Monday, June 7, 2010

Return to my youth...

Some of my earliest memories of fishing are of floating and fishing the Upper Illinois River in Eastern Oklahoma with my family. We owned a couple of acres of riverside property where we'd go to camp out, fish, and float the river throughout the summer. It was great times to say the least. There was one particular fish that sticks out in those memories, a fish that we called "brownies" aka the smallmouth bass. I'd entertain myself for hours catching them with my old Ugly Stick/Zebco 33 combo, chunking Mepps spinners into the deep holes.

Fast forward almost 20 years to a couple weekends ago and there I was doing the same thing, floating a small river in a canoe in pursuit of the fabled "bronze-backs". It had indeed been almost 20 years since I had last fished for, let alone caught, a smallmouth bass. I was super excited to say the least. The drawback was that Joey and I were going to do the float on Memorial Day weekend, not exactly the best timing. After a little research, we decided to float a small river (that will remain unidentified) that flows in the Elk River, in hopes that most of the weekend floaters would be on the Elk. We put in about 3 miles above the confluence with the Elk River with hopes of big smallmouth and very little floaters!

We decided to bring the spinning rods and conventional tackle along with our fly rods just in case the bite was slow on the fly and because trying to cast a sink tip line on a 7wt with a clouser could be sketchy in a canoe. This little creek we floated was freaking amazing. Crystal clear cool water with tons of sweet looking water that could possibly hold a toad of a smallie! Lots of lay-downs, boulders, and deep holes provided tons of spots to toss a lure or fly. We started with our spinning rods, Joey throwing a texas-rigged watermelon lizard and me throwing a 1/8 ounce chart. spinnerbait. We worked the canoe around a little gravel bar island with a nice backwater hole on one side and a deep slow run on the other side. A few minutes later I was hooked up with my 1st smallmouth in almost 20 years! I couldn't believe how hard these fish fight, its amazing! I was really really excited.

A little further downstream, Joey picked up this nice smallie as we worked a deep rock ledge from the canoe.

We continued our float down the river, picking up smallies along the way in all the likely spots. This little river was just loaded with fish, I was impressed. More excitement came about in the form of a downed tree that created some small "rapids" that we had to take the canoe through. I hadn't been in a canoe in a very long time and was still wary of being in such a narrow boat, so I was pretty nervous coming up to the downed tree. We lined up with it and just paddled hard through it...the ol' Buffalo canoe shot through the chute with no problems at all. I'm not going to lie, I was holding my breath the whole time. After that I was good to go...

We hadn't caught a fish on the fly yet at this point so we came to a nice stretch of river that would allow us to do some wade fishing, beached the canoe, and dug out the fly sticks. I tied on a brown/orange clouser and walked upstream to a small side-channel that cut behind the gravel island we'd beached the canoe on. This little channel wasn't much more than 6-8ft wide and just a few foot deep but Joey said the smallmouth will move up in there if there is cover and shade. At the mouth of the channel was a small rock ledge with a deep hole so I launched the clouser just above it and let the current carry it into the hole. After the clouser disappeared into the depths, I began stripping it back towards me which was followed by a hard strike! I set the hook and pulled a good smallmouth from the hole, my first on the fly rod!

We pulled several good smallies from that stretch of the river before shoving off to finish the last leg of our float. We finally started to see floaters coming down the river at this time and, as we approached the confluence with the Elk River, could hear all the yahoos screaming and yelling. It was at this point that we decided to pack it in and paddle our way through the masses to meet Joeys dad at the take out. As we paddled, we got to experience 3 of the biggest hatches you'll ever see on the Elk River...the rubber hatch (rubber rafts), the aluminum hatch (canoes), and the bikini hatch (the girls in the rafts and canoes). It was quite a circus on the river, people everywhere!! We pushed through the heavy hatches and made our way to the takeout to end the day...

I'm now hooked on float fishing for smallmouth. I hadn't had that much fun fishing in a very long time. Brought back so many fond memories of fishing with my family, especially my dad, who taught me how to fish. The smallmouth bass is an awesome game fish to say the least, whether caught on conventional or fly tackle. I can't wait to get back in a canoe and chase 'em!

I'm officially a river rat...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Crappy forecast, trash fish, and broken rods...

