Looking Back On 2020: The Best, The Bummers, The Bloodcurdling….and Beyond

Early January 2021

Greetings to all my friends and readers. I hope your holidays were peaceful. Here’s wishing for all of us a great 2021. It’s been a very interesting and rewarding year writing my blog. One of the few benefits of Covid-19 was providing plenty of social distancing time to pen articles as well as to explore not only those remote places I love while conducting serious piscatorial research but also waters close to home that I had overlooked and new species of fish.

 I was gratified in January that 2020 kicked off with Southwest Fly Fishing publishing an article I wrote about Treasure Creek in southern Colorado, an out-of-the way stream high in the Rockies that is one of the few that harbors native Rio Grande Cutthroats. 

Chasing Native Rio Grande Cutthroats On Treasure Creek

After that things changed quickly as reflected in my next article in the May issue of Florida Sportsman about fishing safely through the Corona virus. 

You can find links below to both of the pieces. 

Treasure Creek: https://hooknfly48.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/treasure-creek-article-sw-fly-fishing-jan-2020.pdf

Fishing Through The Corona Virus (full article): https://hooknfly.com/2020/04/04/fishing-through-the-corona-crisis/

Apparently lots of other anglers had some time on their hands as by the end of the year over 43,000 people had visited my blog site with over 93,000 views, an almost 90% increase over 2019. Thanks to you all!

Among them were readers from over 70 nations ranging from China to Kenya to Finland to Brazil.  I will have to admit my readership from Russia plunged to only two, perhaps reflecting I’m off Putin’s watch list after publishing a not-so-flattering photo of him accompanied by some wisecracks in an article about fishing Saguache Creek a couple of years go.  Whew!  That obviously gave his minions more time for hacking.

All kidding aside, as we look forward to a year that just has to be better than the last, it reminds me there were lots of good things to remember about 2020.  So here is my annual retrospective on the best and the bummers of the past year.

Cream of the Crop:  Two things really standout as cream of the crop.  First, as you might imagine, for a septuagenarian grandpa, nothing can compare to spending time on the water with my sweetheart of a four-year old granddaughter Aly.  We started out in May catching some nice rainbow trout at Staunton State Park west of Denver.  A few months later she pulled her first yellow perch from Eagle Watch Lake in Denver.  A garden hackle lure was the ticket. But the moment I remember best was after she had practiced casting a few times in 2019 with her new spin cast outfit, I said to her let’s go fishing and you can practice casting some more.  She looked at me very seriously and said somewhat impatiently, “But Grandpa, I already know how to cast.”  And later that day she proved she could!

Another high point was the connection I made with my readers, making new friends around the country.   We exchanged emails and phone calls and are hoping to do some fishing together next year.  Thanks to  Randy, Wendy, JD, Jim, Chip, Dan, Bill, George, and others for your kind words.  Looking forward to hitting the water with you in 2021.  Just promise not to outfish me!

Most Gratifying:  Another yearly sweet spot is hosting an annual fishing trip in the Colorado high country with my erstwhile Florida fishing buddy Robert Wayne, Esq.  We are both what might be called elders of the angling community.  I get a real kick out of hosting Bob and guiding him on some of my favorite waters for a couple of weeks, even taking him to some of my top-secret creeks.  In 2020 Bob wanted to catch a cutthroat, a fish that had eluded him during his storied international fishing peregrinations.  We hiked a couple of miles into a high mountain valley through which flows one of my favorite streams, a Herculean task for two old codgers.  But when Bob fooled that handsome 15-inch cutt, the smile on his face was ample remuneration. 

Counselor Corrals Nice Cutt

Earlier in the summer, it was payback time to some fish in a high alpine valley that was also extremely gratifying. Two years ago I hiked about eight miles roundtrip to chase some giant cutthroat trout in Upper Sand Creek Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. The trout were there as I had been promised, but to my great consternation for almost five hours these behemoths repeatedly turned up their noses to practically every fly and lure in my fly vest. With my tail between my legs and the odor of a skunk in the air, I left the lake vowing I shall return. Fast forward to June of 2020, and I hiked back into Lower Sand Creek Lake and exacted some measure of revenge. Fooling many large cutthroats that were cruising the shoreline, I had one of my best days ever on a high-mountain lake where, as experienced anglers know, the fish can be maddenly finicky. See for yourself: https://hooknfly.com/2020/07/25/return-to-sand-creek-lakes-revenge-of-the-skunked/

Another particularly gratifying episode has been the response to a series of my blog articles entitled The Best Fishing Books of All Time.  Over the past couple of years I have been heartened to see a cohort of younger anglers (AKA as anyone under 40 whom I call “young bloods”) taking up the sport, both men and women.  Hopefully, they will be the next generation of anglers who will not only enjoy the sport but fight to protect and preserve the waters we all cherish.  Thanks to a bout of annoying sciatica in October, I had time on my hands to write five articles in which I described dozens of my favorite books about fishing in several categories including “best literature,” “funny bone ticklers,” and “fish that shaped the world,” among others.  My goal was to introduce the young bloods to the grand tradition and history of our sport dating back hundreds of years.

My Choice For The Best Angling
Book Of All Time

I always feel that any endeavor is greatly enhanced by knowledge of its tradition and history.  By the end of the year the articles had been read by over a thousand people and is now one of the top results on the web when you google “best books about fishing.”  Here’s a link to the first of five installments: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Most Popular Posts:  Surprisingly, the most popular freshwater article was one from 2019 on fishing for trout on the scenic Conejos River in southern Colorado, just north of the border with New Mexico.  There were almost 3,000 hits on this post, which is somewhat astounding given the fact it is nowhere near any large population centers plus the Conejos is not one of the more fabled rivers in the state like the Gunnison, Arkansas, and South Platte.   Here is a link to the article: https://hooknfly.com/2019/09/26/solving-the-conejos-river-conundrum/

While I would like to think it must be my captivating literary style that proved so attracting, I have a hunch its success is more likely attributable to the hordes of pesky Texan fly fishing anglers doing research before they invade southern Colorado in the summer and sample the nearest trout stream to the Lone Star State. (Just kidding guys and gals…we love to take your money, but just make sure you return home come September.)

Also worthy of attention is a trio of articles about trying to find fish AND solitude in the waters of South Park around Fairplay, Colorado.  South Park, and particularly the waters of the South Platte, is overrun with anglers from nearby Denver and Colorado Springs.  They do catch some big fish, but it’s often combat-style fishing, especially on weekends.  I wrote about three small creeks where solitude and good fishing, often a rarity, go hand-in-hand. 

