Thursday, April 11, 2019

Slab Hunting

Sometimes I forget that not everyone fishes the same way that we do. Yes it's true. There are very serious, very competitive fisherman out there, professionals no less, that don't do what we do at all. And sometimes its easy to forget that this whole other extremely serious cohort of fisherman are out there fishing the way that they fish, and they probably don't really think about us, fishing the way that we do. We're just different.

Allow me to introduce you to Ronnie Capps...

Ronnie Capps is a "Champion Tournament Pro Crappie Fisherman." And from everything that I can see, he is an absolute fucking legend. Clark and I were introduced to Ronnie through somewhat fortuitous happenstance. This guy Jason that used to work for our company was a freshwater bass fisherman, and he left an old BassMasters magazine in our social lounge at the office. Clark and I were grabbing a coffee, saw that magazine and took a gander, and in there was an article about Ronnie Capps. I believe the article was titled "Spider Rigging for Summer Slabs."

Yes indeed Ronnie Capps is world famous for his "spider rigging" technique. Until I saw this article, I had no idea what "spider rigging" was. Now I know it is the GO-TO way to tournament fish for crappies. You fish long cane poles around the circumference of your boat, up to 20 at a time, giving the appearance of a multi-legged arachnid, and you beat the shit out of the slabs.

So if you didn't know, now you know... Ronnie Capps is a world famous slab hunter. He's so famous, that if you Google "Ronnie Capps, Slab Hunter" you'll get a picture of his year book photo as a distinguished alumni and the celebrity pride of some southern backwoods vocational high school. What a tie! What a look...

And here you all are, the pride of the BFC, tying away with your fur and feathers, referencing "hatches," and Lee Wulff and Lefty Kreh. Totally unaware that there's a real fisherman down there in Alabama, working 20 baited cane poles at a time, hammering record slabs, while big chested southern belles grind on his lap...

So where am I going with this? Well, every now and then, a man needs to embrace his inner Ronnie Capps and seek out the sweet-water slabs. And if there's one thing I strive to do as a father, it's to make sure my son Mateo knows how to handle a healthy slab on live bait. And last weekend, I swear, the great Ronnie Capps spoke to me in a vision... And he said, "Show your son the way of the Slab. Go to Cabellas, buy your son a slab pole, and put him on the meat." And so that is what I did.

Move over Ronnie Capps. There's a new sheriff in town.

Thanks to Clark and his lovely wife Katherine for providing the slabs. Mateo is currently looking online for a spider rig set up.

Friday, April 5, 2019

"And eat that fucking sandwich quickly, would ya?"

Florida Keys.  May.  Sun.  Light wind.  Tarpon season.  And they’re there.

We’re getting shots all day.  We’re on the ocean side and you can see ‘em coming from two football fields away.  Find their course, make sure your line isn’t snagged on anything, start your cast, and let it fly.  Cross the string by five or six feet, wait until they’re almost there and then slide it into the zone.  If the string is long enough, wait until two or three go by, then bring it into the middle of the string.  You can see them look at it, and when they peel out of the string, you stop breathing, the boat goes quiet, you can’t hear anything anyway, and you wait for bucket mouth to open and the fly to disappear.  Hit her, steer the bus, clear line and hold the hell on.

It’s after noon and everyone – me, my fishing partner, and the guide – are hungry, but no one dares stop fishing, for fear the fish stop showing.  I’ve just whiffed on three shots; three strikes and I’m out.  I’m starving, so I go for the Cuban Mix sandwich from Sandy’s and a beer from the cooler.
I’m sitting on top of the cooler, middle of the boat, behind the casting deck, in front of the console.  I’ve got the sandwich wrapper spread across my thighs, beer can held between my knees, chowing down, when we see a string coming.

My partner starts his cast.  Mid-bite, I stop chewing, frozen in position, waiting for the mayhem.  They’re coming in quick, 70 feet and closing.  Two false casts and he’s at 50 feet, ready.

“Now,” our guide says from the poling platform.

The delivery cast.  He lays it down.  At the exact same moment, I crane from my seat just slightly to see it go down, and just enough for my legs’ grip of the beer can to loosen.  Fly and fly line lands on the water, five feet in front of the lead fish as the beer can hits the deck.  The string scatters.

My partner turns from the casting platform and glares right through me.

The guide chuckles.

“Why don’t you stay up there for an extra shot, Paul,” he says.  “And eat that fucking sandwich quickly, would ya?”

Monday, April 1, 2019

water optional

Imagine how much fun it's going to be when she's actually floatin'!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Can you believe that?

Fall.  Senior year of college.  Fall break.  A week dismissed from academia.  Read: go do something awesome with your best buddies.

