Sunday, November 27, 2011
It's been a long time since I hooked much. This fall I made twelve trips to RI for two bass and a shad. Twelve. No shit. That's not terribly good, is it? So by the time I got to Pulaski my mind - and any last vestige of dignity - had long departed. You'll see what I mean when you watch this short film. I'm quite the prima donna, as it happens.
I caught some real nice fish, but unlike last year I lost many, many, many steelhead. Everyone lost quite a lot of fish: Fish losing was the name of the game this year. But not for Bill, who insisted on landing more than his fair share.
I will say that the fishing was, once again, quite fantastic. Dozens of large, fresh, insane steel were hooked, and some beauties were landed; the weather was divine; we saw few other anglers over our 4 days; and even mine host kept schtum for the most part. More, it's a plain fact that, however great the fishing, the memorable bit was being on a beautiful river for four solid days with a bunch of fine chaps. I appreciated their company a fuck of a lot, and not just because they can catch steelhead between their legs, either.
At some point one of them mentioned a misspent youth and acid bleeps, hence the Chemicals. What can you do.
Particular thanks to Todd and Bill for sharing some of their photos, video, and toilet paper.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
The problem is that in two trips, I'd managed only some moderately respectable bluegills and some very small bass. I can be pretty happy fishing water that will give up the occasional fourteen to sixteen inch bass; at that size, they will put a pleasing bend into even my stout six weight bass rod. But this pond failed to do so on my first trip, with the fly . On my second, I left the fly rod at home and worked every likely bit of shoreline cover with some spinner-baits. This, I reasoned, would reveal what sort of potential this pond had. Well, again I failed to catch anything of any size. So I decided I needed some new ponds. I spent an afternoon poring over aerial photographs of my area, and marked about 30 different ponds on the map. That afternoon I also bought a new cap bearing the insignia of the local university where I work, reasoning that this might get my foot in a few doors. Also, according to my wife, my regular fishing cap is vile.
The following day, I took a shower, shaved, put on a clean shirt and my new cap, grabbed my map, and went to it. A few ponds, upon close inspection, were too small or weed-infested to be of interest. Eventually, I came to a farmhouse and was surprised to see "Lepomis" on the license plate of one of the trucks in the drive. Lepomis is the Latin name of the genus that contains the sunfishes. This could be really good, I thought! Eager, I knocked. When a woman answered, I explained that I was new to the area, looking for some fishing, and that from what I could tell from the maps, they had a pond. She grinned and said "Yes, we do have a pond. Two, in fact. And they're full of very, very large fish. We have a lot of five-pound bass, and some bluegills that are pushing two pounds." I tried to act cool. "But," she continued, "my husband is really into those fish and doesn't allow anybody else to fish them." I told her I understood, thanked her for her time, glanced around quickly to see if they had any motion-detecting cameras and/or large-bore firearms, and headed for my car. "I'm trying to think if there are any other ponds in the area..." she said as I'd turned to leave. This was a good sign. She was engaging me in conversation! We chatted a while longer, I turned to leave again, and she said "Do you have a card?". Why, yes I do...and I handed her the small slip of paper containing my name, phone number, and email address. Again I prepared to leave, but now her husband was coming up over the hill on his tractor. She said "Here comes the boss. I can't promise you he'll say yes." Well, the three of us chatted a long while, but in the end, he would not relent (or, at least he has not yet...I left my contact information with them and eagerly await a call...).
