Hitting the Road to Adventure

Brook TroutThirsting for something new is something many anglers have to fight if they want to maintain any type of marital harmony, but every once in a while we need to give in and depart upon a quest for new and yet to be conquered pursuits.  For me, it’s been freshwater trout and smallmouth.  You’d think they would have been some of the first species I chased with a fly rod, however, seeing as how saltwater was the first environ I chose to enter, rainbows, browns, and brookies seemed too far away to hope for.

Soon though, I’ll be soaking my toes in a cool mountain stream as I ply the bubbling water for fish I’ve yet to encounter because after many years of crying and begging, our bags will be packed and rods rigged as my wonderful woman and I head north to the Pisgah National Forest in search of new and exciting adventure.  My packing started weeks ahead of our scheduled departure (as is normal with an obsessive compulsive), and I’ve now reached the point of stacking clothes and pre-staging the camping gear.  Sleep has been difficult and it will only get worse as the day draws closer and my dreams fill with glorious beauty and much needed seclusion.Brown Trout

Part of the fun has been the gathering of intelligence, albeit limited in my case according to certain fellow anglers and close friends.  I’ve burned up the Internet for hatch charts, stream flow data, campground locations, and everything else you can imagine the traveling angler might need before venturing forth, and I surely hope all the preparation proves fruitful considering how much of a pain in the neck I’ll be if I don’t get the chance to land at least one of the intended fish.  The timing isn’t quite right for a high degree of success but beggars can’t be choosers when the fishing time’s limited.  “Plan carefully and execute violently” is my motto.

Two four weights, a six weight, numerous lines, and boxes stuffed with Hare’s ears, Princes, Pheasant Tails, Stimulators, Caddis, Light Cahils, Hoppers, Ants, Adams, numerous types of streamers, and many other miscellaneous pieces of tackle are packed and ready to be deployed when the time arrives, but the calendar just doesn’t seem to move along quickly enough.  She’ll have to put up with another week of manic preparation before hitting the trail, but it will all be worth it when we’re standing alongside a deserted stream somewhere in North Carolina looking for that first fish to reveal itself.  God help us all if the first cast of the trip finds its way into a tree or some other type of obstacle.

Rainbow TroutExpanding our horizons and getting out of our comfort zones on occasion provides the spice of life, and fishing in general or searching for more and more species, gives us a good reason to keep testing our boundaries.  It doesn’t always have to be an exotic location that entices us to leave home since every new adventure helps us grow as anglers.  Maybe we’ll learn something about ourselves at the same time.

I’ll hopefully have something good to report once we return, but the trip will surely be a success regardless of how many fish are actually landed. 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Honeymoon Island State Park

Honeymoon Island

Dealing with commuter traffic and the crush of humanity present in Central Florida makes quite a few of us anxious to get away from things every once in a while, and residents are always looking for a pristine beach, deserted flat, or secluded trails to explore without running into a bunch of other folks.  Those can sometimes be hard to come by without spending gobs of money to vacation in far-away places, but adventurous residents and visitors can find locations that fit the bill right next to some of the most populated cities in the state.

I’ve wanted to get over to the west coast to explore Honeymoon Island State Park for almost as long as I’ve been a resident of the state and thanks to my wife’s business travels, I finally made it for a few days exploration.  The weather and fish didn’t cooperate as well as I’d have liked, but the beauty and seclusion of this jewel of the state park system didn’t disappoint.

Birds of numerous species abound throughout the island, residing in relative privacy except during park hours when watchers and photographers crash the party.  Gopher tortoise, raccoon, and rattlesnake call the island home the along with many other species of winged and four-legged critters, but the ocean and the protected flats surrounding the island are what draw the majority of visitors, myself included.

Seatrout, snook, tarpon, jack, shark, and a whole host of other marine life including manatee and dolphin, roam the water in a ceaseless search for food, shelter, or even a mate.  Maybe that’s why the fishing was a bit sub-par even though the conditions started out favorable.  I couldn’t buy a bite even though I spent a good amount of time trying and a few fish were spotted along the beach. It seemed like anglers anchored offshore outnumbered the fish.

Hiking along the trails ensures that visitors will view a wealth of wildlife and get a pretty good workout at the same time, especially anyone who isn’t used to walking in loose sand.  It can sometimes feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back.  You want something a little harder?  Try walking in the ever-shifting sand right at the surf line.  You’ll feel it in the morning!  Just be sure to keep an eye on your surroundings so you don’t miss any of the life moving around you.

Honeymoon Island is a great place to escape everything and experience seclusion and quiet the way it used to be.   It’s a lot closer than folks think and the island creatures will let you visit as many times as you like.  I’m sure to be back for the blue water, sandy beaches, mangrove shorelines, and the fish that have proven so far to be elusive.  Success isn’t impossible and no matter how you look at it, I’ll get to spend a day in a spectacular place.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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She Says Stubborn, I Say Persistent

Bridge SnookThis is an opinion that many other folks hold about my fishing style, not just my wife.  I’ve been called stubborn, obstinate, pig-headed, inflexible, immovable and a few other unflattering synonyms that all boil down to being a dedicated and persistent angler.  I’ve often told my buddies that if I can spot a fish, I’ll spend the time to catch it, or drive it from the area; whichever comes first.  Occasionally, I’ve brought fish to hand that other folks walked past without seeing, or only gave a halfhearted attempt because the fish’s position would have meant a difficult presentation and/or a risk to precious tackle.

I happened upon one such group of fish a few days ago and they helped to reinforce how important it is to spend the time trying to figure out the fly, the presentation, the retrieve, and anything else that might lead to a successful hookup.

A small school of snook was nestled on the backside of a trio of bridge supports on one of Tampa Bay’s many bridges.  They seemed pretty happy hovering a few feet below the surface as the tide rushed over them, flicking their tails only enough to burst forward to grab an unsuspecting minnow that strayed too far from the bridge’s shelter.

Let’s start by saying that casting a fly rod between two cement columns six feet apart, while standing under a bridge that’s only about three feet over your head, and a sloped bank behind you, is one of the toughest circumstances I can imagine.  And it leads to quite a few moments of fear when the rod tip accidentally contacts cement.  Add to that, a right to left current, and a swirling eddy pulling line in the wrong direction, and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.

I spent over three hours working this school of fish, going through numerous fly changes, line changes, leader rebuilds, and many frustrated moments mulling over how to get the fly around or through those darn supports and across the backward-flowing eddy without becoming snagged on the bridge or the bottom.  I walked away numerous times, only to come back to the same spot, thinking “just a few more casts and I’ll leave them alone.”  Obviously that’s not an option to someone as obsessive compulsive as myself.  I just had to give it a little longer since the fish weren’t going anywhere.  I was afraid the tide would stop flowing and their feeding activity would cease, leaving me little choice but to load up and leave.