Now that Donny and Chance had given us solid proof that the stripers were in Tulsa, our group was pumped. We all checked gear and caught up on our chores at home during the week so we could have the whole weekend to fish. There was only one thing that could blow all of our plans apart – weather. In case you’re not familiar with Oklahoma weather, springtime is a mixed bag of rain and shine, hot and cold, and the always present threat of hail and tornadoes. Anything can happen, and the local weatherman’s forecast is to be taken with a grain (or spoonful) of salt. Saturday morning came upon us with a forecast of 90% chance of rain, and the ‘addict from Arkansas’ Joey Cloer was up around 4 a.m. to check the radar. With no signs of immediate doom on the screen, he was on the road with a quick wake-up call to Chance to spread the good news. We’re going fishing!

6:45 a.m. found us at Swift Park just below Keystone Dam. We had been hearing good things about the area for the past couple weeks, and while waiting for the water to drop at Zink we decided to scout it out. The water here was pretty wide and deep, so we geared up and headed downstream, scaling the rocky shoreline and dreaming of drift boats. The humidity this morning was around 112%, so about the time that sweat started pooling up in the bottom of our waders we were pretty relieved to come across a rocky point where the river narrowed a bit and looked fishable. After about an hour of casting all around the point and a pile of boulders out in the middle of the river we hadn’t got a bite from anything other than rocks, so we decided to pack it in and head down to Zink Dam.

When we arrived at Zink the water had dropped to a few hundred cf/s, so we were all pretty optimistic about finding some fish. There were plenty of people lining the banks near the dam fishing with lures or bait, so we worked our way quickly downstream to the area where Donny and Chance had caught their stripers. Lo and behold, Joey was the only one to hook up downstream, landing a couple of small drum. We waded back up by the dam to see if they were biting up there, and along the way Joey hooked into a couple more drum.

Once we had worked our way to the east side of the river we finally got some action. While perched on top of some rocks in order to avoid being knocked over by a herd of gar, I tied on a fly that I had bought just because I liked its name… the Thunder Chicken. Sure enough, on the third cast I set the hook on a nice bite and reeled in a 15” blue catfish. Never would have thought that I would catch one on a fly rod, but that just shows how much I know.

Just before we decided to call it a day, Cole hooked up and landed a nice hybrid. Finally, we had caught one of the fish we were after! Still, the fish had been slow to bite all day long, so we packed it in and headed for home.

Sunday morning found Donny, Chance, and I gearing up to try the Arkansas again, with yet another day forecasted for rain. Never the less, we waded in downstream of Zink and spread out along the area where Donny and Chance had landed their stripers the week before.

Within a few minutes we were getting bites, and all of a sudden my rod bent like I’d hooked onto the back of a go-cart! Line started shooting off of my reel as the fish made the first of many long runs. This was a striper for sure!

After about five minutes and a quick lesson on how to play big fish on a fly reel, my arms were burning as I landed my first striper on fly tackle. She wasn’t a monster, but she was still by far the biggest fish this newb has had on the end of his leader.

Shortly after I landed my fish, the hole played out (minus a channel cat that liked deceivers) and we started working our way upstream.

Donny and Chance tucked in close to the pillars in front of the dam and caught a few fish, while I had spotted a school of large buffalo and decided to give them a try. They were running shad right under the pedestrian bridge, but no matter what pattern I put in front of them none would bite. I did, however, manage to hook a nice sized moss rock. I tried to roll cast off of it in hopes of not having to wade right through the fish, and I heard a loud POP right next to my ear. It turns out that my shiny, brand new, only had it a week, first weekend on the water, 9’6” Albright GP 8wt. rod had snapped in half.* Well this put a damper on things, so after a short conference we called it a morning, hoping that the clouds would clear off and bring us better fishing in the afternoon.

The afternoon turned out to be beautiful with plenty of sun, so we got brave and wet-waded up and down the river. Yet again few fish were to be found, but we departed the Arkansas at dusk with plans of future fishing trips already working in our minds, some good memories, and a pretty cool photo or two…


*Long story short- even though I had only used the rod for a few hours and had only possessed it for less than seven days, Albright refused to back their product and bluntly told me that I would just have to buy another rod. Since, I have read numerous reports of bad customer service and outright rudeness on Albright’s behalf, and refuse to conduct any future business with them. I only post this for the awareness of other anglers in the hope that they can avoid this experience.