Five of you lash two canoes to two station wagon roofs and head for a deep lake, at the northwestern end of which sits a campsite that one has been to before.  The supplies are, to use the word that you adopted then for its cliché, absurdity and appropriateness, “fratty”: twice as much bacon and eggs and potatoes as is necessary, a large bag of Cajun trail mix, other various bars and backpacking foods and two glass gallon jugs of Carlo Rossi wine, which has come to be one of several signature drinks of the college fishing club, of which you are all very, very important members of.

The second night around the campfire.  The remaining jug is passed around, and around, and around, until its location and existence is forgotten.  And then, disaster.  Where is the Carlo?!

How can you lose, misplace a glass gallon jug of wine in a 20’ wide circle?  Did it walk off, to take a piss in the bushes and forget its way back?  Did it evaporate, the same way the last two days did?  Did someone hide it, as a joke, and then have their memory of its location disappear like all the answers to the midterms you all just took?  Was it burned?  Five stumbling, mumbling, jumbling college kids, on top of the world, cannot find the wine, and it is a serious problem.

One guy looks in the tent.  One guy looks in the canoes.  One guy looks so far away from the campfire that it’s a joke.  One guy doesn’t get up, just looks behind his stump seat.

The last, the one sitting only a few feet from the lake’s edge, yells.  Everyone looks.  Reaching into the lake, as if grabbing a fresh born baby, as if landing a giant trout, as if pulling a piece of bacon that fell into the fire and that shouldn’t have, as if finding a single piece of agate on a gravel bar a quarter-mile long, he has the jug of wine in both hands and raises it above his head, yelling, “I got it!!”  By some absurd chance, the jug has rolled and fallen into the lake in just the perfect way that the opening landed perfectly downward so that the air inside the jug has held the wine inside, lake water creating a seal preventing any from draining.  No one can remember how much was in it when it was lost, but there is enough left that it’s enough for the rest of the night and also just the most recent of countless, tiny but unbelievable events that happened that make this trip story-worthy. 

Your hangover the next day makes you wish, slightly, that you never found the jug again.  But, what a story.  Can you believe that?

Friday, March 15, 2019

We had the bugs on the wall dying.

A plan is hatched: meet up, drive there, go fishing. 

“You wanna?”
“Yea, let’s.”
“Cool, I’ll pick you up at the airport.”

Las Vegas, an unsuspecting hub for outdoor recreation, especially fly fishing.  The drive to Lee’s Ferry is only four and a half hours from there though; an easy shot for two old friends.  The Strip in the rearview, a glowing dome in the middle of the middle of desert, as you speed away.  Remember the last time we were there?  Barely.

A motel room awaits you and a late night arrival is expected, so when you get there before you think you would, it seems early.  Too excited and wound up to sleep.  The old friend has an old reel that’s really loud.  The two of you wind a new fly line onto the old spool and it echoes off the motel room walls.  You both cringe and giggle as you do this, because you can imagine what it sounds like in the neighboring rooms, but hey, you gotta do it now, you can’t do it in the morning.

Rod pieces are put together, reels are screwed onto reel seats, fly lines are strung, leaders are looped, even flies are tied on.  Packs are packed, water bottles are filled, articles are placed neatly and precisely by the door, so you won’t forget, even though you wouldn’t.  It’ll save you four minutes in the morning and since you only have 12 hours to fish, you do it now at – what time is it?  You need to sleep.

Alarms awake.  Disorientation.  Sit up and stare at each other from your motel Queen beds.  Let’s go!  Quick!  Get to the car!  Don’t let the others get there before us! 

A long day on the river.  Then, back to the motel in time to watch the sun go down from your patio.  Après-fishing.  Each moment more than the last.

It’s barely dark and you’re beat.  Tomorrow you will do it again.  In bed, sipping whiskey, watching bad television.  In the morning, you’re told that you fell asleep mid-conversation.

Again, alarms.  As awake as you were when you arrived; it’s 26 hours later.  You realize you don’t have to meet your guide for two hours.  Spend the next 90 minutes pacing, chatting, puttering, packing, checking gear, re-packing, watching the clock, killing time in pre-dawn excitement as thick as when you met at the airport.  We fished for 20 hours over two days but it’s this one specific hour-and-a-half in the motel room, awake early because you went to bed early because you were beat because you stayed up late then got up early, waiting for the right time to go fishing, having a conversation that’s half-incoherent, half-profound, full-hysterical, that I remember most, even though I don’t really remember any of it.  We had the bugs on the wall dying.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

It's 4:00 am and you're a hundred miles offshore.

It’s 4:00 am and you’re a hundred miles offshore.  You left the dock 14 hours ago, you and three of your best.  After a four hour run, you reached The Edge and your captain pulled back on the throttle for the first time since leaving the inlet.  Everyone stands up and stretches, relieving their bodies from the tensed, flexed positions you held for the run.  Four young men relieve themselves and then four beers are produced from the cooler, which looks like it’s about to be brought to a party that you all had attended in college only a few years prior.  Beer cans are touched, nods and smiles are passed, and cold, light beer is chugged.  Then the work begins.