The trio of posts has been viewed by over 3,000 people.  Even so I haven’t run into many anglers on any of them this past summer. Take a look: https://hooknfly.com/2019/10/07/mission-impossible-searching-for-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/

The most popular saltwater post was once again about kayak fishing around Bahia Honda State Park, Florida’s most popular.  I am hoping to get back down to the Keys to update the article this spring. https://hooknfly.com/2018/06/18/bahia-honda-grab-bag-kayak-and-wade-fishing-around-bahia-honda-state-park-florida-keys/

Biggest Fish: There is no doubt that despite however sporting and conservation-minded most anglers are, they like to brag about their biggest fish. I plead guilty. My two freshwater leviathans were, oddly enough, caught in the Everglades where most of my angling is in saltwater. Unbeknown to most anglers, the Everglades is dotted with small freshwater and brackish lakes and canals that often hold big largemouth bass and exotic, colorful peacock bass. I did a fair amount of sleuthing and found several that ended up producing a seven-pound largemouth and five-pound peacock. https://hooknfly.com/2020/11/15/freshwater-bass-fishing-in-the-everglades/

Here in Colorado my two biggest fish, an alpine lake cutthroat and a rainbow from the Arkansas, both went about 18-inches. I won’t mention the bigger ones on which I adroitly executed long-distance releases.

In saltwater, my best catches were two snook in the Everglades, one in January and the other in March.  One that pushed 30-inches was caught in a brackish lake also frequented by largemouth bass. 

Surprise Snook!

The other caught in a narrow tidal creek in the Everglades backcountry was my best of the year at 31-inches. Talk about utter mayhem before I could coax her away from those infernal mangrove roots and to the boat.

Bummers:  Perhaps the biggest bummer was, of course, related to Covid-19, but not in the way I expected.  Fishing is a great way to socially distance and you don’t have to wear a mask most of the time.  No problem there.  What I didn’t anticipate was the virus would be a force that hobbled many  angling and outdoor-related magazines that have published my articles and the death knell for others like the venerable American Angler.  That magazine carried some of my first fishing articles back in the 90s.  When the virus hit many fishing-related businesses either shut down permanently or temporarily and cut back dramatically on their advertising which staggered many angling magazines and book publishers.  As a result, after a piece on Treasure Creek was published by Southwest Fly Fishing in January, only one other of my articles made it into print in 2020, ironically one in Florida Sportsman that dealt with tips on fishing through the Corona crisis!

I also had to grapple with an acute case of sciatica in late summer that cut down on my ability to explore and chase trout in some of those small creeks in rugged Colorado canyons that are dear to my heart.  It reminded me growing old isn’t for the faint of heart.  Fortunately I am on the mend so hope springs eternal, and scenes of backcountry soirées in both Colorado and Florida keep dancing in my head.

Burst Bubbles:  In my spare time one of my favorite endeavors is sleuthing on-line or using Google Maps and other GPS apps to discover remote backcountry creeks in Colorado that just might be loaded with eager trout.  It’s a hit or miss game, about 25% of the time turning up a goose egg.  This year the honor goes to Nutras Creek, a tributary of Cochetopa Creek on the edge of the La Garita Wilderness Area in south central Colorado.  I have had some of the best fishing days over the past few years on Cochetopa and other of its tributaries.  I had driven over Nutras Creek many times, and a couple of cryptic posts online reported some big brook trout hiding in the beaver ponds that dot the stream.  Google Maps confirmed there were literally dozens of good-sized beaver ponds up- and downstream from the access road.  A month later I eagerly made the hour drive from my mobile fish camp only to find most of the beaver ponds were gone, kaput, extinct, washed out! 

While I managed to catch enough brookies in the few small ponds that remained and in the creek, I went home issuing a plethora of epithets directed towards Google Maps for not updating its satellite photos thereby leading me on this wild goose chase!  Fortunately a few weeks later my sleuthing paid off with a Century Club day on another remote creek that shall remain nameless.

The Bloodcurdling:  Spending time in the wilds, either in the Colorado mountains or the Everglades backcountry, you’re bound to have some exciting moments—one reason I carry a Garmin satellite text phone in case I get in trouble.  This year was no exception.  Two of the bloodcurdlers were close encounters of the wildlife kind.  Last year it was a truculent Burmese Python in the Everglades.  This year it was a big 12-foot gator that I stumbled on in my kayak, passing within 15-feet of the big boy as I emerged from a mangrove tunnel into blind turn.  I was close enough to the prehistoric looking creature to be able to count the gnarly teeth protruding from his jaws.  

Close Encounter of the Gator Kind

Fortunately it was a very cool day so he was content to bask in the sun and let this intruder beat a hasty retreat. 

The second close encounter took place a few months later in the Colorado high country.  I was finishing up a successful day of fishing on a remote creek when I heard some noise in the woods above me.  I turned and saw a moose with a giant set of horns ambling my way down the slope. 

Moose On The Loose

Moose are often very belligerent, especially cows with a calf. Again I lucked out as the moose eyed me contemptuously then turned around and proceeded to saunter away insouciantly as if I wasn’t worth paying any heed to.

The most dangerous moment, however, came when I made an ill-advised decision to descend an extremely steep slope with loose scree into a canyon to reach an alluring creek far below. 

On Verge Of Rash Decision

I quickly realized the fix I was in and thought this may be a case where things that go down never come back up.  I was carrying two fishing rods and a small insulated bag with my lunch in it when I lost my footing and started to slide down on my keister.  I quickly jettisoned the lunch bag and tried to grab some brush to stop my descent without breaking my rods or body parts. Finally about twenty feet down I lunged and latched onto some sturdy brush and was able to finally dig my boots in and stop.  I took a deep breath and turned around to chart my course back out, but realized there was no way to go back up. 

Reminder: What Goes Down May Not Come Back Up!

So I carefully picked my way down to the creek and proceeded to have a banner day fishing. Luckily I found a still steep, but more navigable route out later that afternoon. For the rest of the story, see: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/07/slightly-addled-senior-goes-slip-sliddin-away-down-steep-slope-for-trout/.

Best Laughs:  Closely tied to the blood curdling slide above was the fate of the canvas lunch bag I was carrying.  When I gave it the heave to free up a hand to slow my descent, it started flying down the long steep slope, bouncing off rocks and gaining speed by the second.  Suddenly something started to gush from its sides making it look like a pinwheel as it careened towards the creek.  When I retrieved it 10 minutes later I was delighted to find most everything was intact except for a can of the elixir known as Squirt soda pop that had split open.  That explained the small geyser spewing from the bag on the way down.  It may have been gallows humor, but I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched its flight down the rocky slope. 