Everything finally came together, when the cast went far enough, the fly sank deep enough, and one of the fish became hungry enough to investigate my offering on what felt like the 10,000th presentation of the day.  I thought I was snagged when the line just came tight, but the game was on when it pulled back strongly after I added some tension.  He tried everything to get around the pilings, under the rocks, and into the current, but I wasn’t about to be denied what I’d worked so hard to accomplish.  Besides, how was I supposed to go back to my wife and explain that I spent nearly four hours casting at fish without any tangible results?  Not today buddy!  NOT TODAY!

After a brief but energetic fight my quest finally ended as I gripped a beautiful fish in my shaking hand after which I reflected upon what it took to land that exquisite example of nature’s beauty and diversity.  Snook hold a dear place in many Floridian’s heart and many of us will go to unusual measures to land them, even when the conditions are tough.  They’re strong, selective, personable, and challenging enough to keep everyone coming back for more year after year.  It’s not hard to see why certain folks become “Snook Season Specialists, although I don't consider myself in that company since I just dabble when I'm lucky enough to find a few willing players.”

Persistence is a virtue that serves anglers well if they can learn when to turn it on and when say enough is enough.  Snook, steelhead, baby tarpon, tilapia, and many other fish we love to chase can test our patience, but the rewards are beyond compare, especially when we continuously conduct an internal battle against the urge to pack it in and leave the area in search of easier targets.

Stick to it and work out the problem because eventually your stubborn desire to succeed will pay off.  It did for me on this day.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Fly Fishing Made Easy

Fly Fishing Made EasyAlthough I'm not sure anything truly worth while comes easy, it sure is nice when someone comes out with a publication or video that helps newcomers leap in with both feet without a fear of epic failure and ultimate defeat.  Fly Fisherman magazine has produced an exceptional magazine that has just enough information to get someone past some of the steep learning curve associated with picking up a fly rod and all the associated equipment.  They put it together in a beautiful package with plenty of graphics related to tackle, tactics, and destinations, sure to give everyone the fever.  Even the experienced anglers will find learn something or discover a far away location they'd like to visit some time down the road.  They may even figure out how to get the lady of the house interested in sharing more time on the water with them.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that the first few years spent on the water with a rod were not the prettiest to behold, and it took a long time to demystify the riddle of loop control, line selection, rigging, and fly presentation.  Before the internet came along (yes there was a time before the internet) starting a new hobby meant finding a willing mentor, a kindhearted retailer, and posessing stubborn desire to succeed.  Nowadays you don't have too look far to discover a wealth of information (some good, some bad) all designed to help you along the way.  The trick is finding a source with credibility and track history behind it.

Fly Fisherman Magazine has everything you need and the credentials to back up what they say so you can rest assured that they're telling it like it is and not just trying to rope in unsuspecting folks with money to burn.  They know what it's like to struggle and fight their way to landing a few fish.

I never thought too hard about pursuing milkfish but after browsing through this addition to our magazine racks, I'm ready to book a trip.  So if you know someone interested in a new lifestyle (it is a lifestyle, not just a hobby), or you're just looking to learn a few things, stop by and pick a copy up before they're all gone.  I can see  us adding one to every outfit we sell.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Urban Critters

John Young TurkeyNot too long ago I had embarked upon a career that was quite fulfilling but unfortunately, didn’t bring in the money necessary to carry on living in the manner we were used to.  Critter control is a never ending job here in central Florida with all sorts of things getting into places we humans would prefer they didn’t.  Some of the animals were just going about their normal lives but unfortunately came into conflict with residents, while others took advantage of our hospitality and the excellent accommodations and food we unwittingly provided them.

I just happened to encounter a wild turkey as it attempted (successfully I’m happy to add) to cross a busy intersection a few miles from the store.  She reminded me of how man’s expansion into the wild areas of the country displaced many of the wild inhabitants, and how they've been forced to adapt to our presence or move to less populated and ultimately less dangerous locations.  Some of them are conservation success stories while others are examples of how unintentional or intentional meddling has caused situations we can’t get a handle on.

Florida is blessed with a whole host of animals, some cute and cuddly, while others not so much, who also call the land home.  Osceola turkey, Florida panther, black bear, bobcat, American alligator, river otter, white tailed deer, coyote, fox, raccoon, feral hog, rats, bats, squirrels, and many, many others live here among us in harmony for the most part.  Every once in a while though, they unwittingly come into conflict with the two-legged residents at which point something has to give.

The alligator for example was nearly extinct at one point in our history but conservation efforts have allowed the population to expand to the point where coming into contact with the giant reptile is commonplace.  The black bear in Florida has recovered so well that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is likely to open a limited hunting season for them very soon because their numbers have exceeded the carrying capacity of the wild areas surrounding the state’s populace.  Coyotes have expanded their range to include this state, and are increasingly becoming a problem for other wildlife along with the domestic pets throughout the region.  Feral cats are a totally avoidable situation if we would just spay and neuter our kitties before allowing them to roam the neighborhood unchecked.  I for one am not a fan of cats being outside to hunt indigenous wildlife but convincing people otherwise is like trying to empty the ocean a spoonful at a time.  These critters aren’t going anywhere so it’s up to us to figure out a way to get along with them in a way that’s beneficial to both of our futures.

Florida Black BearWe bring a lot of these problems on ourselves by providing food and shelter to some of them, encouraging them to set up shop in our homes and businesses, thus creating situations that necessitate their removal.  We need to try harder to make our trash cans bearprooof, sealing potential entrances to buildings, setting aside adequate wild areas and buffer zones for the animals to thrive in, removing derelict buildings before they become havens for vermin, and preventing the introduction of non-native/invasive animals into the ecosystem.  Every one of these measures is a small step toward protecting what existed before our arrival on these shores, but in combination, they’ll go a long ways toward success.

I love seeing the wildlife even if it’s ventured into a less than optimal region, but we need to do our best to protect what belongs so we can coexist in harmony rather than entering into a battle neither of us can win.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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What Makes a Leader?

Rio Bonefish LeaderWe could ask this question quite often as it relates to some of our past and present leaders of the country but right now those aren’t the ones I’m referring to.  I’m thinking about the leaders used in fly fishing set ups.  They're probably the most misunderstood and misused part of the complete outfit and a lot of people would probably increase their success if they just thought about modifying their leader practices and make a few adjustments.  So why are leaders so important to the whole system, and why should they be constructed in a particular manner?  Let’s take a look.

  • Leaders are designed to roll out and extend fully to place the fly a given distance (generally between 7.5 and 10 feet) from the end of the fly line.  A tapered leader gradually rolls forward, smoothly transmitting and dissipating the energy that has been sent down the fly line and ultimately to the fly.
  • Leaders are a stealthy connection between the line and the fly that hopefully allows us to make a reasonably “lifelike” presentation to the fish without them seeing the line itself.  Leader length and strength/diameter is adjusted up or down depending on how spooky the fish are and how delicate a presentation is necessary.
  • Leaders provide a safety link or “emergency breaking point” to allow the angler to break off the fly in the event that he/she has snagged an immovable object, hooked into an unlandable fish, or any other time the fly needs to be sacrificed rather than risk damaging or losing valuable fly line, backing, rods, or reels.
  • Leaders provide the sporting challenge for those anglers seeking to land large fish on light tackle.The class tippet section of the leader is the lightest link in system and its breaking strength is the standard by which records are rated and compared to each other.