What is the point of this story you are now probably asking yourself. Well, I told you that story so that I could then tell you this story:
So here I was, faced with the prospect of more high-water carping, or heading back to one of my regular ponds and the micro-bass they contained. My seven-year-old son asked me if we could go fishing in the morning, something in which he has only shown moderate interest so far. I decided that maybe a pond full of little bass and bluegills might be just about right for a day of Fishing with The Boy, so I agreed. In the morning, we would take some worms and small spinners, and see if we couldn't get him a fish or two. Dawn found us loading the car, and soon we were on the water. It wasn't long before he got his first fish, and soon after a few more. Between the two of us, we managed a few respectable bluegills and several bass...small ones, of course. The Boy admitted to getting bored, so I agreed that we'd fish just a little while longer. Now I must digress here, just briefly. One important part of this story concerns my tackle. Because almost all of my fishing is done with a fly rod, my "conventional" gear leaves something to be desired. The Boy was using one of my nicer, but very old bass rods, fitted with a little spincast reel. I elected to take along a little spinning rod a neighbor gave me years ago. According the writing on the side, this rod is four and one-half feet long, best fitted with 4-8 pound test line, and designed to throw lures up to about one-billionth of an ounce. During the course of the morning, I missed several solid strikes from miniature bass because upon hookset, the rod would double-over and still not drive the hook home. It probably didn't help that I was throwing a small Panther-Martin spinner with dull, rusty, barbless hooks that, I am certain, has been in my tackle box since about 1983.
Now, with apologies to the authors (and, it occurs to me now, the readers) of the "Penthouse Forum", I say that I never thought this would happen to me. At some point during a very routine cast to a very routine spot (one we'd already fished, I think) my spinner stopped short, gave a little (as if hooked on a flexing branch), and then stopped again. I lifted the rod, thinking that perhaps I'd be able to get the lure loose. It was then that I noticed that my line was moving sideways, which was then followed, of course, by the realization that something alive was connected to the other end. In that brief moment I had enough time to wonder first if I'd hooked a large turtle; whatever it was, it was heavy, but also not very energetic. But some subtle shaking convinced me that I had a fish, so my second thought was that maybe I'd hooked a carp (though I had no reason to suspect they were in this pond). I commented, rather casually, to The Boy that I had a fish, and a good one at that. At this point, a large silver and green form materialized and at the same instant that I realized the fish was a largemouth bass, the fish came to the surface and jumped. No, it didn't jump. It wallowed. It opened its enormous maw, and wallowed. And then the spinner flew out of its mouth, and the great fish sank out of view. I made a few comments about the fish and its escape and then The Boy said "Daddy, what does #@&^#% and %&$^#% and #*&%@! mean? And why do you have that look on your face? Daddy, you're scaring me."
And so, when I say that I never thought this would happen to me, I didn't mean that I thought I'd never lose a fish. I didn't mean that I thought I'd never hook a bass that large (although it's true that I never expected that, either). What I mean is that I never thought I'd be that guy who casually tosses a junky lure on a junky rod and hooks a huge fish. Because I just don't fish that way. But I did, and it happened. And damn it, it was a really, really big bass. It was the biggest bass I have ever seen. I caught a bass on a live bluegill many years ago, as a kid, that was 22 inches long and weighed six pounds. Obviously, I can't say for sure how big this lost fish was, and my memory of the six pounder is clouded by years. But I've also caught a number of striped bass and carp exceeding ten pounds in the last few years, so I feel like I have a reasonably good "feel" for basic fish size. I think this bass, whom The Boy has taken to calling "Big Mona", was in the ball park of eight pounds.
Now, I'm faced with some real paternal/piscatorial conflicts. The Boy is now wildly enthusiastic about fishing. And he's damn near hell-bent on catching Big Mona. And I love to see this in him. But since I was the one who hooked and lost that fish, it's only right that I be the one to catch it, at least the first time, right? Right? My wife is disgusted with me. But it's because she doesn't understand, right? Right? The Boy isn't equipped to handle Big Mona. His casts still hang up in the trees, or splash down too hard. He'll scare her. If he does hook her, the reel will fail or the line will break, won't it? And if this happened, we'd all lose, right? Right?
What is the point of this story you are now probably asking yourself. Well, I told you this story so that when I do finally catch Big Mona, I can tell you that story.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Morning found me overlooking the aptly named Chagrin river. I pondered this odd river, which, at my first spot, was 70 feet wide, 4 inches deep, and much, much clearer than my head. From my vantage point, high above the river on a bridge, I could see every square inch of water for 50 yards in either direction, and not only were no fish visible, it wasn't at all clear where a fish would hide. I hiked and eventually found a likely-looking pool...already occupied by two fishermen.