The Flying Lunch Bag Survives

Another good guffaw involved the tale of the broken rod. I rarely break a fishing rod while chasing trout. One exception this year was when I left a rod leaning on my SUV then backed out and crushed the tip. Temple Fork Outfitters graciously replaced it with a newer better model at a modest cost for shipping. But in the Everglades I average three broken rods a year which I attribute to much larger fish that I tangle with in tight quarters in mangrove tunnels, often in my kayak. Certainly could not be lack of skill. This year the broken rod tale was under much different circumstances. I was on an outing with my accomplished fishing friend from Georgia, Steve Keeble. We were on a quest for snook in my Gheenoe in the Everglades backcountry. We caught plenty of snook but then decided to take a breather in a slow-moving backwater off the main channel. It was loaded with forage fish, and soon we started to see black tip shark cruising everywhere. I suggested we have a little fun, so chunked up a ladyfish and baited it on my stoutest rod I typically use for large tarpon. I handed it to Steve, and a shark quickly gulped the savory meal. I yelled “set it hard,” which Steve dutifully did, which was followed by a loud crack as the rod snapped in half.

Steve exhibited his considerable angling skill by continuing to fight and land the truculent critter with half a rod as I doubled over with laughter. Of course the joke was on me with the broken rod, which Steve graciously replaced.

Biggest Surprise: My biggest—and most pleasant—surprises all came on freshwater lakes in the Everglades. Most of my fishing in the Glades is done in tidal creeks or the Everglades backcountry where the water is salty. When the Corona virus hit south Florida, mobs of anglers sans masks or any attempt at social distancing descended from the Miami area and Fort Meyers, where public boat ramps had been closed, on our local boat ramp on Chokoloskee Island. One morning at one point a line of over 50 boats were waiting to launch.

Knucklehead Invasion

Not wanting to tempt fate or run into the hordes in the backcountry, I decided to investigate some of the nearby freshwater lakes inland that usually receive little pressure.  Boy I am sure glad I did.  As noted above, over a period from late March until early April I caught and released some big largemouth and peacock bass and a hefty snook that had somehow found her way into a lake just off the Tamiami Trail.  Who knows how she got there as there were no canals or creeks leading into the lake, but who am I to complain!

I received another pleasant surprise on the South Fork of the South Platte later that summer back in Colorado.  I had set out to fish the South Fork in the flatlands of South Park, but when I got there the stream was blown out, muddy water filling it from bank-to-bank.  Undaunted, I decided to drive the some 20 miles up towards historic Weston Pass to fish some beaver ponds on the South Fork headwaters.   Posts from local fly shops said the fishing there was challenging as the ponds were overgrown with brush, however still fun for small brookies but nothing else.  The ponds were definitely there, stretching for miles along the creek, and the brookies were eager.  But I had a hunch the attractive short stretches of open running water between the ponds might just harbor some bigger fish…and they did.  I managed to catch several handsome cutthroats, one that went 15-inches.  Definitely a satisfying surprise! https://hooknfly.com/2020/06/07/on-the-road-to-riches-finding-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/.

Birthday Century Club:  One of my annual traditions is to take a multi-day solo high-country fishing trip in Colorado on my birthday in late July.  And part of that tradition is to see if I can catch as many fish as my years on this planet, which in 2020 were 72.  I had my sights set on a comely little creek hidden in a canyon that I had only recently discovered last year and had fished but once.  Not only did that little jewel produce fish in numbers—I caught and released over 100 wild trout thus qualifying for the Century Club—but my efforts were rewarded with a high-country slam–a cutthroat, brown, and brookie, with the cutt and brownie coming in as a double!  Not sure how many more years I can make a trek like that, so this one was all the more to savor.

Most Beautiful Fish:  The beautiful coloration and intricate patterns fish sport never cease to amaze me, nature seemingly able to exceed anything thing I could imagine.  In freshwater this year the honors went to the stunning cutthroat trout of Lower Sand Lake and the gorgeous Arkansas River rainbow trout, the last fish I caught late in December.  On the saltwater side, it was hard to beat the riotously colored Peacock Bass and Atomic Sunfish (AKA Mayan Cichlids) that I fooled on a freshwater lake in the Everglades. 

Old Dog, New Tricks: The older I get, the more I get set in my ways, for example, in the species of fish that I chase and the techniques that I employ to catch them. So it was with the antediluvian long-nose gar that proliferate in the brackish water of Everglades tidal creeks, canals, and ponds. I had hooked many a gar while chasing snook and redfish, but never landed one. I considered them a nuisance despite their fighting ability. Gar have long bony mouths filled with hundreds of sharp little teeth that make them extraordinarily difficult to hook. They are shunned by most sport anglers because of the challenge hooking them as well as their truculent tendency of trying to bite one if hooked. They are reportedly good to eat but nearly impossible to clean due to armor-like scales. But one day in February when I ran into a huge school of spawning gar and hooked and lost fish after fish, I vowed to master the fine art of catching the toothy torpedoes. Back home I found a number of articles by good ole boys from the South who actually specialize in gar fishing. I learned that I needed some specialized lures to catch these prehistoric fish. These off-beat lures, which are made out of unraveled nylon rope, have no hooks at all but rely on the nylon fabric to ensnare those needle-sharp teeth. Not available at local tackle shops, I crafted a few of my own that I thought turned out rather well.

Homemade Gar Lures, Sans Hooks

On my very first day on the water with one of my handsome creations I cast with extreme confidence towards a gaggle of gar porpoising on the surface in a canal along the Tamiami trail. Something erupted from the water, and I was astounded to see it was a giant snook that had inhaled the lure. Unfortunately, since the lure had no hooks, the snook had to merely shake her head and was soon cruising away scot free. To make matters worse, I also had a tough time hanging onto the gar that smashed the lure time and again. So it was back to the drawing boards where on the advice of another gar hunter on-line, I added a small trailing treble hook and didn’t friz out the nylon . That would prove to be the answer. On my next outing I hooked dozens of feisty gar and managed to land several as substantiated by the photo below. The lure in the middle shows the results of grappling with the nasty gar teeth. Guess it goes to prove that an old dog can indeed learn new tricks! For the full story of chasing the prehistoric gar, see https://hooknfly.com/2020/04/15/in-defense-of-the-antediluvian-gar/.

Most Scenic:  The little secret creek mentioned above in the Birthday Century Club was hands down the winner of most scenic.  As I approached the canyon rim an incredible scene opened before me, reminding me of the mythical Shangri La.  See for yourself!