Typical Leader Construction

There are simpler ways to do things but in the case of leader construction, trying to cut corners by using straight (a single strand of heavy or light) monofilament line is guaranteed to sacrifice one or more of the performance features of a leader.  Roll out is poor, stealth is nonexistent, sporting quality is limited, and you may even risk losing all your line or breaking a rod.  I inwardly cringe when I hear folks talk about using this type of system because I know they’re risking equipment or unnecessarily handicapping performance by taking a shortcut, all for the sake of cutting cost or the desire to avoid knots.

The leader is a much more important part of the system than most folks think.  Its construction is done in a very particular way to provide functionality, protection, and sport for a group of anglers that insist on doing things the hard way.  Take a look at this part of your setup and you'll likely make some adjustments that increase your potential for success and manage the risk of doing damage to the rest of your equipment.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando 

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Opening Day of Trout Season

Opening Day of Trout SeasonThe first day of trout season just opened up in a couple states neighboring Florida and  putting a note about it on the chalkboard outside the shop got me thinking about years gone past and what the opening day experience meant to me growing up.  Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and many others have a rich fishing tradition similar to my home state of Pennsylvania, and I'm sure a lot of folks in that region have similar memories to mine.

We used to pack up the van as soon as my father got home from work Friday night so we could hit the road in time to unpack at camp and have dinner at a local watering hole called “The Tannery” in West Hickory.  I’d have my usual (a large fish sandwich) and we’d all enjoy a casual dinner amongst the other anglers who were equally eager to get their lines in the water.  Getting to sleep was always tough with all the anticipation and high expectations of epic success we’d enjoy the next morning.  Visions of dancing trout and full stringers populated our thoughts as we’d finally drift off in troubled slumber.

The next morning dawned with an early breakfast and a frenzied gear inventory so we could get to our secret spots on one of many stocked streams throughout the region.  Brokenstraw, Spring, Tionesta, Hickory, and Pine Creeks all had fish and we just knew we’d hit the motherload if we could just get there before everyone else.  Of course, all the others had the same idea and we’d end up standing side by side one a likely hole just waiting for legal fishing time to approach.  Like a bowyer standing at full draw, everyone waited for the clocks to move past eight o’clock.

Ziiinnnngggg…All lines cast forth in unison when legal fishing time passed, followed immediately by the  frustrated exclamations uttered by 90% of the anglers because they all backlashed or overzealously cast right into the nearest patch of brush with their first cast of the season.  I know I was one of them although my language was likely a little less colorful than that of the adults.  It would take a little while to settle down and get in the groove after months of inactivity and lack of practice, not to mention the ever present threat of toppling over into the current after hitting a slick rock while stumbling around on numbed legs and feet.

Eventually things came together and someone would hook up, proving that the commission actually did stock the stream, which then would cause everyone to crowd a little closer to the productive hole.  I never fell for the hype, and sought out less pressured fish instead, relying on my budding skills to find fish of my own.  Eventually I would.  They might not have been the biggest or the most numerous, but I found them and they were all mine.  Although I’d never rank up there with true professionals or my father for that matter, I’d land a few to take home for dinner while at the same time, donating a bunch of tackle to the river and the surrounding foliage.

My parents allowed us to wander on our own once they thought we could handle ourselves in the water and were reasonably assured that we would conduct ourselves in a courteous and respectful manner, but supper time would eventually arrive and it was time to compare our day's catches.  Dad always did the best, considering he had the most disposable income and could buy the latest tackle, while my brother and I would fare reasonably well given our limited experience and available equipment.  Mom would come back with all her paraphilia intact likely proving that she participated only enough to be on the water with us rather than risk actually catching a fish.

All in all, the days were successful on a fish catching level, but more so on a slightly spiritual one as well.  We spent time together as a family, we experienced a gathering of kindred spirits on something akin to a state holiday, and we enjoyed the moments communing with a natural world (albeit enhanced by sanctioned stocking programs) that folks in cities never get to encounter.

I dearly miss the innocence of those years and the simple joy of standing alone with my thoughts and dreams in a gurgling creek on opening day.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Why Buy A License?

FWC License PageI had to renew my fishing license not too long ago and while dropping the money seemed to be a pain in the pocketbook, I took it in stride considering what that money does for me, my fellow outdoorsmen, and other individuals who enjoy the wild areas, and the wildlife in general.

We hear people gripe and moan about having to pay for something they feel is a right that the state shouldn’t be charging them for, but I’m not sure they understand that although having the physical ability to fish and hunt may be a right granted by a greater power, managing and protecting the resource comes at a price and it’s our responsibility to help in that endeavor.  A few dollars each season is a small price to pay to secure all the things needed to guarantee there are fish swimming in the water and game roaming the lands for future generations to pursue and enjoy.

Our dollars go directly towards enforcement efforts, meaning we directly pay the salaries of commission personnel as well as for the equipment and facilities necessary for the efforts.  We pay for land acquisition so we may have a place to enjoy our pursuits.  We pay for stocking programs, water studies, and other conservation programs so that there will be ample stocks to allow everyone to catch something for the table.  Suffice to say that our hunting and fishing license money does a lot of good, even in places or programs that might not directly involve our outdoor pursuits.

This is one time when we can metaphorically waggle our fingers at the anti-fishing/hunting crowd that still observes, hikes, boats, and swims among the game and fish that we help protect with our hard earned money.  They are reaping the rewards of hunters and fishermen paying for the PRIVELEGE of obtaining their licenses.  Say nothing of the recovery efforts led by sportsman groups like Ducks UnlimitedPheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited, Coastal Conservation Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and others.  Although they aren't funded by license fees, but rather donations and the like, their efforts benefit people that don’t even realize they exist.  Many species of game animals may well be extinct if not for the efforts of those organizations and the money collected from fishing and hunting licenses.

So the next time you ponder whether or not you should get a license, think about the good you accomplish even if you don’t plan on hitting the water or the field in a given year.  You’re helping on a greater scale than you know when those dollars reach the state capital and ultimately the water or land where it’s needed.  The other folks appreciate it too.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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In Honor Of the Humble Bluegill

Tosohatchee BluegillEven though there are so many different fish and so many ways to catch them, few species hold a special place in more people’s hearts like the humble Bluegill.  And there are a lot of reasons they rank towards the top of the list when you ask random fishermen what they enjoy chasing most, and why.

