Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mission Accomplished: in a new Towee Skiff

I stood at the boat landing sipping my coffee and looking at the beautiful day.  Sunny and promises of 70 degrees for early March brought a smile to my face.   I heard a truck pulling up to the landing and I turned to see a Carolina Blue Towee skiff rolling into the parking lot.  This would be the first fishing voyage of the new Towee and my buddy Merrit Brady was beaming like a new father.    Towee guide tested Skiffs are awesome boats, perfect for skinny water in the marsh or floating the rivers in inland for Muskie and trout.    At 16 feet long, the Towee Calusa is my dream boat.  Small, easy to handle, stable as all get out, and maneuverable, a 20hp outboard makes it fly down the river.  Once in your favorite spot, it is a dream to pole along quietly looking for coppery quarry.   Like standing on a dock, these little boats provide big boat stability and comfort.  They are hand built and finished in McMinnville, Tennessee by my friend  Capt. Todd Gregory and his crew of master craftsmen, all expert boat builders.  I fell in like with Towee the first time I saw them and fell hopelessly in love once I actually saw one up close and got to fish in it.  Now, we have a goal to achieve, Merrit’s new boat needs a redfish in it.

A happy new owner and is Carolina Blue Towee Calusa
 Merrit had a stipulation.  His first fish in the new boat had to be on the fly and on a fly HE tied.  We ran down the river and into a creek.  I put him up front and began to pole through the grass hoping to see a tail but looking for laid up fish.  We poled around, across and through the flats and back out to the river.  Merrit knew of a spot a buddy, a guide, told him about.  We made the move and got settled.  Merrit hopped up on the bow and I ran the back of the house.  Merrit is a Chef, and a dang good one at that, so I knew he needed some “front of the house” love.   As we made our way down the grass edge we didn’t see anything.  No bait, no fish.  Then it all changed.  I saw ripples form a pocket but wasn’t sure if it was a redfish, a little farther along and then Merrit saw it too, a big boil in the same spot.   Like a surgeon, he dropped the fly, HIS fly right next to the grass near where we saw the boil.  He let the fly sink a little, then one small slow strip and BAM!  The line twitched and he set the hook low and to the right.  The game was afoot!



 Merrit Played the fish like a pro.  He let him run when he wanted to and gained line back when he could.  The Towee was so easy to maneuver around to keep him pointed at the fish and the entire time the boat never tipped, these things are Rock Solid!   Merrit finally got the fish close to the boat and I was able to grab the fish and hand it to Merrit.   As I hoisted the fish up we both whooped and yelled!  Mission Accomplished.   First redfish in the new Towee, On a fly rod and on a fly HE tied.  After some brief photos, we released the fish to fight another day and started looking for another one.

The Mission Accomplished Fish
 If you would like to see the Towee skiffs you can check their web site out HERE,  and if you are in need of the services of, in my opinion, the best chef in Charleston, you can contact Merrit Brady at the Pampered Palate Web site click HERE.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tails

It’s almost time.  I can taste it, it is so close.  If I close my eyes for a second I see them. Tails, Beautiful coppery redfish tails.  I see tails at night when I dream.  I look ahead at the tides and see when the water should be warm enough and when it should start.  I have marked my calendar, I have planned sick days, I have reloaded fly lines, tied new flies, built new leaders and greased the reels.   I can barely contain myself.  Tails, tails tails… I am ready.


photo © Ryan Rice 2013

The water is still a little cold and the crabs are still hiding but they are there.  Redfish in the grass are an obsession.  The stillness of the flooded marsh broken by a coppery tail flipping through the surface makes my heart pound faster.  It makes my hands shake.  A thousand thoughts fly through my head, from my fly selection, the distance to the fish and everywhere in between.    I live for this.  I feel I am more fortunate than most of my fellow Lowcountry anglers.  They own their own boats and fish all the time.  They rack up double digits worth of fish on a weekend.   Many are like me, but for some of them it is “just another redfish”, and I feel sorry for them.

