Tarpon

I’ve got a confession. When it comes to tarpon, I’m giant poseur. I tie flies for tarpon, I have books on tarpon and, with the exception of a flats boat, am completely outfitted to fly fish for tarpon. I know all the lingo. I know the places to fish. I know the time of year to fish those places. I know all about palolo worm hatch and the dates, tides, and moon phases in which it should occur. And I’m all talk.

I have jumped, not caught, but jumped, one tarpon in my life. And that was from a bridge. At night. While baitfishing. And it was a baby.

I managed to jump this tarpon on my first and only trip to the Florida Keys. My buddy Merlin and I went down there as a sort of therapy for the previous year that was filled with hospitalized children, divorce and house fires. Basically 2009 sucked real bad for the both of us and getting away from home for some serious fishing/drinking was what we decided would be the best course of action for our mental stability.

We didn’t have the money for a guide so the idea was to buy drinks for locals in every bar we could until we found someone willing to take us out. That didn’t work out due to high winds and us being drunken idiots, so we stuck to bridge fishing. Merlin doesn’t fly fish (and once told me that he wouldn’t start fly fishing until he got bored with actually catching fish), so baitfishing it was. This is how I found myself stuck into a 20 or 30 pound tarpon from a bridge one night.

That, coupled with the sight and sound of much bigger tarpon crashing bait, was the beginning of an obsession. When we left the Keys I was bound and determined to come back the next year and catch one of those fish on a fly rod.

The idea of hooking into a hundred pounds of thrashing silver scales and muscles and then making it my bitch had a lot of appeal to me. In my mind, tarpon became some sort of sea dragon and I was going to slay said dragon… figuratively.

I went into heavy research mode when I got back home. I learned everything I could about the silver king and how to catch them on the fly. I studied maps. I made plans. I bought myself a heavy rod, a good reel and tied dozens of tarpon flies. I was ready.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I never got back to the Keys. My big rod and boxes of tarpon flies are collecting dust. This spring is shot and the next is doubtful. But eventually I’ll get my chance to try and slay a dragon. And if I get beaten down, well at least I was there to be beat.

Fly Fishing isn’t Funny

For some reason my wife finds fly fishing/tying terminology hysterical. She says it’s because she can’t believe full grown men can say some of these things with no hint irony. After reminding her that women also say these things (and she considers herself a feminist, ha!), I like to tell her that I obviously married a thirteen year-old boy.

Here are some of the phrases she thinks are so funny (also, as a bonus, a term used in muzzle loading, another pastime of mine):

  1. Grizzle Cock Hackle- “You’re going to hack off your grizzled WHAT?!?! Hahahahaha!”
  2. Jungle Cock- Seriously? It’s a male jungle fowl. Come on… On the other hand there is the Urban Dictionary definition.
  3. Slot- As in “Try to get your fly in that tight little slot.” Now that I think about it, that really does sound kind of dirty.
  4. Box- As in “fly box“, “hook box“, “box canyon”, “Pandora’s box“. I know Pandora’s box isn’t a fly fishing term but my wife just finds the word box inherently funny.
  5. Deep Meaty Run- This is something my wife once read in a magazine I left in the bathroom. Since that day, every time I leave for a fishing trip she comments on how just want to leave the house so I can “put my jungle cock in a deep meaty run”.
  6. The Long Rod- Yes, the fly fishing community as a whole sometimes uses the term “long rod” instead of “fly rod”. On average a fly rod is longer than a conventional spinning or baitcasting rod, though, there are many variations in the length of particular fisherman’s rod.
  7. Smoke Pole- Another name for a muzzle loader. Yep, the gun is straight like a pole, you shoot it, smoke comes out. Then again, you can use this term as a verb.

The irony in all this; my wife hates Beavis and Butthead.

On Being Thankful

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. My wife, who is a wonderful, smart, beautiful woman (who also edits everything I post), is about twenty-seven months pregnant. My two children not currently residing in the womb of my awesome, intelligent, ect., ect., (edits everything) wife are pretty much feral. Everyone in the house has been swapping illnesses like they’re goddamn baseball cards. Every time I try to fish/hunt/go outside it ends in new and exciting forms of disappointment.

