Small Wonder, Middle Georgia’s Shoal Bass

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By Justin Pickett
THE SETTING SUN IS WARM AT MY BACK AS I STAND AT THE REAR OF MY JEEP.
I slip on my guard socks and wrench down on my boots until I’m happy with the fit. No need for waders today. The deep south humidity is smothering as I place my Buff around my neck. I dig through the mess that is my gear bag, and pull out my reel and place it on my six weight rod. I’m anxious as I slip the fly line through the guides, but I know that haste often does not lead to happiness. “Slow it down, take your time,” I remind myself.
I peer into my fly box, looking at all of its different inhabitants. Flies I’ve either bought, tied, found, or that have been gifted to me. The colors, the variety of materials. The unique purpose each pattern serves. There are several flies that have not so much as kissed the water, and a select few that have some serious frequent flyer miles. I don’t know why I stare for so long. It’s almost comical. I knew what fly I was going to fish with before I left the house.

I smirk and shake my head as I grab and inspect my go-to fly. It’s a simple fly, but a deadly one. It is a variant of an old, tried and true pattern. The materials reside around a size #4 streamer hook and are dark olive in color. The free flowing, marabou tail has just a bit of flash added to aide in piquing the interest of the fish that I seek. The body is wound with hackled feathers, and within the body are several rubbery legs, protruding from each side just before the nickel conehead. Ah, that’s where the life of this fly exists. The long, webby schlappen and the speckled tentacles breathes this fly to life. It is not prey. It is a seeker, and find, it does. My quarry just can’t seem to resist it once it is swung through their space. Add a little dash of confidence and a pinch of mojo, and how could one go wrong? 

As I look over the bridge I can see fish rising, splashing at the surface each time they take a mayfly that has perilously drifted into their feeding lanes. Topwater isn’t my game plan though. The river is running at the perfect flow, just a touch high, and that’s just how I like it. I know this is going to be a great evening. The “magic hour” is approaching as I cinch down on my loop knot and hang my fly on the hook keeper. I set my drag. I grab my sling pack and clip my hemostats to the shoulder strap. I check again to make sure that I have my fly box and the few tippet spools that I need.

For those that fish within its banks, this location is endearingly known as “The Promised Land.” It is a

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Stream Etiquette, Two Stories About How To Share The Water

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TWO EXPERIENCES IN TWO DAYS LEFT ME WITH TWO VERY DIFFERENT FEELINGS.

I spent a couple of days fishing in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago. A dear friend came in from Colorado and gave me the chance to share some of our eastern rivers. We had two close encounters with other anglers which proved to be lessons in stream etiquette. One a great example of how to share the water, the other not so much.

Stream etiquette is often complained about but seldom taught. What’s expected on the river changes from place to place but there are some simple ideas of respect and tolerance that are universal. If you’re not sure what’s cool and what’s not, I hope these two examples are helpful.

ENCOUNTER #1

My buddy and I arrive at a favorite piece of water with about an hour and a half of light left. The run is down in a gorge and we inspect it from above before hiking down. There’s no guarantee that it hasn’t been recently fished but no one is there now, so we head to the water. We are both fishing tenkara rods and my buddy is ready to fish but I want to make a fly change before fishing this new spot. I line up across from the first pool and start rigging while my buddy heads to the next pool upstream. Just then another angler rounds the corner and calls out. He has hiked up from down stream and was out of sight when we inspected the water.

To my mind, this is his water. As I see it,

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It’s Good To Be The Hero…I Guess?

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By Louis Cahill

Everybody wants to catch the big fish.

The skiff glides over the flat calm water, running from the dark of night into the blue and pink Rorschach test of the coming dawn. Every few minutes Jessie Regestor, our guide, kills the throttle and makes a hard turn when a big push of water breaks the perfect symmetry ahead. The lagoon is full of life, including a good number of sleeping manatees, wakened by the whirring propeller.