I have caught thirty-six redfish on the fly.  I have hooked and lost tenfold that amount, but of the ones I landed and held in my hands, I remember every one of them.  I started salt water fly fishing in 2006 but did not really put down the conventional gear and dedicate myself to the long rod until 2010.  Some of my fish have been little pups or rats, and my best so far has been thirty-one inches long.  Every single one has made my hands shake and a grin so big cross my face I could barely stand it.  Everyone is special to me and a fish I earned.  I hope I never lose this feeling, I hope every time I see a redfish I get the same heart pounding, shaking hands, sweaty palm reaction.

There are times where I walk the marsh and see tails and never even cast.  I just love watching them, learning, following them, seeing what they do.  There are times when I cast and cast and they never eat.  Did I do something wrong?  Did they not see my fly?  Was it close enough?  You never know.  Maybe it was just not time to eat for that fish, maybe I AM just a spastic nerfbag who can’t fish.  I don’t doubt myself for long though.

Then there are the times when I see a tail, I move closer and get the right line, make my cast and drop the fly and there is a moment of stillness.  A heartbeat goes by, a second one; I know this because I can clearly hear the pounding in my ears, then the water explodes and for a second there is doubt until the line comes tight and the fight is on.   As the line slips by and onto the reel and the drag starts to sing the rod goes up, bends in a beautiful arc and holds more tension on the fish.  The run slows and I start to reel line back.  Most of the time the line pulled out is just the fly line, but every so often you find the fish, that mean one that runs so hard and you see your backing.  These are the one we all seek.  The back and forth of the fight can go one for what seems like hours, or even days, but truthfully it usually lasts only a handful of minutes.  As you put your hand under your prize and lift it out of the water, the feeling of accomplishment is awesome.   Grins and high fives abound if you are with friends and grins and amazement abound if you are alone.  Either way it’ll put a smile on your face.

Soon the water will warm up.  Soon the tails will begin again.    Soon I will be walking the marsh again looking for my next fix of the most powerful legal drug on the planet for me.  Soon.

Thank you to Ryan Rice for the AWESOME photo.  I can never put my fly rod down long enough to shoot tails.   If you would like to see more of his great photography or even buy some to grace your walls, check out flyline media on Face book or shoot me a message and I will get you in touch.  As always check out the Lowcountry Fly Shop  for all you r fly fishing needs in Charleston.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Southern Gentleman



A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I met a man through a fishing club.  He was a river guide and kayak fished like I do so we immediately had a connection there.  Through messages and sharing our wisdom of fishing, he sharing the secrets of river bass and I the little knowledge of redfish on the flats I have, we became good friends.  We spoke often and learned the names of each other’s family members.  We both have three beautiful daughters, and our beautiful brides that love us and take care of us.  We both live in the South and even though I was not born here I feel a kindred to the Southern lifestyle and feel more comfortable here in my adopted home.  Most of my life, well the parts I lived in the U.S., was in the Southern parts of the country.  I always felt at home here, yet when I visited up North I felt out of place, just uncomfortable.  No matter where I was stationed, all my friends were from the South and we always got along like long lost brothers. 

 I finally returned to South Carolina, my true home, and settled in.  I came back to my favorite place I called Home and to where I was assigned in the military.  Then came the day I got my orders for what turned out to be my last deployment.  I sent out the e-mails to my closest friends and told them of my departure and that even though I was headed to the desert I would still be fishing, fly fishing Baghdad to be exact.  All of my friends wished me well but one of my friends, the man I write about here, went an extra step.  He contacted people he knew at a rod manufacturer and had a beautiful 6wt travel rod sent to me so I’d have a good rod to help pass the time and keep myself sane.   