Into The Future—2021 And Beyond: I’m anticipating 2021 with high hopes. Only a few days into the New Year, I’ve already caught my first fish, a nice brownie from the Arkansas River on an icy cold day featuring my rod guides clogged with ice. I also got in some practice on my patented long-distance releases, magnanimously freeing a couple of bruisers.

First Fish Of The New Year!

Now one of my readers has just invited me to do some ice fishing for big trout in frozen Antero Reservoir located in frigid South Park (Antero hit 50 below zero a couple of weeks ago!).  I haven’t ice fished for 15 years since doing so with my son Matthew when he was in high school.  Should be interesting and will probably spur a hasty return to Florida!

My first order of business will be to finish the Paddlers Fishing Guide To The Everglades that in 2020 I signed a contract to write.  The publisher will be Wild Adventures Press, one of the leading fishing guide producers.  I’m already thinking about marketing the book, especially in a time of Covid-19.  I had my first trial run making a presentation to the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers Club out of Sarasota.  My friend Jim Cannon, a club member, invited me to host a Zoom meeting focusing on some of my favorite kayak fishing creeks in the Everglades.  It was great fun answering questions from the 30 or so members, and the positive response was very heartening as witnessed by this very kind letter from the club’s president:

Chris—I have one word to describe your presentation to our club.  OUTSTANDING.  I was telling Ethan earlier today that your presentation was one of the top two or three that I can remember in the ten years I have been a member of MCFF.  Your information, diagrams, stories, and friendly demeanor, along with some great pics, made for an awesome evening….Hope to meet you in person in the near future.  Tight lines.  Ken B. 

If any of my readers would like me to make a Zoom presentation to your fishing or kayaking group on either fly fishing for trout in Colorado or saltwater fishing in the Everglades, I would be happy delighted to oblige.  It’s been a reel…er…real treat to meet so many fine people and avid anglers over the past five years through my blog, and I look forward to more in 2021. I’ll be adhering to the following New Year’s Resolution:

Arkansas River Reverie

Mid-December 2020

For some of my earlier winter outings on the Arkansas River, see the following articles:

https://hooknfly.com/2017/12/31/happy-new-year-going-balmy-in-the-balmy-banana-belt-near-salida-co/

https://hooknfly.com/2018/01/06/ringing-in-the-new-year-with-some-big-bad-boys-an-arkansas-river-bash/

It’s a cold December evening in the Colorado mountains with temperatures predicted to dip to seven degrees tonight.  I am usually long-gone to Florida this time of year, chasing snook and tarpon.  However, this winter a certain virus and grandpa day care duties for my sweetheart four-year old granddaughter Aly have combined to make me stay put in my cabin near Salida. 

My Little Sweetheart And #1 Fishing buddy

Fortunately, I am sitting in front of a blazing fire with a glass of Old Vine Zinfandel that’s easing the suffering a tad. 

As I sip the red elixir, I began to daydream about chasing the elusive brown trout on my home water, the Arkansas River.  My thoughts may be a bit balmy, but after all this is the so-called Banana Belt, a valley much warmer than nearby South Park or the Gunnison River environs just over Monarch Pass.  So with high hopes, I check the weather forecast for the next week and am delighted to see in a couple of days the daytime temps are supposed to soar into the 50s.  That’s more like it!!  I begin to plot my next outing.

Come morning I haul out my old neoprene waders from storage in the basement.  As I have written previously, while unknown to most young anglers (aka the under 50 crowd), neoprenes are ever so much more suitable in winter than those thin high-tech breathable waders no matter how good your long johns are. (For some tips on cold weather river fishing apparel and fishing gear, see my article above from late 2017.)  Later in the day while enjoying another fire I rig up a couple of rods.  On one, an 8-1/2 foot four-weight, I tie on two nymphs under a yellow yarn strike indicator with no weights.  This one is for when the fish move into shallower, slow runs to warm up during the day.  The other is heavier 8 ½ foot five-weight with a couple of weighted nymphs below two BB split shots and a bubble strike indicator.  This one is for the trout when hiding near the bottom in deeper, warmer water just out of the main current.  My leaders on both rigs are 5X as I don’t find the Arkansas River fish leader shy in the winter.

A couple of days later I am loading up my SUV and heading out at 11 a.m. to one of my favorite stretches of the Ark above Salida.  In this neck of the woods and at this altitude, winter is definitely very civil gentleman’s fishing hours of 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m..  Starting late gives the water a chance to warm up under a bright sun in a bluebird Colorado sky.  Most of my winter fishing on the Big Ark is done around Salida and downstream towards Coaldale where the temperatures are usually 5-15 degrees warmer than in Buena Vista and upstream from there.

When I get to my chosen spot I am happy to see there are no other vehicles in the small parking area.  I rarely fish the Arkansas from May to October any longer when it’s overrun with kayakers, paddleboarders, float fisherman, and other wade anglers.  But weekdays from November through March I usually have the place to myself like in the good old days. 

After a short hike to the river I head to an old familiar honey hole—a stretch at a bend in the river below a series of rapids that deepens and slows the current providing a perfect spot for hungry fish. 

Honey Hole #1

Thanks to the frigid temperatures earlier in the week, there is a shelf of ice extending three feet out into the river, necessitating some fancy footwork to reach the water without slip sliding away into a cold bath.  The water is crystal clear, darkening only where the river deepens, and of course frigid, somewhere in the low 40s.  I decide to start with the lighter weight rig with a #16 Tung Teaser and a #16 beadhead CDC Hotwire Green Caddis nymph of my own creation which has been my go-to winter fly for several years now. 

Go-To Arkansas River Winter Nymph–Beadhead CDC Hotwire Caddis

They are both tied on a couple of feet below the yellow yarn strike indicator.  It’s a good setup to explore the shallower, slower edges of the run just below the rapids where brownies often settle in on a sunny day to warm up and feast in comfort.  I unfurl the line and start my cast, only to be unceremoniously whacked in the thigh by a big chunk of ice that has broken loose from above.  There is also flow ice out in the current, but it will soon disappear under the warming rays of the sun. 

I regather myself and lay a perfect cast just on the inside of the current in a shallow run above.  I get a perfect float, but no action.  Several more casts, and it’s still no dice.  I figure the brownies must be holding deep waiting for the water to warm, so switch to the heavier weighted nymph combo featuring a #12 beadhead weighted Halfback stone fly imitation trailed by the CDC hotwire caddis. 