I’d be willing to bet that if you ask 100 anglers of varying ages “What was the first fish you can remember going after when you started out?” you’ll get a very diverse list but the bluegill will rise to the top by a pretty solid margin.  They’re everywhere, they eat a variety of baits (natural, artificial, and fly), they fight like the dickins, and they taste pretty darn good when scaled and fried up just like mom did it.   Innumerable folks start out chasing bluegill as kids with a simple outfit complete with a Zebco rod and reel, a red and white bobber, single hook, and a coffee can of red wigglers.  I count myself as one of the lucky ones to have spent a good portion of my young life sitting along the bank of Howard Eaton Reservoir, or anchored in the lily pads in Presque Isle State Park.  Family fishing trips taught us patience and how to get along with our siblings in a small boat, as well has how to appreciate the beauty and peace of fishing.  Bluegill played a big part in our young lives for sure.

Nowadays, I don’t target them as much unless I happen upon a spawning congregation, but even then it’s just to do some experimentation and see how a new fly works, or to end a long dry spell between fish.  They’re always around and almost always willing to play along for a few minutes provided I can figure out what fly to throw at them.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and that’s why I keep trying.

There is a bit of a challenge to catching gills if they really aren’t in the mood, and a lot of people don’t figure it out for a while.  Bluegill aren’t chaser’s in the same sense that bass are, meaning they don’t pursue their prey very far and most people work artificial baits and flies too fast in the first place, missing a lot of catchable fish as a result.  Topwater flies should shake and shimmy to imitate a distressed insect, while subsurface offerings can either slowly sink through the water column or be stripped along slowly and steadily.  Before making that first cast, try to imagine how far and fast a grass shrimp or damsel fly larva moves through the water.

Presque Isle FishingRed wigglers, crickets, wax worms, grubs, small minnows, bread balls, and many other natural baits (even hot dog chunks) will entice a strike when in the zone, so kiddies and their parents or grandparents aren’t left out in the cold.  Tossing bait and waiting for something to happen is how a lot of fishermen got started in the past and it still works today, especially when indoctrinating youngsters into the sport.  Just be sure to have something else for your budding angler to do between bites since it may take some time for things to heat up.

Bluegill unfairly get lumped in with all the other “Bream” down here in the south and maybe there should be a movement to correctly identify them out of respect.  They’re hungry, strong, available, tasty, and willing to eat a wide variety of offerings, so load up the tackle, the kids, and a can of red wigglers for a ton of fun while chasing the humble Bluegill.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando.

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Potluck Fishing in South Florida's Freshwater

Peacock BassI can’t even begin to tell everyone how lucky Floridians are when it comes to fishing opportunities, but I’m quite sure readers of my Blogs and newsletters are quite aware of how many chances we have to hit the water and the incredible variety we enjoy throughout the year.  South Florida holds a special place in our hearts, mine especially, and I sometimes wish I didn’t live 200 miles from some of the best fishing anywhere.

Scott and I just returned from another stupendous trip to the region, hitting more water than ever while fishing over a wide variety of habitats and cover types including clear and deep canals, residential lakes and retention ponds, tannin stained sloughs, and Scott even took a few casts into the saltwater side of a water control gate to land his first puffer on fly.

Mayan CichlidOur trip started at 2 AM Sunday morning as we departed my house in northeast Orlando, ultimately reaching our first stop, a Denny’s, somewhere close to Pembroke Pines to fuel up for the coming day and to outline a plan of attack.  Location number one was only a few miles away according to my phone’s map application, so we took our time getting there, and it proved to be a wonderful residential pond full of willing peacocks.  They were schooled up and smashing small baitfish, so we just had to lob a few Polar Fiber Minnows into the fray, and it didn’t take long to land a half dozen feisty fish and essentially destroy the first fly of the trip.  But you can only hit them so hard and we had plenty of ponds to explore.  One of my favorites, an unassuming section of canal along Flamingo Road proved to be productive for a very nice peacock, and a good bunch of mayan cichlids.

Three more stops including one of our best producing municipal parks yielded a very good number of cruising and bedding fish that were very willing to smack the living daylights out of a well presented fly, but we were careful not to over pressure the bedding pairs so as not to adversely affect their spawning activity.  Besides, sometimes it’s just too easy to pick what’s essentially “low hanging fruit.”  We finished off the day with our traditional “first-night pizza,” a much needed shower, a drink or two, all capped off by rapidly falling asleep while sitting up watching a movie.  Seven miles of walking, 11 hours of fishing, and essentially being awake for 40 hours sure can take it out of you.

Green SeverumMonday saw an early morning drive a bit further south to one of the best canal systems in the region.  This particular one sees a lot of pressure but the fishing can be very good at some point along its path if you can find it.  We covered a good portion of the canal reachable by foot and caught some decent sized fish, but the biggest peacocks I’ve ever seen refused to commit to the bite despite taking some pretty good shots at them.  We wondered if they were more in the mood to spawn than to chase food.  Overall, the fishing was a little off what we’ve seen in the past with fewer mayans and less peacocks on the structure than normal.  Runoff, temperature, sunlight, love, who knows what the reason for the less than spectacular fishing.

The highlight, or should I say low light, of this part of the adventure was an exceptionally lucky cast I threaded through the cover across a small pond alongside the canal.  There was an immediate flash as the line snapped satisfyingly tight to something much more immense than anything I expected.  I screamed “THIS IS A BIG FISH!!!” as I firmly set the hook and struggled to winch the monster out of the cover, through the lily pads, and across the pond, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to happen as it became embedded in the obstructions between us.  Recovery took a few minutes after breaking off the leader and re-rigging with trembling hands and a pounding heart.  Tarpon, snook, monster bass, peacock…  We’ll never know.

OscarThe final location of the day was right alongside a busy thoroughfare and although we always think it’s going to be over pressured and the fish more skittish, we caught another five or six beautiful peacocks and a spotted tilapia before the fading sunlight made sighting the fish and remaining in contact with the fly difficult.  It had been a long and successful day, totaling seven more miles of hiking and 10 hours of fishing.

MudfishWe visited a number of spots alongside the Tamiami canal during our last day of fishing, and were lucky enough to find a great variety of fish including oscar, spotted tilapia, mayan, stumpknocker, bluegill, largemouth bass, gar, and the rarest of the bunch, the green severum.  Scott was able to legitimately hook and land one by jumping in on a pair I’d worked long and hard to entice, but I returned the favor by absolutely slamming the Oscars and by landing a mudfish (bowfin) before him.  He did land one though in the eleventh hour and deserves congratulations on checking another one off the list of fly-caught species.  We just happened to pull over to the side of the road and discover a canal where we could sight fish to cruisers with limited obstructions and good water clarity.  All we had to do was accomplish a decent presentation and a good battle was sure to ensue.

I had the opportunity to re-learn a valuable lesson we should all take to heart when fishing in Florida, and that’s the fact that there are alligators everywhere (especially in the Everglades region) and they’re HIGHLY attracted to the disturbance caused by struggling fish.  I had two close encounters with our reptile friends approaching a little too close for comfort, but none of us was injured so I guess “No harm, no foul,” is the motto of the day.  I can claim to have landed a six footer on eight pound tippet and a size 10 topwater fly.