I miss saltwater. I miss Charleston’s food and weird flip-flops with formal wear attitude. I miss knowing where and how to catch any fish within thirty minutes from my home. I miss my woods. I miss all of my friends who would be considered alcoholics anywhere outside of Charleston, New Orleans or maybe Great Britain.

Those are my current problems. Those are the things I miss. Those are the things that have me currently annoyed/bummed out. And I’m thankful about it.

My problems are all first world problems. None of it matters. All of it will pass.

I have a home to live in, food to eat and a family to share them with.

My limbs haven’t been blown off in war.

I don’t have a lot to worry about when it comes to the birth of my next child.

I have public land to hunt and public water to fish. Hell, I can hunt and fish.

I have the skills to survive the up coming zombie apocalypse.

I could keep going, but you get the point. There are a infinite number of reasons for me to be thankful, unfortunately I spend so much time being grumpy and cynical it takes me a day longer than most to realize it.

 

Selling Flies: A New Approach

My wife got the newest J. Peterman catalog in the mail the other day. If your unfamiliar with the J. Peterman Company or only know it through Seinfeld click this link to get a description of what is basically a heavy flannel shirt or this link for a T- shirt. I don’t know about the rest of you but somehow this company really makes me want want to buy that $90 flannel shirt. Maybe I’m just a sucker for colorful prose.

Reading this catalog got me thinking about my online fly shop. I’ve sold, maybe, seven flies in the last year from this site. I was beginning to think that the lack of sales had something to do with the fact that Etsy, the site I sell through, maybe didn’t have a strong following of hardcore saltwater fly fisherman looking for durable, high quality flies. (Yes this is a blatant plug for my shop and no, I have no shame.) But after witnessing the power of the J. Peterman catalog it’s obvious to me that it’s my sales technique that’s lacking. So I’ve decided to try the J. Peterman approach for selling my flies.

Here’s a sample. Let me know what you think.

The Backcountry

His name was Dan. You could call him Daniel, but you wouldn’t enjoy the repercussions. Only his mother called him Daniel. He was the one to introduce me to the Toad.

We were fishing the backcountry close to No Name Key. Dan knew where the tarpon were “laid up”. Guides like Dan always did.

He spotted the tarpon off the starboard bow. I saw it as soon as Dan pointed in its direction, all six foot of it suspending motionless like some mythical maritime monster frozen in time.

I made my cast. My line unrolled in a tight loop, Toad trailing behind. My aim was perfect. The slightest twitch made the fly come alive. The flaring gills of the silver king showed me the fly wasn’t the only thing to come alive. I knew at that moment that the Toad was a modern classic.

Tied in South Carolina on a Varivas 2600V hook using Enrico Puglisi fibers and a tail of the finest Finnish raccoon fur.

Hook sizes: 2, 1 and 1/0

Color: Olive/Chartreuse

Price: $4.99

Teaching The Art of Fly Fishing ( and how I may ruin my friend forever)

I imagine that I’m the kind of fly fisherman that professionals in the industry dread the most. You know… the broke kind. I guess that’s not a completely fair statement, but I have never been able to afford the things the pros seem to suggest in all the fly fishing media I’m exposed to. I’ve never had a lesson of any kind and I’ve never been able to hire a guide. Growing-up, a fly rod was known as a “yuppie stick” and was used only rarely to cast poppers to bass and bream. Everything I know about fly fishing has been learned through reading, videos, and good old fashioned trial and error. So when an old friend of mine contacted me on facebook and asked if I would teach him to fly fish, I didn’t hesitate, “Hells yeah I’ll teach you.”

My friend is the one with facial hair and glasses.