This is my first trip to Mosquito Lagoon. I likely would not have taken the time to fish, the day before the IFTD show in Orlando, if my buddy Johnny had not invited me. There are few folks I enjoy sharing a boat with as much and with him running two successful fly shops, we don’t get to do it enough. I’m always excited to see new water and, of course, I’ve heard all of the stories about how educated the lagoon redfish are. I’m looking forward to a challenge.

I live near the coast, so I insist the guy from Colorado take the first shift on the bow. The sun is just creeping up so we pole an edge looking for pushes and tails. Johnny gets a couple of shots but they aren’t easy ones and he’s met with the response we’ve been told to expect. Refusal. He makes a few more perfect presentations without a hookup and puts me on the bow.

Not long after, Jessie spots a group of tailers directly in the glare of the morning sun. He takes his time and poles us into position where we have the sum from our left, where I have good visibility and can make a cast without my line making a shadow over the fish. This is the first time Jessie and I have fished together but I’m already a fan. That kind of strategic fishing gets results.

These fish are all big, but a couple of them are downright beasts. Their big tails waving like fans at country church in August. I make a couple of casts, which go ignored, before putting the fly right in front of one of the better fish. The fish sees it and turns on it. I strip short and quick as the fish moves but the line comes tight on something small. A ladyfish has cut him off and grabbed my fly. I horse the little guy out of the water and go for the hook but he’s swallowed it.

“Give him to me,” Johnny says, reaching for the fish with his left hand, pliers in his right.

The big fish is still happy, doing headstands about fifty feet off the bow. Johnny gets my fly back and I make another cast. Perfect presentation, except the lady fish had trashed my leader and the fly sailed away on the first false cast. I land an empty leader in front of the fish and let go with some colorful language.

“Give me your leader,” Johnny calls from behind me.

He pulls a fly out of my box and ties it on. I don’t even look at it. I’m watching the big tail, keeping track of the fish. When he hands me the fly I see what he’s chosen. It’s an experiment I tied after a couple of beers. Something I thought was genius at the vise and later viewed with scepticism. I’d never had enough confidence to fish it.

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Taming Your Buck Fever

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You’ve stumbled upon a sexy piece of water to find a big ‘ol trout feeding in the tail of the run.

It’s one of the biggest trout you have ever seen. The one that sends chills down your spine. Without a second’s hesitation you rip line from your reel and begin your back cast as you stare intently at this fish moving side to side in the current. You judge your distance as best as you can in the moment and you fling your flies behind you… And this is where things typically start to go wrong. Did you get tangled in a tree limb behind you? Or worse, did you catch some of the Rhodo creeping over the water on the far bank? Or maybe you just made a bad cast and piled your line up, right on top of the trout that is now hunkered back under the undercut bank? If not, then that’s great! But, the vast majority of us tend to get ourselves into trouble when we are faced with such a situation.

Buck fever is the damnedest thing. It still happens to me, and will probably continue to plague me. It happens to all of us. We’re having a great day, fishing away, casting smoothly, and we’re aware of what’s going on around us. Then we catch sight of the fish that haunts our dreams, and that adrenaline immediately hits our bloodstream. Suddenly, it’s as if we’ve morphed into a raging monkey swinging a football bat. We forget where we are, flies sling wildly through the air, and we stumble over every little pebble. We even bury 3/0 hooks into our backs. It’s a wonder that we don’t completely drown ourselves sometimes. As insane as this can get sometimes, it’s also completely normal.

Normal as it may be, here are a few tips to keep you grounded and put together so you can make your best presentations when they really count:

Stop! : Slow down grasshoppa! You feel that tingly feeling rushing over your body? That’s called adrenaline and it’s a monster. It will ruin the best of casters. Now is not the time

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Posture Matters For Fly Casting

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How many times did your mother tell you to stand up straight?