Fantastic Four (clockwise): CDC Caddis, Red Zebra Midge,
Tung Teaser, and Halfback Stone Fly

On the first cast into the deeper hole further out the bubble disappears, and I set the hook confidently…on a tree branch on the bottom courtesy of some beavers that have been busy in the area.  Luckily I manage to work it loose without disturbing things too much or losing a fly.  I recast in almost the same spot and again the bubble disappears as if on cue just as the flies sink in the deeper water.  But this time it’s a nice fish on the CDC Caddis.  After a worthy to-and-fro tussle with several good runs I ease a respectable 14-inch brown into my net.   

Nice Brownie Breaks The Ice

With renewed confidence and aplomb, I wade back out pirouetting around several sharp chunks of ice floating down the current that appear large enough to have sunk the Titanic.  On the very next cast I hook the bottom again, but as I wade to extricate it this time the bottom begins to move.  This is a big one who has taken the faux stone fly, and he immediately heads pell-mell out into the fast current to make good his escape.  I put the brakes on him, bending my rod perilously, but manage to turn the brute out of the flow before he can get below me and snap off in the fast current.  Then it’s a back and forth brawl as we test each other.  Finally I slowly raise him to the surface and smile—at least 18-inches and maybe more.  This moment of joy is immediately followed by one of my patented long-distance releases before I can coax the brownie into my net.  Grrrr.  That will be it in this run despite another 15 minutes of flogging the water thoroughly.  Usually I can count on four or five strikes in this hole, but not today.

I continue upstream and come to a medium deep run up against the shoreline that has been productive in the past.  The main current is about 30 feet out and strong, but closer in there is slower water that is only two-to-three feet deep in bright sunshine.  I switch back to the lighter rig without any weight, and no sooner do the flies hit the water than the yellow yarn strike indicator is yanked under.  I set the hook and am onto a feisty 15-inch brown that has inhaled the caddis nymph. He cavorts around the pool before coming in for a quick photo and release. 

Another Brownie Falls For the CDC Caddis Nymph

I check my flies and knots then prepare to cast.  But in the hubbub I didn’t see or hear the float fishers—a guy with a lady guide—come careening my way.  The river is narrow at this point so she has no option but to slide right down the run that had yielded by latest fish.  I return their waves half-heartedly as they slide by.  Needless to say, that puts the quietus on that stretch.

Undaunted, I continue around the bend to a sure-bet honey hole that always produces some good fish.  I have learned I have to cross over the river to get to the best lie, a deep hole that has been gouged out at the tail end of a long, fast rapid.  Although the Ark is only running at 360 cfs, it still demands caution so I pick my way carefully across a shallow stretch 100 feet below the hole using my trusty wading staff for balance. 

Sizing Up Honey-Hole #2

I walk up the shoreline and start to slide out on the 20-foot ice shelf separating the shore from the water and catch some movement in the rapids above—it’s a lone kayaker bouncing his way down the standing waves.  I ask him to stay away on the far bank to avoid floating over my chosen spot.  He nods, waves cordially, and slides by with minimal disturbance. 

By now it’s time for a snack, so I decide as a precaution to let the honey hole settle down for 15 minutes before probing its depths.  I find a nice warm spot on the shoreline with a log to sit and lean up against.  I begin musing about fishing in 2021.  Will I be able get down to Florida and chase some snook before summer hits?  What about my annual trip to the Keys in May to chase big toothy barracuda? My friends don’t call me the Cuda Buddha for nothing.  Will there be enough water in Colorado this year so I  can explore the Conejos River and other favorite waters of the southern part of the state that suffered so greatly this year from low flows? 

A flight of honking Canada Geese snap me out of the daydreaming.  It’s time to fish they seem to announce!  I tread carefully as I inch out again on the ice shelf and ease into the waist deep icy water on the edge of the pool. 

Off The Shelf And Into The Water

My tootsies immediately protest at the shock of the cold water despite the neoprene booties and three pair of sox!  I am using the heavier nymph rig to get down deep to where the lunkers usually hold.  I throw a long cast upstream and am immediately reminded why casting a heavy two-nymph rig with split shots and an indicator bubble is such a delight.  I have managed to start my forward cast while the aforementioned gear was still flying backwards.  The result is a knot of Gordian proportions which takes me 15 minutes to solve accompanied by intermittent epithets before I am back into action.  I vow to focus and do less daydreaming.

I take extra care on the next cast, and the flies land perfectly at that top of the pool and start the leisurely float down into the depths.  On cue the bubble indicator disappears, and I’m on to a good fish.  He bores down deep with the Halfback in his mouth, plows upstream then back down.  I head him off before he strays too far, and he slides into the net, a handsome 16-inches, a wild fish with a perfect forked tail, not the nubby variety you see on fish from some heavily fished winter waters like the so-called Dream Stream. 

Wild Brownie Warms Up Winter Day

My luck continues and a few casts later I net another 15-incher and soon his twin, both on the caddis nymph. Then I recall that in the past the trout have been hiding out under the ice shelf for cover, darting out to feed.  After a couple of tries, I manage to pinpoint my cast so that the rig lands just a few inches from the ice cover.  It floats a few feet, and then the bubble is yanked under.  It’s a smaller brownie, maybe a foot long, who’s taken the Tung Teaser, but one of the most satisfying of the day.

By now it’s 3 p.m., and the sun is sinking below the trees on the south bank, casting a shadow on the pool.  Along with the fleeting warmth, things have quieted down from a piscatorial perspective.  I see a small hatch of midges is underway, but no surface activity.  I make a note to use a midge imitation like a red zebra nymph on one of my rigs the next time out. 

As I exit the water, something dark and out of place catches my eye in a jumble of logs on the shoreline.  I stroll over and discover a double-bladed kayak paddle entangled in the timber and brush.  I slowly work it free and discover it’s an expensive model in perfect shape, no worse for the wear and exposure.  Apparently some kayaker lost it navigating the rapids above when the Ark was roaring earlier in the year.  I have to smile, thinking it kind of squares things and is a modicum of payback for all the summer follies visited upon us wade anglers on the Arkansas and other rivers by kayakers, float fishermen, and boaters of various ilk.  I think, maybe a little devilishly, I’ll enjoy using it all the more for that reason down in Florida where I kayak fish for snook.  We old codgers can have thoughts like that without much remorse.