I packed up my rucksack and headed East to Iraq for at least six months.  The time passed quickly thanks to my fly rods and fly tying stuff.  Then as I was getting low on materials I got a beautiful package from my friend.  Inside was a trove of tying materials, perfect for what I was catching.  Everything was in there, hooks, feathers, thread, a new bobbin, deer hair, it was the best Christmas present I could have hoped for, and then I looked in the bottom of the box and there sat three cards all hand drawn by tiny hands.  They all wished me a Merry Christmas and thanked me for my service.  As I sit here typing and remembering how I felt that day, I feel a tear welling up.  Outside my family I had never had a stranger, for all purposes, ever think of me and go so far out of their way.  I felt more proud to serve my country that day knowing I was not only doing it for my family but I was really making a difference in one other families life and they really appreciated it.   I picked up the phone and called my wife that evening, my weekly morale call, and as I told her about what they had done for me she told me that she had received a gift card for a restaurant for her and the girls but didn’t know who it was from.   We both sat in silence for a little bit.  Both of us touched but the gesture and the caring.  

In 2010 I retired from the U.S. Air Force after 22 years and my Brother here, traveled to Charleston to attend my ceremony and to offer the prayer at the opening of the event that closed that chapter that had been so much of my life.  His baritone voice carried through the room, his voice and presence commanded the room and every ear was tuned to him.  At any time, I can pick up the phone and he is there to answer my questions, share a story and if needed I know he would jump in his truck, come a runnin at 3AM with a shovel and not ask one single question if I needed him.  

The definition of a Southern gentleman is, and I use his eloquent words,  “The true Southern Gentlemen is as follows:  A devout man of faith.  Full of love. He loves his wife and children. He cares deeply for them. Is involved with them and shows his affection thru his interactions with them. He goes to his girls dance rehearsals and etc. The boys baseball and football games. All the various activities children have in their lives he does his best to be at and to show his support. He stands by and cherishes his wife. He is faithful and loving. Kind and caring. He helps in any way he can.  He’s an outdoors man.  He smells of gun oil, tobacco, and brown liquor.  He is well dressed. This does not mean the most expensive clothes or accessories. This means he dresses appropriately for where he is.  He has a sense of history and place. He may not live in the town of his birth anymore but he identifies strongly with it.  The Southern Gentlemen is becoming a thing of the past. Kept alive by only a few. You can find them on Sunday’s in the local church. Sitting quietly with their families. Everyone neatly dressed and in line. He’s loved by those who take the time to get to know him. Respected and admired. A pillar of the community.”  I have found that the basic characteristics are “moderation, self control, duty, sincerity, consideration of others, courage, special regard for ladies, courtesy and Honor.” 

 I have seen all of this in my friend.   I guess the reason I am writing this is to really thank him.  Every time I see him, talk to him or just see photos of him and his family, he makes me proud to call him a friend.   I am proud to consider myself “Southern” and I am blessed to have someone like him that I call Brother.  He is a personal Hero of mine and with events in my life, I read his words again and again and remind myself of how I need to be.  I know this has very little to do with fishing but I respect and appreciate all he did and still does for me.  His name is James Pressley and he is one of the TRUE Southern Gentlemen I know.  Thank You James, for EVERYTHING. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Redington Vapen Red



Vapen, it just sounds cool. Pronounced “Vaw-Pin”, it is actually an old Norse word for weapon, and if you are hunting fish, this is a weapon you want in your arsenal. I am pretty darn sure if the Vikings had a few of these rods they would have been fishing more than pillaging England.   Redington has recently unveiled this rod at the IFTD show in Las Vegas and was awarded the best in show for this product.  The European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition handed the top prize in the fly rod category also, and after spending a little time with it I fully understand why. 

I was sent the Vapen Red to try out and see how I liked it.  The first thing about the Vapen Red that grabs your attention is the bright red handle.  As you wrap your hand around the handle, where traditionally cork would be, your hand encounters a very unusual feel for a fly rod.  It is softer than any cork, but still feels solid.  When your hands are wet it still allows you a solid grip on the rod without slipping and because of the material, a blend of unicorn skin and narwhal blood,  just kidding, the PowerGrip it is actually a new polymer that was created with the golf company Winn Grips, you don’t have to grip the rod as hard and makes casting a little easier.  Now I didn’t come to this immediately, at first it was weird and it took a little time to get used to it but once I did it really stood out as a very comfortable rod.  Don’t fret too much, for all you cork junkies out there the Vapen is also available with a traditional cork handle.   The Vapen uses a new cross-wrap technology that gives the blank a swirling effect and is a very sexy looking rod.  According to the website, “Redington’s new X-Wrap construction method involves wrapping one layer of super-high density carbon ribbon inside the blank and another counter-wrapped on the exterior surface. X-Wrap construction provides surprising power with little effort. The technology is so distinct you will actually see the difference in the blank. “   Coming in a well made, as usual, rod sock and a hard tube, the four-piece offering from Redington is a breeze to travel with.   