American AlligatorOverall, we enjoyed one of the best fishing trips of our lives without having traveled to a far off land and spend thousands of dollars trying to get there.  Although I didn't get to check any fish off the "To Catch List" there's no way the trip could have been any better since the weather was nearly perfect, the fish cooperative (for the most part), the flies effective, and company top notch.  He drives, I navigate, and we both catch more fish than should be realistically permitted.  This trip is becoming something of a tradition that I hope will continue for years to come.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Tilapia Fishing or Watching Paint Dry.... Your Choice

Scott's Blue Tilapia on FlyIf a title like that doesn't catch your attention then nothing will, but trying to fool a fish that for the most part is unwilling to take any type of bait can be a true test of will, sanity, and patience.  Each year during the spring we'll hit the local lakes and ponds looking to hook into one of the regions more successful invasive species, the Blue Tilapia.

Blue Tilapia have expanded their range to include just about every waterway imaginable across the state and their spawning beds make for a pretty conspicuous clue that they're in the area.  Tilapia spawn right after most of the bass and their beds can make the sandy shallows look like a moonscape.  Each bowl-shaped nest is about the size of a truck tire and during the peak of the season there will be a single, fiercely-aggressive, and meticulously-cleaning, tilapia parent.  Their aggressive nature and obsessive compulsive cleaning is what we use to our advantage when trying to catch one on fly.

Unfortunately though, this is a waiting game with very limited casting followed by extended periods of standing as still as a hunting heron, and then impossibly light strikes. The normal scenario includes finding an active bed with a fish on it, the fish spooks, you cast into the bed, the fish eventually returns, it stares at the fly for a while, it picks up the fly and tries to move it out of the bed, fight on.  I've actually stood over a single bed for upwards of 15 minutes waiting for the fish to return after fleeing the bed, only to have it spook again or come to rest in the bed without noticing my fly.  That can be more than a little irritating.

Five or six weight rods with fairly light leaders and smallish and lightly dressed flies are the tools of the trade when chasing tilapia because they aren't overly powerful nor are the flies so large as to require a heavyweight rod.  About the only trick to hooking up is using a fly that's large enough to get the fish's attention but dressed sparsely enough that the fish gets the hook in its mouth rather than a bunch of fluffy material.  A simple wooly bugger or something similar should work pretty well if you find cooperative fish.  Bowfishing is another popular method of taking tilapia during the spawn but there's no way to practice catch an release with an arrow so it's only a method to explore if you have a way to dispose of your catch

So why would anyone go through all this for a very low likelihood of success?  Because it's a fish, there's a ton of them around, they'll eventually bite, and are a lot of fun on a fly rod.  Scott and I are in an informal competition to catch the most fish species on fly so he just had to get one since I've already checked that one off the list.  Living in a place with as many fish as Florida means that we throw a fly at anything that swims no matter how tough or uncooperative it might be.  Being well-rounded and flexible allows us to extend our season through the entire year, with very little down time.  We might even come home with something for dinner on occasion.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

 

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The Road Less Traveled

Central Florida Google Map Shot

Ever since cars became available to the average consumer, we’ve all taken to the road as part of our everyday lives whether heading to the grocery store, the movies, or on a family vacation.  I can remember spending hours on the road with my family in Pennsylvania as we trekked to one place or another along the back roads and side streets my dad chose to follow rather than getting on the major highways.  He loved just driving along through the country side looking for critters and searching out the next best hunting spot that he would later ask permission to access.

Growing up,  I continued this tradition of just wandering the back roads, so much so that I’d rarely take a direct route to my destinations, choosing instead to “take the scenic route’ even if I was just going home from work just to keep from getting bored.  I know I’m not the only one that likes to wander around a bit while driving but my wife and kids never quite got the hang of enjoying the journey as much as the actual arrival at the final destination.  My wife never appreciated the skill required to spot a drumming grouse, a strutting turkey, and grazing woodchuck, or gallivanting whitetail fawns while tooling along at 50 miles an hour. 

I think we all reach a point in our lives when getting home, or to work, or even to granny’s house quickly is more important than anything we might experience while on the road.  So we start taking more interstate highways, and expressways in order to get where we’re going in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of headaches.  But what are we missing by always taking the quickest path?  We could be miss out on seeing the world’s biggest ball of twine, the oldest living tree, or even the artistry of a tree made of discarded mufflers.  You just never know what surprises await you in those little towns with a single stop light and an equal number of bars and churches.Florida Atlas & Gazeetteer

I recently had two occasions to travel across the state from the west coast and each time I used some of the less direct paths, rather than getting on the toll roads and hustling along at 70 miles an hour.  I discovered little out of the way towns and burgs I didn’t even know existed, beautiful rolling hills, swamps, creeks, and forests just begging to be explored on foot or by kayak.  I’ve always had a thing for “Old Florida” so finding these little gems reminded me of the road trips I planned on taking with my wife when the kids were old enough to take care of themselves.  Now we have the time to explore and enjoy ourselves without needing to travel too far from home.

So grab a Florida Gazzeteer and hit the road to discover something new that might be quite old.  You never know what you’ll find whether it’s a new place to eat, a hiking trail, a fishing hotspot, or just a favorite stretch of road to cruise along.

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orland

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Watch Your Speed

Winter Florida LargemouthNo, I’m not talking about your speed on the roadways, although that’s a good idea to keep in mind unless you just want your insurance rates increased and your license suspended.  Winter time fishing can be some of the most productive of the year but the one thing I keep forgetting to keep in mind when I hit the ponds or the saltwater flats, is the speed of the retrieve and how fast to work the fly in general.  There isn’t another single time of the year when this is so important and we’re constantly getting questions about how quickly to work a fly through the strike zone for various species.  Unfortunately there isn’t any one single solution but rather a batch of questions the angler needs to ask while they’re out there casting away.

The first consideration is what am I trying to imitate and how quickly does it move through the water when relaxed and how much faster when frightened.  The dry fly fisherman is going to say that his bugs only move as fast as the current it’s riding while a barracuda fisherman will respond that a needle fish can truly haul the mail when a giant is tight on its tail.  There isn’t any single correct answer but instead it’s key to keep the prey in your mind and what frame of “mind” it’s in at the time.

Secondly, I take a look at the species being pursued and the type of feeding it generally does.  A large bass is primarily an ambush feeder that doesn’t chase anything further than a foot or two (similar to giant snook, and gator trout), while a smaller specimen of the same species may actively chase down its dinner from time to time.  Speedsters like mackerel, bonita, barracuda, ladyfish, and others, are relentless and amazingly fast; chasing down and devouring their meal like they may not get another.  Trout like brookies and cutthroat rarely chase anything, they rely on the current to bring dinner to the table, at which time they can dine at a leisurely and easy pace, sipping or grabbing their food as it passes.  The retrieval rates vary greatly depending on species and size as you can see.

Thirdly, am I appealing to the fish’s hunger, territorialism, or shear anger?  Bedding fish are not really in the mood to eat and therefore don’t often pursue things that aren’t passing relatively close to their location.  Objects that pass by closely, but too quickly don’t get chased either, so you need to slow it down, and sometimes stop the retrieve so the fly lies still in the bed, before eliciting a strike out of anger and the need to protect the brood.  Striking or highly predatory fish are often more willing to chase or follow prey, or your fly, over greater distances and at higher speeds.