Several more stops yielding mostly more keen feelings of mental unease, until finally I found a stretch of river that actually looked like it had not been built by the Army Corps of Engineers out of polished marble counter tops. I spied a likely looking pool, rounded the corner to position myself, and saw another angler working his way towards the head. I was closer, so I felt it would be appropriate that I would have first crack at the spot. So, I quickly hooked the tree behind me, leaving my entire leader on a high branch, well out of reach. Having now left a subtle but uniquely-Brayshaw-esque landmark in the tree, I was sure I'd be able to find this pool on my next trip. This gave me the confidence to re-tie my entire rig, which gave the other fisherman plenty of time to work his way into the pool. I hiked further upstream to fish the water he'd already worked over.
Six casts, and just as many leader replacements later, found me in the greatest of spirits as I eyed a deep chute across the river. A second drift through this water stopped the fly line suddenly, and I lifted the rod to find it buckling against the headshakes of a heavy steelhead. In four tenths of a second the fish was off, and I added to my keen feeling of unease some annoyance, and embarrassement, caused by failure, disappointment, and a series of disconcerting events. Chagrin River, indeed.
Shortly thereafter, I met a couple fishing and the male half asked me if I'd have any luck. "No", I replied, to which he responded "Well, how can you complain on a beautiful day like this!! It's just great to be out here!!" I thought about this as I crushed his trachea under my wading boot, his wife all the while begging me not to kill him. Was this the right thing to do? Probably. But that's not really the point. The point is that I have very limited time to go steelheading, and the drive is very long. When I get there, I want to hook and land large numbers of fast, strong fish. And this is all. I don't care if it is sunny and 72. I thought that we - the steelhead and I - had an agreement, and that this agreement went something like this: I drive a long fucking way and fish hard, and you get caught. I hardly think I am being unreasonable here. And so, needless to say, I am disappointed in steelhead. I know what's going to happen, though. The sting will subside, I'll forget this disastrous trip, and will soon be planning another. In this way, steel heading is much like childbirth, but worse.
Well, this time I am prepared. I made this little video, which I intend to watch every time I start to think that maybe a steelhead trip isn't such a bad idea. Feel free to watch it yourself, if you, too, are thinking of steelhead fishing.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
For those interested in wading a bit deeper into the literature surrounding these debates, here are some starting points...
The article by De Leeuw is one of the more widely cited philosophical papers arguing against "sport" fishing. De Leeuw argues that fishing is an act of cruelty. It's a thought provoking read, as is Olsen's very good critique of De Leeuw's paper.
Finally, those interested in some of the more practical and biological issues relevant to this debate, such as the effects of capture on fish survival and welfare, whether fish can feel pain and have the capacity to suffer, etc, I'd suggest digging up papers by the following authors:
Arlinghaus and Cooke often tackle the really practical stuff (what happens to fish when they're caught, played and released, etc.). Braithwaite, and to some degree Sneddon, work on the issue of pain in fish, and tend to come down on the side that fish do feel pain and might suffer. James D. Rose, on the other hand, is biologist who comes down on the other side, and has been very critical of some of the work by Sneddon. All the work is worth a read.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
"Dear Jonny: Please could you forward this to Brayshaw? I figure if he uses TP on his face the dumb shit didn't figure out email yet. Anyways, I know The Culvert is inundated with mail from fans and I don't expect you to respond [Ed: surprise!] But instead of the usual complaints, I would like to branch out with a suggestion. Surely the blog could use some prettying up? See the example below of what real carp fishermen [sic] look like. I never been carp fishing, but I imagine the local brownline streams are chock full of anglers just like this.
Cheers - Chuck"
Some writing down here. It doesn't matter what. I've stopped writing, and you no longer remember why you even stopped by.