Sweet Revenge: Tale Of The Prodigal Paddle

Going Against The Grain: Freshwater Bass Fishing In The Everglades Near Everglades City

November 2020

With the torrential rains, wind blowing like a banshee, Covid-19, and the occassional hurricane, don’t give up on fishing in the northern Everglades. There is some great bass angling in freshwater lakes scattered throughout the Big Cypress Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park accessible from the US 41 (the Tamiami Trail) and FL Highway 29 near Everglades City. All it takes is a little sleuthing on Google Maps to find these gems! And don’t be surprised if you catch a wayward snook or tarpon in the bargain. Here’s my latest article from Florida Sportsman to help you get started:

BELOW: SCENES FROM GLADES FRESHWATER LAKES

Small Creek Savvy: Eight Essential Habits Of Highly Effective Anglers

November 2020

I have been a small creek aficionado for many years how.  I love the solitude and absence of boot marks, the beautiful surroundings, and, of course, eager fish.  More and more anglers are gravitating this way as the bigger, famous rivers like the Arkansas, Gunnison, and South Platte in Colorado get ever more popular and crowded.  I cringe when I see a post by a fisherman on the so-called Dream Stream holding a nice rainbow…with a half dozen other anglers as a backdrop.  Small creek fishing definitely has its delights, but also some special challenges.  Here are a few key tips on small stream angling I have learned over the years, most through the  school of hard knocks, that I hope will pay off in more fish and more satisfaction for you.  Just leave a few of the finny beauties for old codgers like me!

#1:  Carry Two Rods…Or Three

On my early days on small creeks, I would carry only one rod rigged with a dry/dropper combo rig.  I did reasonably well with it and thought since these streams were fairly shallow, I didn’t need to dredge the deeper holes with nymphs below split shots.  I also didn’t want the burden of carrying an additional rod.  But then years ago I got schooled on one of my favorite creeks, a high-country meadow water.  I was fishing a pool at a big “S” bend and had caught several decent fish, a couple on the nymph and one on the dry.  Smugly thinking I had fished it thoroughly, I started upstream, but as I rounded the bend and peered into the deepest part of the pool, I could see a half dozen fish finning in the depths.  Several, hugging the bottom and actively feeding, were bigger than anything I had caught.  Reluctantly I clipped off the dry/dropper, a pain in the arse, and rigged two nymphs under a BB split shot to get down to the school.  On first cast I lured an 18” brownie on a stonefly followed by a double on the stone and a trailing caddis nymph.  Lesson learned!

Now I always carry two rods/rigs.  It can definitely be an annoyance carrying a second rod, but I have learned a couple of tricks that can reduce the aggravation.  First, how best to carry that second stick?  One simple option is to carry the two rigs in your hand then set one aside on the bank while fishing the other.  However, and almost inevitably, when I lay one rod down and fish upstream I end up having to trudge a fair piece back downstream to retrieve it.  In fact, several times I have had to spend a quarter hour or more trying to find it among the tall shore line grass and bushes all the while turning the blue sky bluer with my self-recriminations.  Instead I figured out after trial and error to slide that second rod down inside my waders and tuck it under my wader belt to secure it.  Importantly, to prevent the bottom fly from snagging on the inside of my waders when I tuck the rod in, I secure it on one of the circular vents on the outside of my reel instead of using the rod hook holder .

Using The Hook Holder For The Second-Rod Tuck Is A Recipe For Snagging The
Inside Of Your Waders
A Better Appoach Before Tucking Rod In Waders

It’s also important if you are right handed to carry the second rod on your left side (and vice versa if left handed).  You will still have to be cognizant of that rod extending six feet above you in the air so that you do not snag it with the fly line or leader of the rod you are casting with, especially if the wind is blowing hard. Also, watch out for those overhanging tree limbs. 

Initiating The Second-Rod Tuck
Slide Rod Down And Tuck Inside
Under Wading Belt
Successfully Executed Second-Rod Tuck

Another condition where a second rod can be a game changer is when the trout are feeding actively on the surface but hugging the shoreline or hiding beneath undercut banks.  In such instances, getting a float within a few inches of the shoreline may be the difference between success and failure.  However, with a dry/dropper it can be maddingly difficult to pull off because even if the dry alights perfectly tight to the bank inevitably the trailing nymph dropper will catapult a foot or two further into the grasping streamside vegetation.  Naturally it often won’t come loose thereby ruining the run if you wade out to retrieve it, unless you choose to break it off which means wasting time to re-rig.  When I am on a stream where such conditions are prevalent and I expect a hatch, I carry a second rod with only a single dry fly tied on, a set up that is far easier to cast close to the undercut bank.  I will fish this rig first followed by the dry/dropper for clean up.

Another option I as using increasingly when going out with a fishing buddy is to take three rods—one with a dry, the second with a dry/dropper, and the third rigged with two nymphs.  We alternate with one of us fishing and the other sitting on the bank with the two remaining rods.  We then trade-off back and forth as we work upstream.  This is also a very relaxing way to fish and learn more about the creek through patient observation plus affording the opportunity to crow on your friend when he blows a strike

#2:  Leave No Stone Unturned

It’s just human nature when you arrive on a creek to immediately start fishing, especially if you know the water.  But you’ll definitely increase your catch if pull the reins back a bit and wade in downstream of the first good run or pool and turn over rocks both in the shallows and in deeper water to see what bugs are in the water.  That lesson was driven home again this spring in April. 

I was on one of my favorite streams which I knew had slews of caddis nymphs and some mayflies.  But fortuitously I took another look.   I bent over and picked up a couple of rocks just below the first good run.  I was surprised when they revealed some meaty stoneflies clambering about. 

Succulent Surprise Stonefly

I had used stones on this creek in the fall, but not early in the year. I rerigged my nymph outfit with a Twenty-Incher nymph and proceeded to catch more on the stone that day than all other flies in my arsenal put together–and also the biggest.

I have also learned to be on alert when approaching the creek through high grass or other vegetation. I’ll often see a “hatch” of grasshoppers or other terrestrials that make up a good portion of the diet of small-stream trout and rig accordingly.

Keep your eyes open for a bird called a Dipper, AKA American Water Ouzel, as well. Dippers dive underwater and feast on subsurface bugs. If you see one flitting along the shoreline of a pool, give that water a thorough going over.

The Dipper Is A Good Sign Of Abundant Subsurface Insect Life

#3:  Look Before Leaping

Just as important as turning over rocks to see what might be on the piscatorial menu, is to have patience and sit on the bank or stand quietly downstream of that first pool or run to see if any trout are rising or flashing below the surface before unfurling that first cast.  Almost inevitably, particularly in the warmer summer months, you will see something rise or swirl near the surface, giving you a chance to size things up and have a good target to begin with.  This is actually a good strategy for every pool as you work upstream.  Take a minute to relax and observe.  It will pay off as it did in the pool below.