Well, I’m guessing she wasn’t a casting instructor. Almost every time I work with anglers on their casting, we end up talking about posture. I realize that fishing is a leisure activity, but fly fishing at least, is also an athletic activity and like anything athletic, posture matters. Better posture means better casting and that means catching more fish.

Here are a few basic tips for fly casting posture.

By far the most common problem I see in folks struggling with their casting starts with their knees. If you’ve ever stood up in a wedding, you’ve likely gotten the advice from the preacher about locking your knees. It’s apparently not uncommon for folks who lock their knees during a long ceremony to keel over like a drunk.

It makes sense; you have no real balance or control over your body when your knees are locked straight, but I can’t tell you how many folks I see trying to cast a fly rod stiff-legged. Even after I point it out, everyone is resistant to bending their knees when casting. I think they just feel silly, but would you feel silly bending your knees to hit a golf ball, or a baseball? What about throwing a pitch or shooting a basket? Would you take a shot at a big buck with your knees locked? Of course not. I can’t think of any sport you’d approach with you knees locked straight. Don’t try to cast that way either.

Bending your knees gives you solid balance and engages the powerful muscles in your core. This will give you better control of the rod and line, and add power to your cast. Having a firm stance is a huge help in making the all-important hard stop in the casting stroke.

This is never more important than when

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Cool Shots at Bonefish

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WHAT MAKES A REWARDING BONEFISH TRIP.

It’s hard to fly off to an exotic location for a week of fishing without having a goal, or at least some expectations. The first can be dangerous and the second disastrous. Still, one or the other is generally present on a fishing trip and the more the trip costs, the higher they usually are.

I’ll never forget my first bonefishing trip. My expectations were to actually see a bonefish and my goal was to not make a complete ass of myself when I did. (It’s good to have goals, right?) That trip did so much more than exceed my expectations. It was an awakening of sorts and the beginning of a life long obsession.

On subsequent trips I adjusted my goals. I wanted to catch a lot of bonefish. I wanted to catch big bonefish. I wanted to increase my hookup ratio. I wanted to catch bonefish on my own. I wanted to develop my own fly patterns. Eventually I just wanted quality fishing with good friends. One by one, all of those things went in the done column and I kept going bonefishing.

There’s not a thing on that list that I don’t still enjoy doing. Who doesn’t want to catch a lot of fish, or a big fish, or have a great day with a good friend. With the exception of the friend however, they all become less important with time. Most days all I really need is to stand on the bow and glide across a beautiful flat.

So what makes a day of bonefishing exceptional?

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Fly Fishing Bass Ponds 102

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UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENT TYPES OF STRUCTURE AND HOW TO FISH THEM

I promised everyone I’d write a Fly Fishing Bass Ponds 102, if people showed enough interest from my 101 post. I was blown away from the emails and comments that flooded in, after the first post went live. I covered quite a few topics in the first post but here’s a few more tidbits of information for all you warm-water fly fishing junkies out there.

As a little kid, I was a bass fishing maniac. A good friend of my Father’s fished a lot of tournaments for fun and he took it upon himself to take me under his wing, and teach me the skills I’d needed to become a proficient bass fisherman. One of the greatest things he did during his mentorship was take me to several professional bass fishing seminars. On several different occasions, I had a front row seat to listen to Hall of Fame bass fishing legends like Bill Dance, Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn, and Larry Nixon. Notepad and pen in hand, I wrote as fast as I my fingers would move as the pros talked about how they consistently caught bass. It was at these seminars that I learned the behavior of bass and how to catch them. If you want to improve your warm-water fishing, I highly recommend attending a seminar in your area. Most are reasonably inexpensive, and If you don’t walk away with more knowledge afterwards, you either have an ego that needs to be checked, or you weren’t listening. Most of what you’ll find the professionals talking about is catered towards fishing large lakes, but almost all of the information can be converted and used for fishing on bass ponds.