Lastly, we need to consider that the same species will likely change its feeding habits due to a slowing or speeding up of its metabolism as a result of changing seasons and varying water temperatures.  Bass are a prime example of this and the reason I wrote about the topic in the first place.  Experiencing a slow and deliberate bite on the drop into a deep pond left me amazed and frustrated by my inability to slow down enough without losing total concentration on the task at hand.  I awoke from a daydream at one point, realizing I’d been struck only because the line was swimming away at right angles to where I had originally casted.  The bit was so subtle that I hadn’t even noticed it.  I invariably lost that fish because of an ineffective hook set.  My inability to slow down may also be the reason behind my lack of success with black drum on the flats as well.

There are a lot of things to consider before making that first cast of the day if you want to have some semblance of success, not the least of which is the speed (or lack thereof) in your retrieve.  Pace, pausing, long, short, jerky, call it whatever you want because there isn’t any single answer to the question.  Only more questions.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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The Ultimate Guide to Fishing South Florida On Foot

Ultimate Guide to Fishing South Florida On FootDoing the research for any trip abroad is a very important part of any preparation in my household and the farther the trip, or the more unknown the species, the more resources I’ll look for.  Thank goodness we live in the information age when access to maps, species profiles, fishing reports, fly recipes, and hatch charts are nothing more than a finger click away.

Putting in the time before enjoying stellar success is a big part of growing as a fisherman and I really think that everyone should spend a few “less than successful days” on the water in order to truly appreciate what they have when all the parts start falling in place.  We can’t all jump right in as experts, and not every day is going to be worthy of a syndicated fishing show, or a spot on the Fly Fishing Film Tour.  Fishing our region can be a humbling experience for a guy that thought he knew what was going on in the fishing world.  And there’s just so much darn water!

Much of Florida was nothing but swamp back in the day but as civilization expanded and our desire to tame the wilderness meant that dry real-estate was at a premium, canals were built to control, drain, and route ground water and storm-water runoff out of the settlements, unknowingly creating some of the best fishing opportunities anywhere in the United States.  Retention ponds, lakes, ditches, canals, and other water control measures provided ideal habitat for many of the indigenous fish species of both fresh and saltwater varieties; and the introduction of non-native species (both accidental and on purpose) helped to make this region a superb fishing destination with nearly limitless possibilities.  Bass, tarpon, peacocks, snook, jacks, ladyfish, oscars, and many more inhabit every wet corner of the area and they'll all take a bait or fly of some type.  All those locations and all those fish can make for a very confusing fishery but now you know there are resources to make finding a place to go a little simpler.

Well Steve Kantner “The Land Captain” has written and published the quintessential authority on fishing South Florida… on foot no less.  He realized that a great number of fishermen, whether locals or visitors, don’t have ready access to watercraft of any type but would still like to experience and enjoy everything that Florida has to offer the adventurous individual.  “The Ultimate Guide To Fishing South Florida On Foot” has brought everything together an angler new to the area, or just getting started, might want to know before hitting the water, or the road as it were.  Since the guide is geared towards spots you can reach by foot, you really can just hit the road and explore with some sense of where you’re going in the first place.

Peacock EyeMr. Kantner has consolidated so much information and insight that it’s nearly impossible to explain how in depth and thorough this guide proves to be.  I’ve been fishing the area for about ten years and I’ve quickly learned a good number of things just in the moments of browsing through the pages between customers in the shop.  Species profiles, tackle requirements, techniques and tactics, along with maps (reproductions of those available on the FWC website along with others) and personal insight complete a package it would take years, if not lifetimes, to accumulate.  This book will open up South Florida to many people who just wouldn’t otherwise be willing to venture beyond their comfort zone of the water immediately surrounding the homestead.

Stop in and check out Steve Kantner’s new book, load up the car or bicycle, and be ready to start finding fish with regularity.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Sling Pack, Waist Pack, or Vest? So Many Options.

Fishpond Gore RangeTech PackFishermen have been trying to answer this conundrum ever since Orvis brought out their first catalogue and we started believing there just had to be a better solution than the one we already carried.  I'm not sure there really is a single answer to which is best and sometimes we just have to let the color of our fishing shirt determine the type of pack we're going to carry on the water.  Just kidding.  Each one has it's uses and it'll just take time to figure out which one you like. I've personally gone full circle, beginning with a simple waist pack I used for many years of wading the saltwater, but I've found that it isn't large enough for some endeavors afield or far too big for others, and it makes wearing a stripping basket at the same time all but impossible.  But what's the ultimate solution and should new anglers agonize over getting it right the first time?

Vests like the one shown are great for carrying just about everything short of the kitchen sink, and I've found that there's a reason trout fishermen traditionally chose this type of system.  The pockets are spacious and numerous so you can hide things away never to be found again, except at the beginning of the next season when you take stock of what you need to purchase before hitting the water again.  Some even have integrated backpacks wherein you might carry enough supplies to spend extended period on the water rather than just a few short hours.  There are obvious benefits to wearing a vest but you do have to watch out for the tendency to carry everything, including the kitchen sink, the potential heat retention issues due to the type of fabric the vest is made of, and the need to compensate for clothing worn underneath by wearing a fixed size vest larger than your normal.  Keep an open mind and plan ahead.

LL Bean Sling PackSling packs and chest packs are perfect for the person that's able to scale down the amount of equipment they carry to the water for a days adventure and are a great way to keep yourself from becoming overly weighted down by things you probably won't need anyways.  These options force you to look at your tackle needs and storage systems with a more critical eye towards limiting waste and clutter.  Sling and chest packs are the perfect options for those short jaunts around a neighborhood pond, a nearby creek, or along the beach looking for cruising snook.  All you need is a small box of flies, tippet material, pliers, and a water bottle to have a great adventure.

Fish N Hunt Waist PackWaist packs are somewhere in between the two and continue to be a favorite of mine because of how well they distribute the load low on the body where I don't even notice the burden.  Many of them have back support built in which greatly increases the amount of time you can spend wandering the waterways in search of fishing opportunities. Water bottle holders, box storage, plier keepers, and even rod holders have been included in their designs so the angler isn't left with much to desire.  About the only issues I've ever had with waist packs is the need to spin them around to the front in order to get anything out of it, which results in a pretty twisted up wardrobe; and as I mentioned before, troubles with using a stripping basket at the same time.

Another possibility I've experimented with is using a backpack whether intended for fishing or not.  It works well when carrying both spinning and fly equipment because it's large enough to securely carry multiple large Plano boxes full of tackle, water bottles, Boga Grip, and other essentials.  Simms, Patagonia, Orvis, Fishpond and numerous others have included backpacks in their product lines, both in traditional and waterproof materials.  Backpacks are an accessory worth looking into if you have a bunch of equipment to carry.