Bait is prepped by two while the other two begin setting outriggers and placing rods in specific rod holders.  Soon, six rods are in.  Big, bright gold Penn Internationals reflect the setting sun.  The engines are again put into gear, this time at a slow, calculated pace.  You assume the positions – captain at the helm, first mate behind him, leaning against the bait prep table, and you and the remaining mate taking places alongside the cockpit - and you are fishing.

You troll until after dark, taking passes along a length of The Edge, and then call it for the evening.  Lines are reeled in, the Penns making their unmistakable, mechanical retrieve sounds.  The handles are as big as car door handles, and they fit your hand well.  A few more rounds of beer are consumed and without discussion, two guys take to massive bean bags for a few hours of restless sleep.  The air is warm and humid, but cooling fast.  The sleep is barely that.

You and the fourth guy sit next to each other in the cockpit, softly discussing the morning’s fishing to come, catching up on some of your recent fishing trips, and what you have been doing since the last time you saw each other, which was a week ago.

An iPod is produced from a hatch, and plugged into the vessel’s stereo system.  Robert Earl Keen’s album “Gringo Honeymoon” is played in its entirety.  When the title track comes on, the boat goes quiet, and the two of you just listen.  You listen to every word as close as you ever have.

It’s 4:00 am, a hundred miles offshore, but your mind has taken you to some western oasis in another time, where “a crusty caballero” plays “an old gut string guitar” and “sang like Marty Robbins could.”  You are fishing, with your best buddies.

Friday, March 8, 2019

You're Nine Years Old

You’re nine years old, on summer break.  You’re an only child living in a small town and you don’t have many friends around.  But you’ve bushwhacked to the river behind the house enough times that you know the way to a few deep holes and you just got your first fly rod and reel for Christmas, so a lot of your summer days are spent on the river, by yourself.  You can’t name any of the two dozen flies in your one fly box except the three that you tied: a Mickey Finn, a woolly bugger, and a hare’s ear nymph.  You tie on what you now know as a spent-wing wet fly, for no other reason than you haven’t ever tied it on; you don’t know where you got it.

You also don’t know about water levels and temperatures and how they affect a trout’s willingness to bite, so even though the water is low and warm, you just fish.  You make the boring roll casts your father showed you, but soon you’re trying to aerialize line and false cast, even though you don’t really know how to.  There are wind knots up and down your leader, but you don’t notice or don’t care.

You’ve been crashing around in the river for a while, not seeing any fish as per usual when, out of nowhere a trout that’s probably 8-inches but might as well be 30 chases your fly at the end of a retrieve.  As soon as it appeared, it is gone.  You repeat a curse you heard someone at school say, then look over your shoulder to see if anyone heard you.  You’re now as excited as you’ve been in weeks, and you can’t wait to tell Dad that you saw one.  Maybe you’ll tell him that you caught it.  You spend the next fifteen minutes casting to the same spot expecting, hoping, wishing with all your might that the fish will come back and take the fly.  It doesn’t.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Rippin Lips in Wyoming

Greetings from Wyoming! I put together some fish porn from last season for your viewing pleasure. The first 20 seconds is pretty awesome. On a trip last Spring, we hiked into a remote little cutthroat river and spotted some fish rolling on the surface from the cliff above. There were stoneflies all over the bank so we tried a few big dirty nymphs and dries to start out. One BIG ol cutty came up to look at a few offerings but never really committed. After many more casts and no takers, we hung out for a while then ran another drift through the pool. Again he rolled up, looked closely, and refused to eat. After that we basically committed to ignoring him for the better part of an hour and poked around elsewhere. On a last ditch effort before heading home, we stepped back into the run with a fresh ugly hunk of leggy foam and the fish absolutely annihilated it. It was so memorable because the 3 of us knew exactly where he was sitting and he had jerked us around for so long and refused so many offerings so it was a bit of a shock when he ate.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fishing and Hot Dogs

Hello folks! It's been a while since I've posted on the old Solid Hookups. I guess I have no one to blame but myself for that... Actually, that's a lie. It's more my family's fault. Don't get me wrong, they're the best, but family limits the fishing and limited fishing leads to limited posting. But I did fish over the holiday weekend with Clark. And it was a lot of fun.