Casting the Vapen Red is a very pleasant experience.   The blank has a very nice action and while I was throwing big spun deer hair flies for bass or heavy crab patterns for redfish, this rod really came alive, especially when paired up with the RIO Bonefish Quickshooter line.   The rod had a weird feel, a good weird feel, at first and realized it didn’t have a lot of vibration to it.  I was concerned at first but the rod is still as sensitive as you need it to be.  The Vapen is still stiff enough to generate plenty of line speed and keep your loops tight; I was able to cast good distance with better than my usual accuracy.  Once I hooked a fish the rod handled them with ease.  A 4-lb largemouth put a good bend in the rod and even though I was fishing an 8-weight version of the Vapen, the tip was soft enough to feel every head shake as it tried to get the hook loose.   I switched up flies to a smaller streamer and caught a few bluegill on it.  Not as much fun but I was still able to feel the fish all the way down the length of the rod.    




The weather finally gave me a window for some salt water fishing where lightning wasn’t crashing and the wind was less then 20mph and I went looking for a redfish.  Our first spot we stopped the water was still just starting to rise up and get to the grass flats we were going to stalk some redfish on.  I casted a spawning rattle shrimp fly I recently developed into the creek and began stripping the fly back.  With the Vapen, I was able to drop my fly 50-60 feet easily and where I wanted it.  As I worked my fly up the small creek I let it hit the bottom and was dragging it along and I was able to feel the bumps and clicks as it made its way over the oysters and mud.  A decent sized lady fish grabbed the fly and after a few seconds was off.  It felt good to feel a salty fish pull back for a change.  We walked around and I found a nice spot where the water started to fill in and I set up and waited.  As I scanned the grass looking for the tell tale tail,( yes I just wrote that) of a redfish happily eating I slowly stripped my fly line and watched.  The water rose slowly and I saw baitfish moving in and then I saw kinda what I was looking for.  The gentle breeze was rocking the grass softly to the left and I saw a small clump take a hard dive to the right, a few more inches and another clump dove right.  That wasn’t a mullet, for that was a redfish cruising.  It was kind of close to me so I softly stepped back a few steps and I saw the tail.  The blue edged coppery fin and the spot on the base lazily pushed through the grass.  This fish was close and I was in a bad spot, the Vapen is 9feet long and I needed to make a 6-foot cast.  I gently swung the Vapen to my right in a slow arc and dropped the fly about a foot ahead and to the right of the fish.  A second later there was a big swirl and I saw the fish starting to take off.  Dangnabbit, yes I actually said dangnabbit, I thought I spooked the fish, and then I noticed my fly line following the path the fish was taking.   Holy Monkey he ate the fly!  I dropped a quick strip set sweeping low and to my right and the fight was on.  As I brought up the Vapen to a higher angle to keep pressure on the fish he kept running through the grass and the rod bent over, the x-wrap technology did not disappoint.  As the fish ran and darted the Vapen just ate it up.  I started getting line back a little at a time and he ran again, it wasn’t a long fight but while he was running and the rod was bending I really felt that I could take on a tarpon with this rod.  I scooped up my prize and we made happy faces for the camera.  



The Vapen is a high quality weapon that throws long tight loops, is comfortable to carry, cast and fight a fish.  The Vapen Red ranges in size from 5-weight through 12-weight and will retail for $349.99 once available in August 2013.  The Lowcountry Fly Shop in Mount Pleasant (click here) will carry the rods locally.  So if you want to see for yourself swing by the shop next month and as soon as we get them in we’ll take out and let you cast it.  