I realized later what a huge responsibility I’m taking on. For someone who is basically self taught, I do well enough; I get my fly where I want it to be, I know how to mend a line to get a good drift, I catch fish on a pretty regular basis, and people who see me fish don’t walk away shaking their heads anymore. I’m personally happy with how well I do now and I learn more every time I go out.  Problem is, there are probably a lot of bad little casting habits I have that I’m not even aware of and there’re some that I know I have.  Now I’m going on to teach my buddy how to cast the long rod and he’ll learn my bad casting habits. How am I going to tell someone not break his wrist so much on a cast when I cast with my wrist all the time. Hell, my form may be awful, I don’t know, I’ve never been fly fishing with anybody who could critique my cast.

He and his wife want to have kids one day. What if he teaches his kids to cast like me, and his kids go on to teach their kids… I know my children are doomed, but doing that to someone else’s family…

Now the part that really worries me. I didn’t start fly fishing seriously until after the birth of my first child. If I had started fly fishing even a year before I did, my life would have been dramatically different. Before my wife and I got together, I was “unsettled” and more than a little nomadic in nature, aka. I was a dirty hippie. If I had been fly fishing during that time I’d probably be sleeping in a tent right now, on the side of a river trying to catch that last late autumn BWO hatch instead of, well… Maybe it’s best not to think about it.

He told me, before he and his wife start trying in earnest to have children, they have a kind of “bucket list” of things they want to do first. Now I’m in charge of adding fly fishing to the mix. I know this guy well and he has an addictive personality. I have yet to find anything quite as addictive as fly fishing and I’ve tried lots of things. So what if my little fly fishing padawan gets really into it. I could be destroying his entire genetic future by teaching him to fly fish. What if he adds going to the Keys to catch a tarpon to his list or Alaska for salmon. What’s going to happen when he discovers the concept of a slam. Or that first time he unravels the intricacies of a complicated hatch and has a big trout take his fly without any hesitation giving him that brief but wonderful illusion that he’s finally got this fly fishing thing down, just to find out latter that there are other puzzles to solve with each new fishing situation and the only way to find those situations is to just keep fishing and fishing. His bucket list will keep growing and the next thing he’ll know he’s spent his entire life chasing fish all over the world instead of having children. And I’ll be his fly fishing mentor so he’ll send me pictures of all his catches. He’ll be smiling, holding a big permit that he caught on his last trip to Ascension bay and it will come with a letter saying “it’s not big as one as that one I caught last year near Big Pine but it’s still a nice fish” and I’ll be stuck struggling to put my second son through college where he’ll get a degree in 17th century French Literature.

Fuck that! It’s not fair! Not fair of me to do something that might interfere with a friend’s future. Not fair of me to teach an innocent a bad casting stroke. And it wouldn’t be fair to his poor wife.

Of course I do need a fishing partner.

10 Lessons My Six Year Old Learned on Our Last Hunting Trip

Lesson 1:  Staying Quiet                                                                                    Squirrels in the forest are not like squirrels in our yard.  The squirrels                       we hunt are true wild animals that have keen senses they use to avoid                     predators. We must move slowly and stay as quiet as possible if we                       wish to be successful. Sprinting from tree to tree while shouting “I am                     The Dark Hunter, tremble before me, squirrels!” is not the ninja like                         stealth you claim to have.

Lesson 2:   Sometimes Animals Do Get Away                                                  It’s an unfortunate situation, but sometimes you wound a squirrel that                     \ finds its way into the hollow of a tree and it’s impossible to recover.                       Just remember that nothing is truly wasted in nature.  That squirrel will                   become food for others in the ecosystem.  No, it does not count as                       “half a point”.

Lesson 3:     Hunting is Not a Game                                                                We hunt for food, not for sport.  We respect the animals we hunt, big                       or small, and we use every part of the animal we can.  Hunting is not                       like a video game.  Yes I remember that we have that hunting game for                     the Wii. Yes, I do like to play Big Buck Hunter. You know those are                       not real animals. But… Okay, we’ll just assume that all of those                             animals get eaten. Yes… sometimes the games are more fun than                         actually hunting.

Lesson 4:     Learn to Look and Listen                                                              You have to use your eyes and your ears to hunt successfully. Look                       for movement in the trees. Listen for the rustle of leaves and the sound                     of squirrels barking. No, that’s just what they call the sound a squirrel                     makes.  No, that’s an actual dog barking you hear.  I’m sure.  When I                       hear a squirrel bark I’ll point it out to you.