One recurring theme I noticed is that everyone of those bass fishing legends talked in great detail about how important it was to understand and locate structure. Talking about bass structure is no different than me talking to my clients about reading trout water. Both are critical for anglers, because it allows them to quickly locate hotspots, but more importantly, it allows anglers to distinguish productive water from unproductive water. Structure is anything in the water that fish are drawn to that allows them to live comfortably and feeding efficiently. Structure serves two purposes for bass. One, it provides habitat that becomes a magnet for their forage food, and bass always live close to their food sources. Two, it provides highly efficient ambush points for bass to camouflage themselves so they can feed easily. Structure can be above the surface, on the surface or below the surface. Just remember that there’s two main types of structure. The first is cover, such as lily pads, weed beds (ex. hydrilla or millfoi), overhanging foilage along the banks, docks or floating or submerged wood cover. The second form of structure is irregularities of the bottom and composition of the water you’re fishing. Examples of this would be creek channels, flats adjacent to deep water, edges (sand or mud bottom substrate changing to rock or deep weed beds meeting open water). If you’re lucky enough to ever find both types of structure together you’ve hit the jackpot. It should be loaded with a high concentration of bass, and should also hold fish pretty much year round. Search out, locate and spend your time focusing on fishing these two types of structures, and you’ll eventually find success. Again, this concept is just like trout fishing, where I instruct my clients to pass over empty or dead water and search out prime habitat that provides trout what they need to survive. The only time structure can be thrown out the window is when bass are chasing baitfish out in open water. It’s not really a problem in bass ponds though, because there’s usually not enough water available, but keep it in mind, if you’re fishing larger water in a boat, and you see bait fish activity on the surface and sporadic topwater bites, it should be a clue that bass are chasing baitfish. However, even in this scenario, there’s a good chance structure will be located near by because bass use it to corral and concentrate the schools of baitfish to feed on them more efficiently. In ponds bass usually corral forage food to structure or to the banks.

Aquatic Vegetation
Generally, there’s two kinds of aquatic vegetation you should locate and fish. The first type are weed beds that root from the bottom and grow to the surface, forming mats. Examples of this kind of aquatic vegetation would be lily pads, hydrilla or milfoil. You’ll want to be fishing fly patterns here that have good weed guards so you can retrieve your fly without snagging or picking up vegetation every cast. I focus first on presenting my fly to the edges of the surface vegetation, where the weeds stop and the open water begins. After I do that, I’ll then cover the vegetation with follow up presentations inwards. Working my way farther and farther into the vegetation, with each consecutive cast. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, that just because the weeds are thick that the bass can’t see your fly well enough to eat it. I’ve caught some of my largest bass on ponds in places like this. I’ll never forget a nine pound bass I landed, that busted through a solid foot of hydrilla to eat my fly. There’s no way it could have seen my fly, but it utilized its inner ear and lateral line together and that allowed it to pickup enough subtle high and low frequency vibrations to track my fly in the water, just like state of the art radar or sonar equipment. Lastly, look for openings or pot holes in surface vegetation mats. Work your fly over the mat and when you get to the open spot, let it rest or sink into the hole. Bass often will hold close to the locations, but it’s also one of the few spots you can present your fly below the vegetation in these areas, and that will allow you to get your fly closer to the bass and increase your chances of hooking up. My two favorite flies for fishing surface vegetation are weedless frog patterns and long weedless worm style flies (long zonker or palmered chenille flies). One main tying material I use for these worm patterns are wide shoe lace strings that you can purchase at your local sporting goods or foot locker store. They usually have them available in most colors, even fluorescent and chartreuse. One day I’ll showcase the fly pattern on the blog. For now, hopefully it will spark enough interest for you to experiment tying a similar version yourself.