New anglers shouldn't get too worried about their first choice of carrying accessory since they'll likely have half a dozen different ones within a very short time, very much like myself.  I've been around the block a few times and thrown in a few wrong turns over the years but each one was a learning experience and now my choices are based on experience rather than fashion.  Comfort, practicality, and versatility are the main criteria we should be using to find our next bag so keep the lessons I've learned in the back of your mind the next time you go looking for something new to schlep around your tackle.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

 

 

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It's Not Always About the Fish

It’s obvious that fishermen hit the water with the intent to hook into and land something each trip down the driveway but I’m here to tell you it just doesn’t happen like that and if everyone were to consider the day a success only by counting the number of fish, there would be way more failures and less people on the water on a daily basis.  I’ve learned to look at each day with new optimism since it’s full of unknowns and potential surprises.

Every time I venture into the outdoors I’m looking for something to cap off the day and make it more than just a little memorable whether it’s hooking into the first fish of a particular species, hooking another person, hooking another species….  You get the picture?

A few of us ventured to Crystal River this past weekend hoping to luck into a bunch of snook, maybe a tarpon or two…we kept out options open by carrying enough tackle to open our own tackle store right there on the water.  Well I hooked into something that made the day memorable, if not quite up to our dreams and expectations.

We had found a bunch of cooperative ladyfish holding off the corner of a nice little flat and we were all working to find the bigger ones that had to be somewhere around all the short striking little dinksters.  Although catching small ones is fun and all, they tend to tear up a fly and make the fruitfulness of the endeavor a bit questionable.  Either way though, it’s fun and sometimes you just have to land some fish.

So, I’m in the middle of fighting a fish when all of a sudden it seems to get a lot heavier and fights with a little more vigor than what was originally on the line.  I’m trying to figure out if I have a problem on my hands when all of a sudden a Cormorant surfaces about thirty feet away from my kayak, with a fish in his bill.  That’s a little strange, I thought to myself, they normally don’t feed right next to boats, but he’ll leave me alone once he’s done eating his fresh fish.

Now I know everyone reading this has already made the connection that took a while to sink into my thick skull.  Yes, he was eating my fish.  And yes, I was going to have a problem if he actually succeeded in hooking himself.  Well eventually I figured out what was going on and attempted to extricate my quarry by playing a game of tug-of-war with the bird.  Let me say this about the cormorant, he had tenacity and absolutely no intention of letting go of that fish.  He dove, swam, pulled, and otherwise refused to relinquish his hold, right up to the point where I had him landed.  It appears he had no desire of getting in the kayak with me.  He coughed it up and then paddled circles around me for the next fifteen minutes looking for a handout he didn’t have to fight for. 

The saddest part of the whole story is that my fishing partners saw the bird coming when I had that fish hooked and they failed to warn me of his intentions.  It’s great to have buddies like that!  I got them back by “Failing” to call them over when I discovered a nice school of tarpon rolling around just off the channel about two hours later.

I’ve caught many different things over the years but a cormorant hadn’t been added to the list up until that point and I’m not thinking of hooking another one any time soon.

This trip proved to me once again that it isn’t always about the fish….  It’s about the about the friends, the snakes, manatees, gators, dolphins, and sometimes the cormorants.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

 

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Lord Stanley's Cup

Lord Stanley's CupBefore anyone starts questioning why a guy in Florida is making such a big deal about touching a big piece of Sterling Silver, let’s keep in mind that I’m originally from Pennsylvania and hockey sits right alongside football and baseball when it comes to having dedicated fans who are fiercely loyal to their team.  I may not have been raised in a hockey-loving family, but I sure grew to appreciate and respect the game and its players over the years.

Having a chance to put my hands on a treasured part of sports history is a dream come true that I only wish had been longer so that I had enough time to fully revel in the moment, but alas, our moment with Lord Stanley’s Cup was fleetingly short.

The Cup is one of the oldest sports trophies in existence, tracing its history back to 1892, when it was commissioned as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup in honor of Lord Stanley of Preston, who at the time was Governor General of Canada.  That’s 122 years of competition, rivalry, and history which makes it very hard to accurately describe what this single silver bowl and its accompanying rings means to a sport, its players and coaches, as well as the fans.

Part of the mystique surrounding this particular trophy, and what truly sets it apart from all others in the sports world, is the fact that the same authenticated “Presentation” cup is awarded to the winner of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals and they get to keep it for 100 days after winning, as well as having the names of the players, coaches, managers, and club staff engraved upon it.  A new trophy is minted each year in most other major sports.  So to hoist the cup overhead as part of the championship team means you are following a tradition started by the true pioneers and legends of the sport.

One of my favorite traditions surrounding the cup is when the captain of the team raises it for the first time after the presentation ceremony.  You can just feel the excitement and joy when a player regardless of age and number of years in the league, effortlessly lifts the cup overhead and skates around the ice, celebrating along with the fans.  My absolute favorite cup moment was when Joe Sakic (Captain for the 2001 Colorado Avalanche) declined raising the cup, and instead handed it to Ray Bourque, a 22 year veteran who had spent 21 years with the Boston Bruins without winning the cup.    That seventh and final game of the 2001 Finals was to be his last time on the ice wearing a jersey.  The look on Ray’s face and those of his teammates said it all and I along with scores of other fans had tears in my eyes and a newfound respect for the Joe Sakic.

So you see, hockey is more than just fights and missing teeth.  Its legendary trophy embodies everything good about the sport including its traditions of sportsmanship, respect, and playing for the love of the game.  You can see those attributes displayed by the players when they hoist it, and you can feel it living within the sterling silver bowl and rings of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Christmas Tree Time Machine

Christmas Tree 2014It’s Christmas time once again and the decorations have all been hung with care, the lights (understated but effective) are brightening the eaves of the house along with the Sago Palm in the front yard, and the tree has been erected and bedazzled with every bit of attention an obsessive compulsive can bring to bare.  I stopped just short of measuring the distance between ornaments to make sure they were evenly distributed.

That’s right folks, I put up the tree and lovingly placed every decoration myself this year, proving that I AM capable of doing it, and that the world won’t stop spinning if I get into the Christmas spirit just a little bit.  My ladies are normally in charge of putting up all the decorations and I just take care of the outside lights since no one else likes to get on the roof (I feel like a mountain goat running from peak to peak), but this year, I decided to lend a hand by doing a bit more than normal.  I’m glad I did!

Up until this year, I’d never looked at the Christmas tree for everything it is, beyond just being a symbol of the holiday under which we pile gifts and gadgets each year leading up to Christmas Eve.  I discovered that our tee is actually a time machine, filled with memorabilia from years past, that transport me to days long gone.

I found ornaments from our first Christmas together way back in 1991, Theresa’s stocking ornament from 1971, and any number of special decorations that were lovingly created by each of our girls over the years.  There are snowflakes, crocheted trees and angels, plastic globes full of sand and shells, miniature picture frames, and any number of creations my two girls brought home from elementary school over the years.  Each one is signed and dated so we don’t forget who made it and when, which is particularly important as we get older and our memories start failing………What was I saying?.....