Lesson 5:     Nature is not Scary                                                                       Animals are more scared of us than we are of them.  We as humans                       are the top predators in almost every environment.  Yes, even bears                         are usually scared of people.  Sometimes, but those bears are usually                     surprised or trying to protect their cubs, and we don’t have grizzlies                         here in South Carolina.  Or very many black bears.  No I don’t think                         there’s any bears around here or much of anything else at the                                 moment.  Now remember, we need to be quiet.

Lesson 6:     Look for Animal Signs                                                                  Animals leave signs we can see.  Look under this pine tree. No. This                       one. The one we’re standing by.  You see the pine cones that have                         been stripped clean? That means that squirrels have been in this tree.                     If there were wild pigs in these woods we would see their signs; rubs                       on trees, wallows, places where they rooted around looking for acorns                     and bugs and stuff. So no wild pigs.  And like I said animals are more                     scared of us. Yes, even wild boars.

Lesson 7:     Monsters are not Real                                                                    That is not the sound of a monster.  That’s what a real life cow                                 actually sounds like.  Yes, I’m positive.  No it’s not a wild cow. There’s                     a farm over that hill over there.  I swear that’s just a cow. No… wait,                         where did you pick up “Hell beast”?  Buffy? Whatever. Now                                     remember, whisper.

Lesson 8:     The Source of that Sound                                                              Boy, I’ve told you already there ain’t no wild hawgs around here!  That                       was probably a squirrel or a rabbit runnin’ from your mouth. Now                    HUSH!

Lesson 9:     Daddy’s a Jerk                                                                              I’m sorry for yelling.  We just need to be sneaky, like ninjas,                                   remember?  No, don’t cry, I said I was sorry.  It’s okay.  What? No, I’ll                     bring you hunting again.  I just…  We … quiet, remember?  Quiet.

Lesson 10:   When it’s Time to go Home                                                            What do you mean you want to go?  We’ve only been out here for half                     an hour.  The squirrels haven’t even started coming out yet.  Well yea,                     there was that one but…  Boring? What do you mean you don’t ever                         want to go hunting again? Weren’t you just crying because you were                       worried I wouldn’t bring you hunting again? You’re tired? But…  Yea,                         whatever. Fine.  Yes, Starwars Legos are pretty cool… I don’t know,                       Yoda I guess.

The Ball Cutter

I just finished watching the most terrifying and yet intriguing episode of “River Monsters.”  If you’re not familiar with the show, basically this British guy goes around trying to catch large freshwater fish while simultaneously trying to convince the audience that these fish are as dangerous as a ‘roided out mako shark.  Most episodes end with the host coming to the conclusion that the fish of the week has gotten a bad rap from freak chance encounters that ended badly.

The episode I watched today was different.  This one was truly frightening.  The host went to Papua New Guinea to investigate a fish, locally known as The Ball Cutter, rumored to mutilate men’s genitalia.  THE BALL CUTTER?!?!?!  It’s a better name than say the cock mangler, but not much.

After some investigation, it’s found out that the fish in question is an introduced, usually vegetarian, cousin of the piranha called the Pacu.  Pacu have extremely strong jaws that they use to smash fruit and break open the nuts that they usually feed on. These are their teeth.

For some reason, after being introduced into this particular river system these fish, which, I will reiterate, usually eat plant matter, have become predators that have been reported to attack anything and everything that swims in their new waters, including exposed native junk.

Now what intrigues me is this what a pacu looks like.

That’s right, it’s basically a thirty pound bream (or bluegill for those of y’all not from the southeastern US).  If you’ve ever caught a bluegill on a light fly rod or any other fish that happens to be shaped like a dinner plate you know how hard they fight.

Now, fly fishing for the pacu is not unheard of, but imagine fishing for a highly predatory population of these hard fighting fish in one of the most remote areas in the world…

Still though, I would hate to see the flies people would come up with to catch something known as The Ball Cutter.