The second form of aquatic vegetation you’ll run into is deep water weeds. You won’t be able to see it but you’ll notice tidbits of it fouled on your fly after retrieves. They usually are found in five to ten feet of water. Sometimes more or less depending on how clear or muddy the water is. Theres always a little space between the weeds and the bottom, and that’s where the bass like to hold. A tungsten cone head long worm style fly does a great job of working through the grass without picking it all up. It’s tedious fishing, but there are times when the bass will be concentrated in this deep water vegetation on ponds and you’ll find great success if you

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What Cataracts Have Taught Me About Seeing Fish

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There’s more to spotting fish than having good eyes, so don’t assume you can’t see them.

I’m used to being told I have good eyes. Among anglers, that means the ability to spot fish. In truth, I have never had good eyes. I’ve worn glasses my whole life and had to remember where I put them at night because I couldn’t find my glasses, without my glasses. Thanks to the great prescription program at Smith Optics, I’ve always had good fishing glasses and could see well enough. It wasn’t until I developed aggressive cataracts, last year, that I really started to struggle.

It’s no secret that I do a lot of bonefishing. They don’t call bonefish the ghosts of the flats for no reason. Their natural camouflage makes them very difficult to see. When I started losing my sight, my greatest fear was that I would no longer be able to spot bonefish. This fear only got worse in the weeks following my first lens replacement surgery. My vision was pretty poor at first and even now, a month past my second surgery, it isn’t what I’d like. I’m confident that it will get to where I want it, but when I headed to Abaco for bonefish, I was pretty nervous about how I would perform.

It turns out I did pretty good. It was a huge relief to see my first bonefish, and even better to hear, “good eyes,” when I spotted a fish before my guide. Still, my new eyes are not what they should be and it taught me a few things about what it means to see fish. I see plenty of anglers give up on the idea that they will be able to see fish before they cast to them. If that sounds familiar, here are a few things to think about when you’re looking for fish.

You can actually find fish with surprisingly poor visual acuity.

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Dreaming of Steelhead

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Not epic, fish hoisting, hero shoting, steelhead fishing but, ass backwards, pointless, penitent steelhead fishing. Swinging tiny flies on floating lines in the turbid, chocolate waters of spring run off (and this is my favorite part) in Colorado’s Black Canyon. If you’re not a steelheader, I’ll break this down for you C.G. Jung style.

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Eye Surgery Update #7

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Who’s ready for some good news?

Surgery number seven was a success. My Retina is stable and, so far, no complications. I’m 17 days post-op today and the doctor gives me a thumbs up. If everything goes well just one more surgery. This is the best news we could hope for.

For now my job is just to take care of myself, be healthy, and try to get back in shape a little while I can. We will reevaluate in February and, if nothing has changed, schedule surgery number eight. The goal of the next surgery is to remove the silicon oil, put in my eye to stabilize the retina like a cast. This procedure is not without risk. Nothing is when it comes to your eyes. The doctor judges a one in twenty chance that my retina could detach again, most likely on the operating table. If that were to happen, we’d be back to square one with limited options. I feel very positive though. I have absolute confidence in my doctor and my body feels like I am healing and getting stronger. I really feel like I’ve turned a corner.

Removing the oil from my eye will have a couple of benefits. There will be some visual improvement, though it will be modest. My macula is pretty much shot so 20/200 vision is about as good as I can expect. I will however, hopefully, see two big improvements. The optical index of the oil causes double vision, especially at close distance. That should be gone once the oil is removed and my brain gets used to the new signal. The other big change relates to the condition of the oil. With time, the oil emulsifies, becoming cloudy with more and more bubbles in it. Right now it’s kind of like a snow globe. If I hold still, with my head vertical, it clears up reasonably well. If I look down or move around a lot, it looks like I have a piece of masking tape on my glasses. I try not to complain, but it is very annoying. That should disappear too.

The big benefits to the oil removal are more related to my general health. In time, the oil will drive up my eye pressure causing glaucoma. That’s a when, not an if. If that happened and my retina were not stable, I’d be between a rock and a hard place. Basically, glass eye territory. That’s my biggest motivation. There is another issue

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