlooked the river, and carefully made my way down to the water. There I found a a very sweet older woman casting in the shallows. She was hesitant to wade much deeper than her ankles, and I didn't blame her. The water actually did get surprisingly deep in some areas, and I had to do some careful navigation to make my way downstream. I fished from hole to hole, or what I thought looked like good holes, and was having a decent bit of luck. Eventually, I noticed a group of three or four anglers behind me, sort of following in my trail and hitting the same spots I was hitting. Unfortunately for them, I found a very solid honey hole, and stopped dead in my tracks there.

It was incredible. There was a slab of rocks jutting from the bank slightly over the water. It provided shade and cover, and the water seemed to deepen right at this spot. I would cast a nymph about ten yards upstream, and try to drift it into the hole. Every third cast or so I would get a strike - a solid strike. Eventually, I lost count of how many fish I had on the hook there, but it was well over a dozen. It was the single most successful bout of fly-fishing I had ever experienced. I was fighting and landing fish after fish, and all of them a decent size. It was great practice in playing the fish while it's on the line, and not just dragging it in as fast as I possibly can. Though I netted a majority of the fish that were on the line, sure enough, a few managed to evade capture - either spitting the hook or breaking the tippet.



It does give me pause and wonder whether I should switch up my knot strategy. Most of the time, I attach the fly with a simple nail knot, which seems to work fine, but I have noticed does weaken over time and eventually break. At an Ozark Fly Fishers meeting last month, the guest speaker did a demonstration on the Pitzen Knot, which could be worth exploring. The trouble is finding time to practice tying those knots with a leader, practicing while not standing knee deep in a moving current and avoid creating a tangled mess. I was only a Cub Scout for a few months as a boy, so knots have never been my strong suit. I don't think I could tie my shoes until second grade or so. But, with any aspect of fly-fishing, I'll need to practice and improve my skills there as well. No excuses.


After what seemed like only a few minutes, but in actuality was closer to a few hours, I eventually caught my fourth keeper of the day at the honey hole, and was limited out for the day. This was at about 3:00 PM, which may seem early to stop fishing, but it was by design. With waking up for the morning bell, I had already fished for nearly eight hours that day, so my focus and attention was getting pretty thin. Additionally, the only calves and knees were getting sore from wading in running water, and I was ready to plop down in a camp chair, drink a couple of cold ones, and take it easy. The temperature was dropping and I wanted to put away most of my camping gear before Alan and Carl arrived with the RV.

I made a hardy dinner of steak and frozen pizza (that I promptly burnt on the fire). Alan and Carl were due to arrive around 7 or 8 that evening, so by that time I had packed away my tent and canopy and most of my cooking gear. I wouldn't need them that night, and it would allow a quick escape after fishing the next morning. However, 7 and 8 came and went, and still no RV. Instead there was one lonely guy sitting next to his truck and campfire, with no tent or shelter, and a dwindling pile of firewood as the temperature continued to drop. I must have looked a pretty sad site, as the guy in the next lot offered me a spot in his RV if no one showed up. I assured him I was okay, and that the brother-in-law was on his way. Of course, that was a pretty big assumption on my part, as I was out of cell range and had no idea where the hell those guys were.


At about 10:00 PM, a lone figure emerged from the darkness wandering towards my fire, Alan's nephew Bailey. The group had gotten slightly lost on the way to Montauk, missing a turn and forced to turn around. Apparently busting a u-y while hauling a giant RV behind you giant truck on small country roads is no easy feat. But they had arrived, and with them the warm interior of the Recreational Vehicle. The temperature plunged in the night, and the next morning could not have been more different than the day before. Gone was the sun and warmth, and what was left was bleak overcast skies and temperatures in the 30s. A dusting of snow had covered the chair I had sat in the night before as I had watched my fire die.


The four of us fished the dam the next morning, repeatedly having to dip our rods into the water to thaw the frozen line guides. Instead of the t-shirt and light hoodie from yesterday, I was bundled head to toe in my heavy winter gear. I didn't last long in the cold. I was out of the water by 8 and on the road home by 9. I was pooped. I had a lot of time on the water since Friday and was ready to go home. I headed back to STL, but stopped in St. James for one of the best burgers and pancakes I have ever had. It was the perfect end-cap of a wonderful trip.


As I said, I haven't fished much since this great little trip in April, but am ready to dive back in despite the forecast. Hopefully this weekend's catch-and-release trip will be fruitful. I've tied a lot of new flies up and want to try a multi-fly rig, that I hope will not become a tangled mess that ends up in a trashcan. Looking to the future, Willie is about big enough now that come spring, I'll be able to bring him along fishing in a chest carrier, and hopefully not dunk the both of us when wading. I want to fish more and write more this coming year, and I think I'll be able to. Emily and I researched more spots in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas where we can visit and 1) bring a toddler, and 2) not break the bank. Fishing is always a lot more fun when they're around. It should be a good year.

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