Geochaching with the Garmin Oregon 650



Several years ago, my daughter, Chelsea,  found a container hidden near a rock in Colorado on one of our hikes.  Neither of us knew what we were looking at and we opened it.  There was a little notebook and some trinkets.   As I opened the book I read a little and realized we had stumbled onto a Geocache.   I had never heard of it before but we followed the directions in the notebook and signed our names and the date and Chelsea swapped one of her trinkets in her bag for one in the cache and we put it back where she found it.  Now that she is older we have taken up the game again and you’d be surprised how many geochaches there are to find in Charleston!  With our handy new Garmin Oregon 650 GPS Device we have had more fun and it has made our adventures much easier.

In essence, Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices, such as the Garmin Oregon 650. Players navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the Geocache hidden at that location.  These can range from a Micro, this size of a chapstick tube, all the way up to a lunchbox sized box or tube or even bigger.  The cache usually has a minimum of a log book but the small to large sized ones normally have items to trade.  The basic rule is, if you take something out replace it with something of equal or greater value.  In some of the caches, you might find what is called a “trackable”, this will have a serial number on it and you can log it on the website and see where it has been.  Since the game is played around the world, you never know where your find might have been.

The basic premise is, go to the website, www.geochaching.com, and register for the free account.  You can then search by your zip code and a map will show you all the caches near you.  You can then download the coordinates into your device and then the game is on!  Once you get close your GPS device, we have used iPhones before, the coordinates will guide you to the cache.   Now the coordinates may or not be spot on but the cache is usually pretty close to the numbers.  It takes a little looking to find them sometimes.  Non-geochacing players sometimes find the caches and take them or destroy them, while you are looking for a cache try not to make it very obvious, lest the cache get “muggled”.   Once you find the cache, you should sign the log book and make sure you go back to the website to log your find.  

Chelsea and I loaded up a few caches on our Garmin Oregon 650, and headed out to see if we could find them.  We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked so we settled on two.  As we arrived to the first location we navigated to the coordinates and looked around for a good long while.  We did not find the cache but this is a well known one and is prone to being muggled.  We decided to try again on another day and after grabbing some lunch at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivans Island, we headed to our second cache.  We parked and started our walk.  Once out of sight of people walking the trails, we turned on the Oregon 650, touched the Geochaching link, selected our cache and the screen immediately pointed us in the right direction.  We made our way down the trail and arrived at our coordinates.  We stopped and looked around.  As we started to spread out and look around I heard a squeal of delight and Chelsea’s face was lit up and she was pointing at a tree.  I made my way over and there it was!  We carefully removed it from its hiding place and opened it up.  We signed the log book and swapped out trinkets and carefully replaced the cache where we found it.  We have decided we are going to make our own Geocache and place it somewhere around Charleston, so you may be looking for ours one day.















Most devices these days have a geocaching feature built into them but recently I got my hands on a Garmin Oregon 650 to help me find caches around Charleston and anywhere else I may travel.  I have never been so impressed with a device.  This GPS is so easy to use I literally gave my old one away.  Working from a touch screen it is super easy to navigate and find what you need and the icons are easy to read even in sunlight.  Running on 2 AA batteries, it comes with two rechargeable ones, but will also run form alkaline batteries as well.  The three inch screen is easy to see and it even comes pre-loaded with topographical maps of the entire US including Alaska.  I was very surprised that is has a built in 8MP, autofocus camera with a flash that also doubles as a flash light.    If it gets dark you now have a back up flash light and the camera lets you document your adventure and finds.   I have used a lot of GPS devices in my day but this one takes the cake.  It is light yet powerful, and so simple to use.  Some of the older units take some getting used to and require the manual to really make it work.  This full color device is ready to go as soon as you take it out of the box.  I was literally able to take it out, turn it on and navigate to a cache mere minutes from my house before I came home and then looked at everything it could do.  Garmin has REALLY outdone itself this time!