Our office was open during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. None of my employees were in, but I was, and that gave some time to organize the office, and of course search the internet for native trout spots. I've recently become a little bit obsessed with miniature brook trout. I don't know why. I guess I just think that they're pretty cool looking and I know that they are hard to come by in the greater Boston area. There are very few streams that hold wild brookies in the eastern half of the state and those that know about these streams are fairly tight lipped about their existence, and rightfully so. With so few healthy cold water trout streams close to Boston, the last thing you want is a secret to spread and guys to come through and clean the fish out on trout worms. But I've been working a desk job for 15 years, and I can google search with the best of em. So with Google Earth open on one of my external monitors and the search engine open on other, I got after it hard, fingers blazing, because everyone knows the best way to find a wild brook trout is using your computer.

My goal was to find a wild trout stream that I could fish without traveling far from home, minimizing time away from my family. This meant I needed not only to find the fish, but also to make sure the drive to the river or creek was less than a half hour from my house. Unfortunately typing "native brook trout" into the google search box wasn't getting it done. When these traditional search efforts failed to yield the results I desired, I had to think outside of the box. The most encouraging candidate locations came from student PhD reports, town meeting archives, and trout unlimited fund raiser pages from years past. I reviewed summertime water temperature assessments, proposals for culvert and dam removals, and, when really lucky, elctro-shocking reports from the Mass DFW. In the end, I identified 5 spots, all with public access, all within a half hour drive from my house, and all, theoretically, harboring native brook trout. I wrote down addresses associated with access points and made plans with Clark. Meet at Location Number 1. We'll try that, and if it doesn't work out, we will try a different spot.

On Saturday morning, I met Clark at Location Number 1. Located in a public forest, we had about a half mile hike in before we reached any fishable water. I was fishing a bead head nymph with a small streamer trailing. Clark was fishing a bugger. the water was small and casting was pretty challenging due to tree cover. It looked fishy though, with a number of nice bends and pools that looked like they would hold. We worked our way up the creek fishing every tempting spot, but after an hour and a half, we had little to show for our efforts. We had a quick discussion, and we elected to take a look at a different spot. On our hike out we crossed paths with a guy walking his dog. "There are trout in there?" he asked when seeing us with rods and waders. "Not today there aren't," I shot back with a smile. But I was, of course, lying. I had read on the internet a student report looking at the genetic variation of the brook trout in Location Number 1 compared to brook trout from western mass, so I knew that there were indeed trout in there. And if Dog Guy had done his research, he would have known that too, but I wasn't going to give him any freebies...

We arrived at Location Number 2 after a brief drive west. This spot was quite close to my house in Stow, maybe 15 minutes away, so I had high hopes that it might produce. It was located relatively close to a major road and there was a hot dog stand in the parking lot of the town park that we would use to access the creek. I wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not. This location had previously been a pond that was created through the damming of a cold water stream. The dam had been removed three years ago, after standing for over 100 years, to restore habitat and allow the stream to flow freely down to the Nashua River. Clark and I were fishing the area where the pond used to be, which had now become a field with a small meandering stream and some very deep cut banks. There was a little more water here than at the first location and it was a bit easier to fish. The stream itself looked very fishy, but I tempered my expectations given that this was the middle of the winter, after all. Native trout are rare around these parts and who knows if they are hungry end of December. Clark suggested a hot dog fly, given the hot dog stand nearby. I when with a white wooly bugger, and Clark an olive one. We worked our way up the stream, fishing it with the buggers similar to how I fish the trout streams on cape cod, sending the streamer way downstream than slowly bringing it back. Many productive spots were tested with no luck. After about an hour of fruitless effort, Clark got a bite. the fish struck short, but came back on the next cast, and Clark made him pay.
A wild brook trout, savagely impaled in the back, by a savage angler. We had successfully found an eastern mass trout stream! Clark would get several other short strikes out of his honey hole before the bite shut down. I would ply the waters without success, but nonetheless pleased with what we had encountered. 

As our time grew shorter, we worked our way down stream back towards the parking lot. I noticed out of the corner of my eye, an off white object partially obscured by mud. Closer inspection revealed a dead snapping turtle. I quickly beckoned Clark. Flipping over the carapace revealed a relatively well preserved shell without much stink or rot. I mentioned during Clark's wedding that he is a collector of artifacts, and while he was initially reluctant to take this shell, the fact that he already had a snapping turtle skull preserved at home made this potential acquisition too desirable to pass up. The shell was collected and brought to his vehicle for a trip back the the Newton processing facility. We shed our waders and did the only thing that seemed appropriate at that point. We hit up the hot dog stand. The proprietor asked us how we made out with the fishing. I told him Clark got one and missed a few others. He seemed surprised that we only caught one fish and suggested that next time we work downstream rather than upstream. Duly noted, sir. I quietly thought to myself, "Sometimes the internet can get you 95% of the way to where you want to go, but it takes a local hot dog vendor to fill in the missing pieces..." 

I plan to go back to this Location Number 2 creek soon, but I have 3 other spots to try first. The search for wild brookies continues... Meanwhile, Clark is creating his art. I look forward to seeing the final product!