I never knew which long-forgotten memory was going to resurface every time I reached into the box of glittering objects to select the next one to be added to the tree.  Of course it’s tough to maintain a balance by hanging an equal number of treasures from each girl but I think I pulled it off amazingly well.  And it wasn’t just ornaments created by my children that made the cut.  I unknowingly included gifts from numerous family friends, things my mother-in-law made with the kids when they were young, and even some that my wife had made back when she was young.  They all helped make the tree a unique and personal part of the Christmas season.

So, rather than decorate the tree with all those store-bought globes, and icicle shaped shards of glass and plastic, dig through the boxes in your attic or basement and look for those forgotten boxes of memories.  Make your next tree one for the ages and I’m sure visitors will comment on how beautiful it looks with all the handmade decorations you’ve collected over the years.  Take a moment look at your tree for what it really can be….a vehicle to past years and memories.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Decorating the Trees.....Fly Shop Style

Betsie River SnagFly fishing is a greatly satisfying sport once you've figured out how to lay a fly somewhat close to the target zone, but for beginners, it can be quite frustrating and expensive.  Equipment costs seem to be way out of reach when greenhorns first look into it but most soon figure out that things can be quite realistic if everyone keeps their wits about them.

The only thing the angler needs to be worried about are the consumable costs like those for leaders and flies once the major purchases have been made, and tying your own can slightly mitigate the issue.  But it only softens the impact slightly when it seems the only things you can catch are trees, logs, rocks, bridge supports, dock pilings, power lines, and other miscellaneous tackle grabbers.  The most innocuous little twig can be an absolute hook magnet when positioned right over the best run or hole along the stream or shoreline, and you can just about figure out where the fish are without ever having seen one.  Just look for all the tackle above a regularly productive hole .  Can you imagine how many other anglers have felt the exact same urge to tuck a nearly impossible cast right up under the same overhanging branch?  It seems that God's sense of humor was working overtime when he gave us beautiful fish in spectacular locations but surrounded them with impossible casting situations.

I sometimes joke with customers that I consider the day to be a success when I can return home with half my fly selection intact and the rods in the same number of pieces as when I left.  I also mention that as a matter of good taste and style, they need to spread their lovingly-selected flies around and avoid sticking them all in the same piece of foliage.  My own advice is sometimes hard to heed once I actually set my feet in the water and spy a tantalizingly perfect piece of water just begging to be probed.  I recently donated a complete rig (two flies, split shot, and strike indicator) to the cause in a particularly nice tree along the "Fly Only" section of the Pere Marquette River in Michigan.  There was a beautiful pod of salmon working a gravel bed 3/4 of the way across the stream along with a  half dozen steelhead lying in wait for the salmon eggs to drift down to their waiting mouths.  It was too good to pass up so I gathered my thoughts, entered a zen-like trance, and with a prowess and finesse rarely demonstrated by mortal men, deposited a magnificently tied egg and bugger tandem straight into a tree branch hanging from a most superbly positioned tree behind me.  Lest you think I was the only one skilled enough to find the only obstacle to success within a hundred yards, I'm here to tell you that branch was nicely populated by a wide selection of flies tied in every color of the rainbow.  It was wonderfully decorative although not a terribly effective fishing technique.  I was frustrated at first but eventually resigned myself to the undeniable fact that these things are bound to occur when participating in the sport of fly fishing.  We often say that you aren't really trying if your aren't losing a fly to the bushes and bottom structure every so often.

The thing to glean from this all too obvious lesson is that you can't get too frustrated by these issues since it's part of the game,  and you just have to pay attention to your immediate surroundings before rearing back to launch a cast.  Also, be sure to take pictures of any flies purchased while on a trip because you might not possess them long enough to enjoy their company.  Besides, without a picture you won't remember what patterns to tie when you return to the vise in preparation for the next adventure.

Remember that Christmas is coming up so be sure to decorate with a sense of balance and style....  The wildlife will appreciate it on December 25th.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Let Them Live To Fight Another Day

Peacock BassJust about anyone that knows me is likely to tell you that it takes a bit to get my dander up and participating in an emotionally charged discussion just isn’t in my nature.  That’s not to say that I don’t have deeply held beliefs and the passion to back it up, but rather I can judge when the conversation has degraded to the point where two folks should stop shouting at each other and just agree to disagree.

All that being said, I was dragged into a debate on the proper way to handle fish while taking a picture or just releasing them in general.  The other person insisted that holding large 30+ pound redfish vertically (by the mouth and/or the gill plates, while trying not to actually injure the gills) causes little or no harm to the fish.  He claims to have photographic proof that he’s caught the same fish multiple times over a several year period, “proving” there’s no harm done.  It’s his opinion that holding other fish that way is bad for them and could increase mortality, but redfish, being a fairly robust species aren’t as fragile.

I disagreed whole heartedly, insisting that all fish (big and small, regardless of species) should be supported at the head and mid body as recommended by most conservation groups.  But I quickly figured out that neither of us was going to change the other’s mind, and tried to back out of the argument by pointing out that we had reached an impasse.

Not being one to let things go, I did a bit of internet searching on the subject and found exactly what I expected.  Most professionals agree that holding any fish vertically could cause damage to:  a) the jaw, its muscles, and connective tissue due to the fact that they’re not designed to support the weight; b) internal organs as they shift around in the body cavity because their mass is normally supported horizontally by the water.  Only one site recommended holding fish vertically and that instance was limited to bass under three pounds.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a very in depth section on its website dedicated to proper techniques for handling fish in general and it’s well worth taking a look at if you get a chance.  The industry by and large recommends that certain steps be taken if you plan on practicing CPR with your catch.  These steps include:

  • Use tackle that’s appropriate for the species and size of fish you are pursuing.

  • Have a plan of action for hook removal and picture taking before actually hooking your trophy.

  • Remove hooks quickly and cut the line rather than trying to remove hooks that are so deeply engaged that removal would cause further injury.

  • Wet your hands before touching fish to help prevent excessive protective slime removal.

  • Use a rubber mesh net instead of those made of coarse nylon or other abrasive materials.

  • Avoid laying your catch on the ground or any other surface.

  • Use two hands to hold the fish, one at the head with the other supporting the body.

  • Only keep the fish out of the water approximately 30 seconds or only as long as you can comfortably hold your breath.

  • Support the fish in the water for as long as it takes to resuscitate and swim off normally.

So, as you can see there are accepted practices related to handling our aquatic friends, but as always it’s a matter of personal conviction and attitude; and each of us has to determine for ourselves how we’re going to conduct business on the water.  Personally, I’ve a great deal of respect for the fish I pursue and make it part of my modus operandi to do as little harm as possible.  We’re participating in a blood sport for sure but we can do our part to limit unnecessary fish mortality by taking a few simple steps and eliminating the traditional “Grip-and-Grin” photographs of improperly handled fish from our angling routines.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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