Garmin offers an entire line of handheld GPS devices ranging in size, features and price.  There is one for everyone and all of them are equally easy to use.  There are several dealers here around Charleston, and you can also buy from the website at https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/index.ep .  Garmin offers not just handhelds for Geochaching but a vast array of devices for any kind of navigation  on land sea or air.  Check them out and start your own adventure!

Fishing for American Shad or the Tailrace Tuna



Just below the dam on the South end of Lake Moultrie is a stretch of water called the tail race canal. During the late winter and early spring the American Shad make their annual migration towards the lake and boats line up on either side to have a chance at catching a few Tail Race Tuna.



The American Shad, or Alosa sapidissima, are following the route they always do as these mostly salt water fish migrate upstream in fresh water to spawn. Most fishermen are looking to catch the big female shad or the “Roe Shad”, where the egg sacs are harvested and cooked. This is considered a local delicacy. The people I have talked to say you can eat them and they aren't bad but there are tastier fish to catch. American Shad are usually targeted with ultra-light spin fishing gear or on fly fishing gear, usually a 5wt or 6wt rod. The bait of choice is a curly tailed grub or a fly called a shad dart about a size-8 or size-6. A chartreuse wooly bugger will work too as long as it is weighted down. Any color will work for shad fishing as long as it is chartreuse.




For catch and release fishermen, like myself, the thrill of the fight of these scrappy fish is pretty exciting.  Long casts up current and letting your lure or fly sink towards the bottom are usually greeted with a sharp tug and then a hard fight.  American Shad like to stay low in the water column and if you are feeling bumps on the bottom, you are doing it right.   Once the shad make their way towards the surface they tend to jump and be very acrobatic.  They will make long runs back towards the bottom, like a tuna, hence the Tailrace Tuna moniker, and will put a lot of pressure on light tackle and will test your patience. 
My trip for some Tailrace Tuna started on a bright sunny afternoon when I met my fishin buddy Adam at the landing and we launched his boat.  As we headed up the canal we chatted about what we were about to do.  Adam and I have both shad fished before but we are far from experts.   We talked about our plan of attack and motored past the rail road trestle and began to see other boats.  As we approached the spot I had fished before with some success I saw there were about fifteen other boats lined up and fishing.   Our flats skiff, an East Cape Gladesman, was a little out of place among the jon boats, bass boats, and even a big pontoon boat.    We motored around and found a spot on the left side of the canal and set up.  Tossing the anchor and letting it stick allowed the boat to swing bow into the current and gave us a pretty stable location.    I grabbed my fly rod and began to cast and Adam did the same thing with an ultra-light spin-cast outfit.   As I made my casts of the double rig of heavily weighted flies I realized they were not getting down deep enough.  I added some split shot and still not enough.  As a last resort I added a skin-tip to the end of my fly line and even with this weight the water was moving too quickly to allow my flies to sink down far enough.  Adam made a few casts and had a bite, and after a few more casts had one hooked.  I reeled in my fly line and gave up on it unless the water flow slowed down.  Adam fought the fish just as he should have, gingerly but firmly but, as sometimes happens, it came loose.  They have very thin mouths, paper thin so you have to make sure you don’t horse the Shad or your lure or fly can easily rip out of the fish’s mouth. 
He made a few more casts and we talked about politics and fishing when his rod doubled over again and he was into another fight. 





He slowly held pressure while reeling in the Shad.  I grabbed my camera and waited for the jumps and flips but this Shad was camera shy and stayed down.   After a few more minutes of fight, I grabbed the net and scooped up Adams Prize.

 
We snapped a few photos and released the fish and set back to fishing.  We traded off the spinning rod and I took a few turns casting and had a few bites but landed no fish.  We watched the Ospreys fly over and the pelicans flock over to any boat that caught a fish looking for handouts.  The boats around us were catching a few fish here and there and some were having the same luck as we were.  It was getting late and we called it a day.
The Shad fishing should be good for a couple more weeks and from the people I spoke to at the landing it has been getting better.  So if you are looking for a great way to spend an afternoon, grab a buddy or two and head up to the Tailrace canal and get into your own Tailrace Tuna!!