#4:  Kneel To Conquer And Other Stealthy Moves

Stealth is always important when on the water, big or small, but even more so on creeks.  Holding lies are often shallower and the water clearer than on bigger rivers, which means the trout are much more likely to pick up any motion, even far downstream below them.  I am continually amazed on small waters like Archuleta Creek, a tributary of Cochetopa Creek near Gunnison, how fish 50 feet above me at the tail end of a pool will catch sight of my slightest movement and proceed to scatter like they are fleeing a five-alarm fire,  jetting into the next county while alerting their brethren. (For a peek at the challenges of little Archuleta Creek, see my blog article:  https://hooknfly.com/2016/08/26/double-your-pleasure-double-your-fun-day-1-on-archuleta-creek-near-gunnison-co/ )

The Number One Rule for wading small streams is to keep a low profile.  Sometimes it is best to stay out of the water altogether and cast from dry land, except this can backfire if the bank is elevated several feet above the water as it often is and you are actually more visible. The best option will often be casting from a kneeling position. 

He Kneels To Conquer

And sometimes to get into the best spot for kneeling and casting I go down on all fours and crawl slowly into position, hoping no one sees this maneuver and calls the local mental ward to come retrieve an addled septuagenarian on the loose.  The important of kneeling in successful small stream fishing is one reason I like Cabelas Dry Plus waders that come with foam cushion pads in knees.  Those sharp stream rocks can be painful on the old patella.  In other instances where kneeling is not possible, it may mean hugging the bank lined with trees or tall bushes to break up your profile.  In other cases the best approach may be to cast from behind bushes on the shoreline as shown in the video below of fishing a small creek beaver pond. . 

Other stealth measures to keep in mind include avoiding casting your shadow on the water whenever possible and refraining from wearing brightly colored clothes that don’t match the surroundings. (In the photo above, my fishing buddy was wearing an orange jacket for safety purposes as it was hunting season, and we had heard rumors Dick Cheney had come down from Wyoming and was in the area. Under normal circumstances orange would not likely be a stealthy choice.)

#5:  Target These Overlooked Spots

You might think that creeks and streams being so small that it would be hard to overlook promising spots.  In many cases the most productive lies will be evident, usually found at big bends in the creek where the holding water is deeper or behind big rocks or other structure in the stream that break the current and provide good hiding places and quieter water for the trout to dine in with minimal effort.  But there are several other sweet spots that are often skipped over.

One of favorites, and the one overlooked by most anglers, is what I call back eddies along the shoreline.  Back eddies are created when a strong current swirls around a bend and runs into the bank downstream, producing a small slow counter current along the shoreline and a postage-stamp sized pool often filled with foam. 

These mini-pools are often deep enough to hide a fish that will take up a position facing downstream into the reverse current.  Back eddies, because they have a lighter flow, are often favored by larger fish because the slower current will drop food conveniently in front of their faces and  also allow them to feast without having to expend as much energy as in the main current.  Just remember that the trout will be facing downstream so stay upstream of the eddy in making your cast and let the fly float back upstream to you.  Also, since getting a drag-free float can be difficult because the main current is between you and the eddy, using a high-stick and reach approach is often called for.  Another option is to climb out of the water upstream of the back eddy on the same side of the creek and fish from the bank.

Another hot spot for big fish on small creeks, hardly a secret, is the undercut bank—the real issue is mastering the technique to get within inches, not feet, of the shoreline which will often spell the difference between a strike and a skunk.  As noted above, pulling off a successful shoreline cast when using a dry/dropper rig can be challenging especially when the bank is covered with brush or overhanging grass.  Here’s a tip that can help you pull it off when the undercut bank you are probing is just downstream of a bend in the creek, as is often the case, the current eroding and undercutting the bank.  Aim your cast  above the bend and let the current carry it down and push it to the bank. In effect, you are using a little geometry to skin the cat.

Shallows are another surprising spot to target on small creeks.  The one place I have probably spooked more big fish in small creeks is in the shallows along the bank, especially in warmer weather.  I am continually surprised to find  good-sized fish, especially brown trout, lolly-gagging in a foot or less of water along the shoreline, apparently sunning themselves and feeding insouciantly.  It’s another reason not to wade pell-mell from one good-looking pool to another.

#6:  Master The Backhand Cast

Creeks are often narrow and choked with shoreline vegetation that can make casting a challenge, especially when you are trying to maintain a stealthy approach.  For example, let’s say you are on the right side of the creek working upstream.  You see some fish rising on the opposite shoreline, but if you step out away for the bank on your side you to execute a cast you will spook the trout, and the trees or other obstacles behind make it impossible to backcast without snagging.  What to do?  There are any number of specialty casts that can improve your success on small streams—the roll, curve, and bow-and-arrow are examples.  But for my money the most useful day-in and day-out is learning to throw a backhand cast across your body like Roger Federer executing a high tennis backhand.  This will take some practice before you hit the stream, but it will be well worth it. 

Credit–Fly Fishing: The Lifetime Sport

There are a number of excellent articles and videos on line that will have you casting like a pro in no time.

 (http://www.lovetheoutdoors.com/fly-fishing/Te-Z/Type-of-Casts.html; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rJqcM7MFdw)

I also find the sidearm cast is another of the most useful on small waters, especially valuable when you are trying to get your fly under the ubiquitous overhanging vegetation, where a normal overhead throw will end up in the branches. It is also useful when the wind is whipping.  I approach this cast like a sidearm hurler in baseball, keeping my arm and rod and thus cast low and parallel to the water.  This low angle will allow you to slide the fly underneath those grasping pesky branches or below the bank and out of the wind.

#7:  Fish Out Every Cast

Often on a big river the trout stick close to home and don’t have as much time to examine a meal carefully.  But on some smaller waters with less current, particularly meadow creeks, they have more time to examine your offering and make a decision.  The result is frequently they will follow a fly downstream and actually hit it when it has floated by you.  The moral is be patient and fish out that cast before picking up the fly.  Don’t be surprised if you see a trout coming downstream chasing it. 

#8: Make Short Casts And Keep Your Line Off The Water Whenever Possible

Getting a drag-free float is important on any water no matter the size.  But it is especially important on small meadow creeks where trout typically have more time to examine your offering.  My formula for success is to make short casts where possible and keep the fly line off the water to the extent feasible, then mend quickly to avoid any drag or use a high-stick approach to reach over any intervening current to avoid drag. 

High Sticking (Credit: Troutster.com)

It never ceases to surprise me how close you can get to the trout in a good pool with a stealthy approach and fool them when you keep your fly line off the water.

BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #5

October 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that genre have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of five installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

This installment covers three categories from the list below:  History of Fishing, Fish That Shaped World History, and The “To Read” List:

Installment 1 Link:  https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 4 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/14/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-4/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel/Guidebooks

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

History of Fishing

Fishing is widely recognized as the sport with the longest and richest history.  Indeed, Dame Juliana Berners wrote her Treatise On Fishing With An Angle in the late 1400s followed 150 years later by the iconic The Compleat Angler.  Take that baseball, football, soccer, basketball, and even tennis!  I find that fishing, like most endeavors, becomes even more enjoyable and satisfying if I understand the history behind it.

The Compleat Angler–Izaak Walton/Charles Cotton

The Compleat Angler is not only the classic, best-known book in fishing literature, but also one of the landmark exposition on the virtues of nature.  Published in 1653, the book provides detailed instruction on catching and eating all sorts of fish from the lowly chub to salmon while urging the reader to enjoy the countryside and natural world.  As writer Tom McGuane wrote, “The Compleat Angler is not about how to fish but about how to be.”  The 1676 version added chapters by Walton’s fishing chum Charles Cotton offering fly fishing “Instructions how to angle for trout or grayling in a clear stream.”

American Fly Fishing:  A History—Paul Schullery

Paul Schullery, the former director of the American Museum of Fly-Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, has written a magnificent book about the evolution of fly fishing in America from Colonial times to the present.  It is fascinating read not only about the how techniques and tools to catch trout have advanced over the years but also the evolving values of the fly fishing tribe.  Being from Colorado, I found especially intriguing how the sport changed as fly anglers discovered and explored waters in the West.

The History of Fly-Fishing in Fifty Flies—Ian Whitelaw  

 This book takes an fascinating approach to the history of fly fishing by focusing on the evolution of fly patterns over hundreds of years.  In addition to being a looking glass into the development of the sport, fly tying is an art in and of itself.  As a bonus, this coffee table quality book is perfect for just browsing through its elegant paintings of historical flies.

Fish That Shaped World History

Fish have helped shape the history of mankind, first for food and now for sport as well. These are some of the best narratives.

Cod:  A Biography of the Fish That Changed The World—Mark Walker Kurlansky

Not strictly a book on sport fishing for cod, nevertheless this is an important story of man’s abuse of nature.  The cod is a fish that for centuries fed the world and helped the human race explore the planet. Kurlansky documents the influence it had from the Vikings to Basque whalers to British fishermen.  We learn how New Englanders’ huge appetite for cod chowder and the English hankering for fish and chips all contributed to the fishes decline.  As one reviewer noted, with the development of “modern” fish-catching technology cod never had a chance.  With the world’s oceans under siege from overfishing and climate change, this book is a timely reminder and call to action.

Shad:  The Founding Fish—John McPhee

John McPhee is one of my favorite writers, having penned notable books on several of my pet subjects including nature, tennis, and fishing.  In The Founding Fish, McPhee immerses the reader in the fascinating history of shad and its important role in American history.  But he also fishes for the elusive critter, recounting humorous tales of his piscatorial outings over the years.  They remind me of my days on the Rappahannock River when I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, trying to figure out how to catch the tricky creatures with flies, shad darts,  spinners or anything else that would pique their interest.  As is usual, McPhee covers the subject in great depth, even including recipes for cooking shad. 

An Entirely Synthetic Fish:  How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America And Overran The World—Anders Halverson

This book tells two parallel and equally fascinating tales.   The first follows the spread by man of rainbow trout out of California and throughout the world—45 countries and every continent except Antarctica—and its implications.  We also learn how rainbow trout genes have been manipulated by hatcheries to enhance certain “desirable” characteristics such as “angling susceptibility,” and “tolerance of crowds” and eliminate “undesirable” traits like “tendency to migrate.”  More worrisome is how this spread contributed to the demise of native fish such as cutthroats. 

At the same time it tells the absorbing and often detestable history of fish hatcheries.  Hatcheries rose to prominence in the 1800s as heavy industry and pollution swept through the eastern United States.  They were seen by many at the time as the salvation of sport fishing as toxic wastes and overfishing decimated salmon, brook trout, and other species .  Over time many anglers, especially fly fishers, realized the threat to wild trout and native species.  These concerns led to the formation of Trout Unlimited in the 1950s to oppose stocking rainbows over healthy wild trout populations.  Michigan and Montana went so far as to stop completely the stocking of hatchery trout in streams.  Unfortunately others like Colorado resisted and followed up with huge mistakes such as in the 1990s stocking hatchery rainbows infected with whirling disease over wild trout which decimated trout fisheries throughout the state.  With notes, bibliography, and index running almost 70 pages, the book is well-documented to say the least, reflecting the author’s academic background. 

The “To Read” List

Always more good books and tales to read. These have been recommended by friends or are on other “best books” lists. Let me know what you think of them.

River Music—James Babb

One of the best nature writers around, in this book Babb weaves nature with his fishing expeditions.  The book has been included in several “best” fishing book lists.

Fishing For Buffalo—Robb Buffler and Tom Dickson

One of my early memories of fishing with my Dad for catfish and bullhead on the Little Arkansas River in Kansas was the day I hooked into a big carp.  He ran upstream and down and finally broke my line.  I had never experienced such a powerful fish.  Fast forward a few years and I was sight fishing for monster carp in the shallows at a local reservoir with my fly rod and garden hackle.  I managed to hook and land a couple.   My Dad wanted nothing to do with them so they were released.  Today of course, carp are legitimate targets for fly anglers, with the South Platte through Denver producing some big specimens.   So it was good to see that there is actually a book on the subject of fishing for rough fish.  It’s on my Christmas book list!

Fifty Women Who Fish—Steve Kantner

It’s wonderful to see so many more women getting hooked on fly fishing compared to earlier generations.  This book introduces us to fifty who are deeply involved in the sport, many through guiding.  I’m hoping my little munchkin four-year old granddaughter will join their ranks someday.  She’s already caught her first trout on garden hackle!

Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey—Linda Greenlaw

Not strictly an angling book, the author of Hungry Ocean chronicles her experiences as swordfish captain on a boat that was a sister ship to the ill-fated Andrea Gale of The Perfect Storm fame.   A New York Times national bestseller.

 Cutthroat and Campfire Tales:  The Fly-fishing Heritage  Of The West—John Monnett

I recently stumbled on this book, published in 1988, that recounts stories of nineteenth and early twentieth century fishing expeditions.  Monnett demonstrates how the native cutthroat population was soon depleted and gave rise to early stocking efforts and eventually to conservation.